Dr Liz Yardley

Dr Liz Yardley

By Dr Liz Yardley, Deputy Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology

Today we saw the conclusion of the trial of Dale Cregan, the 29 year-old Manchester man who admitted to killing PC Fiona Bone and PC Nicola Hughes in a gun and grenade attack on 18 September last year. Earlier in 2012 he had killed father and son David and Mark Short in what has been described by BBC News as a ‘decade long-feud between two local families’.

The overriding picture of Cregan is one of a ‘hard man’, a ‘Mr Big’. He was never without his mobile phone, striking drug deals in between trips to the gym and cocaine fuelled nights out. He carried large amounts of money, cruised about town in his Mercedes and jetted off on exotic holidays, always travelling business class. Many words have been written about his missing eye and how he came to lose it, this being another characteristic that adds to his notorious reputation.

The stories about this individual bring to mind other high profile criminals of recent years like the Liverpool drug trafficker Curtis Warren, otherwise known as ‘Target One’ by Interpol and the ‘Essex Boys’ whose lavish lifestyles culminated in the well documented ‘Range Rover’ murders of the 1990s.

Cregan’s story has all the characters and plot twists of life in a criminal subculture, a world for which we seem to have developed an increasing fascination in recent years. But let’s take a moment to reflect here. Without looking back to the start of this blog post, who can remember the names of the people Dale Cregan has killed? Be honest, most of us have had to cast our eyes upwards. We are in danger of becoming overly obsessed with Cregan to the extent that we have done with other so-called ‘hard men’. Most of those with more than a passing interest in true crime, myself included, will remember one key fact about Curtis Warren – he appeared in the Sunday Times Rich List of 2005. But how many of us are equally well versed about those whose lives were destroyed as the wave of illegal drugs he imported into the country trickled onto our streets?

The word ‘respect’ often crops up in media coverage examining Cregan and his predecessors. These individuals weren’t respected, they were feared and that is altogether different. Let’s not forget the havoc that these individuals wreak upon the communities in which they operate, where calling the police out if you get on the wrong side of the local criminals is simply not a viable option – once the patrol car has gone, your worries are not over, they are just beginning. Imagine what it is like to be a parent trying to create a safe and peaceful environment in which your children can develop respect for authority and strive to be good citizens when your home is located in a hive of gang activity. Imagine what life would be like if you became a target for one of these ‘hard men’ through some perceived show of ‘disrespect’ or by simply by being a police officer, a social worker or another front line public service professional.

Cregan is a convicted murderer, who will now face a compulsory whole life sentence. Cregan is not special or interesting, his image is a vacuous one – as one detective said in court, ’You can give any muppet a gun’. So as criminologists and true crime enthusiasts, let’s focus on his crimes and his victims rather than his reputation. What can we learn from his crimes (not him) to further develop our understandings of these criminal subcultures and contribute to the valuable work in prevention and early intervention to stop the likes of Cregan becoming role models for young people in challenging circumstances?

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Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Reader in Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.