THEY called themselves The A-Team but far from the lovable rogues of the cheesy TV show, they were brutal gang members who used machetes, grenades and semi-automatic guns to wipe out rivals.
The Salford gangsters were at the heart of a vicious feud, sparked in 2012 over a fake watch, which led to multiple shootings, the near-decapitation of a gang member and the murder of ‘Mr Big’ Paul Massey, gunned down in his own driveway in 2015.
The feud – in a year which saw 10 murders in Manchester and two in Salford amid rising gang crime – even led to the shooting of a seven-year-old boy on his doorstep, leaving him with life-changing injuries.
A new Crime+Investigation documentary Killer Britain, which airs on Monday, explores the events leading up to Massey’s murder and features interviews with his partner and daughter, Louise Lydiate and Lydia Massey.
Former detective Chris Sutton tells the programme – fronted by Dermot Murnaghan – that the gang feud brought new levels of violence to Manchester.
“There was no doubt, this was war,” he says. “This was worse than anything seen in the 1990s when the place had the nickname Gunchester because of firearms and violence between gangs.”
Drug kingpin exploited rave scene
Paul Massey’s nickname came about after riots in the 1990s, when a local councillor named him as the ‘Mr Big’ behind the gang violence in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Massey started his criminal career by offering ‘protection’ to local pubs and clubs and branched out into legal security work, minding doors of clubs as the Manchester music scene erupted in the 1990s.
He also provided the muscle for the organisers of illegal raves, who were often targeted by robbers for the bags of cash paid by party-goers.
Police believe he was also running a lucrative drug business at the time but partner Louise claims he was hounded by local police.
“The police wouldn’t never leave Paul alone,” she says. “They were always coming to this house where we lived, whatever reason, it was all nonsense.
“He never got charged or convicted, it was just something where the police thought ‘Let's go and kick that door in’ and got away with it all the time.”
But he was increasingly involved in the drug scene, as former detective Colin Sutton reveals.
“In the nineties he became a major drug supplier,” says Sutton.
“There's a big rave scene around the Manchester area and he takes advantage of that and becomes a kingpin in the drug supply around the area at that time. It's all going so well for him. His businesses are booming, both legitimate and illegal businesses.”
But Lydia and Louise denythe dad-of-five was a criminal mastermind and claim he was a Robin Hood character who wanted to help the community.
“He could not stand the name Mr Big,” says Lydia.
“The only reason I knew he had this name is from the police kicking the door down.
“My dad wanted to help the kids of Salford, and he wanted Salford to be one big family where everybody knew each other, everybody got on, the kids were safe on the street and you didn’t have to worry about your son going out late at night.”
Gang warfare with guns and petrol bombs
Shortly after Louise gave birth to Lydia, in 1999, Massey was involved in a stabbing and went on the run.
“Police kicked the doors in and I said, ‘You know as well as I do Paul doesn’t carry weapons,’says Louise. “He never has done and he never would have.”
Finally arrested in Amsterdam, Massey was jailed for 14 years, serving a total of nine.
Lydia recalls being told her dad was in prison, when she was at school.
“One person did tell me 'your dad is not at work, he’s in prison. He’s a bad man,'” she says. “I went berserk. I said ‘my dad’s not a bad man. He works for the Queen.’"
While he was inside, the gang culture in Manchester was mushrooming and bitter territorial disputes caused a sharp rise in violence.
“These weren’t Sunday afternoon fights,” says Colin Sutton. “These were proper gang wars. They had firearms, petrol bombs, explosives.”
When Massey was released, in 2007, another Mr Big had emerged in the form of Stephen Britton, the alleged leader of newly formed gang The A-Team.
Massey began mediating between gangs and became close to Britton but to his family and friends, he portrayed the image of a Robin Hood character, helping the local community and coming to the rescue of an elderly lady who had been robbed.
“They took a three-piece couch, fridge, everything. Left her house empty,” says Louise.
“Paul was fuming over it, he had a whip round with other locals who all chipped in to buy that old dear all her furniture and put her house back in order. She was over the moon."
Massey even stood for Mayor, although he lost at the ballot box.
“He was out there supporting every kid in Salford as well,” says Lydia. “His family didn't get all his time because he was out helping strangers, helping his friends, helping his friends' family members. I was proud of him for that.”
Beatings, machete attacks and cold-blooded murder
But the modern day Robin Hood soon found himself in the centre of a deadly feud – sparked by a trivial row over a counterfeit Breitling watch.
In the midst of an argument, in 2012, a gangster’s girlfriend threw a drink over another gang member and in the spiralling fallout the A-Team split into two factions.
War was declared when a male member of the splinter group – the Anti A-Team – was beaten so badly he needed reconstructive surgery.
A few days later, two A-Team members were shot through the window of their stationary Mercedes.
As the violence escalated, a hand grenade was thrown at the home of one of the A team members and another man’s head was almost severed with a machete, but he miraculously survived.
Massey himself narrowly escaped death by dodging a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic rifle.
Gunned down by 'Ice Man' assassin
In 2015, Massey warned off rival drug dealer Mark Fellows and allegedly sent a gunman to his door, although the gun jammed.
Soon after that, on July 26, Fellows – known as The Iceman because of his cool and meticulous planning of violent attacks – rode his cycle to Massey’s house and laid in wait.
When Massey, 55, came home, Fellows pulled out a Uzi machine gun and began firing at him.
After he was hit in the ankle, Massey hobbled toward the house but fell into the bins, where Fellows fired another18 bullets at point blank range, killing him outright.
Lydia and Louise, who had arranged to meet at a nearby pub to celebrate a family birthday, were told there were police at the house and rushed home.
“All I could see was this tent and I'm seeing what's inside that tent and they wouldn't tell me anything at first,” says Lydia.”I was begging, please, is that my Dad?
“As I'm trying to get information out of this policeman, another policeman comes behind him and says: 'Victim’s deceased’. Then I was screaming and that’s the last thing I remember from the night”.
The A-Team retaliated with a hit on Fellows, who survived. But the round of violence continued and in October, the same year, seven-year-old Christian Hickey and his mother Jayne became innocent victims when they were both shot in the legs on their doorstep by an A-Team hit squad.
A trial of eight men behind the shooting heard that the intended victim was the boy's dad, Chris Hickey, who was a close friend of Anti A-Team leader Michael Carroll.
Fellows was finally arrested after he shot and kill Massey’s friend, John Kinsella, in 2018, and a startling piece of evidence emerged.
A keen runner and cyclist, Fellows had worn a GPS tracker watch since 2015, and the data stored showed him in the vicinity of both murders.
The trial heard that Fellows had been offered £10,000 for a hit on Massey by the Anti A-Team. He was jailed for a full life term, in 2019.
Six years after her dad’s death Lydia says she wishes the title of ‘Mr Big’ could just be washed away” and says she will “remember him for the kind-hearted, loving man that he really was. He would do absolutely anything for anybody.”
Killer Britain with Dermot Murnaghan airs on Crime+Investigation on Monday
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