'Untouchable' crime boss lived a life of luxury

DENNIS Slade's name was notorious in police circles, but he believed he was "untouchable" as he built an international criminal empire.

When not enjoying luxury holidays with his family, Slade lived in a house in Yorkshire's most expensive street with high-powered cars parked on the driveway.

It was a chief executive's lifestyle, funded by an unrelenting but sophisticated campaign of organised crime which Slade orchestrated over many years.

Police believe he headed a tight-knit gang of men, mainly long-term friends, whom he knew well and trusted implicitly.

The organisation's inner ring involved no more than six members, and possibly as few as two, but Slade is also suspected of overseeing specific criminal divisions thought to be behind armed robberies and drugs offences.

It was a network so efficient that Slade was able to move from Leeds to Spain in the early 2000s and run it from there.

"He was domiciled there for a couple of years," a police source said, "but that didn't prevent him coming back to Britain to do what he needed to do."

Slade returned to Britain in late 2005 or early 2006 and initially lived in Harrogate, where his children were enrolled at independent schools charging fees of more than 10,000 a year.

He later moved to Leeds and bought a property in Sandmoor Drive, Alwoodley – identified as Yorkshire's most expensive street in a 2007 survey which estimated its average house price at more than 1m.

He indulged in high-performance cars and owned a Porsche Cayenne, a Bentley Arnage and a Lincoln Navigator.

Among Slade's subordinates, Michael Baxter drove a Range Rover and two Mercedes, and James Hudson owned a Volkswagen Passat and an Audi, but Richard Pearman, who lived in Swarcliffe, Leeds, did not even own a car when he was arrested.

Slade's control of the operation became so regimented that it led to discontent among lower-ranking gang members.

Unaware their conversations were being bugged by police, Pearman and Baxter once had a disgruntled discussion about how Slade was receiving a larger share of the group's ill-gotten gains than them.

Slade's extravagance drew a veil over a murky past – his conviction for grievous bodily harm as a teenager and his family connections with some of West Yorkshire's most notorious underworld figures.

He is a nephew of Frank Birley, another man known to the police who operated in Leeds, and a cousin of Frank Birley Jr, also known as Frank Gatt.

Birley Jr died in mysterious circumstances from a single bullet to the head in Meanwood, Leeds, in 2000 – six months after he was freed from prison for his part in a 147,000 shotgun raid on a jewellery shop.

A coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing after hearing that Birley Jr, 34, who was wearing a balaclava, could have been killed by a masked accomplice.

Detectives hope Slade's conviction will help unravel other unsolved cases. These include the execution-style murder of one of Birley Jr's associates, Mark McCall, in 2003 in a ginnel in Pudsey.

McCall's criminal record included convictions for GBH, wounding and making a false statement to obtain a false passport, and in 1995 he was one of four men acquitted of conspiring to murder another underworld figure, Clifton "Junior" Bryan, in Chapeltown, Leeds. The McCall murder and Birley Jr killing were two of several shootings within a short period as gang violence escalated in Leeds in the early 2000s.

After one of McCall's friends, David Clarke, died in 2005 Slade was arrested but never charged.

Clarke, a 36-year-old father-of-three known to have moved in criminal circles, was shot in the mouth at his brother-in-law's house in Moortown, Leeds.

A police inquiry concluded that the death was accidental and a coroner recorded an open verdict, but the circumstances of this and other apparently gang-related shootings remain unclear.

"There is no doubt that the criminal fraternity will have been following this case because Slade was regarded as untouchable," a police source said.

"Now that the police have successfully prosecuted this 'untouchable', they will be wondering 'Who's next?' We never close the book on undetected crimes."

Botched bid to kill criminal cost Slade his liberty


POLICE finally arrested Dennis Slade after a plot to kill another criminal backfired, bringing officers to the scene.

It is now believed Slade had been planning for several days for someone to shoot his intended victim before the final incident on March 4, 2008.

But at the time the gang's sudden interest in the East End Park area of Leeds was thought to be in a security depot.

Robert Smith QC prosecuting told the jury at a trial last year at Leeds Crown Court, which could not previously be reported, that police believe his target was probably Ralph Roberts. He also had a criminal record.

The jury was not told a reason why Slade might want him dead, but after the case an officer said: "It wasn't really a personal problem, more of a financial problem."

