This is a rambling story based on John 'Goldfinger' Palmer. We find how the Brinks Mat gold bullion robbery was responsible for a lot of criminal enterprises as these were funded by the proceeds of Brinks Mat gold. John Palmer was an interesting character, a key figure in disposing of the Brinks Mat gold.
Palmer managed to avoid prosecution and started a huge Timeshare fraud on the island of Tenerife which made him so much money that he made the Sunday Times rich list on equal place with the Queen!
Anyone who has read the book McMafia will realise that organised crime noticed the money made by Palmer and moved in on his enterprises. The police and insurance companies were also trying to get back stolen money. There was a lot of paranoia, jealousy and shootings, so much so that it was said that the Brinks Mat gold was cursed.
British organised crime gangs and enemies of Palmer were also making moves against him. Palmer was never really able to enjoy his wealth and always had to wear a bullet proof vest when he was in public. Having just played back the recording while uploading I realise that I have not thanked Damselfly for providing the backing music or you for listening.
The main sources of information for this podcast were the two Wensley Clarkson books: Killing Goldfinger and the Curse of Brinks Mat, Goldfinger and me by Marnie Palmer, various other books and newspaper articles. http://www.strangestoriesuk.com
John Palmer, Brinks Mat, Time Share scams and a lot of shootings.
Please be advised that this is a one person operation, it is a hobby to research and produce these low fi podcast. In the early podcasts I did stumble over words, but this aspect has improved but I have only ever recorded in one ‘take’ and I do not do any editing. I am working towards my hundredth podcasts, I aim for a 45 minute podcast but a lot of them are over an hour, there is very little ‘filler’ in the podcasts and sometimes too much information as I do often ramble on. I mention this as there have been some ‘one star’ reviews by people which I think is a little unfair, give me two or three stars at least. No doubt these people have been disappointed by the lack of professionalism in these punk podcasts.
As I record this podcast, I will try to complete it in a single episode, if it seems to be taking a long time, I will make it two episodes, and release the second the next day.
I should give prior warning that this is a rambling story based around the life of John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer. It will concentrate on his early ‘wheeler dealing life’ of crime. Then we will consider the Brinks Mat gold bullion robbery which lifted Palmer into the ‘Big Time’ in criminal history.
The Brinks Mat case was semi solved, they caught a few of the gang including the two main robbers / organisers; a lot of people involved managed to avoid being caught, the police knew who they were but did not have sufficient proof to convict.
The police were anxious to trace the stolen gold as they knew it would be used to finance organised crime. They hardly recovered any of it, partly because John Palmer smelted so much of it down and mixed it with scrap to disguise its origins. The money certainly caused much trouble and there was said to be a ‘curse of the Brinks Mat’ gold as it caused so many murders.
For example in the news this week there is talk of the private detective Danial Morgan’s unsolved murder in 1987 being investigated again, it is thought that he was killed by corrupt South London detectives who had been bribed by money generated from Brinks Mat by drug dealing organised crime. Noye had also been investigated by Daniel Morgan and he was a mason with corrupt police in his pay (I can recommend the podcast the Untold telling this story).
Another famous case which is so well known was the murder of the Essex boys, their murder being as a result of drug importations financed by Brinks Mat money. Pat Tate ran Essex’s main Ecstasy supply route after getting financial backing from Noye and other Brink’s-Mat gang members. These were fringe murders, there were others directly involved with the case. (The Essex Boys murder is well covered on Youtube, my recommendation is Bernard O’Mahoney’s comprehensive account).
The police managed to charge Palmer with handling the stolen gold but he managed to persuade a jury that he didn’t know it was stolen gold. Others involved in the robbery and distribution of gold suspected that Palmer was a police informer. Palmer worried for his safety moved to the Spanish island of Tenerife and surrounded himself with trusted henchmen. From this base he used his stolen wealth to create an infamous Timeshare empire cheating up to twenty thousand British people out of thousands of pounds of money.
It was said that Palmer loved money for its own sake and at one point he featured in the 1996 Sunday Times Rich list putting him in the list on equal place with Queen Elizabeth II with an estimated fortune of £300 million. It was said that Palmer did not make close friends, in the circles he moved in that was probably a wise move, associates that he knew were often suspicious and envious of his wealth. Palmer could have been a successful businessman, but it was also said that he enjoyed the ‘buzz’ of doing a crime.
John Palmer was born in Birmingham on 5th September 1950 to Irish parents. His father was an absent parent and not a great role model, being a thug and part of the Birmingham underworld.
John was a quick-witted child but who made no effort at school, leaving in the early 1960s, as soon as he could, unable to read or write. He came from Irish traveller stock and soon became involved in various rackets, and he became a very good thief and fence, dealing in stolen goods.
when Palmer was eighteen, he rented his first jewellery store this was 1968. He advertised for scrap gold, paying the going rate. If people bought in items with a resale value, he would organise for another jewellery shop some distance away for resale after paying just scrap gold prices, the items were sold for high mark ups.
Palmer was adept at bargaining and buying stolen items, which he always sold with a high mark-up price.Palmer tried to keep a low profile and did not party excessively trying not to advertise the fact that he was making money, often driving old Ford cars rather than anything flashy.
In 1973, Palmer was arrested and jailed at Winson Green prison. While he was in jail, his business was taken over by a Birmingham gang, a powerful crime family so there wasn’t much he could do about it. When he was freed, Palmer moved to Bristol realising that Birmingham wasn’t a healthy place for him, he needed to reinvent himself. Moving out of Birmingham.
Palmer soon set up a jewellery business in Bristol, he made some contacts and started a couple of businesses, carpets, second hand cars and a furniture business with a local crook and ‘wide boy’ Garth Chappell. They soon started handling stolen goods for resale, and opening other businesses to launder money.
Palmer, Chappell and another associate Terry Patch started a gold and jewellery dealing company, Scadlynn Ltd, at Bedminster in a rough part of Bristol. Garth Chappell had strong links with Bristol crime gangs that ran scrap metal, transport companies, entertainment venues, drug importation. And the like, so Palmer was soon a well-known member of the Bristol underworld.
