TRANSCRIPT - Donald Neilson, The Black Panther: British Multiple Murderer, Extortionist And Kidnapper (Part 1 of 2)

[Music] This podcast contains descriptions of death and violence that some listeners may find upsetting hello and welcome to the Six O’clock Knock the podcast where we combine a journalist's curiosity with the detectives powers of logical deduction I’m Simon Ford writer broadcaster and former BBC reporter and I’m Jacques Morrell a former major crime detective I might have left the job but I can't leave the job alone it's in our blood you see so we decided to get together and compare notes about old cases cold cases and just plain weird cases and boom the Six O’clock Knock was born we're going to get under the skin of one of the most violent sinister and mysterious British criminals of the 20th century the expression reign of terror could have been coined to describe his career of crime so little is known about this mercurial murderer and kidnapper we've reimagined some moments from his life using eyewitness testimony court transcripts and accounts from the period his name was Donald Neilson but in the 1970s he was known and feared by the nickname bestowed on him by the press the black panther [Music] Donald Neilson was born with the different and slightly unfortunate name of Donald Nappey on Saturday the 1st of August 1936 he was just 10 when his mother died he was bullied at school and he soon found himself in trouble with the law it was military service that interrupted his downward spiral the teenage Donald Nappey had met the love of his life the British army it was more than a love affair though it was an obsession [Music] oh Nappey rash golly flags it was the kind of stupid remark Donald Nappey was used to hearing from his fellow conscripts in the king's own Yorkshire light infantry a zealous non-smoker lance corporal Nappey drew himself up to his four five feet four inches and bellowed gets a bloody move on you lanky streaks of piss before I put you both on a charge all because he turned down his cigarette ration instead of sharing it with the other soldiers what do you want striker [ __ ] short ass Nappey his surname had been a source of torment from almost the day he was born bullied at school the taunting continued when he enlisted in the army for national service but despite having to repeat his basic training and a uniform that always appeared a size too big the army life suited young Donald it was regimented and orderly you knew where you were with orders in a year he'd gone from an orphan delinquent to a young man with a purpose he'd hardly started shaving cue more teasing when they promoted him to lance corporal now he got to issue a few orders of his own not that his obsessive list making nit-picking and penalties for petty infringements earned him much respect from his subordinates humour the squad his best friend was how they coped with his type Nappey two pubes Nappey one ball Nappey the 18 year old jogged across Strensil Camp high on the north Yorkshire moors his wiry frame humping a 30 pound bergen rucksack the other men grumbled about the so-called lazy wind it goes through you not around you but lance corporal Nappey embraced the chilly conditions wait until they get to Aden or Kenya he said to himself and they're miles from anywhere with no rations or facing some Mao Mao gorillas when the ammo runs out they'll wish they'd listen to me then the sarcastic bastards by now Nappey was double timing it his hobnailed ammunition boots wrapping on the brushed concrete of the perimeter road up here on the moors the route around the base was both his running track and assault course they could say what they liked but lance corporal Nappey had the rest of them licked when it came to PT just don't mention that business with the SAS lads absorbed in the rhythm of running Donald Nappey was enjoying a daydream in which he as commander of his own elite unit showed the SASs how to do it properly this unforgivable lapse of vigilance explained as he would later tell himself his failure to register the parked land rover with heart-stopping suddenness colonel Nappey of the special air service found himself face to face with an enraged Alsatian he was so close that the phone flying from its gnashing jaws caught him full in the face sweet Jesus Christ he roared somebody get that [ __ ] monster under control yes sorry cool bro replied the handler smirking as he jumped out of the canvas covered land rover Spartan’s been cooped up all day you know what he's like when he hasn't had his exercise despite varying his route and the timing of his runs lance corporal Nappey was prone to encounter the same dog with uncanny regularity this time the Alsatian had emerged from the tarpaulin at head height like some furious canine cuckoo from a clock exercise my ass private insubordination fatigues guard room 1500 hours got it what about spartan xeon for teams as well corporal the snarling dog was straining at the leash dancing like a bear on its hind legs lance corporal Nappey hoped the sentry hadn't seen that his knees were knocking under his car key drill shorts bloody dogs he hated bloody dogs 1500 hours and think yourself lucky I don't have the bugger shots the private jumped to attention snapping up a salute dismissed