The gang were unaware that they were already under police surveillance when they went in a couple of cars to the area of Dawlish Crescent where a car was attacked with a baseball bat.

At 7.40pm a resident was sitting in his living room when he suddenly heard noises outside.He went out to investigate and found the windscreen and some side windows of his Vauxhall Vectra had been deliberately smashed and the bodywork damaged.

Mr Smith told the jury that man was not the intended target but Mr Roberts's partner lived nearby on York Road, with the rear of the property on Dawlish Crescent. It is believed that the car was attacked in an attempt to lure him out to investigate what was happening.

However, the police hearing the sound of smashing glass thought it was gunfire and quickly moved in.

Although some of those involved escaped in one car and on a motorbike, taking away a sawn-off shotgun, another car containing Slade, Richard Pearman and Michael Baxter was found nearby.

The gang's operation was "planned with care involving the use of not only vehicles but also sophisticated technical equipment capable of tracking the movements of the intended victim," said Mr Smith.

Slade tried to dispose of a tracking device he had made himself and which he probably intended to put on the target's car if the plan did not succeed that night.

An earlier attempt had already failed when the gun jammed at the critical moment.

In the event no-one was injured. One of the cars involved was later found burnt out.

'Callous and dangerous' as teenager


EVEN as a teenager Dennis Patrick Slade was described by Judge Paul Hoffman as "a callous, dangerous and determined young criminal".

He was just 18 when the judge first sentenced him after hearing how Slade had left a woman seriously injured when she tried to stop him taking her family's car from outside their home in Swillington, Leeds, in 1992.

Jean Mosses suffered five separate fractures of the skull and was put on a life support machine after she and her husband Ronnie were thrown off their Nissan sports car as Slade drove away with the couple on the bonnet.

The judge condemned the law because it allowed him to pass only a 12-month sentence in a young offenders institution on Slade because he was only 17 when convicted of the offences.

He had already spent seven and a half months in custody on remand so the sentence at Leeds Crown Court in October 1993 meant his immediate release.

The judge told him then: "If I had my way, I'd be sending you away for seven or eight years because that's the sort of sentence you richly deserve."

Slade had admitted causing GBH to Mrs Mosses, three charges of taking vehicles without consent, escaping from custody, conspiracy to burgle, handling stolen goods and using a false instrument to obtain a passport.

Following an appearance at Leeds Youth Court Slade was being taken back to jail handcuffed to a policeman when two men helped him escape, cutting the cuffs with bolt cutters.

He committed further car crime and burglaries before he was re-arrested months later at Newcastle Airport with a false passport.

The judge said, having caused serious harm to Mrs Mosses by his "wicked, callous driving", while on the run he had gone on to commit serious crimes "in the big league."

Little did he know how true his words would be.Ring of steel to prevent second escape

Armed police formed a ring of steel around Dennis Slade for months to prevent him from escaping in a massive security operation thought to have cost millions of pounds.

Slade travelled daily between Wakefield's maximum security prison and Leeds Crown Court in an armoured van surrounded by cars and motorcycles and surveyed from above by a police helicopter.

The cavalcade took different routes each day, and motorcycle officers held up traffic to allow it to sweep past, causing disruption and leaving passers-by wondering what was going on.

Once Slade was inside the courts complex, armed police were positioned at the doors of the trial courtroom and elsewhere in the building. Metal detectors were also erected outside the courtroom.

The tight security was ordered because Slade had escaped from custody in 1992 as a teenager.

After an appearance at Leeds Youth Court, he was being led to a police station in handcuffs when two men attacked his escorting officer and freed him with bolt-cutters.

West Yorkshire Police refused to disclose security costs, but Northumbria Police revealed in 2002 a 12-week trial heard at Leeds under similar conditions had cost taxpayers "millions".

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman confirmed that the Slade investigation was "right up there" alongside the force's largest cases of the last 20 years.

Gang fled with 1m after ramming cash van with tractor


THE Slade gang got away with more than a million pounds in a successful and dramatic raid on a security van after it was rammed at the rear with a tractor.

The crew of the Securitas van were travelling from Merseyside to their depot near Warrington on March 8, 2006 when the robbers struck.

After leaving the M6 the two crew on board, Noel Newby and Charles Smithurst, pulled up at a give way junction behind a Volvo flatback low-loader lorry unaware that they had driven into a trap.

With the loader preventing them moving forward, the van was suddenly rammed from behind, the loader arms attached to a tractor slamming into the rear door and allowed partial access.

