The unrepentant villain who's pleased to media

Crime paid Dave Courtney well when he was a gangster. Now it's even better

It's Saturday night in east London. The pavement outside the club is strewn with flyers and discarded beer cans, some of them being kicked by disenchanted, freezing clubbers in skimpy clothes standing in the static queue. A white Rolls-Royce pulls up, and out of it steps a hulking, shaven-headed man in a black greatcoat, followed by two other crew-cut, muscle-bound men in bomber jackets. The bouncers almost fall over themselves to clear the way for the newcomers, shoving aside the posts and chains and prospective clubbers. As Dave Courtney strides in through the crowd, he points to three teenagers at the front of the queue, two shivering, bare-legged girls and a spotty boy with gelled-back hair.

"Let 'em in, Pete," he says to the head bouncer. "My good deed for the night," he adds, as we all pile in.

Inside the club, beside an entrance marked "Private: Restaurant", important- looking men in suits line up to shake hands with the newcomer. The three men, now accompanied by a leading actor from EastEnders, enter the private area where Dave orders Dom Perignon for everybody.

Dave Courtney is determined to be a celebrity. He writes a column in front, a new lads' magazine, and is to host his own talk show on national television next year. He's just made a single, and features on another, soon to be released by Tricky, which will be part of the sound-track on an upcoming film by Steven Spielberg. He thinks he may have a part in the film, too. He's funny and charismatic, with the presence of a TV star in the East End clubs where he's already well known. Soon, if everything goes according to plan, he'll be similarly received among the glitterati at London's Met Bar and the Groucho Club.

But Dave Courtney is a killer, who has taken the lives of three people and wounded many others. He is one of Britain's most violent, amoral, long-term criminals. Under his white Versace suit, his gold-studded Versace shirt and his pounds 20,000-worth of diamond-encrusted jewellery, is a man who has served time in the maximum security wing of Belmarsh Prison, the jail in south-east London that houses some of Britain's most notorious offenders.

A latter-day henchman of the Kray brothers, he organised the security for Ronnie Kray's funeral in 1995, his reputation helping to keep London's fighting "firms" at peace that day. Once an enforcer and debt-collector, he has a fearsome reputation earned by some serious violence in his younger days (he is now 39, and has given that all up, or so he says). Judged by his past, Mr Courtney is evil.

The next day, we are sitting in a trattoria in north London, talking trivialities while I summon up the courage to ask him some more difficult questions. Everything I have seen about Mr Courtney has been perfectly polite and proper, and his amiability does not seem to be a front. But I have read up on his past, and perhaps such a successful criminal is also a master of self-presentation. Perhaps when I ask this surprisingly articulate man about the morality of what he has done, that big grin will freeze and disappear, and I will see the side of him that several Chinese waiters saw in 1981 when, irked at something, Mr Courtney attacked them with a meat cleaver. (He consequently spent a year in prison.)

"So, Dave," I take a big slug of brandy and Coke, "don't you think what you have done and are doing is heinous and immoral?"

"I do understand that some people - not the majority, I think - would say that I'm building something out of crime and that's bad," he says. He speaks with conviction and calmness, fixing me with his disturbing blue eyes.

"If I was born in another walk of life, I might just say that myself. I don't hate people for thinking that; I understand completely. But," he adds, "those are the cards I have been dealt."

But there's a paradox here. If you're going to do so well for yourself in the criminal world, you are presumably not much bothered about being liked. However, this seems to be one of his driving ambitions.

"I'd love it if everyone in that club said, `That Dave Courtney, he's the bollocks, man.'" That's why he let in the youngsters freezing outside. That's why he bought everyone champagne.

"'Course I like to be loved," he says. "I'm more of a Robin Hood than a robbing bastard."

His life of crime started early: at school, he stole charity money donated by parents to help Biafran children. Does he regret that, I ask?

"No," he replies, genuinely bemused at the question. I tell him I think it was immoral. He shrugs. He became a kind of rent-a-yob after being expelled from school, fell in with the East End's "firms", and soon, through his reputation for fighting, became a well known hood with his hand in everything. He tells me he's killed people, but has never been brought to justice for them. This includes a murder of which he was acquitted in 1989.

"'Course I was guilty," he says. "They deserved it. I didn't do nobody that didn't. I know everybody says that, but in my case it's true."

He served a total of 37 months in jail for his crimes, most of them on remand, including the spell at Belmarsh. Changing times, as well as enough money to live on happily, were the reasons behind his career change. The "noble villain", who treats everybody like family and bumps off only people who deserve it, is history. No amount of muscle power and respect will win a battle with a crazed crackhead armed with a Luger.

And now, he has the young Courtneys to think about. Married twice, he has three teenage children by a previous wife, and a one-year-old daughter, by his current live-in girlfriend. Would he encourage them to go into a life of crime?

"No," he says emphatically. "My life of crime was excellent. But things are different now."

Everything in Mr Courtney's media career - the music, the column, the TV show, even a forthcoming autobiography, to be published by Virgin - is based on his notorious past.

"I may be guilty of glamorising crime," he says, "I'm ever so sorry, but there are a lot of elements about crime which are very glamorous."

Though you have to try very hard to stop yourself from liking Mr Courtney for his perverse honesty, sense of fun and outward affability, it would also be too easy simply to judge him evil. Too easy, because he wouldn't be getting anywhere if the general public weren't fascinated by his crimes, and if the media - so keen to moralise - weren't so eager to exploit his potential. It's a natural human instinct to be attracted by those who break the rules that the rest of us are constrained by, particularly those who get away with it as spectacularly as Dave Courtney. Ordinary young men were delighted to be seen with him in the club; ordinary young women stood with him in nervous delight.

On his own admission Dave Courtney shouldn't be building a career as a celebrity; he should be in jail. But there was an undeniable buzz about being with him in that nightclub where he was king, and a lingering feeling that this man is not so much evil as amoral, and not so different from many other people you might encounter every day. Towards the end of our chat in the trattoria he said he had something to ask me.

"Would your editor be interested if I can set up a full interview with...", he said, naming one of Britain's most notorious criminals.

"Oh, yes," I said, choking on my drink, sensing a scoop.

Dave Courtney just smiled.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album