Some people should never play poker

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Neil turns himself in

Neil had run out of places to lay low. Quite against the imaginings of those back in Cavendish Avenue, he had not set out to ‘lay low’ from the police. He had been on the run from three assailants – none of them carried a badge: They were his conscience; the killer of Francesca; and the gambling syndicate to whom he owed a large amount of money. It was only later that he realised that he could add the police to that list.

He spent a dreadful night under canvas, with a borrowed tent and primus stove, in Epping Forest. He was terrified of every noise: not only those ‘assailants’ listed above, but also every rustle, bark, growl, hoot, and squawk had him believing that boa constrictors, ferocious hyenas, and wild dogs were about to descend on the tent and turn him into carrion for vultures. He could not do that again. What could he do, but seek safety in a police station?

When Neil turned up at the nearest police station, looking like the wild man from Borneo, he tried to explain, in a very garbled way, who he was and how he had landed in the state he was in. He had not wanted to explain the original circumstances but did eventually have to say that ‘a friend of his had been murdered’ and he had fled for fear they would come looking for him. He gave his address, and the name of ‘the murdered victim’, which quickly turned up from computer records, the name and location of the detectives who were investigating. D.I. Dillon and D.S. Lucy Arnold.

A telephone call was made to Rocket Lane Police Station to let them know that they had ‘a Neil Bamford’ with them who was telling some garbled tale about knowing the murderer. Did they want him delivered? Would they send somebody up to interview him?

Dillon himself returned their call. He would appreciate it if they could spare a car to run him over. It was only about 12 miles, so he would wait around. He was a crucial witness. It was vital that they spoke to him – whether as a suspect or, as he claimed, a witness in fear of his life.

Some forty minutes later, Neil Bamford was drinking tea seated in an interview room in Rocket Street police station.

They spoke to him at length. First merely as a person who might have material information relating to the death of Francesca Taddei. He was difficult to like. But they could understand why he had run. Those gambling bosses do not pussy foot around, and by his own admission he owed them a good deal of money. His story was that they had turned up to get their money. He had none. They had started to beat him up, and he had run, so they had killed Francesca who had come down to visit Georgia – but Georgia was elsewhere, so Fran had stayed for a drink. If they had not got a different account from Giovanni Scarletti it would all have sounded very plausible. The story, then, was that he was only too happy to admit to ‘cowardice’! Unfortunately that is not covered under the Criminal Justice Act!

Bizarrely, when he realised that they were going to send him home, he started to remonstrate, charging himself with criminal damage in Epping Forest. He said he had deliberately run away from the scene of a crime. In fact he tried everything to get himself arrested. When that seemed to be not working, he quite deliberately punched one of the WPC’s standing close by square in the mouth, knocking her to the ground. Then he stamped on her viciously in the stomach. It had all happened very quickly and had come as a complete surprise to everybody. One minute the man was calm and amiable, the next he was a thing possessed.

He was arrested then and there with assaulting a police officer, read his rights, he signed the charge sheet like an angel, and visibly brightened as he was led away to the cells. He was obviously too afraid to return home, which more or less backed up his story that the men that had killed Francesca had actually gone to exact monies from him and they were still out there waiting for him to return. It made perfect sense. Didn’t it? Yes, If you ignored Giovanni Scarletti’s version of events.

It was just as they were finishing the formalities of ‘charging’ Neil, that a message was passed to Dillon with details of the attempt – if such it was – on the life of Georgia Taddei. Dillon hurried the rest of the proceedings and having seen Neil Bamford escorted off to a cell, went off to find Lucy to hand over the reins, and then to drive up the motorway. He could have delegated this, or asked the local station to pick it up, but the case was now getting under his skin, and, having spoken to Neil Bamford, he had thought he had a fairly good idea what was happening. Was this just more ‘muscle’ to persuade him to pay up? He had said he owed about £7000 – which was a lot of money – but was it enough to take such a risk? Surely, they would just think that the message had most definitely been delivered?

