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(C) Underbelly Magazine 2018

Arthur Thompson: The Godfather?



Thompson was born in September 1931 in Glasgow. He was born to two law-abiding parents. His father was a steelworker and brought in good money.Arthur was brought up in Springburn - in the north-west of Glasgow

Growing up Arthur Thompson got into many fights, just as most lads from the city did and still do to this day.It's a coming of age thing for us Glaswegians. There are stories that before the age of twelve, Arthur Thompson fought with his fists but after the age of twelve, he started using an open razor. That is just press and book stuff. Creating more myths surrounding Glasgow’ Godfather sells more newspapers and more books. During WWII, Springburn, being a highly industrialised area, was often bombed by the Germans. During the second world war, Arthur like most weans would rummage through the bomb debris. Back then it was like treasure hunting for youngsters - so the old ones who are still here to talk about it say. By the time Arthur was 15 he was breaking into local shops and warehouses. It is said this is when the young Thompson began to create a reputation? Thompson obviously looked up to other hardened criminals; most young ones from schemes do. They see them splashing the money and driving expensive cars while they struggle to get by on a £180.00 a fortnight giro.

In reality, Thompson was not much different from any other youngster trying to get where they wanted to go, except his choice of career was going to be criminal. He decided this before he was 16; he had been watching older criminals and liked what he saw. He noticed the real money was made by the bank robbers and extortionists, people who offered a bar or store “protection” against attacks. Thompson had proved he was gem enough in his teenage years, so he progressed to becoming a bouncer, working on the doors of several clubs in the city center. After proving he could handle himself - slapping about a few drunks - he started working for loan sharks, collecting debts.

Speaking to a few who knew him back them, they claim he was a liberty taker. They say when he was starting out collecting debts for loan sharks he would take liberties with the weakest. It was his way of building his reputation. Once he began earning a name for himself, Thompson was sure he could make it on his own, he began extorting bars and clubs, those he had sussed as weak when he was working their doors, he was a smart man but again a bully and liberty taker.

This new work landed him his first adult prison sentence -18 months - in 1953. Thompson hated prison, like everybody else, and he would try to avoid another prison sentence at any cost, as we find out later in his life. Prison held men just as capable as him, some a lot worse, this he did not like. Thompson was also involved in several bank robberies with big Bobby Campbell’s crew. They were prolific robbers who were also heavily involved in the U.D.A. Campbell and his crew were heavy and the money Thompson made with Campbell he invested into business ventures and was quite successful with it. A smart move but also a rarity in those days. It was around about this time he formed his own crew with Teddy Martin and Paddy Meehan. In 1955, Thompson and Meehan broke into the Commercial Bank of Scotland branch in Beauly near Inverness. The bank was temporary premises at the time which made the break-in easy. Two out of three safes were blown open, the third unlocked by a key that had been kept in one of the other safes. Most of the cash was in the safes that were blown. The safe was fitted with a high-security box, like a safe within a safe, the purpose of this being that the remainder of the safe could be left accessible during working hours for books and records, but meanwhile, the cash was safely secured in security box until needed. This was common in most bank safes where the security boxes/coffers were both drill and blowtorch resistant. The crew were unlucky this time as the security box contained £8000 in cash.

An expert had to be called in to open the security box. Locals later reported that they thought the noise was caused by rifle shots or cars backfiring. Thompson and Meehan were later arrested and went to trial before Lord Wheatley at Inverness High Court in December 1955 and charged with stealing a Humber Snipe from Butlins Ayr, breaking into the Commercial Bank of Scotland, Beauly, and stealing £391.74. It came out that a local gardener had found a set of keys with an address tag, that address was Thompson's address at 12 Queenslie Street, Glasgow. In Thompson's house police also found a rare silver groat which had come from a collection of coins belonging to Mrs.Mathieson, the Bank Manager's wife. Thompson got 3 years, he was 24 years old, Paddy Meehan received 6 years, " The sentence to commence when he completed the 12 months he was serving for aiding and abetting one fellow crew member Teddy Martin to escape from Peterhead." When Thompson came out along with Meehan and Martin he got right back into it, they started buying up businesses. They had a timber yard a gambling club and a host of other businesses, including Beever Domestics which he owned with Meehan. But this still didn’t stop him stealing..

Thompson was building a huge reputation on the streets of Glasgow and around the whole country. When a man owed him money and it was clear he could not pay him back. It is alleged that Thompson nailed the man to the floor, literally. Actually, he was alleged to have done this on many an occasion, he once allegedly nailed a mechanic to his garage doors. Though we could find no reported crime of that nature from the time period this is alleged to have taken place in?

