14 February 2001 Presumed guilty
By Nick Hopkins, Crime Correspondent
Kevin Lane is no angel. As a teenager he was known as Lights Out Lane for his brutal fists. As a nightclub bouncer, he never shirked a fight. But was he really a hitman who killed Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson, and had links to the Russian mob? Nick Hopkins weighs up the evidence
Kevin Lane hasn't had much to be cheerful about over the past seven years, but as we face each other in the cramped, windowless room set aside for visits to high-risk (category double A) inmates, he begins to laugh. The subject is nicknames, the only matter he is prepared to discuss in something more than a whisper.
We are sitting on low chairs around a low table - everything here is bolted to the floor - and we are surrounded by three prison officers. One is within arm's reach. Prisoner BV3290 is, after all, regarded by the Home Office as one of the country's most dangerous men, and security at HMP Frankland in Durham is formidable.
Lane has had several aliases. As a 15-year-old growing up in Harefield, Hertfordshire, it was Lights Out Lane - he was a talented middle-weight boxer who fought for the home counties against the Federal Republic of Germany. Lane raises his left fist, then his right. Both are slightly gnarled. He chirps: "Gelignite - dynamite. Take your pick, 'cos you're going to sleep!"
When he was a 20-year-old businessman who wore designer clothes and drove a Porsche 911 Targa, Lane went by two other nicknames: Catwalk Kev and Mr Particular. There is no reason to ask why. Lane is handsome. His boyish face and broad shoulders make him seem much younger than 33. His dark-blue shirt appears to have been ironed and his shoes polished. But it is by another name that he has become notorious, and this one wipes the smile from his face: the Executioner.
Four years ago, Lane was convicted at the Old Bailey of murdering Robert Magill, a 44-year-old businessman who was gunned down near his home in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, as he walked his dog, Oscar, on his way to nearby Chorley Wood Common on October 13, 1994. The jury heard Magill was shot five times, twice in the head, at "very close range".
The judge in his second trial, Neil Denison, described the attack as "desperately violent, shocking, horrifying". With a case that even prosecutors admitted was flimsy, Lane was accused of being a professional hitman who had been paid between £40,000 and £100,000. But that was just the start.
Following his conviction, Lane says he was the victim of a sustained smear campaign. In various newspapers, he was dubbed the Executioner, and linked to other unsolved murders. They included the assassinations of Charlie Wilson, the Great Train Robber targeted on the Costa del Sol in 1990, and Karen Reed, a 33-year-old geophysicist, who was shot on the doorstep of her home in Surrey in April 1994 by a man posing as a pizza delivery rider. One report claimed Lane had also worked to order for the Russian mafia.
When the TV presenter Jill Dando was shot on the doorstep of her home in Fulham in April 1999, Lane's name cropped up again. At the time, detectives wanted advice from expert hitmen. Newspapers said they turned to Lane to ask whether Dando's murder was the work of a professional.
"Nobody from the Dando team came to see me," he says. "It was rubbish, like most of the stuff that has been in the papers. Being wrongly convicted of one was bad enough. Then, overnight, I became a multiple murderer."
Lane says there is another story - his story - and it has only been half told. "Just hear me out," he says. "Then make up your own mind."
During the two visits I have paid him, and in several letters he has sent me from jail, Lane has described his life. He does not pretend he has never been in trouble. He has anecdotes that sound like scenes from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But a killer? "No way."
A prolific hitman?
"It's just nonsense. I'll pick my hands up for a fight, but that's my limit."
He points to the evidence against him for the Magill murder. The prosecution relied on a set of coincidences Lane felt too fearful to explain at the time because he and his 52-year-old mother, Barbara, had been warned "to keep quiet". Lane is planning an appeal with the help of Vicky King, a lawyer with the London firm Thanki Novy Taube. His campaign is building momentum and has been invigorated recently by two very different sources.
The criminal cases review commission, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice, has launched its own inquiry into the conviction - an unusual, proactive step. Normally, the commission only becomes involved following the rejection of a first appeal. And two criminals, influential figures in north London's underworld, contacted King out of the blue to insist Lane was not the murderer. They are the sort of men who would know.
Listening to Lane talk about his life, it is easy to see why his nicknames never included Lucky. The second eldest of eight children, his parents split up when he was a child. His father, Joseph, died "from drink" nine years ago, aged 44. His mother went abroad for several years when he was a teenager, leaving him in the care of friends. Ask Lane about his childhood and he recalls Special Patrol Group vans lining up outside pubs on his council estate ready for the rucks that started at closing time.
At secondary school in south Ruislip, he fell for a 14-year-old girl called Kim Purcell. This, he says, was the turning point in his life. "Other kids said to me: 'Kev, you know who she is, don't you?' I hadn't the faintest idea. I quickly discovered the Purcell family included some of the main criminals in the area."
Kim's uncle, Pat, the head of the family, who is due to be released from Whitemoor prison later this year, treated Lane like a son, and through the Purcells, Lane was introduced to the fringes of the criminal underworld, learning to survive on his wits and with his fists.
The family gave him work as a doorman, and then sold him a security firm. With Lane in charge - he was still only 18 - it flourished. At its peak, he was pro viding doormen for 12 pubs and six clubs in west London, earning £800 a week - more than enough to keep Kim and their two sons, Tommy and Aaron.
Lane is short for a bouncer - 5ft 11in - but those who worked for him say he was one of the best in the business. "There are advantages in being my size. When you approach a man who is 6ft 6in and ask him to calm down, he's not likely to feel threatened.
