By David Amoruso
Glasgow`s Mr Lucky or King Rat?
"Glasgow's a town called malice. Everybody's jealous of everybody else. Nobody likes to see that you are getting on in Glasgow. I am not one of the controlling influences in the city. I don't think there's anyone capable of running this city. I'm not frightened of anybody but then they aren't frightened of me." - Tam McGraw.
The comment above according to some is as near as Thomas McGraw will ever get to making a statement which doesn't contain a lie. If you set aside his "I am not one of the controlling influences in the city" line then his statement is spot on. Currently among the top five in Glasgow`s list of top crime bosses he amassed a fortune based on his successes in the drug trade and an ability to evade prosecution when everyone else around him seemed to be getting long prison sentences due to the cops uncanny ability to make successful cases against everyone except Tam McGraw.
Thomas "The Licensee" McGraw was born in 1953 in the east-end of Glasgow. He was a product of the ghetto-like housing schemes of Glasgow's inner-city he took to thieving at an early age like a duck to water. Most kids around him did likewise, how else could a 12 year old get the luxuries in life like cigarettes or a night at the cinema? Shop-lifting, housebreaking, anything to earn a few pounds and escape the torturous like boredom that was par for the course in the huge sprawling housing estates which sprang up around the city in the early 1960`s. Later through having spent time in approved schools and borstals McGraw became known among the criminal community and was recruited as part of a gang of armed-robbers known as the Bar-l team from the Barlanark housing estate.
With this gang McGraw was involved in raids on post offices all over Scotland. The raids were so successful that the police ran a national campaign trying to catch them. After every raid/job the proceeds were hidden and collected at a later date, which meant if they were ever stopped on the way back from the raid by the cops none of the proceeds of the job would be found on them.
The gang were very security conscious and took a lot of pride in planning the `operations` with almost military precision. In spite of all their precautions all members of that team were arrested and charged at one time or other. In one particular night-time raid on a large social club on the outside of Glasgow things went disastrously wrong. A pre-check on the clubs security system failed to register an important aspect of the system. Once the outer alarm systems had been dismantled and the pulsar neutralised for entry to the internal system, the entire area surrounding the club would light up with heavy-duty spot-lights lighting the entire area up like a Christmas tree. This was a add on to that particular alarm system the normally efficient crew were not aware of. The job took place as planned, when the lights lit up as a result of the pulsar being dis-armed instead of abandoning the job the crew decided to take hurried measures to countermand the lighting system long enough to get in and out with the goods.
The spot-lights on the ground were turned over face down on the grass, the ones on the roof were turned over to face downward on the asphalt and tarmac that covered the roof. With the place in darkness the team continued with the job at hand, relieving the club of all takings, all alcohol and all it`s cigarettes. While the team were busy loading up the vans with the goods a crackling and popping sound could be heard coming from the roof. "Fuck`s sake.... Fire!" The high powered spotlights had set fire to the asphalt on the roof and the whole roof was ablaze lighting the area up once again brighter than before. Everyone ran, the blue lights of the cop cars could be seen in the distance, despite several guys shouting at McGraw to leave it and run, he stayed and kept loading the van.
Greed kept him there trying to get a few more crates of booze on board before the cops got near. Insane behaviour! The cops arrived, McGraw`s in the van and smashes straight through a cop car ramming it against an iron fence, he accelerates up to around 80 mph and smashes through another cop car that had blocked his way to the street, he loses control and over-turned the van while trying to negotiate a sharp bend. He half crawled, half ran from the scene but was captured by the pursuing cops, who threw him into the back of a cop car and drove off. The whole escapade was complete madness and unnecessary. McGraw had time enough to leave with the rest of the crew, but stayed behind for a few crates of lousy booze.....
This incident throws some light on the reason that McGraw is now suspected by many of Glasgow's underworld fraternity as being a police informer, giving information on fellow crooks in exchange for a green-light to operate his own illegal activities unhindered by police enquires. McGraw had enough money ( even back then ) to buy that club he was raiding with his buddies, yet he decided to stay and risk prison for a few more creates of booze, either he is incredibly stupid, greedy, or knew that he would`nt be charged even if caught in the act as he was. He should have been charged with the following, conspiracy and organized crime, theft of the van, driving while banned, breaking and entering, attempted murder (the cops in the cars he smashed into on his getaway).
When one of the guys on the team phoned Margaret McGraw (McGraw's wife) later that night with the news that her husband had been arrested, her reply left the caller stunned "It`s okay," she said. "The boys have been on to me already to say that it`s okay, they have it in hand. Not to worry, he`ll be home tomorrow. You have to just sit tight." `The boys` that Margaret McGraw had been referring to were The `Serious Crime Squad` the cop unit who investigated crimes of the type committed by organized crime gangs, bank robbers, etc. Maybe he just had a few cops on a payroll? That was allowed, no harm there.
For whatever reason he was set free the next morning just as his wife had said he would. That made it the sixth time McGraw walked free from conspiracy and organized crime charges without the case ever making it to court. And remember he had been caught in the act this time. Lucky?? Maybe so, but lucky six times?
