This week’s entry: Glasgow Ice Cream Wars
What it’s about: While Glasgow’s crime rate has fallen dramatically in the 21st century, there was a time when it was known as the “Murder Capital Of Western Europe.” One of the most colorful stories from the Scottish city’s most violent era is the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars, in which rival criminal gangs fought a heated turf war over ice cream trucks, which were selling drugs and stolen goods alongside popsicles and soft serve.
Strangest fact: While some ice cream vans were raided for cash or merchandise, there seems to be actual van-on-van violence, as ice cream men were in the habit of firing shotguns at each other’s windshields. While the public was outraged by the brazen violence, the absurdity of the situation wasn’t lost on Glaswegians, who nicknamed the local police the “serious chimes squad.”
Biggest controversy: The violence came to a head when one rival faction burned down the apartment of 18-year-old ice cream man Andrew “Fat Boy” Doyle, killing Doyle and five other members of his family. Doyle had refused to sell drugs from his ice cream truck and had already been shot through the window of his van for standing up to the criminal gang. The fire seems to have been intended to scare Doyle into cooperating, but got out of hand and killed everyone inside, including Doyle’s father, four siblings, and his 18-month-old nephew.
Thing we were happiest to learn: There’s a less grim version of the story out there. Namely, the 1984 film Comfort And Joy, written and directed by Bill Forsyth. While it’s about a battle between rival ice cream vendors in Glasgow, it’s a comedy, with star Bill Paterson playing a radio DJ who takes it on himself to broker peace between two rivals who, in the film version, aren’t selling anything more dangerous than cherry dip cones, and whose tit-for-tat violence doesn’t extend to arson or murder.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The Ice Cream Wars’ arson case was unresolved for 20 years. Six men were arrested in connection with the murders, four of them convicted of other incidents in the campaign of intimidation against Doyle and others. The other two, Thomas Campbell and Joe Steele, were convicted unanimously of murder (unlike in the U.S., juries do not have to be unanimous in Scotland, but their guilt seemed assured), and each was sentenced to 20 years to life, with an additional 10 years for Campbell, who was found guilty of the shotgun attack on Doyle’s van.
However, Campbell insisted for years that he had been “fitted up” by the police, who were desperate to pin the crime on someone and picked Campbell and Steele, who had prior criminal records. His lawyers claimed the key witness against the two, William Love, testified only to avoid going to jail himself and that Campbell never made the confession police claimed to have on record. Appeals went back and forth for years, and at one point Steele escaped from prison and staged a protest in which he superglued himself to the gate in front of Buckingham Palace, and then another protest on the roof of his mother’s house. A 1997 appeal ended in a split decision, and Campbell and Steele were freed in 2001 while a subsequent appeal was under consideration. In 2004, an appeals court found that the original judge had misled the jury and that the police statements were “too exact” and seemed more like rehearsed testimony, with many similar word-for-word phrases used than genuine memories of the case. The convictions were overturned, 20 years after the original sentencing, but little attempt has been made to find an alternate explanation for the murders.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: While Glasgow’s Ice Cream Wars went on for a few years, South Africa’s taxi drivers have been engaged in a mafia-style turf war for decades. More than half the country’s commuters use minibus taxies, and the industry was “effectively unregulated” in the 1990s, which meant that not only were drivers infamous for their reckless driving, but they also overloaded vehicles with passengers and engaged in price fixing, and the competition for customers often led to all-out warfare. Between accidents and attacks from rival drivers, the 1990s saw a three-figure death toll annually in the taxi industry. Since 1999, the government has pushed for larger and safer vehicles, replacing nearly the country’s entire taxi fleet, but violence between rival taxi companies continues unabated.
Further down the wormhole: Ice cream trucks are an unusual venue for organized crime, but turf wars, protection rackets, and the like can crop up in any industry, and very often escalate to murder. Wikipedia has a lot to say on the subject of death, with the murder page linking from everything to immunogenic cell death to trust law to death from laughter. We’ll take a look next week.