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Peter Bleksley: From undercover cop to hunting Liverpool's most wanted man

Former Scotland Yard detective and undercover cop, Peter Bleksley who is appearing at CrimeCon UK has written several books and plays, appeared as the 'The Chief' on Channel 4's Hunted series and has recently launched a successful podcast series, Manhunt: Finding Kevin Parle.

The podcast follows Peter's hunt for Kevin Parle who is wanted in connection with the 2004 and 2005 murders of 16-year-old Liam Kelly and 22-year-old Lucy Hargreaves in Liverpool.Crime+Investigation called up Peter to talk about his involvement in CrimeCon and his search for Liverpool's most wanted man.

What will you be speaking about at the event?

In essence, myself, Radio Five Live presenter, Chris Warburton and producer Mark Sandell will be sharing a stage and talking about true crime podcasting. Mark and Chris did the award-winning 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt' podcast some years ago and Mark and I continue to work on ‎Manhunt: Finding Kevin Parle which will be coming back soon for a new series. I'll be talking about my hunt for Kevin Parle if he's not been captured by then.

Chris has got a fantastic back-catalogue of true crime podcasts and has recently done The End of Days about the Waco Siege for the BBC and The Battle of Rave about the 80s and 90s explosion of ecstasy, and the rave scene. We have that common denominator in Mark who has worked with both of us. I'll be talking about my hunt for Kevin Parle if he's not been captured by then.

What are you most looking forward to at the event?

Getting off stage and speaking to the punters. Some people have already reached out and messaged me on social media, saying 'I can't wait to meet you and have a chat'. I'm looking forward to meeting, and being surrounded by people who are as involved or interested in True Crime as I am.

To start at the beginning, how did you first become involved in the world of Undercover Policing?

I was a young detective, 25-years-old, fit and fearless and joined the central Drug Squad in New Scotland Yard in 1985. So with my chest puffed out and feeling rather pleased with myself. I walk through the revolving doors to thereafter and forevermore call myself a Scotland Yard detective.

After a very short amount of time on that squad, I gained a pretty thorough insight into how undercover policing was being conducted. I thought it was a bit dated and the operatives - with all due respect to them because some of them were quite brilliant - were a bit stuck in their ways.

I was getting feedback from criminal circles that if a guy in a sharp suit, met you in the bar of an expensive hotel and would only carry on negotiations in a hotel room, then, in all likelihood, he was an undercover cop. So the bad guys were sussing detectives out. And so, I realised that there was a real need to shift the tactics. 

I was very very lucky in that some brilliant bosses of the yard backed me, and allowed us to invent what we called the roving plot. Whereby if I had to negotiate with bad guys, I'd go to their pub, their clubs, their home, wherever they wanted the meeting to take place. I gained a lot of credibility by going onto their on their patch fearlessly.

What sort of undercover operations were you involved in?

I bought millions and millions of pounds or dollars worth of counterfeit currency, antiques, high-value stolen goods, weapons and guns. I negotiated to kill people on several occasions. I was the gun for hire, the hired assassin, the hitman.

How do you prepare to go undercover, and get into the mindset of a criminal?

My life prepared me for it. I come from South London. So, I was, shall we say, no stranger to crime. I'd been in the cops for seven years before I went undercover and I had nicked untold villains. I interviewed them and spent time with them and I knew the way they talked, the way they walked and what their business was. So, I was more than well-equipped to do it.

The personality that I portrayed was in essence mine. I would talk about the things I knew, the three Fs: fighting f*****g and football and I kept the conversations to that and the business of course.

When you look back on your career as an undercover officer, what operation stands out for you?

Well, I'd say the one that brought about the end of my career. Four million pounds of heroin was delivered to me in a hotel room at Gatwick Airport. I spent hours weighing 30 packages of heroin and testing them. Then, me and the guy who had the heroin delivered went down the bar for what he thought was a celebratory drink and then the police pounced out of nowhere and arrested us. Simultaneous arrests were made throughout the country for other people involved in this global international drugs conspiracy. 

When the bad guys all appeared in the dock together, the call they looked around and went, 'Where's that, that, that cocky South Londoner with the long ponytail?' And then of course when I wasn't in the dock they worked out pretty quickly I was an undercover cop.