The van was carrying 1.4m and the robbers managed to get just over 1m out before fleeing in a stolen car.

About a mile away a witness saw men moving bags from a Volvo car into an Audi estate.

Attempts were made to burn out the Volvo but they were only partially successful. It had been stolen 10 months earlier in Leeds and in the period in between had done only 300 miles.

The gang often stole high-powered vehicles which they kept in convenient premises for use in raids when needed.

The loader and the tractor, which were abandoned at the scene, had both been stolen to order from Wilberfoss, near York, especially for the robbery.

The tractor had only been delivered at 4.30pm the day before the Securitas robbery, but within five hours of its arrival it and the loader had both been stolen. They were not spotted again until they appeared during the robbery.

The raid demonstrated the kind of detailed planning undertaken by the gang because the width of the arms on the tractor taken, which usually had a bucket or some other attachment, corresponded exactly with the width of the door which was repeatedly rammed on the security van.

500,000 store raid was foiled when manager heard drilling


AN audacious plan to carry out a half-million-pound robbery at a West Yorkshire supermarket was foiled when a member of staff heard drilling.

It was about 9pm on January 29, 2008, that administrative manager Suzanne Pease went to clear some paperwork in the security area at Sainsbury's at the Colton Retail Park in Leeds near junction 46 of the M1.

In that area, in addition to the supermarket safes, was a purpose-built room behind the cash machines where money would be delivered for staff to refill them.

While there she suddenly heard drilling and then, as she went to check, the sound of footsteps in the roof space above her head.

Fearing for her safety, she immediately contacted the police. When officers arrived those responsible had fled but the police found damage to the roof and abandoned equipment including a set of ladders.

The damage allowed access through the roof to an electrical room, below which work had begun to weaken the wall into the secure cashroom. It was clear the raiders intended to force entry when staff received cash to reload the ATMs.

Unknown to those officers who first arrived at the scene, those behind the plot were already the subject of an extensive and long- standing police investigation.

Dennis Slade and some of his closest associates had been under surveillance by a team of undercover officers for months and a white Toyota van regularly used by the gang was often seen near the store in previous weeks.

The undercover operation showed how the gang frequently scouted out other targets across West and North Yorkshire in the months before they were arrested.

On one day alone, January 10, 2008, a covert tracking device in the Toyota van showed it visited Brighouse, Huddersfield, Elland, Halifax and a number of roads with Post Offices in Bradford.

That afternoon the van continued to Bingley, Keighley, Ilkley, Otley, Wetherby, Boston Spa, back to Wetherby and on to Thirsk and Boroughbridge before returning to Boston Spa, parking up near the Post Office.

The van then went back to Sainsbury's in Moortown, Leeds, before going near an industrial estate where a depot was sited with a cash-handling operation for two high street banks.

The final destination before the vehicle was parked up was the Loomis, formerly Securitas, cash-handling centre off St Hilda's Road, Leeds.

Terror for Post Office staff as gang used digger to crash through wall


ONE minute staff at a Post Office in Leeds were working normally, the next they were facing a pile of rubble as robbers ram-raided a hole through the wall from the street using a heavy digger.

Seconds earlier Beverley Robinson, the assistant branch manager at Crossgates Post Office, had been using a computer inches away from where the robbers crashed in. If she had not moved she might not have lived to tell the tale, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Eight members of staff were doing a stock take after the doors were locked when the ruthless robbers struck on December 12, 2007.

A witness watched in amazement as the driver of a red digger accelerated from the opposite side of the road, its telescopic arm hitting the wall and breaching it. He then saw the driver jump out and scramble over the rubble shouting "Give us the money" and a second man follow.

Mrs Robinson heard what she thought was an explosion and hurried back into the main Post Office. As she did a man all in black with a scarf around his face was standing on her desk.

He shouted to her to get on the floor, threatening to kill her.

The raiders took two security boxes containing only stamps and missed 50,000 in the main safe.

The pair fled in a stolen Ford Focus which was later hidden in a garage in Moortown, Leeds, rented by an associate of Dennis Slade. It had been stolen from the owner's drive in Cottingley, Leeds, only five days earlier.

As in a raid on a security van near Warrington the previous year, the heavy equipment used was stolen to order. The telescopic loader was taken earlier that day from a building site at Sandmoor Drive, round the corner from Slade's home.