Glasgow's gangsters, Arthur Thompson - The Godfather
The transition from old to new was swift and brutal.
Three shots at close range from a .22 pistol hit young Arthur Thompson, the first bullet grazing his cheek, the second smashing into his ribs, puncturing a lung, the third, deliberately fired into his anus, tearing through his gut and piercing his heart.
It was a late summer evening, the 31-year-old gangster was only six hours out of Noranside prison on a weekend parole, he had just eaten a curry, he was steps away from safety when the three-man hunting party struck outside the family home.
His father, Old Arthur, the head of the most notorious Glasgow crime family, found him on the pavement outside the Ponderosa, as it was called, after the ranch in the popular 1970s cowboy series Bonanza.
Arthur Thompson Senior as a young man (Photo: Media Scotland)
It was hardly that, just two former council houses in Provanmill Road, bought, lashed together and titivated with bijou add-ons. Junior had tried to crawl to it even as his life seeped away. His limp, heavy body was rushed to the Royal Infirmary. In vain. The heir was dead. And the empire was crumbling.
For more than 30 years Arthur Thompson Snr had been the undisputed major crime figure in Glasgow, the Godfather, numero uno, although his name then wasn't widely known. He preferred discretion, doing his business in the shadows, not for him spraying his money about and hanging out in the city clubs, cultivating reporters and TV stars like the young rogues who would displace him.
Thompson was born in Springburn in 1931 to a modest and law-abiding family. It was the year Ramsey MacDonald won a landslide election victory heading a party of national government, Hitler was seizing power in Germany, it was the year Abbey Road studios opened and Celtic goalkeeper John Thompson died after an on-field clash at Ibrox against Rangers.
Paul Ferris leaves Glasgow High Court (Photo: Media Scotland)
Growing up through the Second World War young Arthur was handy with his fists, better with a blade, and he earned himself a ferocious reputation. Although he wasn't very tall, pushing 5'9”, he was broad and mean, with a flattened nose and a chilling, thousand-yard stare.
Arthur's start in crime was as a strong arm for money lenders, the business he moved into on his own as he left his teens. He had a failsafe method of collection. Those who didn't pay up promptly were usually crucified, nailed to the floor or to a door.
He also became a friend and enforcer for the Krays. There's a story, or legend, that he made himself known to them by bursting into a club they drank in, the Double R, brandishing a gun and shouting, “I'm Arthur Thompson, from Glasgow. Remember my name”.
For a time he was involved in heists and bank robbery, with a crew which included safecracker Paddy Meehan, later to be wrongly jailed (and subsequently pardoned) for murder. He served an 18-month sentence for extortion, but decided that prison wasn't for him and he would put his money mainly into legitimate businesses, dancehalls and pubs, always through nominees.
But violence was never far away.
In the 1960s he was at war with another crime family, the Welshes, from Blackhill. In 1966 he dodged death when a bomb under the passenger seat of his car killed his mother-in-law. Shortly after, out driving, he spotted the two men he believed were responsible, Patrick Welsh and his associate James Goldie, and ran their van off the road and into a lamppost. Both men died, Arthur was charged with their murder but, unsurprisingly, the police were unable to persuade witnesses to testify. Just to keep it in the family, three years later Arthur's wife Rita barged her way into Welsh home and stabbed Patrick Welsh's wife in the chest. She served three years.
The Welsh name, like that of Thompson, runs like a poisoned river through Glasgow crime. Paul Ferris, who was to be charged with young Arthur's murder, was bullied by the Welshes when he was developing his crime moves in Blackhill. He retaliated brutally, a slashing and a scalping were involved, which was what brought him to the attention of Arthur, who hired him, treated him like another son, and put him to work as an enforcer and debt collector.
A fateful mistake.
The sobriquet 'Godfather' is now ritually slapped on to any crime figure who hits the headlines, but there are similarities between the Thompsons and the Corleone family in the films and Mario Puzo novel. Sonny Corleone is ambushed and shot down. Like Arty. There is a weak younger son in both families, Fredo a fictional parallel to Billy Thompson, ridiculed and too weak to take over as clan leader, heroin-addicted, assaulted and stabbed several times, although, unlike Fredo, he survives.
By the 1980s the big money in crime was in drugs, heroin particularly, which flooded the city. The market then was reckoned to be worth £300 million. It was bonanza for the Ponderosa. No matter that with it came hundreds of overdose deaths, including Thompson's daughter Margaret. Billy, too, took to the needle, both supplied by Arty, now head of the clan, swimming in cash and, unlike his father, highly visible and conspicuously wealthy. But also a target for those who wanted to take him down and take over.
The foundations of a coup were laid in 1985 when Fat Boy was sentenced to 11 years for supplying heroin. He believed he had been set up, and he probably was.
The wreckage after the car bomb which killed Arthur Thompson's mother in law, Maggie Johnston(Photo: Media Scotland)
A police stakeout saw him delivering to a street supplier in Easterhouse, John 'Blind Jonah' McKenzie (then with one eye, the second would be knifed out later!). Thompson spotted the set-up and drove off at high speed with the police giving chase, chucking packets of heroin from the the window as he dodged in and out of traffic.
But with the son banged-up and Old Arthur's malign influence waning, his bevvying spiralling, other gangs and godfathers now began to unpick the Thompson empire. The old Godfather had reach, however, and might still pose problems. So he had to be removed.
Two attempts were made to take him out. In 1985 he was shot in the groin outside the Ponderosa. He managed to drive himself to the private Ross Hall hospital on the outskirts of the city, where he claimed, in legendary hard man style, that a drill bit had snapped and pierced his groin, a story he retold to the police who inevitably turned up to interview him.
The Ponderosa in Provanmill Road (Photo: Media Scotland)
Then three years later, returning alone from his local pub, the Provanmill Inn, he was run over by a car driven by two men, and rammed up against a fence, again outside the Ponderosa. They also fired several shots at him, missing, but throwing down the pistol, hoping to incriminate him. Thompson suffered a broken leg. He would later say in the witness box, as he would about the murder of his son, that baby-faced Paul Ferris was responsible.
That testimony, breaking the risible gangster code of omerta, marked the end. The 30-year reign of Glasgow's Godfather was over.
In 1993 he would die aged 61, in the most unlikely circumstances, of natural causes, in his bed in the Ponderosa. A daughter had passed before him, his youngest boy was a pathetic junkie, his eldest, named after him, had been gunned down and the man he believed had shot him, Ferris, had walked free after the longest and most costly trial in Scottish legal history.