IT may not have the noirish allure or the witty one-liners of The Sopranos, but the pay-offs are just the same, the brutal ending of those once trusted and close. And, if you believe the combatants, the final act is normally accompanied by carefully modulated singing to the police.
Glasgow may not be New Jersey, but the issues and ambitions are identical. Power, and its ruthless maintenance, and money, of course. Drugs money, vast amounts of it, which has transformed hard young men -- neds -- into designer-suited crime capos. The jackets are usually generously cut to accommodate the Kevlar vests.
It was a bulletproof vest which saved Tam McGraw from serious injury last weekend. The Licensee, as he is known, suffered minor stab wounds which were then patched-up at the private Ross Hall Hospital. The man he brawled with, his former adjutant and now a budding crime novelist, is Paul Ferris, who is believed to have been injured himself -- a stab wound, perhaps even a broken nose from a swung golf club -- and is now back in prison. As well he might be, because McGraw has put out a contract on him. A by-product of the fight was an attack 72 hours later on Thomas 'TC' Campbell, out of prison while awaiting his appeal against a life sentence for killing six members of the Doyle family in Glasgow's Ice Cream Wars. McGraw was initially picked up and held for several days on suspicion of being involved in those same killings.
It's a small and vicious world in Glasgow's drugs trade, with all of the players known to each other -- often having been best pals -- as well as to the police. The problem officers have is accruing the evidence, the corroboration needed under Scots law, when witnesses are often too petrified to come forward. The dogs on the street, as the saying goes, know who attacked TC Campbell -- it was McGraw enforcer Billy McPhee -- but it is doubtful whether a case can be made against him . This was, police believe, simply an action to restate McGraw's power, rather than an assassination attempt. 'McGraw looked about for some muppet he could hit,' said a senior officer in the investigation. 'It's a bit like being a vandal and putting something up on the wall -- making a statement about yourself and what you can do.'
The knife, the chib, may be the weapon of the gangster wannabe, but it isn't the instrument of choice for a serious murder attempt by a leading player. Which is why the bout of stabbings and the wielding of golf clubs has the edge of farce. But then, if you are a known and important face to the police, you don't go out driving in your own 4x4 with a short arm tucked under the seat just in case you come across a rival and have the chance to gun him down. Besides, the top men normally pay others to do the dirty jobs, as they do to handle the heroin and cocaine.
Ferris has been trying to muscle back into the drugs scene and protection game. He also believes that he is owed by McGraw for 'loss of earnings' for the time he spent in prison on a gun-running charge, stating that his former employer put him there by informing on him. Both men are protégés of Arthur Thompson, the deceased Glasgow godfather who, untypically, died with his boots on. Ferris was famously found not guilty of killing Arthur Jnr -- Fat Boy -- by shooting him in the back and anus. In his ghosted autobiography, Ferris introduces another spectre -- the bad boy who did it and ran away -- whom he calls The Apprentice, who is not only responsible for this particular murder, but several other unsavoury incidents generally attributed to Ferris . 'Alter Ego' might have been a better nom de guerre.
McGraw, in turn, is intent on re-establishing his hold on the Glasgow scene, after a period nurturing his other interests -- and perhaps golf swing -- in Tenerife and in Ireland. 'He's had enough of Ferris and Campbell calling him a grass,' says a close associate. 'And he's told everyone that if anyone calls him that they're gonnae get done.'
In crime there's business and personal, but in the Glasgow millieu it is often difficult to distinguish between them. TC Campbell is vowing to produce new evidence at his appeal, which he hopes will persuade the judges that it was McGraw who pushed paraffin and lighted rags through the Doyles' letterbox, not him -- which straddles both, while the taunts about grassing are purely personal.
Police are contemptuous of this. 'TC can't decide if he's a gangster or a good guy,' said a police source.
It's similar with Ferris. McGraw may bitterly resent being mocked about his lack of adherence to the criminal code , but allowing the younger man to take over his business would assuredly end tragically for him personally. On a slab.
Which is where Ferris has, in the past, said that he believes that he too will end up. But, on release from jail in Durham earlier this year after four years of a seven-year sentence, he vowed that he had turned his back on crime and would stick to crime fiction. The excitement and rewards of turning a phrase have clearly not proved to be as addictive as turning an old trick.
McGraw has been operating discreetly over the past three or four years since he walked free, acquitted not-proven, on drug smuggling charges, along with Billy McPhee. His lieutenant John Healy, brother of his wife Margaret, is currently in Perth prison. The two have become estranged but, as one man who knows them both put it: 'He's Tam's brother-in-law, so it's no gonnae come to the concrete Timberlands.'
The Licensee -- called that because he seems to have a licence to operate -- has extensive properties in Ireland, a home in Tenerife and a number of legitimate Glasgow businesses, from security companies to taxi firms, through which drugs money is laundered. He told this same source that he made £75,000 a week alone, just from renting out radios to mini-cab drivers
According to another leading crime figure, Ferris's battle with McGraw is one he cannot win, which may be why he tamely surrendered to police on Thursday night. 'He hasn't got the team. He's got a bunch of rockets, a load of young guys to run about for him and do his bidding, but he's trying to break into an established market and none of the other players is going to help,' said the well-known gangster.