Nappey spat back infuriated that his voice was an octave higher than normal he swallowed hard and was waiting for the land rover to disappear when he thought he heard a whisper don't worry spartan he won't shoot you he wouldn't know which way round to point the bloody gun Nappey scanned the heather and the gorse but there was nobody there bloody imagination getting the better of him in the distance a helicopter was circling wakka wakka wakka wakka there's gonna be a few changes around here be hollered in case anyone was listening then checking the two synchronized wristwatches he always wore lance corporal Nappey resumed his steady pace and followed the perimeter fence back towards the main gate that sodding name will have to go for a start he thought no son of mine will be saddled with a moniker like Nappey dirty Nappey nipper Nappey happy Nappey he'd had enough he fancied Neilson that had a ring to it that would get respect [Music] it wasn't until 1960 that the 24 year old Donald Nappey changed his name to Neilson by that stage he'd left the army and married Irene Tate they had a daughter Catherine and that spurred Mr Nappey to make the switch to Neilson Saturday's child works hard for a living and Donald Neilson slogged away at a few jobs he was a taxi driver and a handyman but he never stuck at anything for long why did he leave the army if he enjoyed it so much that's an excellent question I’ve read that Irene persuaded him to leave he was 18 when they wed and she was 20 and he never served more than his compulsory two years national service the consensus is that he was a Walter Mitty character you know full of high ideals and daydreams but he simply couldn't cut the mustard he was a poor marksman had to repeat his basic training and of course because of his name he was the butt of jokes but despite this he was super fit physically strong and mentally alert he even studied military training methods and particularly the survival techniques of Britain’s royal marine commando units and the crack special air service Neilson could have been a good soldier if he'd stuck at it instead he transferred that rigorous military discipline into his domestic life treating his wife and daughter like raw recruits taking them on military-style manoeuvres into the local woods balling at them like a sergeant major the army had changed him yeah like flicking a switch that couldn't be turned off what's more Neilson had developed a brooding sense of injustice he blamed everyone and everything else for his lot in life in particular he despised immigrants as a national serviceman in Aden and Kenya he'd seen himself as a defender of the British empire but in the 50s Britain was no longer a global power the Suez crisis in 1956 was a wake-up call and then one by one the dependencies in colonies Neilson had policed gained independence and when people from those former imperial outposts accepted the invitation to come to Britain he was incandescent in his home city of Bradford Neilson watched as his old neighbours moved up the social ladder to the new housing estates being replaced by families from India Pakistan and Sri Lanka he heard stories of the Asian landlord arriving with a suitcase full of money and buying up half a street urban myths like this confirmed Neilson's prejudices why was he struggling to make ends meet when these foreigners had money to burn he wanted his own suitcase full of money and he wouldn't get it by taxi driving or building garden sheds between September 1967 and November 1974 a series of raids on sub-post offices in the English midlands was linked by a common modus operandi or m.o. striking between three and four o'clock in the morning the burglar would bore a hole in a window frame just big enough for him to reach the catch in the UK a sub post office was a small local post office offering fewer services than the main one the sub postmaster and his family user lived either above the shop or next door in most of the cases the burglar found the keys to the safe without waking the occupants when he couldn't the sub postmaster would be woken by a terrifying hooded figure dressed in black and brandishing a sawn off shotgun it was a dreadful ordeal and it earned the intruder the chilling title the black panther black because of his clothing and the mnemonic for his modus operandi p for post offices a for armed n for no accomplices t for timing early mornings h for hooded e for entry with a drill and r for rouser's occupants the nickname was dreamed up by a newspaper but it struck a chord with the public and stuck they missed one thing off the list c for cuts telephone wires didn't fit but this was another hallmark of a panther raid Neilson later confessed that his principle had been a shotgun a postmaster and wife adding they've got to give you money my thinking is that if you've got a bloke in a detached house in bed he's at a psychological disadvantage but he'd forgotten the maxim an Englishman's home is his castle so far none of the panthers victims had been physically hurt but it was only a matter of time before there was a tragedy during a raid at Haywood in Lancashire the gun went off blowing a hole in the postmaster's bedroom ceiling it was the overture to a symphony of violence that shocked the nation in February 1974 at