Neil in his cell did not know whether to be happy or terrified. He had either walked out triumphantly from the Roman arena, or he had just walked into the lion’s den. He had not been party to the news that an attempt had been made on Georgia’s life. That would have left him even more confused. Never was there a truer saying ‘Oh what a tangled web you weave, when first you practice to deceive’.

The fact that Georgia was alive at all was a miracle. Georgia sent word to Dillon that she was going up to Scotland to visit Francesca’s mother. He had assumed she was going up on the train and had sent two detective constables down to Euston to ask her to delay her trip for a day, because he needed urgently to talk to her again. It seemed unlikely that she would drive the 500 plus miles for a visit of just a couple of days, but it seems that was precisely what she had done.

He was not immediately allowed to talk to her – because she was too poorly. However, her prognosis had improved, and the medical staff were optimistic. She had been ‘extraordinarily lucky’ according to Dr. Sheila Matthews, who was the principal attending physician – a specialist in trauma. The major damage to the car had been on the passenger side, which was where the initial impact was felt, and was luckily also where the car hit the tree with great force. The relatively hard roof of the sturdy car had sustained a lot of damage but had also protected her somewhat too. She could thank her lucky stars that she was not in a soft top or less hardy, serviceable model. She had fractures in her legs, a broken wrist, a broken nose and a fractured skull. All very serious injuries, but since she had survived the impact, the trauma and the first few hours, none of them was now thought to be life threatening.

Dillon visited the local force to get details of the witnesses, and to talk to those who had attended the scene. As luck would have it, two of the cars early on the scene were locals, and were not only easy to get hold of, but were so incensed at what they had seen that they were as keen as he was to talk about it. It seemed from what they said that it was most definitely a specific attempt to drive her off the road, and almost at a chosen spot – since the car that had struck her had held back for a couple of minutes before careering across two carriageways and positioning himself to get the best angle to do most damage. The second car had stopped yards up, and both men had sped off in that abandoning the first vehicle. The spot had been ideal because it was only 50 yards from the next slip road, and they were able to disappear very easily.

It had been noticed that both cars had ‘foreign’ number plates, one with a French international identification and the other a Latvian one. (Later when checked all these numbers were bogus, and the abandoned car was unlikely to be French because it was right hand drive). The witnesses both seemed to agree that what had surprised them most was that they were not the young, hot heads, that they had thought when they saw them racing one another and weaving in and out of the traffic. In reality, when the driver of the abandoned vehicle ran off to get into the awaiting car, he was probably early forties. White. Hard to describe. The inevitable baseball caps. Stubble. A bit paunchy really. Ran fast enough, but then he had to! Both the men to whom Dillon spoke were annoyed with themselves that they had not chased after him. They were both sure that they were fitter than him and could have stopped him. However, as he probably knew, by the time they had stopped their own vehicles safely, and got across to the casualty, he was well away.

So now Dillon had a lot of the facts. Why did he feel dissatisfied? He had heard what Bamford had said. And the man was admitting that he felt responsible for Francesca’s death because he was the intended victim. Dillon had been around a long time and had worked in a team that covered organised crime previously, and that had brought him into contact with many of the hard men in the betting and gambling arena. He had never known anything like this for a small (in relative terms) amount of money. Unprofessional yobs and burglars breaking into houses for drug-money might panic and lash out. Even they did not hang around a multi-occupancy house to beat up, stab an unrelated woman, drag her upstairs, and stab her again. Nor would they drive thirty odd miles and stage such a pantomime. No, No, No….

The only other possibility with Francesca Taddei was some kind of attempt at a sexual assault? Some ‘stranger’ attack for sexual or financial gain – but according to evidence there was no sexual assault – though she had relatively recently had intercourse with somebody, but there was no evidence that this was anything but consensual.

In any case, how would any of that tie in with Neil’s story about the gambling debt and the attack on himself?

Some of what he thought he knew seemed, to Dillon, to make perfect sense. Some of it made no sense at all.

He spent probably more time than he could spare waiting for Georgia to be well enough to answer some questions. He liaised constantly with Lucy, who was holding the fort at the London end, and who, herself, was increasingly perplexed by the inconsistencies that talking with Neil had thrown up. They had both assumed that once they could talk to him – since he was a victim – then everything would be clear – or at least clearer. Instead it was more problematic.