The city's drugs market has been demarcated along geographical boundaries for the last decade, with only infrequent infractions. Those in charge do not want turf battles, conspicuous publicity and, through that, enhanced police attention. McGraw's base is in the the east end of Glasgow, while the McGovern family run the north, principally Maryhill and Springburn.
While conceding the damage the peddling of drugs was doing on the street, a senior police officer poured scorn on the gang leaders. 'These guys are like something out of the dark ages . They can't understand that the world has moved on.'
The McGoverns, like McGraw, came to prominence in the wake of the death of Fat Boy Thompson. Although Thompson's own sister died of an overdose, he was responsible for moving the Thompson family into drugs. After his murder the Thompson territories were split up between the competing barons.
In September 2000 Tony McGovern, then 35 and the same age as Ferris, was shot dead outside the New Morvern Bar . Ironically, he was wearing a bullet-proof waistcoat given to him by McGraw. His killers clearly expected he would be wearing the vest because he was held down and shot five times in the lower body. Three months earlier he had survived an assassination attempt when he was shot three times in the shower in his home in Bishopbriggs.
The man who was initially accused of McGovern's murder, and subequently released for lack of evidence, was Jamie Stevenson, aka The Iceman. Stevenson had been McGovern's business partner and best man at his wedding. Stevenson's motive was revenge for betrayal. Months earlier he had been lured to a meeting, shot in the neck and presumed dead, but when he was being driven to a location in the north of Glasgow for burial he came to and managed to escape from the car and hail a motorist. The McGoverns' business is now run by surviving brothers and widow Jackie. But the family will not be siding with Ferris.
Stevenson has been linked to several unsolved murders and is involved with the Paisley criminal Grant McIntosh, who has hired Paul Ferris in the past. Two petty crooks, John Hall and David McIntosh (no relation to Grant), were found shot dead in a disused scrapyard outside Larkhall. Two other small-time drug dealers had previously been killed in a similar mode, and two months ago drug dealer Justin McAlroy was shot and killed outside his house in Cambuslang in what police believe are a series of linked murders. But although Grant McIntosh has been close to Ferris in the past, he does not intend to back him up in taking on McGraw. The reverse, in fact. He has told The Licensee that he will help him out if he needs it.
After the attack on TC Campbell last Monday, armed police swooped on Billy McPhee's house, only to find hime gone. Later he made a classic Sopranos' statement to police, refusing to comment even about the time of death or who he fancied in the cup final. Armed police units had been keeping the protagonists and their hired help under surveillance. Ferris's voluntary surrender means the intensity has been turned down a notch.
However, officers would still have been keeping a particular lookout for known faces travelling to yesterday's Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers at Hampden Park, in particular those coming from Ireland.
McGraw has strong links to the IRA , claims one of his chums, and it is understood that he has been canvassing the contract on Ferris with IRA marksmen. 'They're at a loose end, aren't they?' said the same source.
If so, this would mirror the killing of Glasgow drug dealer Frank McPhee (no relation to Billy) who was killed by an IRA crack shot two years ago. The sniper took out McPhee in front of his own door, with one shot fired from a nearby tenement. The killer then laid down the rifle and walked calmly away. This time the motive was personal. McPhee had knifed the young son of a well-known criminal. It is understood the killer was paid £20,000 and that the men who put up the bounty were out of the country when the hit was made.
Officially Strathclyde police will not comment on the Ferris-McGraw feud, but privately officers take a grim satisfaction in criminals killing each other off. 'Any loss is a major benefit for the wider community, isn't it?' said one senior investigator. 'Police resources are saved and, even for a while until someone else takes up the reins, the drug supply is diminished. As long as they keep it private, and don't involve the public, let them get on with it I say.'
It had been expected to end with a bang, not a whimper, but on Thursday Strathclyde police employed a devious and unexpected manoeuvre, taking one of the players off the field. A call to the parole board pointed out that Ferris had not been a model citizen under the terms of his licence. It was also mentioned that he had been in the scrap and was also believed to be behind a £1 million pound drug shipment into the east end which the police intercepted.
When he found out that he was to be recalled to Frankland's prison in Durham to serve the remainder of his seven-year sentence Ferris tried, as ever, to spin it to his advantage -- and make a bob or two besides -- by making a spectacle of his surrender. He was driven down by a Sunday tabloid crew.
'We ought to find an island somewhere,' said one of Strathclyde's senior police officers involved in re-incarcerating Ferris, 'and make a theme park where people can see how neanderthal man behaves in the 21st century.'
ferrisconspiracy VIEW: If the author of this article ever looses his job as an alleged journalist then he must surly be in line as the next great 'Crime Fiction' maverick of Scotland!.
In the meantime...Don't give up he day job.