Palmer settled in the Bristol area, got married to Marnie and started a family.
Scadlynn’s purchased a smelter so that jewellery (often stolen) could be smelted into gold bars. The smelter was an instant success and was said to be a cash cow, the financial year 1979-80 for Scadlynn showed a turnover of £4 million. Scadlynn’s office was above the carpet shop that Palmer and Chappell, they were concentrating on the smelting business. The carpet business (Bristol floorings) was sold off and the proceeds went into a newspaper advert campaign advertising cash for unwanted jewellery. The response was much better then expected. In her book ‘Goldfinger’ and me, Palmer’s wife Marnie tells of bags of jewllery delivered each day to their house as there was no one else in the South of England smelting down old jewellery on the same scale. They had to hire people to smelt for them.
Marnie tells of the fun she and her family had sorting through the jewellery, gold teeth and old cutlery and other scrap precious metals. She said that some of the jewellery was stunning as they choose which items they wanted to keep.
Palmer was doing well enough to buy expensive new cars and a Georgian country house at Landsdown near Bath, next to the monument for the Civil War battle of Lansdown in 1643.
The business was doing very well, Palmer and his companions felt protected as they had some corrupt police officers who kept them informed of any police activity. Scadlynn’s were smuggling gold into the UK, asn part of a VAT scam, as they devised various other schemes to work to their advantage.
Scadlynn’s were specializing in smelting and they were receiving request from criminals from around the country to smelt gold.
One of Garth Chappell’s contacts was Kenneth Noye, a businessman and criminal from Essex, who was asking them to smelt stolen gold (stolen jewellery) that he had aquired.
Palmer and Noye had their first meeting during late 1980. Noye was exploiting new Conservative government legislation which involved buying gold coins from banks, melting the gold down and selling the gold back to the banks as gold bars using a similar VAT scam as Palmer as well as making gold bars from stolen jewellery.
Palmer and Noye who were people to contact if you had stolen jewellery or gold that needed smelting, they were well known in Criminal circles
Two big robberies made during 1983 had a big impact on the criminal underworld and changed things in a big way for John Palmer and a lot of other people.
The first was on Easter Monday 2nd April 1983, the Security Express Depot robbery at Shoreditch of which £6 million was stolen and hardly any recovered. Palmer claimed to have been involved in the finance of the robbery. It was the biggest-ever cash robbery at the time.
The second robbery was the big one, on 26 November 1983 at the Brinks Mat security warehouse at Heathrow airport where £26 million was taken in gold bars, over 6,000 gold bars the size of Mars bars.
This raid was carried out by known South London criminals and was a nasty robbery. Petrol was poured over the private parts of the Brinks Mat staff to get them to cooperate with the robbers.
It was said that the robbers were expecting 2 million but found 24 carat gold bars! Well that is the story. Police think they knew gold would be there. Johnson Mathey bank were shipping a large gold consignment to Singapore.
the robbery actually affected gold price.(3.5 tons) , its theft acted as a gold shortage and pushed up the price of the gold stolen by an extra million pounds. The Brinks Mat gang had a problem in that they did not know how to dispose with the stolen gold.
When Noye heard of the size of the gold robbery, he contacted members of the gang who he knew and let them know that he could smelt the gold and make it lose its identity for them.
The Brinks Mat gang had been put together by Michael McAvoy. He was aged 32, a professional armed robber who had been planning the raid for 6 months with Brian Robinson. Robinson lived with a woman whose brother worked at Brinks mat and was the inside man, this was Tony Black.
Black supplied information and on the day, simply let in the robbers who were wearing ski masks by unlocking a door.
Other gang members were Tony White, John Lloyd, John Fleming and Brian Perry who all lived in the South East London area. It is thought that the Brinks Mat raid was given help after the robbery by the The Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate run by the Adams brothers, Tommy Adams becoming involved when it became clear that there going to be logistical problems in turning the gold into cash.
The police knew that due to the nature of the robbery that there must have been an ‘inside’ man. The robbers seemed to know a lot about the staff on duty; and when pressurising Black, he folded and told the police about his role. Eleven days after the robbery, Robinson, McAvoy and White were arrested and later charged with robbery.
McAvoy and Robinson would eventually be found guilty and given 25 years. White (who wasn’t identified by Brinks Mat staff) was acquitted at the same trial. Perry, Fleming and Lloydd managed to avoid being charged although all three were later jailed for other offences.
Fleming was extradited from Florida for handling stolen Brinks Matt money, but the charges were thrown out by a magistrate.
The sheer size of the Brink’s-Mat haul of gold bullion had created a huge problem because the gang needed a conduit through which the gold could travel. It had to be smelted, disguised and sold back into the gold industry before it could be turned into cash.
The South London robbers who had known each other for years were now having to put their trust in people such as Kent crime boss Kenneth Noye, who had convinced McAvoy and Robinson he was the best man to help them turn the gold into cash.
The police did receive a tip off that a man was trying to buy an industrial sized gold smelter, undercover detectives actually saw the smelter being loaded into a gold rolls Royce driven by Micky Lawson a friend of Kenneth Noye but the police tracking the car lost the car which it was thought was going to deliver the smelter to Noye’s home at West Kingsdown in Kent where there was 20 acres of land surrounding the house.
Noye wanted to purchase a smelter to initially smelt the gold at his property at Kent and at Scadlyns in order to get rid of its identification marks, Palmer would smelt the gold to disguise its origin. It is not known if Noye actually smelt any goal although it was clear that he had thought about it and attempted to do so.
Noye had bought 11 bars of gold in Jersey in order to get a receipt so each time he transported gold to Palmer’s smelter in the West Country, he had proof of purchase to indicate that he had purchased gold legally.
So the Brinks Matt gold may have been crudely smelted by Noye to get rid of id marks before going to Scadlynns or Palmer’s smelter at his house near Bath, where it was smelted again and mixed with copper and scrap gold. Which would allow the gold to re enter the market. Palmer took the bars that he had resmelted to
a firm licenced by govt Assay office at Sheffeild. They licenced it again to reenter the market.