Harrogate postmaster Donald Skepper's resistance was ended when he was shot in the chest at point blank range the force of the firearm threw him back onto the bed and he died in his wife's arms that September ex-royal marine Derek Astin fought with the mast intruder at another sub-post office in Harrogate despite taking a shotgun blast in the shoulder Astin threw the panther downstairs the intruder recovered drew a pistol and coolly shot Derek Astin dead November 1974 saw another outrage a panther raid on a sub-post office in the west midlands turned into a blood-soaked home invasion police found the body of Sydney Grayland riddled with six bullets from a 22-caliber handgun his wife Peggy the postmistress lay in a pool of blood barely clinging to life her skull had been crushed by some miracle Peggy lived to give police an accurate description of the attacker a short wiry man with incredible strength wearing a balaclava and some kind of dark paramilitary clothing the attacker had accidentally sprayed himself with ammonia the chemical he carried for use against dogs when he took off the mask to bathe his eyes Peggy had seen his face she and other survivors also said the armed robber barked orders in a squeaky pigeon English like he was trying to disguise his voice while Peggy Greyland was receiving pint after pint of blood in the operating theatre the owner of that face was already making his way back to Bradford cursing his bad luck and the stupidity of people who'd laid down their lives for a few hundred quid true to form Donald Neilson was blaming everything and everyone except himself when I put on a mask I’m a different personality Neilson would later tell psychologist Dr Hugo Milne but when not in his disguise as the black panther Neilson was living a furtive life disappearing for days on end before reappearing unexpectedly at all hours of the day and night these absences were a relief to his wife and daughter Catherine who was rebelling against her father's iron rule the neighbours later said the 16 year old had her hair cropped short like a boys and had been seen under Neilson's watchful eye shovelling coal from one place to another in the backyard of the family home in Grangefield Avenue as for her dad the neighbours gave him a nickname Castro little did his wife and daughter know that father was planning to retire at the ripe old age of 38 he'd had enough of robbing post officers for peanuts with military precision he'd spent three years planning the big one ironically the big one was to involve inadvertently a girl just a year older than his own daughter it would be the first in a catalogue of cock-ups that would turn the big one into the biggest mistake of Donald Neilson's life the black panther was in the words of commander John Morrison of Scotland yard about to become the sewer rat [Music] bath pool park near kids grove in Staffordshire was once a poisoned wilderness created by the industrial revolution but in the mid-1970s it was being transformed into a nature reserve the plan for turning wasteland into public immunity included a vast subterranean drainage system to take surface water and the overflow from bath pool reservoir to an underground canal it had been the kind of public works project in the recession of the early 70s employing around a thousand labourers despite their efforts when it rained heavily the desert did not so much bloom as squelch the main drain went under a railway line on the other side of which was a hatch you went down a ladder to a landing then along the landing to another ladder leading down to an inspection shaft then along the landing to another ladder leading down an inspection shaft about two meters in diameter at the bottom of the shaft perched just above the flowing water of the main drain was an inspection platform the size and shape of a steel stretcher someone sitting on the platform was 18 meters underground Donald Neilson thought bath pool park would be a good location for a ransom drop a railway line ran beside it and a bag of money could easily be dropped from a moving train marching round the park Neilson was intrigued by the most obvious feature of the drainage system a raised hexagonal structure that locals called the glory hole looked a bit like a pill box with iron grates on all six sides they were supposed to stop children dogs and the like falling down it and with good reason a 12 meter vertical shaft dropped down to the main drain Neilson wrecked the area crossing the railway bridge north of the glory hole before turning right to follow the tracks southbound there on the embankment was the raised edge of an inspection cover the glory hole was 100 meters due west of this position behind him at his four o'clock was the opening of a disused railway tunnel the hatch opened easily and Neilson climbed down into the void half a minute later he appeared again with a look of grim satisfaction on his face and set off back to the car park lieutenant colonel Neilson directed some imaginary mortar fire onto the insurgents in the glory hole bunker allowing an entire division to sweep into Kidsgrove unopposed there's a conspicuous gallantry cross with your name on it Neilson beamed the general saluting the little hero who'd failed his basic training they're laughing on the other