A plot to murder me was discovered by the FBI on a phone tap in Boston, Massachusetts. The bad guys worked on the theory that if they killed me, they killed the evidence. It was a multi-organisational investigation, with a lot of infighting between the FBI, the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency], the Irish police, the British police, Customs and Excise and other law enforcement bodies.  

A report was requested by the Deputy Commissioner, who was going in, to have a bit of a ding dong with all these other law enforcement bodies. That report was compiled, not with my identity number in it from the undercover unit but with my real name. Unbelievably that report was then taken out of a police building in the back of an unmarked police car. The driver of that unmarked police car went shopping and guess what happened, you've got it, that report got nicked.

If that report with my name it was married up with those who wanted to kill me, my life was in very very real danger. I got a phone call saying, 'Don't go home, move into a hotel use one of your false identities and be in Scotland Yard at nine o'clock the following morning'.

By the close of play the following day, it had been decided that I had to abandon my home, abandon my identity, abandon my life as I knew it, and move into the witness protection programme and thereafter followed the most miserable two years of my life.

What was witness protection like

It was s**t. I lived in a hideout. Many many miles from where I used to live in a neighbourhood I didn't know I had to lie all the time. I couldn't be conversational with neighbours because I was living with a false identity. I had to check underneath the car every morning to make sure no-one had put a bomb underneath it. I lived in continual fear of the assassin's bullet in the back of my head. 

It was ghastly, and all that time, I was conspiracy theorising as to how on earth it could ever get to this. How did that report end up with my name on it? How did it leave the police station? How did it get stolen?

After living in this hideout and on any given day, having to adopt three different personalities, it's not surprising, I had a catastrophic mental health breakdown, which was the beginning of the end of my police career.

Did you ever feel let down by the police force?

I did though it took some years before I left the police force; I was medically retired. I had an axe to grind and I wasn't very happy. That's why I wrote my first book, The Gangbuster, which 20 years on is still selling and in its fifth reprint. People are still finding it a very entertaining read.

How did you make that transition from being in the force to becoming a successful author?

I was 40 years old and on the scrapheap of life. I had no education to fall back on: no vocation, no training, no qualification no apprenticeship. The book was clearly something that changed all of that because it propelled me into the media and opened doors which I'm still walking through 20 years later.

Can you tell us more about your podcast, Manhunt: Finding Kevin Parle

If we fast forward to February of 2019 series four of Hunted finished with us catching all the fugitives. So it was a great time for me to bow out after six series of the show in total (four of the main series and two celebrity)

I began thinking about what my next major project would be. Of course, I'm best known - despite having written plays for radio four and three other books - for catching pretend fugitives so I thought well, it makes absolute sense for me to go after a real one. And they don't come any more wanted than six foot six Liverpudlian Kevin Parle. So, for the last 21 months. I have utterly dedicated my life to finding him and find him I will.

When I launched my hunt on the 29th of April, 2019 all that was planned was my book. But then after a few months, the BBC became increasingly interested and then they commissioned the very successful podcast, ManHunt: Finding Kevin Parle. It's been downloaded over 3 million times. It won an award at the New York radio festival awards and people continue to listen to it every day. It will be back, further episodes have been commissioned. And as soon as I can put more information into the public domain.

What is it about Kevin Parle that makes you so determined to find him?

The crimes speak for themselves although we need to emphasise that Kevin Parle has not been convicted of either one.

Liam Kelly was a 16-year-old boy who was denied the opportunity to grow and mature into manhood. He was gunned down at 16-years-old over a 200 quid debt. Three people have been convicted in connection with that crime and Parle remains very much wanted by police.

The second murder that he's wanted in connection with is the August 2005 shooting of Lucy Hargreaves who was described to me as being as beautiful on the inside, as she was on the outside. She was a 22-year-old mother of three young children, who after she'd been shot, they set her and the house on fire. A more ghastly crime is difficult to comprehend.

We need justice. Kevin Parle needs to stand in a court and answer the allegations made against him. Just imagine how the friends, relatives and loved ones of Liam and Lucy feel about this. This is about Liam and Lucy.

How close are you to finding him?

Early 2020, I knew where he was but then lockdown happened out. So, he may have moved on. So be it, it doesn't matter. I'm in this for the long haul. There are only two things that are going to stop me from hunting Kevin Parle. Kevin. Number one obviously is his capture and number two is my death.