It is claimed that Thompson buried many a body in the foundations of the Kingston Bridge as it was being built, the bridge originally the Kingston dock took 4 years to build. Building work started in 1966 and the bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1970. He had also been popping up and down to London doing odd jobs for the Krays, he was well known to a lot of the other major crooks and when Andy Andrews escaped from Wandsworth with Ronnie Briggs in 1965, Frankie Frazer called Mendel Morris who set it up for Frankie to bring Andrews up to Glasgow, he stayed between Mendel and Thompson's houses. There was one Glasgow family that Thompson didn’t impress. The Welsh family were a bunch of vicious neanderthal types who would steal from everybody and used extreme violence in every situation. The Welsh men started moving in on Thompson’s bars and gaming clubs. Thompson had to react. He got together his crew armed with knives, cleavers, and hatchets and went to the Welsh men to take revenge. Things took a different turn for Thompson when his crew was shot at and had to retreat. But he would have his revenge though. One day, in the summer of 1966, Thompson was driving home in his Jaguar Mark 1, when it was suddenly hit from behind by a van. In the van were Patrick Welsh and his friend: James McMahon Goldie. Thompson reacted by ramming the van. The two vehicles raced along the road side by side, Thompson saw one of the occupants reach behind the back seat and pull up what he said he believed was a shotgun, so he rammed the van again and again until the van hit a wall, it then spun and smashed into a streetlight post. Welsh and Goldie both died from their injuries. This was Thompson's side of the story.

The Welsh family story is: they were trying to get Thompson to pull over so they could sort out their differences, they claimed it was a tyre iron that Thompson had seen - there was no shotgun found in the car. Chief Inspector Joe Jackson and his brother - both constables at the time - witnessed the crash and both gave evidence in court that Thompson deliberately crashed into the van, attempting to kill or at least seriously injure the pair. Another witness who was driving behind both Thompson and the pair claimed in court that Thompson had no reason to overtake the van and when he did he swerved in front of it.

The truth is: Thompson had heard James Goldie had seriously beaten a woman that was known to an associate of his and Thompson wanted to see him about it. When he pulled alongside the van, one of the men reached behind his seat for a tyre lever to defend himself, Thompson thought it was a shotgun and swerved and hit the van. Thompson was charged with culpable homicide of Martin Welsh and James Goldie. Arthur Thompson was facing if convicted, serious prison time for this one, but he was happy to see leading members of the Welsh family out of the picture. But the Welsh family had a surprise coming for Thompson.

On the 23rd of August 1966, Thompson was given his mother in law Margret Johnston a lift home. However, through the night, someone had attached two sticks of dynamite under Thompson's MG Magnet sports car linked to the indicator relay. As Thompson drove about 50 yards along the road outside his house - The Ponderosa - he indicated to turn left and the dynamite ignited, killing his mother in law outright but the target of the bomb, Thompson, survived receiving a serious thigh wounds and a wound to his face.

Three Welsh family members, Martin Welsh, George Welsh and Henry Welsh were charged with the murder of Thompson’s mother in law and attempted murder on Thompson.

They all appeared at the High Court in Glasgow on the same day, November 7th, 1966 Thompson appeared first and was found not guilty. He was back in the same court an hour later as a witness against the Welsh brothers. He claimed in court to be friends with the Welshes and that he met up at least once a week for a drink with them. When asked if the Welsh brothers held any anger towards him over their brother’s death, Thompson replied," They must be angry, their brother died, but not with me as it was an accident." The three Welsh brothers were also found not guilty of the murder of Margret Johnston and the attempted murder of Thompson and various other charges relating to explosives, however the police who arrested the three Welsh brothers claimed that they admitted it, saying, "we are sorry the old lady died, it wasn't meant for her." Then Martin Welsh is meant to have asked, "is Thompson still alive"? When told he was he replied,"Well that's bad for us then isn't it. "He then told his brothers and father to say nothing more to police.

