One-eyed killer Dale Cregan’s distinctive face is etched into the collective British consciousness due to the double murder of two policewomen in September 2012. But he was already well known and feared by locals in Tameside, Greater Manchester, for several years before then.
Cregan had a physically intimidating presence and was an acquaintance of two notorious families - the Shorts and the Atkinsons - who'd had a long-running and bitter dispute. Simmering tensions came to a head on the night of 10th May 2012, when Cregan (then aged 28) and two other men, Luke Livesy and Damian Gorman - aka Scarface - pulled up in a car outside The Cotton Tree Inn pub in Droylsden.
Stunned pub-goers saw a man wearing a balaclava enter the building. He shot 23-year-old amateur boxer Mark Short, and three other men, before fleeing. Short, a father of one, died at the scene in his father David’s arms. This attack triggered a nationwide manhunt and led to two more incidents which would see three others lose their lives.
Dale Cregan’s 19-week trial at Preston Crown Court began with him pleading 'not guilty'. He changed his plea to 'guilty' in the second week of the trial, and was eventually given a whole life sentence for the four murders of Mark and David Short, PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone. This means he will remain incarcerated until the day he dies.
Five others, including Anthony Wilkinson (who’d also gone on the run with Cregan) were found guilty for their involvement in the Short murders. Dale Cregan is currently being held at psychiatric unit Ashworth Hospital in Merseyside, the same facility as Moors Murderer, Ian Brady.
Tensions soon escalated and police warned Cregan that there had been threats to his life and to his girlfriend and four-year-old son. He decided to lie low in Thailand for a while (the country where he claims to have lost his left eye in a fight some years earlier). Returning on 12th June, he was arrested as he got off the plane at Manchester.
Police had to release him on bail while they continued gathering evidence. At the start of August police tried to re-arrest Cregan, but were unable to locate him as he was holidaying in the Lake District. On 10th August, having returned to Manchester, Cregan and two accomplices ambushed 46-year-old David Short at his home in Clayton, shooting him nine times with a Glock pistol and then throwing a grenade onto his body. The assassination was viewed by Cregan as a pre-emptive strike because Short had threatened his family. The use of hand grenades, which had not been seen before in the mainland United Kingdom, was especially worrying for police.
Chillingly, Cregan would later tell a prison psychiatrist that “The night I shot David Short I had the best sleep of my life”. CCTV of both these shocking attacks was circulated, and a nationwide manhunt ensued. Cregan’s face peered down from huge billboards offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. 50 raids were carried out across the country, but to no avail. When the fugitive resurfaced after 42 days on the run, the consequences were devastating.
The anonymous 999 phone call on 18th September 2012 sounded completely innocuous. The caller, a young man, stated: “Someone’s just thrown a big concrete slab through my back window and run off.” Police dispatchers alerted PC Nicola Hughes, 23, and PC Fiona Bone, 32, to an address in Abbey Gardens in Mottram, Greater Manchester to investigate.
Shortly before 11am, witnesses heard 13 gunshots and an explosion at the address. Cregan had lured the two young police officers there with the sole intention of killing them. No words were exchanged as he shot the two women using a 9mm Glock, before once again detonating a hand grenade. It was to emerge later that Cregan had taken a family hostage overnight in the house at Abbey Gardens and audaciously allowed the father to leave for work the next day, but threatened to kill his family if he alerted the police.
The double murder of PC Hughes and PC Bone shocked the nation - it has been described as the worst police killings in a generation. Cregan’s next move was equally unexpected, as he handed himself in to the nearest police station, in Hyde. He claimed that his actions were in retaliation for the way the police had hounded his family while he was on the run.
The devastating impact of losing two officers in the line of duty is summed up by Chief Superintendent Nick Adderley of Greater Manchester Police, “I’ve got one officer that the Inspector is telling me is dead, I’ve got another officer he’s saying they’re working on - that was Nicola. What did working on mean? It seemed I was stood there forever and almost as if I was looking down on the situation. I feel in a way quite annoyed with myself about that, because you would think you’d know what to do. But I’ve said this many a time - we’re just ordinary people. We’re just ordinary people.”
Manchester came to a standstill as thousands lined the streets for the funerals of the two fallen officers, which were held on consecutive days at Manchester Cathedral. As police officers - many of whom hadn’t known Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone - bowed their heads in a mark of respect, it was clear that the loss was profound.
PC Fiona Bone’s father Paul says that she enjoyed her job, and how she shielded her family from the more dangerous aspects of policing, “She liked it. Anything that was a bit risky or dodgy, or could upset anyone, wasn’t told to us. We only got to hear the good bits.”