It was claimed that Palmer was suffering from overwork on smelting duties. They smuggled the new, untraceable gold bars out of the country in lorry drivers’ lunchboxes and by private plane and reimported them with a ‘legitimate’ paper trail.
Those smelting and processing the gold were receiving a share of 25% of the value although it is not known how this money was divided amongst those involved or if there were disagreements over the dividing up of the money.
Scadlyns and Palmer were using a Barclays bank at Bedington in Bristol and withdrawing large amounts of cash, sometimes taken away in a cardboard box or plastic bags, ten million was withdrawn from the bank in 1984.
It is probable that all of the gold was eventually to be smelted by Palmer; Noye was friends with Brian Perry and John Lloyd two of the Brinks Matt gang, so it seems that their share was being smelted along with that of McAvoy and Robinson who were in jail. It is likely that White and Perry’s share was also processed by Scaddlyns. The Adams gang had links with Noye, so they probably used Palmer also. It is known that two of the Adams brothers travelled to inspect Palmer’s smelting operation. There were also rumours that a large proportion of the gold was hidden.
Noye gave Palmer the nickname ‘Goldfinger’ because he was the one who got his fingers burnt doing the smelting. At Noye’s home, the song Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey was primed to play on the stereo system whenever anyone walked into Noye’s lounge.
Brian Reader was the main ‘middleman’ who would drive the gold from Kent to Bristol, it is thought that he made many visits during 1984 delivering the 11 bars of gold each time, at other times Kenneth Noye would make the journey, it was thought that Tommy Adams and Christopher Weyman had also transported gold down to Scaddlyns amongst others. Tommy Adams, was later charged in the Brinks Mat inquiry over suspicions he transported gold to Bristol for Palmer. Adams but was acquitted.
It is not known how much gold was smelted by Palmer, 6,800 bars were stolen, so if each time 11 bars had to be transported to Scadlyns, this would take 618 separate journeys, so it is likely that it was also been dealt with elsewhere, or as said some of it was left hidden.
After the gold was smelted and turned into new bars and resold, the money was taken from the Scaddlyn’s bank account at Bristol. The cash was then sent back to Noye who took his share and the rest to the robbers after paying off amounts to others who were supporting them in various ways, a portion was thought to have gone to corrupt policemen in the South East of London to allow other schemes financed by the Brinks Mat job to operate with some help from corrupt police detectives such as ignoring drug dealing or giving information about police intelligence.
A large share went to Brian Perry who was looking after the share of the two main robbers McAvoy and Robinson in jail for twenty five years. By November 1983, the police told the media that they thought that the gold had already been melted down and smuggled out of the UK.
Brian Perry was a childhood friend of McAvoy, who thought he could trust him to look after his share and that of Robinson, but the temptation of the gold seemed too strong for Perry who was taking cash to Switzerland with the help of Gordon Parry and solicitor Michael Relton setting up off-shore accounts.
Parry and Wrelton opened up at least 170 fake accounts just in the Isle of Man. Other accounts were opened in the Channel Islands, the Caribbean, Spain, and Florida, the money would be laundered and then recycled back to Britain and invested in property.
Parry was investigated by the police and escaped capture in 1988 by driving off at high speed with a police detective hanging from his car. Wrelton was caught and sentenced to 12 years for money laundering. Parry was caught in Spain in 1990 and extradited to the UK and was sentenced to 10 years for money laundering. It was said that Brian Perry had put a contract out on Parry to stop him talking but the police got to him first.
The money from Brinks Mat was put to work, five wharfs were developed in Docklands London. The money was used to purchase properties in Spain, Cayman islands and the USA.
While in prison, McAvoy and Robinson tried to strike a deal by returning their share of the gold in order that he would be released early, but when they tried to organise this, they realised that they had lost control over the gold. Perry had been asked to return the gold but told police that this was not now possible. It also seemed that Perry was having an affair with McAvoy’s wife.
A letter written by McAvoy to White from his cell was intercepted, in which he warned: “I won’t have anyone else keeping my share for their own needs.
“He will sign his own death warrant to go through with it. I have no intention of being f***ed for my money.”
When McAvoy eventually came out of prison in 2000, Perry and four others involved in laundering the gold and money were murdered. It is not known if McAvoy was involved as it is a complicated scenario and others may have wanted Perry dead.
Noye had moved millions in cash to Ireland and Switzerland and other members of the gang who had escaped detection were also laundering money, John Fleming for example was discovered setting up fake offshore companies through a bent solicitor on the Isle of Man. Money was also channelled through a Panama shell company called Feberion Inc by the law firm Mossack Fonseca for Gordon Parry, this was discovered by a ‘whistle blower’ revealing their criminal dealings in 2016. Mossack Fonseca prevented British police from gaining control of the company in an attempt to get money back.
There are all sorts of different stories and rumours but, as said it is claimed that the development of Docklands and Canary Wharf building projects was partly funded by money generated by Brinks Mat gold as well as a lot of drug importation. It was proceeds from the Brinks Mat robbery that were used to fund the importation of the drug ecstasy which was to be so popular in the late 1980s. Noye had a major role in this.
The Brinks mat robbery has gone down in criminal folklore and there are a lot of stories associated with it that I don’t really want to get involved in here. It seems that there was double dealing and police corruption.
The police were monitoring the situation and knew that the gold was being smelted down, they were trying to understand the whole picture when an event forced their hand and they had to arrest anyone that they had any evidence on.
It was during January 1985, the police were watching Noye’s house. An undercover policeman Jon Fordham was stabbed to death by Kenneth Noye who claimed self defence. The killing of ‘Gentleman’ John Fordham infuriated the police who targeted Noye and his associates.
Police arrested Noye and Brian Reader who had come to collect 11 recently smelted gold bars found at Noye’s house. At trial during November 1985, Noye and Reader were found not guilty of the murder of the policeman Fordham, although they received long sentences for VAT fraud, Noye receiving 14 years.