side now thought Neilson as he climbed behind the wheel of his trusty Austin champ just in time for the victory parade down Whitehall as per his training he'd committed the battlefield topography to memory a few minutes later with the heater on full blast he realized he'd also stepped in dog [ __ ] so bath pool park was chosen as the setting for the big one the panther could use his knowledge of the drainage system the old railway tunnel and local roads to evade capture as if he needed any more convincing that he'd made the right choice the pub around the corner was called the rifleman it was prophetic the idea captured his imagination when he was reading the back issue of reader's digest it told the story of Barbara Mackle an American university student in real estate heiress who was kidnapped and kept alive in a box underground the ransom was delivered and the kidnappers made off but the FBI soon had him in custody it was superficially a good plan thought Neilson but the kidnappers made basic errors they knew nothing of escape and invasion something in which he was a specialist and there were two of them with the first one soon ratting on the other but the panther acted alone one thing bothered him though American ransom demands were a million dollars plus but who could lay their hands on that amount of cash at short notice any sensible British kidnapper would have to be more realistic and they would need a bulletproof escape plan so they could get away and enjoy their ill-gotten gains or if the plan went pear-shaped to escape full stop and what was the specialism of the black panther avoiding capture getting away with it he'd been getting away with it all his life now it was time to get away with a some large enough to provide for his retirement but not so big as to be unrealistic something like fifty thousand pounds should do it fifty thousand pounds in 1975 is worth four hundred thousand in 2021 a modest enough sum for anyone reasonably minted and certainly a price worth paying for the safe return of a loved one Donald Neilson mulled over his idea for the big one polishing it in his mind while engaged in the more mundane business of robbing some post officers but his bread and butter work was getting riskier he'd been forced to kill three times to his extreme annoyance the woman he left for dead in Langley had survived and provided an uncannily accurate photo fit of him the main object was always to stay anonymous and escape a rest even if that meant leaving empty-handed his wife was under orders to cash stolen postal orders discreetly but that was now unacceptably risky and some post offices were carrying less cash because of the panther robberies the post office had even put up a 25 000 pound reward for information leading to the capture of the black panther and Neilson reckoned he was worth at least twice that it was time to put the plan into action for three years he'd had a target in mind the son of coach firm owner George Whittle Ronald Whittle had inherited the company and his mother George’s second wife Dorothy was supposedly worth a small fortune it was public knowledge because when George Whittle's first wife found out she went to court claiming a share of the cash it was just the kind of tale to send the daily express readers into a tizzy and it just so happened that Donald Neilson was an avid express reader Ronald Whittle a young lad probably soft certainly no match for the super fit panther or Dorothy she'd do if he couldn't get Ronald Neilson staked out the family's home Beechcroft in the village of Highley in Shropshire it was detached and the surrounding countryside gave plenty of cover panther country in the early hours of Tuesday the 15th of January 1975 Donald Neilson drove to Highley in a stolen car he donned his disguise the black panther cut the telephone wire before breaking into Beechcroft through the garage he crept upstairs towards the bedroom where he expected Ronald to be sleeping but instead of the heir to the fortune he woke a teenage girl Dorothy Whittled student daughter Lesley this was not part of the plan nevertheless wearing only a dressing gown and slippers Lesley was bound gagged and taken out of the house at gunpoint to the waiting car it was lunchtime the next day before Dorothy's daughter-in-law found the ransom demand printed on Dymo labels on a vars in the living room it seemed like a student prank but Lesley wasn't that kind of girl after a quick family conference the Whittles called the police [Music] for the next three days Donald Neilson kept Lesley Whittle prisoner at the bottom of the inspection shaft in bath pool park with just enough room to lie down on the oblong platform she was naked except for a sleeping bag some blankets and a plastic sheet the panther brought her a torch hot soup brandy even some teenage magazines to read he put on that strange squeaky voice and spoke in pigeon English he told her she was going to be okay he untied her hands and feet producing instead a wire cable but he looped and shackled around her neck the other end was bolted to the platform he'd wrap the noose part with Elastoplast to stop it chafing but the cruel tether allowed her only limited movement we can't imagine what it was like for Lesley Whittle down there alone in the dark with