The mysterious case of MI5 and the death of a drugs baron


Another tale from the archives:

” An escaped drug baron suspected of being an MI5 ‘grass’ has been found dead in a London flat.

Roddy McLean’s body was discovered four days after the Daily Record told of fears that secret service agents had helped him disappear from jail.

Police sources are convinced McLean, of Edinburgh, was an MI5 informer .

Some even believe he may have been murdered.

A Scots police insider said:

‘This may even have been made to look like a natural death before the body was found.’

Report McLean, 59, was found in bed in a flat in Streatham on January 14.

But news of his death was only made public yesterday after a 29-day delay.

Police would not explain why it took them so long to make the announcement.

Incredibly, even the police force trying to recapture McLean was kept in the dark until yesterday.

Metropolitan Police bosses would give no details of what happened to McLean after his escape. A post mortem  report ruled that the millionaire dope smuggler died of natural causes. Sources at the death scene said he had a heart attack.

But another Scots police insider said: ‘I would also like to know why it took so long to come out? It seems very murky indeed.’

McLean was serving a 21–year- jail sentence for trying to smuggle three tonnes of cannabis worth pounds 10 million into Scotland.

Customs officer Alastair Soutar was killed in an accident during the raid that netted McLean. The crook’s son Roddy Jnr was also caught and jailed.

McLean Snr escaped from prison in November last year.

The Record told on January 10 of McLean’s alleged links to MI5.

And four days later, he was found dead in south London.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said yesterday: ‘At 10.35 am on Wednesday January 14, the body of a man was found in bed at Streatham Place, SW2.

‘A post-mortem examination was held at Greenwich mortuary and the cause of death was ruled to be natural causes.

‘The body was positively identified as Roderick McLean and his next of kin

have been informed.’

The case has now been referred to the coroner.

It emerged last night that McLean was working as a caretaker at the flat where he died.

Ann Snowdon, a receptionist at the Argo B&B Hotel said McLean was a relief cover caretaker, answering the phone and door, at the bed and breakfast and the flats next door.

Mrs Snowdon said: ‘I know a man died from a heart attack I had no idea about his background. He was only with us for about a week.’

Mrs Snowdon said the manager who hired McLean was abroad and unable to comment.

McLean escaped from jail after the bizarre decision to move him from high-security Saughton in Edinburgh to Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire.

Avon and Somerset Police were trying to recapture him. They will carry on their investigation, to try to find out where McLean went and what he did after escaping.

A spokesman for Customs and Excise added: ‘We will assist police with this matter.

‘We will also continue in our own right to investigate any criminal assets accrued by McLean and his family.’

More details from the Guardian:

” He owned dozens of properties in Britain, Africa and beyond, fleets of luxury cars and had an estimated £10 million stashed away in bank accounts around the world.

Drugs baron Roddy McLean, 59, on the run from prison since November, was said to have fled to Mozambique, but last week it emerged that he had died penniless in a dingy South London flat where he worked as a caretaker. As the police investigate McLean’s mysterious death, an Observer investigation has revealed that it came days after it emerged that he had been working as an informant for police, customs and the security services. This is just the latest in a series of controversies involving the man said to be one of the richest in Scotland.

The Prison Service is already investigating how McLean was downgraded from a Category A high-risk inmate, described as ‘one of Scotland’s most dangerous prisoners’, to a low-risk Category D status and allowed to transfer from secure Saughton prison in Edinburgh to Leyhill in Gloucestershire.

McLean claimed that the move was necessary so that he could be near his estranged wife Susan, but it has since been revealed that she was living in Edinburgh at the time.

In the past week there have been claims that MI5 agents helped McLean’s disappearance and that he may have been murdered to prevent the full extent of his links to the security services emerging. Scottish politicians have called for an investigation into why it was that news of his disappearance from Leyhill was not made public for seven weeks and why it took so long to identify his body – he was discovered on 14 January but his identity was revealed only last week.

SNP Westminster home affairs spokeswoman Annabelle Ewing said there were many unanswered questions surrounding the case. ‘This has been a bizarre story from beginning to end and there are issues that must be explained to the satisfaction of the public, not least how Roderick McLean managed to get transferred to an open prison in the first place and then live in London when the assumption was that he was in South Africa.

A public inquiry into this case would answer those questions and ensure that nothing like it could happen again.’

McLean, known as ‘Popeye’, was arrested in July 1996 when police and customs officers captured a gang of eight drug smugglers off the Caithness coast.

During the raid customs officer Alastair Souter was killed when he fell and was crushed between a customs cutter and the gang’s boat. The drugs haul netted three tons of cannabis, valued at £10 million.

McLean, the gang leader, was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison. A year later this was reduced to 21 years when the Court of Appeal ruled that the judge had been punishing McLean for the death of Souter, even though he had not been charged in connection with it.

In September 2003, six years into his sentence, almost five years before he was even eligible for parole and with more than eight years of his sentence left to serve, McLean was transferred, first to Bristol prison, then to Erlestoke jail at Devizes, Wiltshire, and finally to Leyhill, known for its relaxed regime and high number of absconders.

On Saturday, 8 November, McLean made an authorised town visit to Bristol. Designed to help inmates begin to readjust to the outside world, town visits are common in open prisons and on the day in question as many as 50 other prisoners were in the Bristol area.

McLean had made several visits before and had always returned exactly on time. He was due to return by 6pm but phoned to say that he would be late. By 8.10pm there was still no sign and prison staff contacted the police.

Despite McLean’s standing in the criminal underworld and the fact that he had access to vast wealth and strong contacts abroad, Avon and Somerset police initially made the search for McLean a low priority. A worldwide alert was not put out until the end of December. On 10 January the first reports were published linking McLean with MI5.

At around the same time he apparently began working as a caretaker at the Argo B&B Hotel in Streatham, south London. Four days later he was dead.

One former inmate who served time with McLean told The Observer: ‘Everyone was surprised that he hadn’t gone very far at all. With his wealth, it seems remarkable that he would have taken on that kind of job when he could have been living it up in the sun.’

Throughout his colourful life, McLean was never far from controversy. During the Sixties he worked as a property developer but it wasn’t until the Eighties that he took his first steps into the world of organised crime. He set himself up as a fence, opening up a second-hand shop and a jewellery store in Edinburgh, both of which were responsible for disposing of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stolen goods.

Within a few years he had begun importing drugs into Scotland using a fleet of boats. Remarkably, one of his many boats was bought direct from customs for the knockdown price of £5,000, a fraction of its true value of around £500,000.

The 150ft Sea Ranger V offshore supply vessel had previously been used by another drugs gang; its multimillion-pound illegal cargo was confiscated and its captain and nine-man crew arrested by customs off the Scottish coast in 1993.

When details of the purchase emerged in September 2000 it led to calls for a probe into the running of the Customs National Investigation Service amid reports that McLean had been given the discount because he was acting as an informant at the time. Customs claimed that it had been sold to the highest bidder.

By the time of his trial McLean was known to own dozens of properties. He also had stakes in one of Edinburgh’s busiest pubs and a brothel, yet he was granted legal aid to fund his defence. An action taken under the Proceeds of Crime Act found most of his assets had been transferred into his wife’s name. McLean ultimately forfeited only £100,000.

A police source defended the time it had taken to identify McLean, claiming he had lain a false identity trail which initially led them to a dead end. ‘Checking fingerprints is a last resort unless we know for certain that someone has had contact with the criminal justice system.’

A spokesperson from Avon and Somerset Police said inquiries would continue to establish where McLean had been during his absence from prison.”…-a0113217162

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