Archive for Crime

Blue Murder in Glasgow

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , , on June 12, 2019 by telescoper

We have our final meeting of the Examination Board in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University tomorrow in the presence of External Examiner who is visiting for the purpose.

For some reason thinking about this impending event reminded me of a strange encounter I had many years ago when I worked at Nottingham University and had almost forgotten about. Perhaps it’s just because it was the same time of year. Anyway, while I remember it I thought I might as well write about it here.

One day in June 2003, when I got home to my house in Beeston after work, I found that a card had been put through my letterbox. It was from Nottingham CID and bore the name of a Detective Sergeant followed by `Vice Squad’. I forget his actual name. Apparently the Officer concerned had called when I wasn’t in and left the note asking me to call back. I was a bit perturbed that it was apparently to do with something under the remit of the Vice Squad but it didn’t give any details except for a telephone number. Anyway, being a cooperative person, I phoned the number and a few days later the policeman came to my house to interview me.

It turned out to have nothing to do with the Vice Squad nor even anything to do with Nottingham. It was to do with an incident in Glasgow that had happened almost a year previously (in 2002): the policeman who interviewed me just happened to be available to run this particular errand on behalf of the Glasgow CID.

The police had traced me because I had paid a bill in a curry house in the Byres Road area of Glasgow’s West End with my credit card. I should explain that the reason I was having a meal in Glasgow that night was that at that time I was External Examiner for the undergraduate courses in Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, a task that involved staying two nights in a B&B near the University. In fact when I spoke to the Police Officer I was about to go to Glasgow again for the same purpose.

I was asked to recall my movements for the evening concerned (24th June 2002). It was almost a year previously and I couldn’t help much, but I did remember that I (along with some companions from the Department) tried to get into the curry house earlier in the evening, but it was very busy so we adjourned to a pub for a pint or two before returning and getting a table. A helpful comment below reminded me that the establishment concerned was  Ashoka in Ashton Lane, in the West End of Glasgow.


I could remember only two things really. One was that it was a warm sunny evening and there were lots of people outside drinking in the sunshine. The other that it was getting dark when we left Ashoka after the meal, which at that time of year would make it rather late. The Officer pointed out that my credit card had been charged after 11pm, which fits with that recollection. I had paid for my meal with the intention of claiming the cost on expenses. The food was excellent, by the way.

`Can you describe the other people in the restaurant when you were there?’ he asked me. I could barely remember who was at my table, never mind any strangers, and couldn’t think of anything useful to say at all except that it was very busy.

`What’s this all about?’, I asked the Officer.

It was then revealed to me that somebody had been murdered that night, just around the corner from where I was staying. Actually he had been left for dead in the driveway of his house with serious head injuries received in the early hours of the following morning, and died a few days later. The police strongly suspected he had eaten in the same restaurant we were in, possibly with the person or persons who killed him. The Officer showed me a picture of the victim but it didn’t ring any bells.

Because of the time that had elapsed I wasn’t able to help very much at all, though to be honest I doubt I would have been able to help if I’d been asked the day after the event. I just wasn’t paying much attention, and there wasn’t a row or anything that I might have noticed.

And that was that. Interview over. I signed a witness statement and the Officer left.  I never heard any more about it.  It was obviously a cold case then – otherwise the Police  wouldn’t have been following such tenuous leads – and it’s an even colder case now. I believe the case was featured on Crimewatch or some such, but without success.

The murder (still unsolved) was of a man called Alex Blue. According to Wikipedia:

A businessman from the city’s west end, Blue was found outside his home with head injuries. He died two days later. Blue ran a taxi business with an annual turnover of £7m. One theory is that he was the victim of a house buying scam. He told friends he was in the process of buying a new house and planned to view it the day after he was attacked. It was later discovered the home had never been on the market. Although nobody has been charged with the murder, Blue’s mother and brother are convinced they know who murdered him. His brother said: “I know who was behind this but they got someone else to carry out their dirty work for them.”

It’s very unlikely now that whoever killed him will ever be brought to justice.

Image of the Week: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 28, 2015 by telescoper

I just came across this post from the Wellcome institute blog and thought I would share it here. It’s linked to a (free) exhibition that opened this week in London which I must try to see.There’s a short video about it here. It includes some disturbing but fascinating photographs of the “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” a collection of eighteen miniature crime scene models that were built in the 1940’s and 50’s by a progressive criminologist by the name of Frances Glessner Lee. The models, which were based on actual homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths, were created to train detectives to assess visual evidence.You can see a complete set of the photographs here.

