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Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
The murder with no end of motives
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Two men have been convicted of murdering a businessman with a long and colourful criminal past. But the third - the man alleged to have ordered the killing - was cleared.

George Francis
George Francis supposedly survived a previous assassination attempt

When George Francis was shot dead on 14 May 2003 there was no doubt many people who were glad to see him dead.

The 63-year-old had made plenty of enemies during a long and colourful career in crime, which included laundering gold from the 1983 Brinks Mat robbery.

Harry Richardson, known as Big H, was accused of ordering the murder - but he was the man who was cleared by the Old Bailey trial.

Francis was shot dead as he arrived for work at his courier firm, Signed, Sealed and Delivered, in Bermondsey, south London.

Francis, who was acquitted in 1981 of involvement in a cannabis operation which ended with a Customs officer being shot dead, was jailed for 16 years in 1990 for importing cannabis.

After the murder Scotland Yard was flooded with tip-offs about possible motives for his killing.

Among the reasons suggested for his death were:

  • He had been involved in drug dealing in south London and had fallen out with someone over a drug debt.

  • He had organised the armed robbery of another drug dealer five months earlier.

  • He owed 500,000 to a member of a notorious London crime family.

  • He had stolen up to 5m in gold ingots from the 1983 Brinks Mat robbery at Heathrow.

    In 1985, Francis had survived being shot at the Hever Castle pub in Kent. The motive on that occasion was believed to be punishment for his embezzlement of money from the Brinks Mat robbery.

    In 2001, his friend Brian Perry, who had also pilfered money from the Brinks Mat robbery, was shot dead in Rotherhithe, south London. His murder remains unsolved.

    Victor Temple QC, prosecuting, admitted in his closing speech: "George Francis may not have been a pillar of rectitude. He had his faults like most of us.

    Terence Conaghan (l) and John O'Flynn
    Terry Conaghan (left), 54, from Glasgow - 65 previous convictions for theft, drugs and firearms offences
    John O'Flynn, 53, from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire - 62 convictions for theft, assault and firearms

    "No-one puts him forward as a role model but he worked hard, had a family and a close circle of friends.

    "Nobody deserves to be mercilessly gunned down in the circumstances that he met.

    "It was cowardly and criminal and society cannot afford to ignore such behaviour. If it did anarchy would not be far behind."

    Mr Temple said it was clear Francis "moved in criminal circles" and his death had led to a large amount of "tittle-tattle and rumour" from underworld sources.

    70,000 debt

    But the prosecution claimed the real motive for Francis's death was a debt of 70,000 which Richardson allegedly owed and wanted to get out of paying.

    But Richardson was cleared by the jury.

    O'Flynn and Conaghan chose not to give evidence but Richardson did appear in the witness box.

    Asked if he was involved, he said: "It's absolute poppycock. George Francis was my friend. This will make you laugh but he used to call me poppet and I would call him Georgie."

    He denied he had ever owed Francis 70,000 and said he had no reason to kill him.


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