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YOU PLONKER, RONNIE!

Crime suspect Knight reneged on my £150,000 deal to come home from Spain to face music

WIFE No2: Ronnie Knight and Barbara Windsor divorced in 1985

By ROBIN McGIBBON


FUGITIVE Ronnie Knight, who died on June 12 aged 89, contacted me in February 1994, to say he wanted a newspaper to pay him £150,000 to return home from Spain to face the music for his part in the £6million Security Express robbery.

 

Piers Morgan, then News of the World editor, agreed the fee and sent me to meet Knight with a contract. It was going to be the Scoop of the Century. Nothing could go wrong. Could it?


For those readers of his Lordship’s sprightly and hugely entertaining  publication who might be wondering why a former Express down-table sub was being treated so trustingly by Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, I need to explain the Barbara Windsor connection.


Not the connection to Ronnie Knight: in 1994, most of the country knew that the man wanted by police investigating the £6million Security Express robbery, in 1983, and now protected by Spanish extradition laws, was married to the Carry On movie star.


No, what got News of the World editor Piers Morgan and his deputy, Phil Hall, so excited that February morning 38 years ago was Barbara Windsor’s connection with me. Both men knew that Barbara and I had been friends for more than 20 years and had collaborated on more than one story about her life with Ronnie. They knew that what I had to say should be taken seriously.


I told them I’d phoned Barbara the previous evening and she was eager to tell me that she had spoken to Ronnie for more than an hour the previous evening, and he was “desperate” to return to the U.K.  He was fed up with his new wife, Sue, and the bar and Indian restaurant he had started on arriving on the Costa del Sol in 1984 were in financial trouble. Not to put too fine a point on it, he was brassic as they say in the East End, where Ronnie was born.


A month or so before, apparently, the Sunday Times had offered him £80,000 to fly home at their expense and give himself up – after telling a reporter his story, of course. The deal would have solved Ronnie’s money worries, but, for a reason he didn’t explain to Barbara, it had fallen through – which was why he asked if she knew anyone who could negotiate a deal with another paper.


I asked Barbara if Ronnie was still prepared to come home for eighty grand. “No,” she said: “He wants a hundred and fifty,”


“Jesus,” I said, shocked. “I don’t think any paper would pay that.”


“Do you want to see what you can do, darling?” she said. “I’m going to Spain for a holiday next week and I could speak with Ronnie.”


I said I’d need to speak with him on the phone ASAP to hear how serious he was, and Barbara rang him immediately to tell him to expect my call. He satisfied me, as much as he could, that he would, “most definitely,” fly home if a newspaper guaranteed him £150,000 – hence my meeting with Piers and Phil at the NoW’s offices in Wapping the next morning.


They were more than a little keen on the project, but what helped clinch it was that I knew Clive Bourne, a millionaire freight transporter, who had recently bought Manston Airport, in Ramsgate, and renamed it Kent International Airport. He also owned an eight-seater Cessna aircraft, which he rented out.


A private plane and a private airfield was just what the NoW needed to transport an infamous fugitive from justice secretly into the UK and I said I would sound Clive out. Not surprisingly, being a trailblazing entrepreneur, he was all for it.


On Tuesday, 7 February, I flew into Malaga and checked into a hotel in Mijas, high in the hills above Fuengirola. Ronnie arrived on time for our appointment, with a wide welcoming smile, which broadened when I showed him the NoW contract, confirming the £150,000 payment, subject to the usual exclusivity conditions. We chatted over a beer for half an hour or so, then Ronnie left, promising to be in touch after he’d been through the contract with his wife.  


I expected to hear from him later that day: after all, what could be more important to a man on his uppers than signing a contract that would solve his problems. But I didn’t hear from him until late afternoon, the next day when he rang, inviting me to have dinner with him and Sue, at their Indian restaurant, in Benalmadena, fifteen miles from Mijas.













WIFE No3: Knight demanded £30,000 extra for Sue


I was steaming. I didn’t want to sit down to dinner with Ronnie Knight – with, or without, his wife. I wanted him to sign the frigging contract, so we could get down to business. But I had no option but to go.


Ronnie clearly had something on his mind and, after half an hour or so, he came out with it. “Hundred and fifty’s all right for me. But what about Sue?”


“What about Sue?” I replied, deadpan.


“Well, when I’m gone, the paper will want her story, won’t they? She has a lot to say. She’s got to get something.”


I remember forcing a smile. “So what’s ‘something’?”


“Thirty,” Ronnie said. “We think she should get thirty grand.”  


Not wanting to ruin a pleasant evening, I chose not to tell Ronnie what I thought of him – a stupid, greedy, no-good chancer. I just said that I didn’t think Piers would increase what was an incredibly generous offer, but I would ask him in the morning.


I feared that evening would be the end of my scoop, but, astonishingly, Piers agreed to stump up the extra 30 grand and faxed me a contract for Sue. Not a little excited, I took a taxi to Ronnie’s villa, thinking that once he and Sue had signed their contracts, I would get some words on tape.


It should have been that simple. But it wasn’t.


Ronnie was hesitant about signing his contract.


“What’s wrong?” I wanted to know.


“I’m thinking abut expenses,” he said. 


“What do you mean expenses?” I said, somewhat irritably. “You’re getting a hundred and eighty grand between you. It’s a fortune, Ronnie,”


“Yeah, I know,” he said. “But I’m going to have a lot of legal costs. I don’t want to have to dip into the hundred and fifty for them, do I?”


I stared at him, not sure whether he was having a laugh – pulling my leg.


“You honestly want the News of the World to give you one hundred and eighty thousand pounds and pay your legal costs on top?”


“Well, yeah,” he said. 


I smiled and shook my head. “No newspaper will pay your legal costs, Ronnie. It’s a non-starter.”


“Well, in that case,” he said, “I don’t know.”


There had to be more to it, of course, and after Piers told me to forget it and fly home, I learned that Ronnie had fed everything I’d said to a freelance journalist - Barrie Tracey is his name – who was scuppering my NoW deal behind the scenes. He’d convinced Ronnie the £150,000 contract was a fake and persuaded him to string me along while he negotiated a similar deal with a rival newspaper.


I was bitterly disappointed at the way it all panned out. And not a little 

embarrassed. It could have been the end of my friendship – and business relationship – with Messrs Morgan and Hall, but, thankfully, they were philosophical about what happened and held nothing against me.


Surprisingly, perhaps, I did some lucrative business with Sue, but I never spoke to Ronnie again. My lasting memory of him is not so much a cheeky chappie as a charmless plonker.


🔴Three months after my abortive deal, Knight was flown to the U.K., reportedly for £80,000, paid jointly by The Sun and Sky TV. In January 1995, he was jailed for seven years for handling £314,813 in stolen money and released on parole after serving three years. 


 21st June, 2023