When Arthur Thompson appeared in court for breaking into John Stephen's clothes shop back in August 3rd, 1966. This offence was before all the car bomb thing had happened, so he had been on bail for the housebreaking when he was charged with double murder - later reduced to double manslaughter charges, yet for some reason he was given bail again? Back then this was not heard of, if on bail for a charge like housebreaking and then you get charged with double murder, you would expect to be remanded, especially with the reputation Thompson had in the criminal underworld? He appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court on February the 7th 1967 charged with housebreaking. The charge was stealing 141 shirts, 24 ties, 377 pairs of slacks, 54 jackets, 8 waistcoats, 6 top coats, 105 knitwear garments and 7 swimwear garments. he was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Arthur Thompson never talked about religion. He was a Protestant though and supported the Loyalist movement in Northern Ireland, this is why big Bobby Campbell recruited him. Before his arrest, Thompson, through his Loyalist contacts in Belfast was running tens of thousands of fake pounds through the banks every month. Thompson had also started supplying the UDA Loyalists with weapons. If this became known, he would be a dead man. The IRA would hunt him down and kill him. The gun running brought Thompson into a tight position; British secret service MI5 was ready to pull the noose around his neck. When Thompson was arrested for the Argyle Arcade break in, MI5 offered him a deal. Either he co-operated or he faced a heavy prison sentence. He had committed the offence while on high court bail for the culpable charges on Welsh and Goldie and the threat from the IRA and U.D.A (who might want him silenced just to be sure.) If he co-operated Thompson could continue his criminal business. Especially his UDA gun running and his London Gangland connections, MI5 also suggested he could sell drugs as long as he kept low key. Thomson had never been interested in drugs, he believed that the hassle outweighed the profit but that was cannabis. Now, there was heroin, it was taking off in Paris, London and other major cities in Europe; why shouldn't Glasgow kids have it? Thompson took the deal and was again granted bail, when the case came around he was sentenced to four years. In August 1967, Thompson’s brother Robert Kennedy Thompson was charged with attempted murder after allegedly stabbing Martin Welsh in the arm, chest and face. while he was sat behind the wheel of his Mini Cooper waiting for his wife to come out of her friend's house on Provanmill Road. When the trial came to court, Martin Welsh appeared as a witness as did his wife stating that Robert Thompson was not the man who had stabbed him. The evidence claimed that at the time Robert Thompson had his two young daughters with him when he stabbed Welsh; he also dropped a lighter with the initials RKT engraved on it. Robert Thompson claimed he had been in the area at the time mentioned, however, he had been visiting his sister in law - Rita Thompson as she had been receiving threats of violence. He claimed she was only receiving those threats because his brother Arthur was in prison. The depth of the feud between the two families was revealed in court. However, witnesses refused to testify that Robert Thompson was the man they had seen that day, this led to him being found not guilty of the assault on Martin Welsh.

Then in 1969, Rita Thompson armed herself with two knives, gathered some allies and headed for the Welsh home. They kicked in the front door of the Welsh's family home and attacked everyone who was there. As the fight erupted around her Rita headed for Ma Welsh - the mother, and some say the head of the Welsh family. The two woman attacked each other. Rita Thomson stabbed Mrs Welsh repeatedly - seriously injuring her. Rita was arrested along with Robert Thomson - Arthur's brother, another family member and two friends of the Thompson's. for attempted murder. They were all found guilty and Rita received four years in prison.

So both Arthur and Rita were in prison at the same time, so were a few of the Welsh brothers. Rita wrote from her cell in Greenock prison to the governor of Craiginches prison were Arthur was serving his sentence and asked him if he could prevent Arthur being sent to Barlinnie as he would get in with the wrong crowd. The real reason Arthur Thompson did not want to go to Barlinnie was that he was at war with Wullie Bennett aka Satan. Bennett was a violent man and he and Frank Wilson and Jimmy Boyle had gone to war with Thompson and the Manson brothers while serving in Aberdeen. Thompson tried getting his brother Robert or "Bobby" up to Craiginches to help out with Bennett. Thompson knew Bennett and Wilson had the better backup in Barlinnie and wanted his brother beside him and out of harm's way. Prison records reveal letters written by Thompson to his brother and also log the war between Thompson, the Manson's - Robert and Billy, and the rest of their crew and Bennett's crew. Billy Manson had already stabbed Wullie Bennett while in Craiginches Prison. When they came out they settled back into normal family life, well as normal as it got for the Thompson's. In 1976, his first heroin shipment came in. By the 1980s Thompson’s son Arthur Jr., nicknamed Fatboy was running the family drug operations. Also around this time, a young man by the name of Paul Ferris started working for Thompson Sr. They had an enemy in common in the Welsh family. Ferris had scalped one Welsh member and slashed the throat of another. The Welsh family had bullied Ferris for years and at one point he decided enough was enough. He set about reaping revenge on the Welshes. Arthur Thompson noticed this, then a relative of Thompson's knocked down a young girl while drunk behind the wheel. Paul Ferris' sister had witnessed this. Paul approached Thompson and told him that there was nothing to worry about, he had a word with his sister and the Ferris' were no grasses. Thompson bunged him some cigarettes and a half bottle of whisky to give his dad as a gesture. Not long after Paul was to meet an old friend; Ian Blink McDonald in the Provanmill Inn. Blink never turned up but Thompson’s son young Arthur was at the bar, he approached Paul Ferris and asked him if he would come work for his father. Saying he had heard good things about him. Ferris and another young man by the name of Tam Bagan began collecting debts for Thompson Sr. Then Fat boy - Thompson's oldest son - was ripped off in a drug deal. Father and son had entered a deal to buy £50.000 worth of Diconal - a drug given to terminal cancer patients, that sold on the streets of Glasgow for £10 a pill. They paid Irish gangster John Friel £50.000 in the deal, however, when the bag was dropped off by Spot Henry and Mark Watt - Friel's associates. It contained nothing more than common house brick wrapped in newspaper and duct taped to a bottle of Irn-Bru.

