Who lured Mr Nice Guy to his death then dumped his body?

Sheerness murder: Police investigation into the killing of a builder in an execution-style hit is being hampered as a Kent town closes ranks
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The Independent Online

Mr Nice Guy Jonny Bristow, who was killed by a single shot to the head and dumped in a river, was the victim of a professional "execution".

Mr Nice Guy Jonny Bristow, who was killed by a single shot to the head and dumped in a river, was the victim of a professional "execution".

There are no signs that the 39-year-old builder put up a struggle, and he almost certainly never knew what hit him.

The killers wrapped a heavy chain several times around Mr Bristow's head and looped it around the belt holding up his jeans, before attaching weights to his body.

He was then probably placed in a boat during the cover of darkness and taken out into the River Medway, near the north Kent coast, where he was dumped into the sludgy water.

The executioners bound and weighted Mr Bristow's 20-stone body in the hope his remainswould never be found. But they did not take into account the strong local currents, and over several days the powerful ebbs and flow ripped off the weights and, a week after the murder, the body rose to the surface.

Two river pilots, while out on a boat, spotted what they described as a bundle of clothes at about 11.30 on the morning of Friday 11 August. The bundle - Mr Bristow - was pulled aboard close to buoy number eight, about a quarter of a mile from the giant cranes and warehouses of the Sheerness Docks on the Isle of Sheppey, where the Medway enters the Channel.

As soon as police announced details of the murder, the rumour mill in this tough Kent town went into over-drive. The talk was of dodgy drug deals gone wrong. But the talk appears to be wrong. Far from being a villain, the executioners' victim appears to have been a dedicated family man, leaving police with the mystery of who killed Mr Nice Guy.

Mr Bristow had lived all his life in Kent and owned his own small building firm, SEC Environmental Services.

Twice divorced at the time of his death, he was living with his girlfriend in Chatham and was renovating rooms above the Chequered Flag pub on theHigh Street. He had a stake in the pub and planned to start running bed and breakfast.

Chatham has a reputation for toughness. One local police officer said: "It's a bloody hard town. Whereas you might usually have 19-year-olds involved in punch ups, in Chatham there are 30-year-old men fighting. The criminal fraternity in the town prefer to sort out matters among themselves."

The town has the highest level of crime in Kent, specialising in violence, burglaries and car theft. Drug dealing has become increasingly widespread, particularly the sale of heroin and cocaine. Most of the local crooks are traditional, white working class families who have escaped the influence of more powerful London-based gangs. Despite the high levels of unemployment that followed the closure of Chatham's naval base and docks in the 1980s, high-tech industries and a shopping centre have brought some wealth back.

Nearby Isle of Sheppey, where the victim's body emerged, has long been considered a popular holiday destination for East End villains, who lacked the cash or energy to go to the Costa Del Sol. Stalls selling jellied eels and pie and mash can be found alongside sprawling caravan parks and chalet complexes.

Mr Bristow at first seemed to fit into this world. He liked his beer, had close connections with several pubs and was a well-known face in the region.

It seemed an open and shut case. All the police needed to do was find out who he had crossed. That was until Kent police started to dig into the victim's background.

Jonathan Bristow, known as "Jon" or "Jonny" to his many friends, was a devoted father. He had a 20-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter from his first marriage. His second marriage to Kerrie Bristow resulted in four children, a boy aged five, and three girls, aged 10, eight and six.

Despite an amicable split with Kerrie last year, the children's father spent every weekend with them. Trips to theme parks and to seaside resorts such as Margate and to Butlins were particular popular.

"Seeing his children was the highlight of his week. They are devastated by the death," said a police spokesman.

With the exception of a couple of minor offences several years ago, Mr Bristow had not been in trouble with the law. There is no evidence so far to suggest he had any involvement with drugs, and checks on his bank account found he was solvent but not with big injections of cash.

He was described as a likeable, friendly chap who often helped others. The police went as far as to say "he had the image of a Mr Nice Guy who was everyone's friend".

Mr Nice Guy had been due to take his children on a weekend trip the day before he disappeared. He was last seen leaving the Chequered Flag at about 11.30am on Friday 4 August and driving off in his black Chrysler people carrier, registration number W531 YKP. He took with him a green fabric holdall containing a change of clothes.

He was never seen again after that Friday. But the following morning his Chrysler was left outside the flat he shared with his girlfriend, almost certainly by people involved in the murder. The holdall bag is missing along with a chunky gold ring, which must have been prised from the dead man's finger.

Police are not disclosing where he was shot in the head - although a single bullet from behind is most likely - or whether a shotgun or a revolver was used.

Detective Chief Inspector Colin Murray, the officer in charge of the case, said: "He was executed. We believe he was lured to his death. What we don't know is whether it was by somebody he knew or how many were involved in the execution and disposing of the body. This was a premeditated, well thought out plan.

"The body was never intended to be found. It was a professional job. We believe he was most likely to have been shot near the river and placed on a boat, but it is possible that he was shot on the boat.

"We don't know the motive for the killing. There is also nothing to suggest he's got lots of enemies, has ripped someone off, owes money, or has a violent domestic life.

"We are still pursuing the angle that he may have been involved in a high level criminal activity - this is still the most obvious explanation, but at this stage there is nothing to support this."

The town's hardman reputation is also hampering the investigation. "To call it a wall of silence is an exaggeration, but there are people who will not talk to us, let alone make a statement," said the detective.

Back at the Chequered Flag one of Mr Bristow's drinking buddies thought the explanation was simple. "He did someone a wrong 'un and just got unlucky, that's all."

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