Glasgow's ice cream van wars: The drugs turf war that led to murder

Glasgow's ice cream van wars
Image by Scott Evans | Unsplash images

The twinkling chimes of an ice cream van is a welcome sound for many in the middle of summer. In East Glasgow, however, there is a darker, more sinister history associated with the brightly coloured vans. A turf war gone wild, mayhem, and murder: the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars shook the Scottish legal system for over 20 years.

Groceries to go

Glasgow in the early 80s was very different to the Glasgow of today. Ruchazie, an estate built as part of a housing development boom in the 50s, was already a neighbourhood of notoriety. An area of poverty, unemployment, and decay - the residents of Ruchazie relied on the ice cream vans that visited the estate for more than frozen treats. Delivering groceries and everyday essentials, the ice cream vans would stop throughout the year enabling residents who weren’t able to travel to the supermarkets to do their shopping.

On top of the weekly shop or a frozen treat, shoppers could also get their hands on much hotter commodities too: stolen goods and drugs were top items on the menu.

Turf war

Being an ice cream van vendor was a very lucrative job with owners expected to make as much as £200 profit a week from their rounds - close to £650 today. With such a profit margin, owners of vans would become very territorial, stopping newcomers from poaching their rounds through any means possible. Some vans were legitimate, but many more were fronts for organised crime.

Assassination and arson

One night in December 1984, 18-year old Andrew ‘Fat Boy’ Doyle was driving his normal route through the neighbourhood. While stopped at one of his usual points, a car pulled up alongside his van and opened fire. Doyle escaped, however, it wouldn’t be long until his turf war would tragically escalate.

A driver for the Marchetti Firm, Doyle had ignored intimidation tactics that had been growing more violent. Refusing to sell drugs on his rounds, or give up any of his patch, the shooting wasn’t the end of the rival firm’s attempts to scare him out of the game. The intimidation of Fat Boy culminated in April of 1984 when a ‘frightener’ intended to scare him out of the neighbourhood went wrong.

Thinking that the home had just Fat Boy and his family, arsonists set the house ablaze in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, the Doyle family had guests staying with them, doubling the expected occupancy. Six members of the family were killed in the ensuing blaze with the youngest among them being just 18 months old.

Prosecution

The deaths caused public outrage, and the Strathclyde Police were put under intense pressure to bring those responsible to justice. The Serious Crimes Squad were even nicknamed ‘serious chimes squad’ due to the absurd nature of the case. Over the following months, Strathclyde Police arrested several suspects - eventually charging six with the murder of the Doyle family. Four of the six men were sentenced, but there was a challenge to their conviction with two of those sentenced launching a legal battle that lasted 20 years.

Challenging the validity of the arrests, and the confessions that the officers obtained, several appeals were launched. Suspicions were raised around the arrest of Thomas ‘TC’ Campbell when the arresting officers' reports were reviewed stating that the officer writing Campbell’s confession was, in fact, driving at the time Campbell confessed. The corroborating reports from the three other arresting officers all cited an identical 24-word phrase as the damning confession in their reports - a highly unlikely outcome given that the officers were recalling the words from memory.

During the final appeal, evidence was given by a forensic psychologist to show that this was proof of a conspiracy on the part of the arresting officers, casting reasonable doubt on the convictions. Campbell called for a fresh investigation into the murders of the Doyle family, fingering another player in the organised crime of Glasgow for the murders. However, the time that had passed from the murders, and Campbell’s well-known feud with the man (along with the fact that many of the key officers and witnesses had since passed away) meant that there was no hope for a new investigation as to the events of that night.