"But if someone wanted a fight, I could take care of myself. I was very quick. If a man came at me with a knife, I'd have a go. If he came at me with a gun, I'd still have a go. To be honest, I've never needed to carry a weapon."
Lane remembers once being on the door of a pub called the Firefly in Hayes, Middlesex. There had been trouble earlier in the day and the landlord wanted emergency cover. As Lane stood outside, a car slowed down and a man called out: "Do you want some of this?"
"He pointed a shotgun at me," says Lane. "He said he was going to kill me. I replied: 'Go on then.' And he bloody shot me! I didn't even know the kid. I ducked and several shotgun pellets shaved the top of my head. I've got still got six in my skull. I've never seen the guy since."
Some who crossed Lane learned the hard way. He and two others kidnapped a man they suspected of stealing £100,000 worth of electrical equipment. "We put a car on his legs and threw him in the Grand Union Canal. But we weren't going to kill him! We just roughed him up a bit." For that assault, Lane spent 14 months in prison - his only term before the Magill murder.
A year after his release, Lane had left door work and was making a good living through a range of business ventures ranging from organising raves to selling vacuum cleaners. But his life was about to change again.
He broke up with Kim and, in the spring of 1994, left the UK for Tenerife, where a friend had offered him work. Kim followed him and pleaded with him to return, which he did on September 29 - her birthday. Back at home in Potton, Cambridgeshire, Lane got in touch with his relatives and friends - hardly, he points out, a sensible thing for an assassin to do.
By then, Magill, a car trader and known villain, had been warned that there was a contract on his head. But he had made so many enemies, he didn't know where the threat came from. He became a prisoner in his own heavily protected home in Valley Road, Rickmansworth, venturing out once a day to take his dog for a walk. During his stroll at 8.20am on Thursday October 13, two men got out of a battered X-registered BMW as he approached the junction with Berry Lane. One shot him five times with a pump-action weapon, the other kept look-out.
The case against Lane, who was arrested three months after the murder, was based on one piece of forensic evidence found in the car, and several coincidences.
People who knew Lane were undoubtedly involved in the murder. The weekend before the assassination, Lane borrowed a BMW from a friend - his own car had been stolen - and used it to take Kim and the boys to see his mother, who had moved to Hillingdon. He said he returned it on Sunday evening. Four days later it was used by the killers as their getaway vehicle. When detectives recovered the car, they found Lane's fingerprint on a binliner in the boot. Scientists also found firearms discharge on a piece of plastic piping, and speculated that it had contained a weapon of some sort.
Lane never denied driving the car - his sons' fingerprints were all over the dashboard. "But I didn't have it the day Magill died. I used it once, that's all."
Lane says he knew something was up because he was called hours after the murder by a criminal contact who warned him that the police might pay a visit. "He didn't say anything else. He said there was nothing to worry about. I wasn't going to hang around for a knock on the door, so I took Kim and the kids to Newcastle for a short break."
To detectives, who had launched a huge investigation, his trip to the north-east pointed to his involvement in the murder. Lane's decision not to tell them about the call hardly helped. Nor did he tell them that his mother had also been threatened by a motorcycle rider who appeared at her front door one morning, warning her and Kevin to keep quiet.
The police had two other clues. Shortly after the murder, Lane bought a car for £5,400. Detectives speculated the money was part of his payment, though admitted there was no proof. Lane said it was money he had left in a safe before going to Tenerife, and that he had witnesses to back his story. Officers also discovered Lane flew back to the UK using an exit visa with the name Paul Curtis."We suspected he'd been recruited when he was in Tenerife and returned to do this specific job," says one detective involved in the inquiry. "As far as we were concerned, the pieces of the jigsaw had fallen into place."
Lane insists they jumped to the wrong conclusion. He says he couldn't return to the UK using his real passport because he was in trouble with the Spanish police over a brawl in a restaurant called The Steak House. However, again he didn't tell detectives about the fight.
After consulting with his then lawyers, Lane decided not to tell the jury about his connections to the underworld, a tactic he now considers a huge misjudgment. Instead, the defence focused on the major flaws in the prosecution. There were, for instance, two eyewitnesses to Magill's shooting, but neither picked out Lane at identity parades. Strangely, all the early police messages - reports from informants about likely suspects - made no mention of Lane. Two other names cropped up time and again.
How the police came to look at Lane in the first place has never been fully explained, and is an important avenue for Lane's new solicitor. Their suspicion is that his name was forwarded by the killer to cover himself. Even the police admit they were lucky to convict.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on Lane the first time round and his co-defendant Roger Vincent was acquitted. A retrial was ordered. A second jury deliberated for nine hours and three minutes before reaching a majority decision that Lane was guilty. He was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years, and has been told he will serve at least 25. He has lost Kim, who has re-married, and he hardly sees his sons.
"Kevin Lane has not lived a crime-free life, but is he a contract killer? I am convinced that he is not," says King. "His lifestyle allowed the police to fit a case around him. His fear of those who told him to keep his mouth shut conspired to prevent him from telling the jury about his background. If he had not had any underworld connections, then he would not be where he is now. It would have been impossible to make the case stick."
Lane has not been charged with any other murders since he was in prison, and detectives now admit there is no concrete evidence to link him to any other shooting.
"If I had killed Magill, I would have got out of the country immediately," Lane says, "I wouldn't have hung around and bought a new car. All the way through the trial, people were saying to me: 'Don't worry, Kev, they've nothing on you, you'll get off.' And I believed them. Now I'm locked up for something I didn't do, and I've been accused of murders all over the place.
"I'm not a grass, but I've been inside far too long. I'm not going to give up. I know I can prove my innocence."