Adams family values

Tommy is not your average criminal. He belongs to Britain's most feared gang of drug dealers and hit men. Bound by blood, they thought they were untouchable. But you can't rely on anything these days, not even Adams family values....

Several National Crime Squad detectives are probably nursing serious hangovers today. They have had much to celebrate. This elite team has finally debunked the myth that Britain's most notorious crime family - the Adams - is untouchable and unjailable.

Eighteen months ago, they arrested one of the brothers, 40-year-old Tommy Adams, in the middle of a drugs deal in the Britannia International Hotel in London's Docklands. He and several other men were charged with conspiracy to supply drugs and one of them with the possession of a Magnum revolver. On Wednesday, owing to the meticulous surveillance work over a year which led to the arrests, Tommy Adams and two of his lieutenants were given long jail sentences.

Over the last 10 years, the Adams have become notorious as the most infamous crime family in Britain, allegedly controlling a multimillion-pound drug dealing empire. As a result, the Adams are perhaps the most investigated family in criminal history: the subject of investigation and surveillance by Scotland Yard, Customs, Interpol, the Spanish police and even MI5 in their new anti-organised crime role. At one point in the early 1990s, a Customs contact told me there were seven separate co-ordinated teams of officers looking into the family's diverse criminal activities.

But the Adams were also rumoured to have had police officers and a Conservative MP in their pay. After a decade without a major conviction, it looked as though the gang were invincible and unconvictable. This week all that changed.

Outside the courtroom, the man who led the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Philip Burrows, said: "This case is a success for the National Crime Squad and dispels the myth that there are people who are untouchable. Tommy Adams was certainly a member of the upper echelon of major criminals and we have proved that an untouchable strata of criminal does not exist. It sends a clear message to anybody else - you can run but you can't hide".

The Adams gang is part of a large extended working-class family from Islington in North London. The brothers who lead the gang were brought up on the Barnsbury Estate - just a revolver shot away from Tony Blair's former home. Their parents still live quietly in a council flat there. According to one visitor to the flat, "the living-room and hallway are festooned with photos of the children, especially the boys, when they were young innocents". There are 11 children in all; Tommy is the third oldest brother.

Islington has always been home to the creme de la creme of heavy proletarian villains - families like the Nashes, the Regans and the Smiths. They were so tough they kept the Krays out of North London in the 1960s. Some of the most notorious armed robbers of the 1970s - when armed robbery was in its heyday - hailed from Islington's backstreets. As a crime reporter, I was always fascinated by the way that in Islington, the old working- class criminal network and gentrifying professionals like the Blairs lived side by side, often in the same streets, without their worlds ever colliding.

In the 1970s and 80s, the supergrass system decimated the ranks of this criminal elite. With robber ratting on robber, the old criminal loyalties disintegrated. You cannot run a gang if you can't trust your cronies. The second oldest Adams brother, Patrick had been convicted of armed robbery in the 1970s and jailed for seven years. He learnt the lesson: in this new climate only close blood-ties could be depended upon.

In the 1980s, the armed robbery fraternity moved into drug dealing. The old-style villains professed disdain for drugs. But the younger generation, like the Adams's, had no such qualms about drugs. One of the younger Adams brothers had had a heroin problem for some years. By all accounts they were just a local Irish Catholic family with several tearaways in its rank, when, according to legend, the gang took on a local gangster, won and began to run a number of his drinking dens. The big time beckoned. They swiftly extended in pubs and clubs where drugs could be sold.

"They run everything like a corporate business," said one detective. "The gang leaders are like a board of directors, a long way back from actual operations." Pat, 43, is considered to be the most intelligent member of the family. Tommy was the money man. Their home base still remains Islington. Until recent years, their favourite haunt was the King Edward pub, near the Barnsbury Estate.

The controlled aura of violence around them is the key to their success. They are, quite simply, feared and do not make idle threats. They have been accused in the media of numerous gangland "hits". In 1996 the Independent on Sunday said the gang were linked to "several murders". According to popular legend they invented the "two on a bike" hit - a powerful trail bike draws up, the pillion passenger gets off, produces a gun and shoots the surprised target. The two hit men then roar off, their faces hidden by helmets. The victim is usually a rival or someone who has transgressed the unwritten rules of the underworld.

Two months ago, an underworld contact told me that some 20 people had been killed this way. But the former armed robber turned journalist, John McVicar, has said, "It is doubtful that they have killed in anything like the numbers that are currently touted. Certainly most of the hits attributed to them in the press do not carry their hallmark."

The family seems to have been involved in some gun play. Mickey, 33, the youngest brother, was convicted of possession of a firearm in the mid 1980s. Some years ago a dispute with another Islington crime family, the Rileys, culminated in a shoot-out in Finsbury Square. A lot of damage was done but nobody was killed.