Lucy cleared an idea she had with Dillon and got his agreement for her to test her thesis out.

With the accompaniment of one of the PC’s that had originally attended the murder scene, PC Dexter Silcott, Lucy once again interviewed, under caution, Neil Bamford, who had hopefully had a few hours to contemplate his current situation.

“Now, Neil. Can we pick up again our conversation of yesterday? It was evident that you were determined not to be sent home – and landed yourself with a charge of seriously and deliberately injuring a police officer – a woman far smaller and lighter than yourself as it happens. She has sustained a broken nose and eye socket, as well as two cracked ribs, and possible damage to her spleen. You are looking at a lengthy custodial sentence. This is not an offence that is likely to just hand you a fine or a conditional discharge. The WPC has spent the night in St.Thomas’s. You will not walk away from this.”

Neil’s reaction was hard to read. He was never one to be much moved by other people’s woes, so he was not affected over much by any present or future health concerns for the WPC. All he could think of at present was that he, personally, was safer here than ‘out there’.

Since her initial ‘appeal to his better nature’ had achieved nothing, Lucy then decided to tell him that an attempt had been made on his partner’s life, and that she was in a serious and dangerous condition in hospital. This did have an effect. But not quite what she had been expecting.

Neil’s eyes opened wide, before he frowned and said “Bugger!” He then went thoughtful, and when Lucy started to say something he suddenly said “Shut up, shut up, shut up ….I’m thinking!”

She was, to say the least, somewhat taken aback. So she started again.

“Mr. Bamford. Do you have any idea – apart from these gambling associates of yours – who might have a grudge against you. A grudge that wants you to live with the consequences of the two women in your life being murdered?”

Neil stiffened. “If Georgia is saying that there was something going on between me and Fran, she is deluded. I don’t know anything about anything. I have said all I want to say.”

“Well, it is not possible to leave it quite like that. We will have to have a formal interview, but if you wish to call in legal representation, then that is your right. If you don’t have anybody, we can see to that for you. But, the interview will be reconvened, that I can assure you.”

So pending legal representation, Neil returned to his cell. He then had plenty time to consider his situation. A situation that had now changed. His dilemma was that he had no idea whether it had changed for the better, or the worse.

Meanwhile, Georgia was improving slowly, and the doctors agreed that Dillon could spend no more than five minutes talking to her.

His conversation with Georgia was not as informative as he might have wished, because she was perhaps as much in the dark as he was. What she did say, however, was that she thought she had seen the man that ran her off the road once before. The recollection naturally upset her to recall, and at first Dillon assumed that it was the memory of the crash that was traumatic. When he said

”Don’t worry. It was a horrible experience. We can talk about this again, when you are feeling stronger”, she grabbed his arm and pulled him towards her.

Her voice was getting weaker, and the nurse was urging Dillon to leave, but it was Georgia that was the most anxious to speak, anxious to pass on information.

“No … no … Costas …. Neil …mechanic … ask Neil ….”

Then she was exhausted, and her head fell back onto the pillow. Dillon was anxious that the exertion had killed her, but the nurse came forward, checked the monitors, and nodded.

“No … she just needs her rest. Go now. She mustn’t be disturbed again. She is very lucky to be alive, and the fact that she is talking and has any memory at all is a miracle. … Somebody will contact you when she is more able to talk with you.”

Since it had been a deliberate attempt to kill Georgia, and the motive and the culprit were as yet completely unknown, Dillon arranged with the local force to have somebody stationed close by to make sure that they did not finish their task.

He returned to London. On the forty mile drive back home, he mulled over this new information, and a new idea began to form in his head. “Well, I’m damned! ….. Was that possible. It would explain an awful lot of the inconsistencies that had plagued him.”

Arriving back, and touching base with Lucy and learning that as a result of hearing about the attempt on Georgia’s life, Neil had decided to lawyer-up, Dillon almost leapt for joy. To her amazement, he even attempted a high five with Lucy, and seemed positively elated by the news.

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