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EDITIONS
Panorama
Tracking down Mr Big
Brian Brendan Wright
On the run in Cyprus

The Panorama operation to film and confront one of the UK's most wanted men about his role in the corruption of horse racing relied heavily not on high tech spy gadgets or shady underworld contacts but on good old fashioned luck.

In June a two man team, assistant producer Andy Bell and fixer Mahmut Kaya, flew into Northern Cyprus armed with "reliable" information that Brian Wright - allegedly Britain's biggest cocaine smuggler - was holed up in a hotel in the port of Kyrenia.

Wright had fled to the island in 1999 when he learnt Customs and Excise were rounding up his gang.

It didn't take long for the Panorama pair to conclude that their information was duff - Wright had never been at the hotel. But they knew he WAS on the island somewhere.

Vantage point

Either they took a few risks or they were going home. Mahmut telephoned the local authorities and asked them where Wright was; after all as a long term foreign resident he would have to register with them.

Astonishingly the authorities, acutely sensitive to Northern Cyprus's reputation as a haven for British fugitives, came up trumps. After telling them he was Wright's friend, they told Mahmut he was staying at The Celebrity Hotel in Lapta - 18km west of where we were.


A short taxi ride later, Andy and Mahmut were having lunch at a restaurant next door to The Celebrity in the hope that it would be a good vantage point to spot Wright.

Their luck held, hardly had they tucked into the main course, when Wright emerged from the Celebrity, walked right past them and then proceeded to have a two hour massage, sunbathe and swim session.

All this was captured on camera, as it was the next day, and the next day. Wright's routine and dress - blue shirt, white shorts - never varied.

Unwanted attention

Brian Brendan Wright
Wright has been in Cyprus since 1999
While Wright was topping his tan up, Panorama producer Stephen Scott, made arrangements to jet over with reporter Andy Davies and confront Wright over his corrupting role in racing.

Scott and Davies decided to base themselves in the south of Cyprus because of the ease of flying there direct from London. Flights to the north of the island go infrequently via Istanbul.

Staying in the south though does have its problems. Because of the Cypriot political situation - the island was divided by warring Greeks and Turks in 1974 - visitors from the south to the north are only allowed a limited time to stay.

Scott, Davies, the camera crew and a couple of BBC security advisers could cross the border in the capital Nicosia at 8am but HAD to return by 5pm. The camera equipment could also attract unwanted attention from police guards.

And that is exactly what happened.

Suspicious


That looks a bit professional

Suspicious policeman
As the team strolled across the dividing line a policeman in civilian clothes challenged them.

"That's looks a bit professional," he said, peering at the kit. The comment was laughed off and the crew were allowed to continue but as they drove away towards Brian Wright and Lapta, they noticed with concern in the rear view mirror they were being followed.

As they headed up into the mountains - which bristles with NATO equipment monitoring the Middle East - the suspicious cops kept on tailing them. Tension rose in the cars.

Then relief . When their hire cars turned away towards the tourist zones the police finally peeled away.

Scott, Davies would have to make this trip four times in all. The first day was the date of the England versus Finland match - Wright did not show. The second day Ireland were playing Spain - again no sign of Wright.

Confront

On the third day Wright resumed his routine to the relief of the Panorama team. Everyone took their places ready to "doorstep" Wright, but disaster, the carefully laid plans fell by the wayside when Wright went back to the hotel earlier than expected.

The "doorstep" team led by Andy Davies could not get in place in time. It was treated as a dummy run.

The next day BBC security advisers, Tony Rippon and Ivan Finkelstein, ran over the plan again. Calm, professional, they re-assured everyone the "doorstep" was on.

Again, everyone took their places. A team led by Ivan would observe Wright from a nearby restaurant and film what went on at a wide angle.

At a signal from Ivan, Andy Davies, Stephen Scott and cameraman Andrew Mott would descend via a hotel service road and confront Wright.

Guns

Everyone was well aware that it was crucial Wright and his entourage did not interpret Davies's approach as an attack. We had learnt guns were widely available in Northern Cyprus. It heightened the tension.

Tony Rippon would discreetly shadow Scott, Davies and Mott and attempt a rescue if events turned ugly.

As Wright dressed after his daily swim Ivan urged Scott to get his team into position. "Go, go, go," he said. Davies walked calmly down the service road, Scott and Mott in tow. But Wright did not stroll directly back to the hotel as he had normally done - he hung around under the parasols talking.

This left the Panorama team in limbo. They desperately tried to act normal. The whole thing was about to be aborted when Wright moved towards the hotel. Davies didn't dither, he pounced with the questions on a hundred journalist's lips.

Did not crack

"I want to talk to you about corruption in horseracing.

But Brian Wright wasn't in the mood for talking, adding: "I've got nothing to say to you whatsoever."

Davies kept on with his questions as Wright strode towards the safety of the hotel, but the mask did not crack.

As Wright disappeared from view, everyone was safe, the job had been completed. The Panorama teams met up down the road to examine the footage.

Disaster, the camera had failed. The sound was crackly. There was only eight seconds in close up of Brian Wright's back.

All you need is good old fashioned luck.

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