Those involved in the smelting were arrested and received long prison sentences, Garth Chappel got 10 years. Others were arrested and charged for handling stolen gold, For example Brian Perry got 9 years for handling stolen gold. The person not arrested by the police was John Palmer.
There were increasingly rumours in the London underworld that John Palmer was an informant helping the police in return for immunity from prosecution, it was rumoured that he had been tipped off by the police to take a holiday in Spain. It was later admitted that it was a fortunate coincidence for Palmer that he had taken a holiday at the time of arrests.
When Palmer was forced to return to the UK in 1986, a result of an expired passport. He was taken to trial for handling stolen gold but Palmer convinced the jury that he did not know the gold was stolen and he was acquitted.
The police and the public were outraged by the verdict especially as his colleagues Chappell and Patch had been jailed for the same offence. Rumours continued about Palmer and it was from this time that he habitually wore a bullet proof vest.
There were those that thought that Palmer’s acquittal at the Old Bailey was because he had informed on his associates in exchange for being left alone by the police. This accusation wasn’t going away, no one could understand how he had been found not guilty despite all of his blatant connections to the Brinks mat job. The criminal underworld is a suspicious an paranoid place and a lot of people were rumoured to inform to the police from time to time for a variety of reasons. Kenneth Noye for example ran a fleet of lorries which were thought to have carried stolen goods, Noye had been suspected of giving snippets of information to corrupt police that he paid off, if it suited him to do so. Allegedly.
Palmer had been on holiday at Tenirife during January 1985 and as there was no extradition treaty, the police could not arrest him after Noye was arrested, and so he laid low near Playa de las Americas and started to plan new schemes with money he had invested at foreign banks. One of his new ideas was to invest in Timeshare development, he was cash rich and needed something to put the money into.
Palmer also invested in drug smuggling as there was so much money to be made, for example a kilo of cannabis was £250 in North Africa and it could be sold in London for £4,000. Palmer had a contact with a Colombian gang who arranged for cocaine to be parachuted to waiting boats all made possible by using GPS. Local police and Customs officials were paid off and there was little risk.
Eventually Palmer worked it so that he had no contact with the drugs, he just arranged for bribes to be paid to make the drug importations go smoothly.
Why people would actually buy a share in a building which they would have to travel to at a certain date every year in the future seemed an unlikely proposition for making money but it worked for John Palmer.
The idea was first successfully developed in the USA in the 1960s in California, Hawaii and Florida. It made more sense for Americans; they lived in the same country and could visit easily; many American owners are happy with their purchases and routinely holiday in their time-shares during their given weeks. There were of course scams: unscrupulous sales practices. Ever increasing annual maintenance fees, little resale value and buyback scams.
Unscrupulous developers introduced the concept in European resorts and the 1980s Timeshare scams began.
It made good financial sense for a developer, when instead of selling a property to a single buyer, they sell the property to 52 owners/buyers based on 52 weeks.
The concept being that customers buy a share in the property for a set number of weeks each year, usually paying a one-off lump sum. In return they get the right to use their annual weeks in the apartment, either for a fixed number of years or, more commonly, "in perpetuity". On top of the lump sum, timeshare owners must pay annual maintenance charges, which often increase substantially each year.
Many retired timeshare owners are thus locked into paying high annual fees for an entitlement to holiday properties. In many cases, these are passed on to family members when the original purchaser dies. The timeshare becoming an encumbrance to the owner who often stop paying the maintenance charges which means the property can be repossessed and sold again to others, giving more profit.
Timeshare contracts are notoriously hard to sell. The company that sold the timeshare may agree to buy it back, or a resale company might find a new buyer – but the price owners get, is usually much lower than the one they paid. Worse, bogus resale companies are prolific, offering to find a buyer if owners give them an upfront payment, then disappearing with the cash.
John Palmer had first heard of Timeshare when he was staying in Florida in 1977, but the idea firmed up when he was in Tenerife during January 1985. He came across an abandoned Timeshare building project, he inquired about it and learnt how it worked. As he was forced to stay on for an extended period, it became a project for him to work on. While he was on ‘holiday’ the police had raided a number of homes including his, Palmer knew the police would arrest him and detain him if he returned to the UK.
It was ideal for Palmer as Spain had no extradition agreement with the Uk and it was close enough for people to come and visit for a short holiday. Also, just across the straights of Gibraltar were drug smuggling possibilities from Morocco.
While he was in Tenerife, Palmer took Spanish lessons, networked and did research on the prospects of developing timeshares in the Canary Islands. Within a few months, he had bought three sites which he intended to develop.
Palmer developed his Timeshare complexes with money from the Brinks Mat raid plus loans from local banks and backing from local businessmen. There was enthusiasm for Palmer’s timeshare schemes from the Tenerife tourist board who thought more people would visit the island. Palmer also invested in Timeshares on the Spanish mainland at the Costa del Sol.
Palmer got together a great number of salespeople/touts who patrolled the streets and beaches to persuade people to attend timeshare seminars. These were usually young males and females in their early 20s happy to be away from the UK and partying each night, they were driven to get people to attend so they could continue their time in the sun. Often these touts lived on the breadline, and it was said that many of the timeshare hustlers had to find other ways to top up their small basic salaries.
The young timeshare salesmen at the seminars could earn thousands of pounds a day in commission if they could persuade people to buy timeshares, they used whatever tactics they could to cajole, persuade and bully in order to make a sale. It is estimated that Palmer sold up to 20,000 people a timeshare.
The initial approach was made by a tout who would often give a free scratch card which would show that they had won a prize, a bottle of cheap fizz that they could collect at the seminar. They would be pestered by the tout to attend the seminar as it would be the only way that he would be paid his small commission. Holidaymakers would readily attend to see what was on offer.
When attending the seminar there would be high pressure sales tactics applied. Palmer came up with the idea of getting those who had already bought a timeshare to buy another which could be sold later for a profit, there were various methods used to cheat people out of their money as few customers went through the small print on the contracts that they signed.
