Fatal shooting of 'millionaire' muddies the reputation of Virginia Water

Daniel Blackett strolled over to his garage to get his silver Porsche four-wheel-drive ready for a night out with his girlfriend. His partner, their 11-year-old son and baby daughter, and the children's grandmother, were inside his house on the couple's four-acre estate close to the upmarket village of Virginia Water in Surrey.

Then, just after 8pm, a gunman stepped out from behind bushes and shot Mr Blackett five times at close range. One of the bullets from the converted replica handgun went through his heart killing him.

By the time that his partner, Nicola Jackson, 28, had rushed to his side - where she tried in vain to resuscitate him - and called the police, the killer had fled.

The death of the 36-year-old last Saturday has shocked the otherwise conservative and law-abiding Surrey community, popular with commuters and celebrities of a certain age. Thorpe Green, where Mr Blackett lived, is a mile from the luxury Wentworth estate where Bruce Forsyth and the golfer Ernie Els live.

After his murder, Mr Blackett was described as an "entrepreneur'' and "millionaire building tycoon.'' But the image of a life of respectability and wealth was a charade and, as the police have investigated the murder, a very different story has emerged.

Far from being a country gent or self-made millionaire, Mr Blackett appears to be one of the growing numbers of criminals who have abandoned life in the city and shifted their base to the suburbs. He grew up in the Berkshire town of Wraysbury where his father worked as a labourer.

The 6ft charmer quickly gained a reputation as a "jack the lad'' and a troublemaker involved in petty crime. He and his gang of friends progressed from stealing pushbikes to car ringing, cocaine dealing, and armed robbery.

Two years ago, he moved to the pretty village of Thorpe Green and set up home in the £600,000 Blissford Lodge. He didn't mix with the villagers, preferring to keep the company of his old mates and his family. He was planning to knock down the existing bungalow and build a luxury four-bedroom house with landscaped gardens.

Six weeks ago, however, he clearly became worried about his safety and hurriedly had a 10ft wooden fence erected around the property. He also had signs put up warning of CCTV coverage and guard dogs and a "jokey'' notice telling trespassers that they would be beaten before being handed over to the police.

He was known to the police with convictions for armed robbery and burglary and was also involved in a number of failed property developments. Mr Blackett also posed as a hotel tycoon. Several businesses were listed at his home address and he was also reputed to have had links to the company that built a £6m hotel in Essex.

However, a spokesman for Classic Duo Ltd, the firm that built the 70-room Stansted Manor Hotel, said Mr Blackett had tried unsuccessfully to buy the property. The source said: "Mr Blackett [was introduced] to me as someone who had the ability to purchase the hotel. He posed as an entrepreneur. After a couple of months we realised Blackett and his mates were just mucking about."

Police believe the most likely scenario is that one of Mr Blackett's gangland rivals got fed up with him and either hired a contract killer or did the deed himself.

Dick Hobbs, professor of criminology at Durham University, said many of the successful criminals who decades ago would have lived in white, working-class parts of London have now moved to suburbia. He said: "The old style villains have not gone away. But there are sufficient funds gained from crime to allow them to go upmarket and move into suburban parts of Essex, Kent, and Surrey.

Meanwhile, the police expect to have to search Mr Blackett's Surrey plot for up to a fortnight in search of clues. No gun has been found.

A former colleague of the dead man said: "He could be arrogant and cocky and thought himself a big fish in a little pool but it turned out he was a little fish in a big pool.

"He must have overstepped the mark or crossed somebody. Last Saturday, whoever got into his grounds knew what they were going for. They were after Danny Blackett and they got him.''

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