Carbon Footprints

Posted in Biographical with tags , on October 20, 2008 by telescoper

I found out this morning about an altercation during the early hours of Sunday morning in Cardiff’s city centre that resulted in a welsh rugby player having to go to hospital with facial injuries. This all happened about four o’clock in morning somewhere in the Mill Lane area of the city. Any civilised person who knows Cardiff will realize that’s generally an area to be avoided on Saturday night because of the very high density of rather seedy late-night venues and their undesirable clientele. It looks like it might have been a closing-time row but anyway it seems no serious injury was done so it will probably all be alright in the end.

Most of Britain’s cities now seem to have their weekend no-go areas as the national obsession with binge drinking and picking fights for no reason seems to have become entrenched over the last few years. Although these places are loud and unpleasant you can usually avoid trouble quite easily by showing a bit of discretion and walking away from obvious disturbances or, better still, avoiding these places altogether. If drunks want to fight each other, why not have a designated area so they can be contained? Two drunks are unlikely to inflict serious injury on each other if they are too inebriated, and the only real worry is when two gangs decide to embark on a mass brawl. That’s why there’s always a heavy police presence in such places.

I doubt if this kind of crime will attract much attention nationally, but it does remind me of the problems that developed in Nottingham (where I used to live) after the enormous increase in the number bars and clubs in the city centre about ten years ago followed by the more recent relaxation of the laws on licensing hours. Nottingham’s central area, including the Lace Market, now has over three hundred and fifty drinking establishments and at weekends these draw an estimated 100,000 people into the city on Saturdays. The consequent pandemonium never really affected me personally as I didn’t go to the pubs and clubs in that area, and had anyway been been brought up in Newcastle which has a similar reputation, but it did cause a considerable strain on the local police force and may have contributed to their difficulty in controlling Nottingham’s soaring crime figures.

On the other hand, when Nottingham acquired the nickname of the Gun Capital of Britain this definitely did have an impact close to home for me, as it clearly affected the number of student applications to the University of Nottingham. Although (as far as I know) no student was ever involved in a gun crime, there was also a rise in low-level crime including burglaries which did affect many students especially those living off-campus in the Lenton and Radcliffe areas. On most admissions days we had to contend with questions from both parents and students about crime and it was a constant struggle to counter the impression that Nottingham was a completely lawless place.

My own house was burgled a few years ago too, and several other members of staff I knew there had break-ins and other experiences with crime while I was living there. Ironically, in my case I’d just been involved in running an open day for prospective new students which had gone very well and I’d spent the evening having a few drinks in the Staff Club on the campus at University Park. I walked home to Beeston, which is near the campus, but when I got to my house I saw all the lights were on, which they weren’t when I left that morning. One of the ground floor windows had been forced open and the house was very cold, caused by the fact that the window and back door to the garden were open. Once I’d recovered from the shock I started to worry that something might have happened to Columbo, but he appeared very soon showing no signs of harm having probably slept through the whole thing.

I looked around the house and discovered that they had taken quite a lot of things, making good their escape through the garden at the back of my house thus avoiding drawing attention to themselves in the street at the front. They had taken a bit of foreign currency, a portable CD player, TV, a vacuum cleaner and various other inconsequential things. But they also took a lot of my CDs, some of which were quite obscure and difficult to replace. Although I was fully insured, so I didn’t actually lose anything much in a financial sense, I was definitely very annoyed about losing some of my favourite music. On the other hand, I wasn’t too bothered about the mess the burglars had made because my house is never very tidy anyway.

I called the police and they were at the house within a few minutes. After a cursory look around they left me a card, logged the incident and went away, telling me to try not to touch anything until the forensic officer came the next day. I called the insurers and the next morning a guy came to fix the window and door. By then I had calmed down and was just interested in getting things back to normal.

Then a SOCO (Scene-of-Crime-Officer) arrived to do some forensic tests. I had been an avid watcher of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for some time so I was quite interested to see what sort of tests they would do.

It wasn’t anything like the TV. The lady that came sprinkled powder here and there and then announced that the intruders must have worn gloves. Then she went into the back ground floor room that led into the garden. This room had a wood laminate floor which was covered in muddy footprints.

“Oh great,” she said “I can use this new stuff!”

She rummaged in her bag and brought out some kind of graphite powder and sheets of plastic stuff like clingfilm. She poured the powder all over the floor and lifted several footprints using the sticky plastic.

“I never tried this before. I’ll let you know when I get back to the lab whether I can identify the prints.”

And off she went, leaving the powder for me to clean up. That turned out to be impossible because it was stuck deep into the grain of the wood. It was a hell of a job to clean off the fingerprint stuff too. They never show you that in the movies.

Anyway, the next day I got an excited phone call from the conscientious SOCO. She had identified the footprint. It was a size 7 Reebok trainer. Gee, I thought, there must only be a few thousand of those in Nottingham. Obviously, this discovery didn’t help much and the crime remains unsolved.

I was thinking of sending a bill for the cleaning, but decided against.