In 1978 McGraw got into more trouble when he was arrested for the attempted murder of a policeman but again just like he walked on the social club fiasco he walked free again. On this occasion it had at least made the court-room but it was merely an inconvenience for `The Licensee` he was found not guilty and acquitted. Again he was Mr Lucky, like I suggested earlier, maybe the cops just liked him, eh?
In the early 1980`s McGraw started expanding his empire getting into drugs and buying up pubs and other property. McGraw was now openly bragging to his associates about his connections on the force and of the cops on his payroll. That`s how McGraw came by the nick-name `The Licensee` it seemed to be the case that he had been granted a license to operate freely by the cops. According to Paul Ferris another top Glasgow crime figure and McGraw rival. It had been these cop connections that had got McGraw involved in the lucrative heroin trade. Confiscated drugs were channelled through to McGraw who sold them on. McGraw at that time being unfamiliar with the intricacies of the heroin business stupidly sold almost 100% pure heroin directly to the junkies on the streets, who as a result of over-dosing were dropping dead like flies.
In 1998 he was arrested and charged with drug smuggling. But again his `luck` holds he is acquitted while others are jailed. Then there was the book written by Paul Ferris. Ferris wrote the book "The Ferris Conspiracy" partly as a way of getting his own back on the City of Glasgow`s police department who Ferris claimed had waged a war of harassment against him for years and had fitted him up and attempted to fit him up on numerous occasions. He tells how in his opinion the Police force was full of cops getting envelopes filled with cash from a chosen few to turn a blind eye. Ferris had no problem with that in it`s self but he also states how McGraw took this a stage further with his friends on the force to enable him to go about his business unobstructed but at the expense of other criminals liberty.
Paul Ferris at one time did some `work` with McGraw but they had fallen out when Ferris figured McGraw had tried to fit him up on a few occasions. Ferris took some enjoyment in `outing` McGraw for his deeds in his book. This "deeply pissed him (McGraw) off". In the book Ferris says: "I don't fear for my personal safety. I can live with the likes of the Licensee and his cronies because I tell them to their faces what they are. Not only should McGraw fear me, he should fear my book and the onslaught that will follow. He chose to deal with the police and break the criminal code and now I'm punishing him very publicly for doing so." A new war had begun.
In 2002 it reached a boiling point. In April of that year Tam McGraw was stabbed several times, less than a mile from his home (picture on the left) in the city's east end. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest and was left relatively unscathed. He received 20 blows but suffered only injuries to his arms and wrists which were minor defensive injuries, slightly more serious than these and the wounds to his buttocks were the wounds to his pride. `The licensee` known as the most protected gangster in the city due to his hired bodyguards some of whom are brought in from Ireland and are a product of `The Troubles` that exist there, he also has the surveillance of the `Serious Crime Squad` to ward of the attentions of most would be assassins.
After the attack sources said that Ferris and McGraw had held a meeting in which Ferris discussed McGraw paying him 2 million pounds sterling in compensation which Ferris felt he was due for his loss of business while serving prison time on a weapons charge. McGraw had grasped the opportunity of Ferris`s incarceration to make some moves into Ferris`s operations. Ferris now wanted what he saw as being rightfully his. Things got out of hand resulting in the stabbing of McGraw later on. Whatever deal was or was`nt made between the two rivals it is certain that the `discussions` have`nt ended. Glasgow must be unique within the Organized Crime groups of the western world, where else would you see two top echelon rival gangsters each reportedly worth millions of pounds going toe to toe armed with knives over a meet that went wrong?
Not for these guys the sophistication and subtly of the mafia, no sending of `sleeping with the fishes` messages here, no hit being set up with the best friend taking you for a meal then to your execution. For these guys the `hands on` business approach is the only way they know. A kind of dis-organized Organized Crime you could say with violence more times than most settling all disagreements. In saying this they must be doing something correctly because by and large the main players tend to stay at large for long terms of office.
McGraw's personal fortune has been estimated at 10 million pounds. He has properties in Scotland, Ireland and a home in Tenerife. In Glasgow he owns a number of legitimate businesses from security companies to taxi firms through which drugs money is laundered. There are some in Glasgow`s underworld who think it was time Tam McGraw retired to his Spanish villa, some think he must have by now have used all his good `luck`. Recently his right hand man Billy McPhee was stabbed to death by an as yet unknown assailant. A few months prior to that another close McGraw associate was murdered, stabbed to death outside a bar in the city. Now isn't a good time to be a friend of Tam "The Licensee" McGraw. If boiling point was reached in 2002 then now the place must be reaching meltdown. "I don't think there`s anyone capable of running this city" McGraw once said. Maybe so McGraw but there are plenty out there who are willing to try. Everybody wants what the other guy has. It`s the law of the jungle. The more they see you get, the more they want some. Greed will kill you quicker than a bullet.
On July 30, 2007 McGraw had a heart attack in his Mount Vernon home. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him and he was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary but was found to be dead on arrival. McGraw was labeled the richest gangster in Scotland, and one of the richest in Britain. He was labeled a "grass" (informer) by his fellow criminals and was believed to shy away from the streets during his last years. Perhaps the stress of an imminent attack by one of his enemies caused his heart attack. Glasgow Godfather Arthur Thompson Sr died the same way, he too was an informer.