When a customer came back to use their timeshare, they would be kept waiting for hours to be given a key and then be given a maintenance bill for perhaps £500. If there were any complaints, Palmer had hired ‘heavies’ that were called on to ‘sort out problems’, these were often mercenaries who terrified even the selling teams.
Despite the stories of intimidation, Tenerife’s public officials were reluctant to criticise Palmer as he was an influential large employer on the island. Those that worked for Palmer’s timeshare operations said that they stuck together both working and socializing because most other people on the island hated them.
Marnie Palmer likened the Time share sales team to being hard-nosed, young and ambitious like candidates on the tv programme ‘The Apprentice’.
Palmer called his henchman ‘clumpers’, this being a term he learnt as a youngster on the streets of Birmingham, as a ‘clump’ is how he described the sound a body makes as it falls onto the ground. These clumpers would collect protection money from the bars and restaurants. Palmer also controlled some of the local police force through bribes and it was claimed that often people would go to Palmer to sort out a problem rather than the police who were seen to be corrupt, Palmer was a ‘Godfather’ type character for a time in Tenerife.
Some of the henchmen employed by Palmer were also entertainers who worked in the timeshare holiday village, these ranged from comedians to drag artists and impersonators. Sometimes Palmer would encourage his ‘entertainers’ to go and collect debts/protection money while wearing their stage costumes as he found it amusing the thought of a clown or a drag queen coming to collect money.
Palmer was determined to take from every profitable business and squeeze money out of holidaymakers visiting Tenerife. He was bribing and corrupting the island by buying up marginable land and getting planning permission to build new resorts in more remote areas.
Timeshare scams eventually led to new laws being introduced, included a 14 day ‘cooling off’ period. This made the timeshare scams difficult, to get around this, the timeshare crooks started Holiday Clubs and ‘Fractional ownership’ and other scams to get around the timeshare legislation.
People that had fallen for timeshare scams were targeted time and time again as their contact details were passed on. There are parts of Europe that had large Timeshare developments built that eventually became largely deserted.
I knew someone who became involved in selling timeshares, he was a fun loving adventurous twenty something who was based in Portugal and he made a great deal of money from the scam, he sold units at Valnavio near Albufeira on the south coast of Portugal. It is in the middle of nowhere and has become a ghost town with derelict apartments. The timeshare development was demolished a couple of years ago. Nothing has appeared in its place and the whole site is now just rubble.
John Palmer had the biggest timeshare operation in the Canary islands in the late 1980s. Others had noted the success and money that was being made by
There were those in London’s underworld who thought that Palmer’s success
was funded by the Brinks Mat gold that had been stolen from other criminals serving time for the job.
Palmer felt safe on Tenerife and even the British police knew that he had some corrupt detectives that he was bribing, but some detectives were causing problems for him, openly saying that Palmer had cheated his Brinks Matt colleagues. Palmer thought that this was an attempt by aggrieved police officers, angry that he had seemed to get away with various crimes, trying to stir up trouble and get him killed.
Although making vast amounts of money being made on timeshare, Palmer was expanding other activities such as money laundering, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Palmer made deals with Colombian cocaine gangs who would parachute drug drops to waiting boats making use of GPS systems. Palmer took a percentage of each cocaine importation without taking any risk, all he had to do was to bribe the Police and Customs not to get involved.
By 1990, Palmer would have eleven Timeshare resort complexes, The timeshare touts would be paid up to £50 for every buyer they managed to persuade to attend seminars, this on top of a small basic salary. No one can be sure of how much money Palmer made from the timeshare business, in a later court case it was shown that Palmer controlled his timeshare business from behind many companies, what is known is that Palmer cheated 20,000 people out of millions of pounds. Over a five year period, after Palmer invested £5 million in 450 timeshare villas which was capable of making him £72 million, but these figures are not certain as they came from Marnie Palmer’s book.
Other groups wanting to move into the timeshare business were changing the nature of Tenerife and there was the prospect of a ‘turf war’ among different gangs. At first Palmer’s ‘security men’ were attacking rival timeshare workers with knives and baseball bats.
However rival timeshare operations were backed with Russian mafia money and Palmer was beginning to realise that his timeshare and money laundering operations were in danger of being forced from him. Palmer attempted to hire muscle, but he was continually out trumped. There were shootings and stabbings became commonplace between the timeshare gangs. The Russian gangs were made up of ex military tough guys who were drugged up and didn’t seem to care if they lived or died.
Palmer’s security were often fuelled by steroids and cocaine and would bully people for money. They would start upsets over nothing and then demand money from people to avoid being beaten up, often small amounts such as twenty pounds to avoid a thump in the face.
Palmer had been the most influential gangster on the island, but he was being undermined by other powerful gangs, he realised this when six of his security men were arrested for attempted murder and Palmer found that his bribed police officers were now taking orders from other gangs, such as the Russian mafia and other Eastern European and Albanian and Italian mafia.
In the late 1980s, Tenerife was turning into a lawless land, Timeshare scams, drug importations, people trafficking, trafficking of women (prostitution). Palmer was slowly losing control in Tenerife, and it seems that the situation was even worse on mainland Spain. Palmer lost control of the three timeshare resorts that he controlled on the Costa del Sol. He signed over to London based gangsters some of whom had been involved with the Brinks Matt robbery, this was probably part of the Clerkenwell gang syndicate.
Palmer felt that the so called Costa del Crime was too dangerous. The criminals there were often drugged up and often acted without thinking through their actions. There were many ‘hitman’ shootings including a close friend of Palmer, Charlie Wilson, a well known London criminal involved in gold scams, laundering Brinks Matt money and drug importations. The drug importations seemed to be the reason that Wilson was gunned down in 1990, it was a time that if you were involved in criminal activity you had a good chance of being killed over disagreements and turf wars. Southern Spain was an area that Palmer wanted to avoid, younger gangsters were now taking control and not afraid to use guns and organise contract killings for often very little reason.