The Thompson's were pissed off and sent out Ferris to get their money. Ferris received a list of names of those involved with instructions to inflict serious damage.

Every week Ferris left wounded names from the list on the street in the search for those involved.

At one point, one of Thompson's daughters gave Ferris the name of the guy who was behind all this. Ferris went after him. When he found him, he was sitting in his car at a red light. Ferris stepped out his vehicle and confronted the man. He asked him if he was Raymond Bonnar. Bonnar replied: “What’s it to you?” Ferris replied: "I’m Paul Ferris, and you’re in trouble.” Ferris pulled out a knife and began stabbing Bonnar in the arm and chest through the car window. Bonnar’s dog was in his car, it did as dogs do and tried to protect its master. The dog bit Ferris, so Ferris stabbed the dog. Bonnar then put his car into gear and took off. Ferris got into his car and sped after him but decided to leave it at that when he noticed a number of bystanders who were now paying attention.

Soon police showed up at the Thompson household looking for Paul Ferris. Thompson Sr and Jr were getting nervous. They sent Ferris to their summer flat. A flat above a chip shop in Rothesay on the holiday Island of Bute. Ferris thought he was safe. Little did he know that Arthur Thompson had given him up to the police. The police raided the summer flat and found drugs in the pocket of Ferris tracksuit bottoms. Ferris was arrested and was charged with was dealing in Class A drugs among a range of other charges. Bonnar had withdrawn all charges so Ferris would only face the drug charges. Ferris was found not guilty of the drug charge. The jury believed the police had planted the drugs on Ferris. But he was found guilty of a lesser weapon charge which normally carried a 6-month sentence, Ferris was sentenced to 18 months. After getting out of prison Ferris broke away from the Thompson's. By the late 1980s, there had been a few attempts on Arthur Thompson Snr’s life. They failed but gave the message that Thompson was not as untouchable as everyone thought.

His reputation was crumbling. Fat boy by this time had made a list of people he wanted to be killed, among them were Bobby Glover, Joe Hanlon, Blind Johna McKenzie and Paul Ferris. among others.

In August of 1991 while out on weekend leave from Nornanside Prison, Arthur Thompson Jr was shot dead in front of the Thompson home. Some claim he was shot in the back. The reality is he heard his name being called out, he turned to see who it was and was confronted by a man in a blonde wig pointing a handgun. The gun was fired as Thompson turned to run. The first shot hit him in the face, grazing his cheek as he turned to run he was shot again, this time the bullet punctured his rib cage and pierced his lung. The power of the impact threw Thompson onto all fours. The last shot hit him in the lower back, just above the Anus. This bullet entered his body and ricochet about the inside, ripping through every major organ it hit then finally resting in his heart Arthur Thompson’s son, his heir, was gone. Bodies would litter the streets the papers wrote. The man generally acknowledged to be the killer of Fat boy was Paul Ferris. By this point, Ferris and his two good friends Joe Hanlon and Bobby Glover had been operating their own crew. Fat boy had made threats to their lives. So Paul Ferris and Bobby Glover were arrested in connection with Thompson's murder, along with numerous other offenses. Ferris was remanded in custody while Bobby Glover was given bail

Thomspon Senior was out for revenge and with the help of Tam “The Licensee” McGraw and William Lobban, Joe Hanlon and Bobby Glover were taken off the streets and murdered. Their lifeless bodies were then placed in Joe Hanlon’s Ford Orion and dumped in front of the Cottage Bar - Bobby Glover Pub. It was Arthur Thompson’s last display of strength. Paul Ferris went to trial for the murder of Fat boy Thompson. At the trial, Arthur Thompson gave evidence for the prosecution and pointed out Paul Ferris as the killer of his son. It showed how weak he had become. On the streets, he was no match for Ferris, but in prison, Thompson could pay anyone a nice sum to take out Ferris. That is why he testified. Nevertheless, Paul Ferris was found not guilty. As he stepped outside the court there were people lining the street cheering. After that Thompson lived in fear of his life. He had no real power anymore. On March 13. 1993 the Godfather was dead. A heart attack at the age of 61. According to rumour and later newspaper reports, he did not die in his bed, but paramedics took his body there following his death in the hall of his home - the Ponderosa .

A plot to murder the godfather was foiled when English hit-men were arrested by police in London who found £50,000 in cash and a revolver on one man who had traveled from Glasgow by train. A search of the compartment he had traveled in found a hold-all, a sawn- off shotgun, and photographs of Arthur Thompson Snr with circles round his head. Despite this setback, the plot to murder Thompson went ahead weeks later.But on the fateful night when he was to be shot as he entered the Windsor pub in Glasgow, Thompson failed to show. More to follow