only the sound of running water for company the panther made her tape record messages to her family and in these she sounded calm and composed but the batteries in that torch would have run out the soup gone cold and the draft penetrated Lesley's cocoon of blankets sleeping bags and foam rubber mattresses the officer in charge of investigating Lesley Whittle's kidnapping with detective chief superintendent Bob Booth of West Mercia police he was directly responsible for the forces 67 clear up rate and with a 100 success in the 70 murders he'd investigated one of his contemporaries described him as a great natural detective a man with an instinct for investigation the Whittles gave Booth the kidnappers message typed out on that Dymo label tape no police 50 000 pound ransom be ready to deliver first evening wait for telephone call at swan shopping centre telephone box six four seven one one one six pm to one am no call return following evening when you answer give your name only and listen you must follow instructions without argument from the time you answer the telephone you are on a time limit of police or tricks death [Music] and so that evening Ronald Whittle waited beside the three phone boxes in the swan shopping centre with two suitcases full of banknotes he was watching out for the kidnapper or an accomplice and the police were watching him nobody expected the media to turn up but boy they did mob handed they'd been tipped off by a freelance journalist who lived in Highley and had heard what was going down suddenly Bob Booth had reporters and cameras to deal with convinced the kidnapper had been scared off he hastily convened a press conference after that Ronald and the police team left furious that their cover had been blown it was about 9 p.m. around midnight the phone in one of those phone boxes started ringing a curious passer-by answered it but whoever was on the other end hung up the next day Gerald Smith was sorting out the lorries at the freightliner depot in Dudley when he challenged a man in the lorry park Gerald Smith was shot six times for his trouble it was Neilson laying a trail for when the ransom would be dropped off Gerald Smith died of his injuries 14 months later due to complications but a week after he was shot a stolen car was found abandoned in a nearby car park the contents indicated that it had been used by Lesley Whittle's kidnapper cartridge cases recovered from the smith shooting came from the same gun that had been used in a post office murder it was obvious to detectives that the panther had also taken Lesley because West Mercia’s experience of kidnappings was so limited Bob Booth accepted an offer of help from Scotland yard they sent a team of undercover surveillance experts led by commander John Morrison there was a hoax which sent Ronald Whittle driving to Gloucester and back in the middle of the night it all seemed hopeless then the Whittle's phone rang it was Lesley's recorded voice on the other end telling Ronald to go to a phone box in Kidsgrove for further instructions Ronald found the phone box and after a frantic search a set of instructions punched onto Dymo tape they told him to deliver the money to bath pool park the adrenaline kicked in Ronald got back in his triumph stag and set off at speed with the surveillance team on his tail bath pool park the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night it was like mission impossible but Ronald was determined to save his little sister should he have obeyed the kidnappers and left the old bill out of it well it wasn't long before the stags headlights lit up the road sign that he was looking for the Dymo tape instructions read go to the end of the road and turn into boat holes lane go to the top of the lane and turn into no entry go to the wall and flashlights look for the torchlight run to torch further instructions on torch then go home and wait for telephone Ronald got close but not close enough with Scotland yard keeping a watchful eye he followed the directions to bath pool park he spent half an hour driving around this way and that in the dark flashing his headlights but saw nobody deflated the team abandoned the op for the night Ronald Whittle must have passed within a few meters of the drainage shaft where his sister lay tethered the panthers plan was for Ronald Whittle to drop the bag of cash down the glory hole then he'd fish it out of the drain release Lesley she could find her own way out and escape with the ransom but this is not how it went down the instructions were confusing Ronald was supposed to stop by a wall look for a flashing torch and then flash his lights back but he drove past the wall and into the park Neilson didn't see him he was more interested in the car that was parked near to the wall he'd been flashing his torch at the steamy windows for a minute or so when the couple inside noticed and drove off dirty bloody pervert so there the panther was on his own in the dark while Ronald Whittle was at the other end of the park for lonely flashing his headlights to make matters worse a Staffordshire police car swung into the car park West Mercia hadn't told Staffs about the ransom drop in their territory it was just a routine patrol but Neilson didn't know that paranoia and panic seized the black panther