In Tenerife Palmer had some control, although others were trying to muscle in. But Palmer had started using cocaine heavily, his wife said that this caused him to behave in an exaggerated way, he would sweat heavily and have mood swings and bring out a nasty side to him. Marnie Palmer said that drug use clouded his judgement and he made deals with gangsters, killers and the Russian mafia. Marnie said that Palmer told her that he was doing two grams a day of cocaine which she thought meant he was actually taking four grams.
Palmer’s money laundering business was doing well, it is not known how many millions Palmer laundered but it was probably hundreds of millions and Palmer charged a high commission! We know something of Palmer’s fees from the ITV television programme the ‘Cook Report’ when a reporter Roger Cook got people pretending to be heroin traffickers recording Palmer discussing how he would launder £60 million a year and charging them 25% commission saying “I’m not cheap, but I’m good”.
This exposed Palmer for everyone to see what a corrupting and damaging character he was. Roger Cook broadcast his programme to 10 million viewers saying that Palmer had got to a position where he could launder large sums of money because of the Timeshare scams he had conducted. Palmer was now known by the public which was something that he hated, he is said to have put a contract on Roger Cook (£20,000), but when it became known to police he pretended that he was joking. Marnie Palmer thought that her husband had been tricked by Cook because he wasn’t thinking clearly through his heavy drug use, this made him arrogant and careless.
In the UK, Palmer had been given a suspended 18 month sentence for his part in mortgage fraud in the past linked to timeshare scams, this had fuelled further rumours of a deal between Palmer and the police. For those doing time for the Brinks mat robbery it was further evidence for them that Palmer was double-dealing.
In the summer of 1994, Kenny Noye was released from prison, Palmer invited him to spend some time with him in Tenerife but Noye wanted to get into his own Timeshare scam and attempted to open a timeshare in Cyprus with his Brinks Mat gold handler Brian Reader.
It was during May 1996 when Noye told Palmer that he had to leave the country immediately, Palmer organised his helicopter to collect him near Bristol and take him to France. Palmer claimed that Noye had not told him that he knifed to death a teenager after getting the worse of a fight after a road rage incident. The worldwide publicity surrounding Noye again put Palmer in a difficult position, and made him a target for the police.
Noye was put away again for life although he came out of prison on licence during 2019 despite the fact that he was linked to other murders including that of a witness in the road rage case in which he was convicted of in 2000 after being on the run for some years.
There were rumours that Noye had cooperated with police about his criminal activities in order to get out of prison while he was in his early 70s. Noye is a vicious and dangerous criminal but he is a survivor.
In September 1995, There was an attempt to ‘hit’ Palmer, using the latest murder technique of a couple of youngsters on a motor bike. Palmer wasn’t injured, he was wearing a bullet proof vest (as was normal). Palmer later learnt that he was under surveillance by the Spanish and British police but they did not intervene. The British police later admitted that they were watching but decided not to ‘reveal themselves!’.
It was later suggested that Palmer himself set up the ‘hit ‘to test if the police were watching him as he thought that they would have to reveal themselves if there was an attempt on his life.
It seemed that the police were playing with Palmer , telling him that they had credible evidence that he was going to be killed, the police spreading this intelligence to other criminals weakening Palmer’s position. The police were trying to get Palmer to do a deal with them, they would protect him if he told them certain things. Palmer saw through that and contacted the person that he thought had put a contract on him and paid him off. It was a risk but it seemed to work and it seems that the contract was called off.
This was a time when Palmer’s timeshare operations were coming under increased competition on Tenerife, it was often Russian backing financing the opposition who were also buying up the bars and restaurants on the island. It was becoming a popular resort for Russians.
Rather than directly oppose the Russian opposition, which he realised wouldn’t end well for him; Palmer tried to work with the mafia based in St. Peterburg Russia, who were making strong links with Spain in regard to drugs, money laundering and prostitution. Those Russians involved with criminality were thought to be associated with Yeltsin and Putin and so were considered very powerful.
Palmer was said to have signed over half of his timeshare business to the Russian mafia. He said that he didn’t really have any other option telling his associates that it was better to give half of it away than lose all of it in gun battles.
Palmer helped the Russian mafia, showing them how to launder money through the timeshare business. Palmer visited St. Petersburg to meet with Russians who he was working in conjunction with now and put his private jet at the Russian gang’s disposal.
Palmer was to say later that the Russians were the most ruthless gangsters that he had come across, saying that they would think nothing of killing a whole family if they had been crossed. He also said that he felt trapped in deals that he didn’t believe in, with those who didn’t care if he lived or died.
As if Palmer did not have enough of a problem with the Russian mafia, from 1997, The Italian mafia started business in Tenerife, using property and real estate businesses as a cover for drug and people trafficking and opening brothels. They started corrupting construction and tourism. There were also gangs from Eastern Europe and Liverpool and Ireland ‘opening businesses’ on the island.
The Tenerife authorities did not want to flood the island with police so with Russian backing, Palmer and his security would sort out ‘problems’ and get people to leave the island if required. The situation was described as a ‘tinderbox waiting to explode’. Palmer was seen as person to go to by the locals if there was a problem, they preferred Palmer’s action to those of the police. Palmer realised that Tenerife was becoming ‘too hot’ for him to stay and was trying to formulate an escape plan.
Tenerife had changed as a result of the timeshare complexes being built, the southern rocky coastline of the island was covered with timeshare apartments and beaches made from imported African sand.
By 1997, Palmer was feeling trapped and was stuck with various financial commitments on the island, including paying bribes each month to authorities and certain corrupt police. He knew that if he left the island the Russian mafia would take over his timeshare operation that he had worked so hard to build up.
Adding to his problems, there were people about to come out of prison in the UK who wanted a few words with Palmer about the gold he smelted from the Brinks mat job. These individuals thought that Palmer had set up his timeshare empire by using Brinks Mat proceeds, Palmer denied this saying that his West Country jewellery business and other business interests had funded his Tenerife business interests. Palmer said that the police were spreading rumours about Palmer causing problems between criminals.
