If Tommy and Joey the Crow shot Nicky, who took them out?

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 11 December 1999 00:00

Christine Hole was clearing out the garage at her neat and modern home in east London. On the shelf there were rows of tools - saws, drills and hammers - and boxes of screws and nails that she no longer had any use for.

Christine Hole was clearing out the garage at her neat and modern home in east London. On the shelf there were rows of tools - saws, drills and hammers - and boxes of screws and nails that she no longer had any use for.

"These were all Tommy's," she muttered, waving towards the walls as she started to cry. "He was doing up our house. That was what he was like these days, but now they have taken him away. They have destroyed my life."

Tommy, Mrs Hole's husband of the past four-and-a-half years, was once-notorious East End criminal with a history of violent crime, convictions and prison stretching back more than 30 years.

Last week the word in east London and on the "turf" that Tommy once roamed was that his past had finally caught up with him. On Sunday afternoon, in the lounge bar of a charmless brick-built pub a mile from his home, he and his drinking partner Joey "the Crow" Evans, were shot dead by two hitmen.

Mr Evans was apparently shot first - in the back and then in the back of the head at close range. Mr Hole was shot in the back as he tried to escape. In total, the killers fired six shots before calmly walking away and escaping through a sub-way. No one doubted it was a professional job. "It's villains killing villains, isn't it?" one local resident suggested to the television cameras.

And so many believe. After the shooting of Mr Hole and Mr Evans, a flurry of rumours were offered as to a motive: they were shot over a drug deal gone wrong; they were shot over money; they were shot - though no one really believed it - because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But the most compelling theory, and the one most widely seized upon, was that they were shot because of a feud dating back 18 years.

The background to that theory dates back to 1983 when Mr Hole was cleared at the Old Bailey of the murder of Nicky "Snakehips" Gerard, an East End enforcer. Gerard was suspected of 10 killings, but had been cleared of murder along with Ronnie Knight, former husband of the actress Barbara Windsor.

Gerard, 32, who had served time for a shooting, was shot by two gunmen as he drove away from his 11-year-old daughter's birthday party. Though he staggered away from the men, they chased him, clubbed him with the butt of a shotgun and then blew off the top of his head.

Last month, Gerard's uncle James died and was buried in East London cemetery at Plaistow. Mr Hole, the theory continues, attended the funeral and bragged about getting away with the murder of Jim's nephew all those years ago. Six days later, as he enjoyed an afternoon pint with an old acquaintance, the gunmen settled the score.

"That is all a load of rubbish," said Mrs Hole. "He wasn't even at the funeral - he was here at home with me putting up those blinds wearing an old tracksuit. I am not saying he was an angel but what he did was in the past. For the past five years, since he came out of prison, he has lived a quiet life."

Mrs Hole certainly talks of a man barely recognisable from the violence and horror of his past - a past that includes a seven-year jail sentence for driving over a man's head in a car, various acquittals for violence and robberies and a 13-year sentence for running a drugs factory.

Instead she talks of a man who since his release from jail in April 1995 has been studying car maintenance at a local college and carpentry at a support centre, who was interested in DIY and who rarely went out apart for a meal with his wife at a nearby Indian restaurant on a Monday evening.

She recalls writing to him after he suffered a nervous breakdown while in prison and visiting him at Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire.

She shows a photograph taken on the day they married in the village church at Rampton and recalls how she was given away at the ceremony by one of the psychiatric nurses she had got to know.

Neighbours of Mr Evans are equally astonished by suggestions that he was killed over some feud dating back 20 years. They don't even know where his colourful and now much-quoted nickname has appeared from.

"He was a nice, quiet chap," said Bill Kidd, one of his neighbours on the estate in Canning Town. "He used to say that in his past he used to run with a bad crowd but that that was all behind him. He used to say 'I'm an old man now'."

Another neighbour, Lisa Hodges, 28, who lives opposite Mr Evans house, where his carefully tended pot plants sit on the driveway, added: "I cannot believe he was a threat to anyone and anyway, he always used to sit outside his house on a bench - if anyone had wanted to kill him they could easily have shot him there."

The site of the shooting, the Beckton Arms, next to the busy A13, remains sealed off while police forensic scientists look for clues.

Police appealed yesterday for a third man who may have been shot and wounded in the pub last Sunday to come forward and help them with their inquiries. Apart from that they have refused to comment.

In murder cases investigating officers normally concentrate on the victim's activities in the days and hours leading up to the killings. But on the estates of east London, where the past sometimes seems forever ingrained, the feeling is that the police will have to look a lot further back.

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