One of Britain’s most notorious gangland figures has been murdered just days before a documentary is aired in which he bragged of his ‘untouchable’ position in the underworld.
Dessie Noonan was found bleeding from a stab wound close to his home in the Chorlton district of Manchester late on Friday evening. A leading member of a notorious family, Noonan, 46, had a reputation as a gangland enforcer and had been linked to dozens of armed robberies and several murders.
In a documentary, Gangster, to be broadcast on Tuesday night on Channel Five, he tells investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre that he feels safe as no one would be brave enough to challenge him and his brother. ‘No one would dare to touch us anyway. If they did there would be serious fireworks. I’ve got a bigger army than the police. I’ve got more guns than the police. We’re strong and we’ve got strong people around us. People know that. If they think they can take one of us out and that’s the end of if, then they’re silly people, fucking silly people.’
Later in the film Noonan jokes about being asked to execute MacIntyre but denies police claims that he has been involved in as many as 25 murders. In the film’s most chilling moment he responds to the question of how many killings he has truly been responsible for by briefly holding up seven fingers and then collapsing in fits of laughter.
Although Noonan makes a number of appearances, the documentary principally follows six months in the life of his younger brother, Dominic, who is on trial for kidnap and drugs offences. The film shows how the Noonan family run an alternative system of justice in many of Manchester’s communities. ‘During the day Manchester is run by the police, during the night it’s run by the gangsters,’ says Dominic.
The family rose to notoriety after working as bouncers on the door of the Hacienda nightclub and finding themselves mediating disputes between rival groups of local gangsters. In 1992 Desmond appeared in court charged with the murder of Tony Johnson and shooting another man. He was cleared after several key witnesses failed to attend court. He later served time for threatening the lives of police officers who were due to give evidence against him in a separate case.
Dessie Noonan had viewed the programme just a few hours before he died. He told MacIntyre: ‘That could get me 20 years. I’m fully expecting the police to knock on my door on Wednesday morning.’
Peter Walsh, author of Gang Wars, which chronicles the rise of Manchester’s underworld, said: ‘In the Manchester underworld the name of Dessie Noonan strikes fear into the heart of a lot of people. They are not people to be messed with.’
Underworld sources contacted by The Observer said that Dessie Noonan had recently been accused of ripping off a notorious Salford family to the tune of Â£250,000 but it is not yet known whether this is connected to his death. After being stabbed, Noonan had used his mobile phone to call his wife and tell her he was dying. An ambulance arrived minutes later but he was pronounced dead on arrival at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Manchester is bracing itself for a spectacular send-off. When Dessie’s younger brother, Damien, died in a motorcycle accident in August 2003, more than 15,000 joined the proceedings. Large parts of north-west Manchester were closed to traffic during the funeral procession and more than 100 police officers attended to keep order.