During April 1997, Palmer was arrested by UK police and bailed regarding Timeshare fraud, he had to sign in to a London police station each Friday night although he was spending most of his time in Tenerife so he had to make a weekly flight to the UK to fulfil bail conditions.
Unbeknown to John Palmer at around this time, he was under close surveillance by various law agencies. The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) were working in conjunction with the Spanish police and the American drug enforcement DEA. They were even using spy planes to film and listen in on his conversations, this also enabled those spying on Palmer to be able to track where he was at any given time by getting a fix on any mobile phone he was using. The spy planes were given complete freedom of British and Spanish airspace and Palmer probably never knew he was being spied on.
The Colombian gangs he was working with in importing cocaine, warned Palmer that he was being spied on by the DEA but he didn’t believe it, he thought that his drug operation wasn’t big enough to warrant 24 hour surveillance.
It may have been intelligence that the police collected by this surveillance that caused rumours that Palmer had been feeding information to them in order that they leave him to wheel and deal without their interference.
There was the so-called Millennium Dome job at Greenwich on 7th November 2000, the gang were caught trying to steal diamonds on display. The police had been informed about the raid and the diamonds on display were false. The police admitted that there was an informant. This was John Palmer who had unwittingly gave the information to the police who had him under surveillance with their spy plane.
Police spun the informant story as they did not want it known that they had a surveillance operation on Palmer, or that they had a spy plane ( a converted Beechcraft aeroplane). Palmer knew about the Millennium Dome raid because he had put up money for it, but he was now suspected of being the informant. There were rumours that he was deliberately setting up robberies so the police could foil them. Palmer’s name was considered contemptible amongst many in London’s underworld. Palmer was confused and tried to distance himself from others, he thought he was being set-up.
After 9/11, the terror attack in New York, Palmer did contact with the British security services over information that he had over possible Islamic terrorists that he had contact with in Tenerife regarding, arms running, false passports and money laundering but those involved had long left the island although later captured thanks to Palmer’s information, although they are then thought to have started informing on Palmer’s operations.
Palmer decided to defend himself at the timeshare fraud trial which was held at the Old Bailey starting October 2001. Palmer saying that he had little to do with the day to day running of the business and had no direct involvement with the contracts that were signed. He claimed that he was busy training to become a pilot. He also claimed that he was persecuted because of his alleged links to the Brinks Mat gold robbery and had been portrayed as a gangster. The prosecution claimed that Palmer controlled his Timeshare operations from behind numerous companies and using ‘heavies’ to intimidate those who complained.
During the fraud trial, which was one of the longest in British legal history, the Brinks Mat robber Brian Perry was shot dead. It was rumoured that he knew where gold was still hidden, and he also was accused of helping the police.
Then two close friends of Perry, Jon Bristow and Ray Chapman were murdered in separate incidents in Kent both had purchased expensive boats shortly before being killed, said to have been bought with Brinks Mat cash given to them by Perry for work they had done for him. This caused rumours that gold had been hidden at sea.
There were other killings all thought to be the results of money laundering and dealing with the Brinks Mat money. Charlie Wilson, Keith Hedley, Solly Nahome, George Francis were all shot and the cases unsolved.
Palmer was sentenced to 8 years when he lost his fraud trial, he was also ordered to pay about £36 million pounds. His partner Christine Ketley received a two years suspended sentence which again fuelled accusations that Palmer had agreed a deal in exchange for Ketley (the mother of his son) getting a non-custodial sentence. Allegations that Palmer was informing spread through the London underworld. There are suspicions that Palmer was helping the authorities.
While he was in prison, electronic listening devices were planted in Palmer’s cell and in his partner’s house in Essex. These bugs picked up intelligence that Palmer wanted to finance some jobs and had arranged for associates to be paid cash for two big robberies being planned. Palmer was in his 50s and jittery with cocaine withdrawal and not at his sharpest.
Two robberies at Heathrow were foiled and this seemed to confirm that Palmer was an informant; it had not occurred to anyone that it was new methods of surveillance that were giving the police the information they needed. Palmer was informed by his associates that there was a contract put out on him again.
The murders continued, friends and associates from his timeshare business were being killed in Tenerife. Scotty Miller who was trying to hold together the timeshare operations was found with his throat cut, which the Spanish police decided to put down as suicide. Other associates of Palmer were found dead after jumping from High Rise apartments. Palmer called these ‘Russian’ suicides.
When Brian ‘Georgie boy’ Francis was gunned down. Police visited Palmer to inform him about the death of George Francis which Palmer thought was an attempt to portray Palmer as an informant, a deliberate attempt to mark him out as a ‘grass’. Francis was a drug smuggler who had links with the Clerkenwell/Adams Crime syndicate.
It was late 2005 and John Palmer was released, he was 55 years old and probably had money, stashed away in various accounts around the world. Palmer wanted to keep a low profile although he still wanted the thrill of organising criminal enterprises. He wasn’t going to return to Tenerife where there were too many dangerous foreign gangs that were still killing his associates who crossed them and organising drugs, people trafficking and organised begging rackets.
After his release just before Christmas 2005, Palmer was declared bankrupt, owing £3.5million, during the January of 2006, Palmer learnt that friends of his in Tenerife had been brutally murdered, Flo and Billy Robinson had been key figures in his Timeshare Empire before starting their own business called ‘Global World travel’, they were probably victims of the time share wars that were taking place on Tenerife. The murders were professional hits and remain unsolved.
It was thought that Palmer wanted to make a deal with the Adams family , Clerkenwell gang, to take over his interests in Tenerife in exchange for Palmer being able to finance robberies and other criminal enterprises in London. The Adams family gang saw the businesses in Tenerife as money laundering possibilities.
During meetings with the brothers, Palmer made covert recordings of them talking about murders they had committed in the past, two of whom had been put down to the curse of Brinks Mat. These tapes were put in an anonymous safe deposit box at a Hatton Garden bank in central London, as Palmer thought they would be some sort of protection for him from the Clerkenwell gang who he did not trust.