he was sure he could hear helicopters waka wakka wakka wakka for another [ __ ] he thought he could hear dogs oh he hated dogs Alsatians bloodhounds they'd all be after him he'd seen what bloodhounds could do to a human body when he was stationed in Kenya Neilson ran back to the drainage shaft hideout scattering smashed up pieces of kit as he fled binoculars an anorak a plastic raincoat a hammer ripped up hold all two vacuum flasks sugar buns a tape recorder scrunched up Dymo tape one strip said dump suitcase in hole all these were later found strewn across bath ball park these clues were handed in by members of the public by kids mostly in the days that followed there was no thorough police search of the park until seven weeks later the arrival of that Staffordshire police car was the crowning cock-up in a catalogue of cock-ups at no point did West Mercia tell neighbouring staffs they were operating in their area if they had there'd have been no Bobby doing his rounds to spook the kidnapper bath pool park lies at the intersection of different police areas that could have been another reason why the panther chose it for the ransom drop to exploit the lack of coordination between forces if so his plan worked but not in the way he intended it backfired spectacularly it was seven weeks before Staffordshire police who cover bath pool park found out that west Mercia and Scotland yard had conducted an undercover operation on their turf without telling them when news reached him the chief constable of Staffordshire Arthur Reese ordered an immediate search and that was how Lesley's body was found on the 7th of march 1975 she was hanging from a wire at the bottom of the drainage shaft where Neilson had tethered her the subsequent post-mortem examination showed she died instantly the shock of the fall had caused her heart to stop not strangulation did she fall or was she pushed we'll come to that but on that spring morning questions started to be asked why had Lesley not been found sooner dead or alive why hadn't there been a fingertip search of the park West Mercia blamed Scotland yard while Staffordshire blasted both forces for keeping them in the dark it was a shambles of career-ending proportions and the killer was still at large the black panther kidnapper and multiple murderer had got away [Music] you've now had time to realize the magnitude of this case a ruthless criminal has been operating across the midlands and the north of England he had committed murder and he'd gone on to kidnap a young woman and blackmail her family now as a former detective I can say it was not a proud moment for the police service not only was there a lack of coordination to catch the panther before he turned to kidnapping it was the tragedy of Lesley Whittle's death that exposed the police blunders in the worst way possible the question has always remained could she have been found alive chief superintendent Booth had been reluctant to hand over the reins to John Morrison of Scotland yard he was forced to eventually for some reason though all the panthers earlier crimes were not brought under one central command was this another case of egos getting in the way of proper management decisions I don't know but whatever the rival is between West Mercia Staffordshire the West Midlands and Scotland yard were there was one simple objective in those three days and that was quite simply to find Lesley Whittle alive now in my career I was fortunate to benefit from the lessons learned from those mistakes of the wild west policing up to the 1980s I have experience of kidnaps and hostage situations and they are stand-alone investigations referred to as crimes in action they all have the same objective the safe resolution and rescue of the hostage the criminal investigation nailing the offender comes second crimes in action require specially trained staff and their work is done when the hostage is found regional police forces are now able to deal with these kind of cases the key to them is to set them up in a covert way even within the police organization we are now much, much better at it and I have to say for Simon's credit so are the journalists the police put far more resources into media and communications now the days of those conversations in pubs between the police journalists and lawyers they're long gone you have to have some sympathy though for chief superintendent Booth somebody had leaked news of the kidnapping to a freelance journalist and Booth was put on the back foot at a critical time there were even rival press conferences at Dudley about Gerald Smith and at Kidsgrove about Lesley Whittle it was complete disorganization nowadays kidnapping comes with a news blackout then there was the blame game over why bath pool park wasn't searched after the failed ransom drop Mr Booth had assumed that the met police had searched it a critical error particularly when all the communication from the panther had stopped at that point a search could have been made in a reasonably covert way even in those days a search of the draining shaft could have been done without drawing too much attention again I don't want to sound too critical after all Neilson was a rare type of villain extremely dangerous and calculating let's face it if he aborted the whole operation at