Although said to be more violent than the Krays, the Adams have avoided their flamboyant and public lifestyle. In recent years the family have bought into legitimate business and own a string of clubs and bars as well as other property.

The brothers are all good-looking, keep themselves very fit and dress very stylishly - looking more like older professional footballers than gangsters. Tommy is far more handsome in real life than his police photo suggests.

The family do not like publicity. John McVicar first mentioned them in an article in 1987 and received a visit from a family associate who politely and firmly extracted a promise not to write about the family in the future.

When in 1992 McVicar again wrote about the family, detailing how one of the gang shot Mad Frankie Fraser in front of Turnmills Nite Club in Clerkenwell the previous August, McVicar received another visit. "Although I apologised for the breach, the emissary shrugged his shoulders and grimaced mournfully. "John," he said, "it saddens me to have to say it, and I hope it won't go any further, but if I were you I'd purchase some portable insurance, get in some target practice and be very careful of big trail bikes in your immediate vicinity." McVicar explained it was not appropriate for a journalist to go round carrying a gun.

As the family business has prospered, younger members of the extended family have been recruited to help with the criminal activities. Not all members of the family are criminals; some, including the Adams's parents and others of the 11 offspring are law-abiding and have held down normal jobs.

One of the biggest problems for the criminal side of the family is laundering the staggering amount of money acquired by the drugs dealing. They are believed to be worth over pounds 50m and the police watch like hawks for any evidence of Adams' business connections.

Like many Islington criminals the Adam brothers have nurtured close links with Hatton Garden, London's jewellery and gold centre, just a mile away from their "manor". Money from their drugs deals is laundered by certain traders who turn their cash into gold and other non traceable assets. The money has poured in and the family have all bought large properties. Tommy, who is married to a woman of Greek extraction and is the father of four, owns a pounds 450,000 three-storey town house in Mylne Street, King's Cross, not far from his parent's home. Older brother Pat now spends much of his time in his villa in Fuengirola on Spain's "Costa del Crime". It is said that these days, he does not like the company of criminals.

Over the years, the Adams family has become the bete noire of Scotland Yard. The Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, must have been only too aware of the damaging effect of the Yard's failure to crack this high- profile gang, which had raised suspicions of police officers protecting the family.

Then, in early 1996, the National Crime Squad detectives assigned to the Adams had a break. They heard that Tommy Adams was running a large cannabis importation operation. As the subject of numerous target operations over the years, Tommy was highly security conscious. To prevent eavesdropping he controlled his lucrative drugs trade from the back of black cabs using two former school mates from Islington, Michael Papamichael and Ed Wilkinson as trusted aides.

From June 1996, drugs intelligence officers managed to plant tiny listening devices in the cabs, and hotel rooms, which secretly monitored dozens of conversations. They recorded incriminating discussions about the gang taking delivery of up to three tonnes of cannabis at a time, information about their dealing with Wilkinson was recorded admitting involvement with cocaine and boasting that he kept a .44 Magnum revolver in his mother's flowerpot. When the police team felt they had enough evidence they seized and arrested the gang.

Early this week, the trial began at Woolwich Crown Court. Everyone was prepared for at least two months in court. The defendants were said to be confident of acquittal. Certainly, members of the family gang had proved difficult to convict in the past. But then, on Wednesday morning, word went round the court that the defendants were going to plead guilty

Later in the afternoon Adams, and his lieutenants Michael Papamichael and Edward Wilkinson, all 40 years old, came in front of Judge Michael Carroll for sentencing. The Judge said it was clear they had run an illicit operation of considerable magnitude.

Tommy Adams was jailed for seven-and-a-half years and ordered to pay pounds 1m in a confiscation order. Failure to pay within one year will result in an additional five years on his sentence. Papamichael, of Liverpool Road, Islington, was sentenced to six years and ordered to pay pounds 70,000. Wilkinson, of Inglebert Street, Islington, was jailed for nine years for conspiracy to supply cannabis and cocaine and the possession of a revolver. He was ordered to pay pounds 30,000 or face a further jail sentence. After being sentenced, Adams, wearing a grey tracksuit, was led laughing from the dock.

A month ago, the National Crime Squad undertook a further series of raids. Detectives from Scotland Yard raided addresses in London and south east England. Twelve people were arrested and charged with various offences including attempted murder.

The family are now licking their wounds. John McVicar, who has written extensively about the family, said yesterday that they "have hit a series of rocks here. Aside from Tommy's conviction, their associate Gilbert Wytner was killed in March and another close associate has cancer".

Things are apparently not well within the family. Oldest brother Terry, 44, and Tommy had a full-scale row in the visitors' area at Belmarsh Prison shortly before the trial. But as one underworld source said yesterday, "The Adams are not finished yet".

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