In A Nutshell
Throughout the early 1980s, ice cream truck vendors in Glasgow, Scotland engaged in a brutal turf war. At its most savage, six people were murdered by arson. Of course, the drivers weren’t fighting for the rights to peddle Klondike bars and push pops—they used their trucks as a front to sell stolen merchandise and drugs throughout the community.
The Whole Bushel
Glasgow, Scotland has long been maligned as one of the most dangerous cities in Europe. It is well known for stabbings, as it can be difficult to procure firearms in the UK. One of the most bizarre streaks of violence to ever grip the city occurred in the 1980s, when ice cream truck drivers dissolved into a turf war.
At first the goings-on seemed amusing. Few professions could be deemed as innocuous as that of the ice cream truck driver, but suddenly Glasgow’s East End became a nightmare of thefts and vandalism. It was soon determined that these hostilities were perpetrated by gangs using the trucks as a cover for selling items like drugs, hijacked cigarettes, and other stolen goods. It was a clever subterfuge, a rolling marketplace beyond reproach. They could conduct transactions with any number of people on the open street and escape the notice of the police. Besides, when was the last time you saw an ice cream truck pulled over?
When the authorities failed to make any headway into the issue, people began calling the local Strathclyde Police the “Serious Chimes Squad.” But things were about to take a deadly turn. An 18-year-old driver named Andrew “Fat Boy” Doyle roused the ire of a competing group by refusing to stay out of disputed territory. They went so far as to shoot at Doyle through the windshield of his truck, but he stubbornly continued to trespass. This all came to an end on April 16, 1984, when someone spread gasoline around the apartment where Andrew lived and set it aflame.
Allegedly the tactic was merely meant as a “frightener,” an intimidation tactic warning the young dealer to beg off. Unfortunately, the fire raged out of control, and by the time the flames were extinguished, five people had perished, a sixth succumbing later in the hospital. Among the dead was the offending “Fat Boy” Doyle, but also his father, sister, two brothers, and 18-month-old nephew.
Six people were arrested in connection with the deadly arson. Two men, Thomas “TC” Campbell and Joe Steele, were sentenced to life in prison. The others received lesser sentences. The two-decade legal battle that followed was one of the most bizarre in the history of the UK. Campbell and Steele loudly decried their innocence and began an extensive campaign to be released. Campbell’s protests included a hunger strike and refusal to cut his hair, but Steele was rather more melodramatic. He escaped from prison several times, once staging a demonstration on the roof of his mother’s house and another time supergluing himself to a gate outside Buckingham Palace.
Eventually, investigations emerged that the police’s key witness, a man named William Love (who claimed he’d overheard Campbell and Steele at a bar formulating their plot against Doyle), lied to escape a sentence of his own. The two men were briefly freed from prison in 1996 pending an appeal but were returned in 1998. They finally won their freedom in 2001. In 2004, the court of appeal sided in their favor. Today, the men are free.