basketball park with Lesley being alive he could have made one phone call to alert the police to where she was he didn't either because he knew she was dead or didn't care what had happened to her my career was made easier by the organizational changes that came from others mistakes I get the fact that there used to be strong rivalry between departments not only police forces it still doesn't justify the squabble between west Mercia claiming that Staffordshire had got their body this resulted in west mercy investigating the kidnap and Staffordshire looking into Lesley Whittle's murder there's an article published in the police review magazine from 1984 and it reports on the final public humiliation for the police at Neilson's trial Neilson's defence to murder was that Lesley must have fallen to her death the prosecution used the accounts of Staffordshire and met officers to explain how she was found weeks after the kidnap and the interpretation of the scene chief superintendent Booth who had been the senior officer was expecting to be called to give his evidence having waited outside the court for days in the end he was not called and this happens the prosecution tend to try and not over complicate how the evidence is put to a jury they have to find a balance between calling live witnesses and other evidence from exhibits and documents etc the defence team did call chief superintendent Booth though and it turned out not to be his finest hour instead of sticking to his evidence and showing unity he openly criticized other officers the judge would later tell the jury that boo's opinions were completely irrelevant you know the thing I find most chilling is that Neilson was behaving like a terrorist he dressed like a paramilitary he behaved with a military discipline and yet the police service as a whole were unable to stop him if he'd been a member of the IRA acting alone just imagine what havoc he could have [Music] caused [Music] by December 1975 commander John Morrison was in overall charge of the black panther inquiry but the trail had gone cold the Whittles had buried Lesley only to be further wounded by cruel rumours that Ronald could have had something to do with the kidnapping everyone involved was facing a bleak Christmas at least and it was a small crew of comfort there'd be no more post office raids pc Stuart McKenzie and his partner pc tony white were parked in a side street when they saw the short wiry looking fellow with a hold all walking briskly down leaming lane south in Mansfield woodhouse the first week of December had been cold and wet so at 20 to 11 at night most folk were at home watching telly or drinking up in the four ways just down the road the lone hurrying figure aroused the officer's suspicion they pulled him over white rolled down his window hey there fella do you mind telling me what you're doing I’m coming back from work what's your name and date of birth my name is John Moxen I was born on 30th of January 1937. where were you born chapel in the fritz what do you do for a living I’m a lorry driver pc white wrote all this down suddenly the man leaned forward don't move he barked and as he did so put his hand into the hold all and pulled out a sawn off shotgun he ordered tony white into the back seat shoved the barrels into Stewart McKenzie’s left armpit and told him to drive this was clearly no ordinary near do well his height and build were like the descriptions of the notorious black panther his clipped speech and put on accent matched the accounts of survivors if so this man was wanted for murdering three sub-postmasters he'd entered a revolver into a security guard and kidnapped and murdered a young girl Mackenzie and white wondered where they next on the list the hijacker ordered Mackenzie to head for Blidworth a village in open farmland a few miles from Mansfield driving through the suburbs he reckoned the hijacker plan to kill them dump the car and escape across the fields he had to distract the gunman long enough to disarm him they'd need help but nobody was about the right turn to Blidworth was coming up the inside of the windscreen was steaming up the sign was hard to see and there were people on the pavement which way he asked wiping the windscreen with his left hand and then with all or nothing ferocity he yanked the steering wheel to the right from the back seat tony white lunged at the gun Mackenzie steered left stamping on the brakes sending the escort sliding to the curb white shouted get him the car stopped with a thug he shot me shouted wide all McKenzie could hear was bells ringing he scrambled out of the car and lurched towards the chip shop mouthing at two lads on the pavement for god's sake helpers with a man with a gun the junction fish bar did a roaring trade when the pubs and working men's clubs turned out and it still serves the best fish and chips for miles around at 11 pm on Thursday the 11th of December 1975 18 year old paul Cullen and his mate Derek Smart were standing on the pavement outside the chippy tucking into fish suppers paul told the Six O’clock Knock about that evening we'd pop down to the uh catholic club in Rainworth roman catholic club and then we just went down and we had some fish and chips me and Derek smart we must have been first in there so it was