Murder of Hell's Angel linked to drugs deal row

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HELL'S Angels were in mourning last night behind the high fences of their 'fort' as police investigated a drug ring link with the murder of one of the Wolverhampton chapter.

Four bullet wounds in the chest killed Michael Rowledge, 31, on Wednesday, as he sat in a high performance car outside a supermarket in Old Roan, Liverpool - 90 miles from his home territory.

Shoppers watched his killer, a young black man, speed away in a convertible driven by an auburn- haired woman. Police were questioning Wolverhampton Angels last night to find out why Mr Rowledge apparently kept an appointment close to Aintree racecourse. Two men in the car with Mr Rowledge were also being questioned at a Liverpool police station.

Knives and other weapons were found in the car, a Merseyside police spokesman said. Mr Rowledge, a divorced father of two, had a conviction for threatening behaviour and was awaiting trial on charges arising from a fight at a Wolverhampton pub.

Detectives have considered two motives for the killing - an Angels' vendetta, or violently disputed drugs transactions.

Wolverhampton Hell's Angels have been involved in a protracted feud with the Cycle Tramps gang from Birmingham. Three Tramps were shot and injured six months ago when their car was fired on by a passing vehicle. A Wolverhampton man has been charged with attempted murder.

But police are sceptical that any scores would be settled as far away as Liverpool. It is believed more likely that Mr Rowledge and his two companions met the killer to dispute a drugs deal. The murder scene is close to a motorway junction.

Other Angels yesterday said they could offer police no clues to the shooting. Mr Rowledge had lived for eight years at the fort, a large, half-timbered detached house in an affluent suburb of Wolverhampton.

'We are all very shocked and upset, but there is nothing we can say,' said Joe, an Angel who came to the locked steel gate of the fort. 'We have been given no information by the police. All we know is what we have heard and read in the media.'

The house, surrounded by high walls, hedges and fences is used by Wolverhampton Angels as a meeting place and social centre. A few motorcycles were parked outside yesterday, along with several caravans. An empty beer keg stood by the side of the drive, and a mower had been abandoned on the lawn. Smoke rose from the chimney of a wooden bungalow where Mr Rowledge and another man were believed to have lived.

'We sometimes hear their dogs, and there is a cockerel which crows in the mornings, but they are good neighbours,' a woman whose home backs on to the fort said. 'They have had parties, but the noise hasn't been intrusive. When the children have asked for their ball back, there's been no trouble, no harassment.'

Tim Whitehouse, who runs a garage next to the fort, said: 'There have been parties there, but groups have been invited from all over the country. Where's the gang warfare in that?'