On a beautiful mid-August day in Barbate, a tuna fishing village near Cadiz in southern Spain, Kenneth Noye and his girlfriend, Mina Al Taiba, a striking woman of Lebanese-French extraction, were enjoying their evening meal al fresco at the busy El Campero restaurant.
Noye had just eaten a salad starter followed by red mullet and his 38-year-old companion another local fish, the dorada. As Noye was contemplating his dessert, four undercover detectives dressed in shorts and T-shirts rushed over, pinned him to the ground and snapped on handcuffs. Britain's most wanted man had been nicked.
The Independent can now reveal how the arrest was made. It followed a meticulous operation involving Britain's secret eavesdropping centre, GCHQ, which tracked down Noye after he had been betrayed by an underworld informer. Sources say this was Joey Wilkins, a former gangland figure who lives in Spain after escaping from prison.
Noye had become the prime suspect within days of Stephen Cameron's murder, although huge efforts were made to keep the information secret. It was a tricky investigation. The identities of the officers involved had to remain confidential; some were offered protection. With Noye's record for buying information no chances could be taken. Detectives untangling his network of corruption now believe that at least one prominent MP was in his pay.
With his lower-middle class background, Noye did not come from a traditional gangster family and he did not have the pathological hatred some felt for the police. He thought nothing of fraternising with them.
As the investigation unfolded Kent detectives traced a Land Rover Discovery matching the one driven by the killer to an Anthony Francis of Brigden Road, Bexley, about six miles from the murder scene. Anthony Francis, it quickly emerged, was an alias long used by Noye.
Immediately after the murder Noye had made a series of calls to a friend and fellow crook Terry Hole, who ran a car repair garage in West Malling, Kent. Mr Hole was later to lie on Noye's behalf, telling police that the Discovery had been in his garage all the time. Noye also made a series of calls to arrange, through another friend, to fly in a private helicopter first to a golf course near Caen in France and then on to Spain. With a briefcase stuffed with £10,000, he set about building a new life.
The police received sightings of the fugitive in a wide range of places including Spain, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, France, Morocco, Turkey and Russia. In all they visited 13 countries in their investigation. Noye is believed to have spent some time on the run in Northern Cyprus, which does not have an extradition treaty with Britain and where he had a powerful ally in another fugitive, the disgraced businessman Asil Nadir.
When reports came back that Noye was in Northern Cyprus a customs officer who had arrested the criminal in the past had to cancel his holiday. "My wife and I were about to go to Northern Cyprus. It's a small place. I didn't know whether Kenny would try to shoot me or buy me a drink. Whatever it would be, I could not take the risk," he said.
Noye made Spain his permanent refuge because of the "business" opportunities offered by the so-called Costa del Crime. He used a passport in the name of Alan Edward Green - which some say was a joke at the expense of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, Allan Green.
Noye stayed at Joey Wilkins' luxury villa in Estepona. Now 64, Wilkins had been a major gangland figure in Soho in the 1960s. He had been married to the former dancer Pearl Read, who recently courted fame by modelling in her bra, at the age of 56, as part of an Age Concern advertising campaign. She had been present when, in 1972, Wilkins survived a gun attack by four men at his Soho office.
In the mid-1980s Wilkins was convicted, in Britain, of importing drugs. Towards the end of his sentence he had been transferred to an open prison and was given day release to attend the dentist. Instead "he went on his toes" and fled to Spain where he lived openly and became a big player on the British Costa del Crime scene.
While staying with Wilkins, Noye bought himself a £330,000 villa in Silver Bay, between Cadiz and Gibraltar. According to underworld sources, Wilkins waited a few weeks and then quietly passed on Noye's mobile phone number to the police. Detectives then used the option, available in exceptional circumstances through the National Criminal Intelligence Service, to request the aid of GCHQ. It was able to locate the user of the number down to Noye's new villa.
The police say they were tipped off about Noye by a holidaymaker who recognised him. But underworld sources in Spain insist the tip came from Wilkins. On the Coast del Crime Wilkins is believed to be a British police informer, which is said to protect him from extradition. The Home Office would not comment on why Wilkins has not been extradited. "Each case is dealt with on its individual merits," was all a spokesman would say.
Noye was put under surveillance. Police tracked Brenda Noye and the couple's son, Kevin, when they visited him. One trip by Mrs Noye, on 20 December 1996, helped to locate her husband.
Spanish police officers cooperated with British detectives to watch Noye's every move. He was filmed at a bar and then a glass from which he had been drinking was taken to obtain the fingerprints that identified him beyond doubt.
Meanwhile, Danielle Cable, Stephen Cameron's fiancÃ©e and the key witness to the killing, was flown to Spain. Noye and his girlfriend were observed as they headed into the Il Forna restaurant in La Muela, 15 miles from his home.
Ms Cable, disguised, was taken discreetly to the restaurant by an undercover Spanish detective and sat where Noye could not quite see her. She was asked if she could recognise anyone. She pointed to the stocky middle-aged man with a boxer's nose, nodded her head and said simply: "That's him." The next morning she flew back to Britain and that evening Noye was caught.
The British police did not tell the Spaniards how they found Noye as the admission of using spying techniques constitutes a territorial infringement. But the risk was one worth taking. They had Noye in the bag.Reuse content