outside and funnily enough we was exactly straight outside the fish shop where the big window pane was and all of a sudden we had this blue and white panda car pulled up and skidded the ground the road one of the policemen shouts uh quick we've got an armed man at that point we went up to the telephone box which is about 30 yards up on the same side as the fish shop and rang 999 in the telephone box but tom would come back down several people come out the fish shop at that stage they were trying to anchor the um black panther to the green railings which was between the fish shop and the toilets what was the policeman what was took him back to the fish shop because he went deaf with the gun going off and the other policemen managed with the members of the public to get him with the ankles on to the railings there was a chap by the name of Gordon he was trying to go away from the railings he hit him in the face at that point the first police car arrived on the scene probably about 12 minutes later the roads was closed off and there was police cars coming from all three directions we were doing all this utmost not to get linked onto the green railings because if it run down the drive of the fish shop behind the fish shop it could have been up that railway bank and on his way again everybody was trying to get involved the best they could to help the policeman because it was on his own in 1975 between picking them up near the post if it's only midlane south of Mansfield Woodhouse as you follow the location down to the point where it happened you wouldn't have found any fish shops that would have been the first point where they could have slammed the brakes on and got assistance it pulled up right inside it occurred more or less so we may have been stood about probably two foot away from the actual fish shop nevertheless once a gun's gone off it'll catch if he's going to catch you I was just thinking that we was looking to be alive with being a double-barrelled showing off shotgun if that gun would have gone off in our direction we'd have been blown through the window me and derry I felt I was doing a good service there for the police and for the countries in all because he was most wanted man in the country and I think we're all doing well to do what we did it was two days before Donald Neilson revealed his identity when officers swooped on his house they found a treasure trove of damning evidence the attic bedroom which Neilson kept locked was his main base of operations as well as army surplus equipment and clothing there were guns and ammunition squirreled away trophies from his career as a housebreaker well before he started robbing sub post officers pistols shotguns two rifles with silences he had the lot scrapbooks full of newspaper cuttings and then there were the hoods as officers boxed up the fines and carried them downstairs there was no doubt in commander Morrison’s mind that this was indeed the lair of the black panther Neilson's meticulous notes and maps led detectives to garages and lockups scattered all over the midlands and the north in one they found a press for making car number plates what astounded the officers was that Neilson had over a period of years engineered all this single-handed it was as if he'd been fighting a one-man war against the system a system he saw as grossly unfair favouring the shiftless and the work shy skewed in favour of immigrants and foreigners leeching off the welfare state Neilson believed he was taking what was rightfully his the cash and the postal orders he stole belonged to the state the government could print some more his robberies should have been victimless except for those too stupid to see it from his point of view and then there were the Whittles rolling in a snow drift of cash salted away by George who'd been keeping his ex-wife living on a pittance for 30 years the injustice made Neilson's blood boil with righteous indignation the kidnapping would right two wrongs he would get a well-deserved pension and the ittles would learn a thing or two about humility but there was no pot of gold most of the inheritance was tied up in the coach firm and the liquid assets were sensibly controlled for instance Lesley wouldn't inherit a penny until she was 25 and at the end of the day she'd have burned it all just to have her dad back Shakespeare wrote oh beware my lord of jealousy it is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on Donald Neilson was about to experience mockery like never before stripped of his black panther alter ego he was no longer a fearsome night stalker able to slink away into the shadows his bitterness and jealousy left a trail of death and devastation now he was banged to rights and in any other case that would have been the end of the story but this one's different because Britain’s most wanted man had one last trick up his sleeve to find out what happened at the trial of the black panther join us again soon for the next instalment of the Six O’clock Knock the Six O’clock Knock is presented by Simon Ford and Jacques Morrell and produced by paul bradshaw and is available on every major listening app please help us spread the word by giving us a five star review and telling your friends to subscribe. 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