Palmer did make the mistake of returning to Tenerife during July 2007 where he was arrested for a number of offences including timeshare fraud, money laundering, credit card fraud and drug trafficking. Palmer was kept in prison for almost four years while the Spanish police prepared a case against him before getting bail in 2011 when he moved back to the UK living with his partner Christina Ketley and his son at their house in South Weald, Brentwood, Essex. They ran an online pawnbrokers and jewellers called ‘Essex Pawn Stars’. The Spanish police decided to prosecute and there was a court case in Spain that Palmer would have to attend.
The Adams brothers changed their minds about taking over Palmer’s businesses in Tenerife after hearing how anarchic the island had become and they also thought that Palmer may be tempted to inform on them, especially as he had been arrested by Spanish police.
It is thought that Palmer traded information with the Spanish authorities to get bailed, he was supposed to stay at his house in Essex apart from reporting to authorities in Madrid every two weeks. But the UK did not feel safe to Palmer, it seemed that organised crime had infiltrated everything and running without any interference because it was so secretive and anyone who spoke out of turn was killed.
Even Russian’s who had fled to the UK thinking it a safe haven and who had been money laundering customers for John Palmer in the past were being killed in the UK, or seen as ‘Russian suicides’. Palmer had requested Police protection on a number of occasions but the police were reluctant to spend part of their budget on a security operation to protect him, someone who they felt was wealthy through crime.
The Hatton Garden Safe deposit company was broken into over Easter in 2015. Hatton Garden is the jewellery and watch centre of London. No one can be sure of how much was taken in the raid, some people estimate it was over £100 million pounds.
The raid was made into various films as those involved in the job were pensioners, London criminals wanting to do one last job; including Brian Reader who planned the raid which was in Clerkenwell and Reader was close to the Crime syndicate run by the Adams brothers there. Reader would have to have their permission to do the raid and they probably financed the job. Brian Reader was aged 76 at the time, he didn’t have a mobile phone or a car and would use a friend’s travelcard to get from his home in Dartford to get to Clerkenwell.
During the raid, the gang targeted 73 out of the 550 strong boxes, these would be crammed with jewellery and other forms of wealth. There were also allegedly incriminating photographs of well known personalities. Amongst the strong boxes raided was that of John Palmer which contained the tapes of the Adams gang admitting to murders. It was said that the thieves were searching for a security box in particular. Palmer was known to have items stored in security boxes, he was a well known figure in the area.
At the time of the Hatton Garden job, John Palmer collapsed at his home and was rushed to hospital for life saving heart surgery. It was while he was recovering in hospital that he heard the news of the Hatton Garden job, he realised then that the Adams family had heard about his safety deposit box and that was why they had organised the raid and had their inside man known as Basil (later identified as Michael Seed) who would hand them over the contents of Palmer’s deposit box.
The Adams brothers sent Palmer a message saying that they had something that belonged to him and they needed an urgent meet, which was organised at a Suffolk pub. At the meeting, it was said that Palmer was told that if he wanted to live he would have to pay the gang a million and a half pounds a month, after some haggling this was reduced to one million pounds a month.
Palmer returned to his home Sandpit Cottage, South Weald, Essex and increased security. On the 24thJune 2015 in the early evening , John Palmer was killed by a professional hit. Emergency services that attended when he was found lifeless in his garden thought that he had fallen from his tractor and opened heart surgery wounds, it wasn’t until another five days when the post mortem examination revealed that he had in fact been shot six times. It seemed hardly believable and led to rumours that police deliberately misdiagnosed the cause of death in order to give the killer more time to escape. The killer that seemed to know that Palmer would not be wearing his bullet proof vest and the areas not covered by CCTV cameras.
The police told reporters that due to Palmer’s criminal history, there were people or groups of people who wanted Palmer killed. They refused to comment on the questions asking if Palmer had been a police informer. However, it was admitted that the police in both the UK and Spain that Palmer’s jail cells and phone calls were bugged. It may have been that the surveillance operations had been the reason why Palmer had been killed as people thought that he had been informing, there was also a suspicion that intelligence by the DEA and other law-enforcement agencies endangering Palmer’s life.
The police said that the two most likely scenarios for Palmers death were either a connection with the Hatton Garden job or someone feared him giving information ahead of his fraud trial that was to take place in Spain.
Marnie Palmer suggested that she thought that the Hatton Garden link was more likely than a Spanish ordered killing. The Mail on Sunday published a story claiming that Palmer was shot on the orders of one of London’s most feared crime families over fears that he inform on them. The murder remains unsolved. John Palmer’s funeral was held in Essex and his ashes were taken to Tenerife and scattered at sea.
So John Palmer was killed by a professional hit, the police tried to muddy the water by suggesting that it could be one of 16,000 people, suggesting that it was a disgruntled timeshare purchaser who had lost a few thousand and had decided to hire a hitman for another few thousand to make himself feel avenged. I think that we can rule out that possibility.
I read the Wensley Clarkson books ‘Killing Goldfinger’ and ‘the Curse of Brinks Mat’. Clarkson is the expert in the matters of London gangsters and his opinion is important, I think he came up with the theory of the Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate getting rid of Palmer for threatening the Adams brothers with informing on them.
There was also the upcoming court case in Spain, could Palmer be feeding information trying to make a deal with the Spanish police? This is a possibility which would have be reason for a number of organised crime groups, not least the Russian mafia to make sure he did not tell any tales.
There were of course other groups that might have wanted revenge on Palmer, but these are the long shots, disgruntled people involved with the Brinks Mat robbery such as those people responsible for the Perry and other shootings. Noye was questioned by the police after Palmer was shot but he made it clear that he wasn’t going to speak to them. There were other gangs that intensely disliked Palmer including his former head of security Mohammod Derbah, a Lebanese man who had links with terrorist groups and made a living arms trafficking. There were other gangsters that thought Palmer had informed on them that had the capability and contacts to organise a hit. But these are all long shots.
Well so ends another podcast series 3, episode 32. I would like to thank you for listening and Damselfly for providing the background music and until next time. Goodbye.