Jacoglaw Spanish to English Criminal Legal Services
« Back to JaCogLaw Press

The Guardian July 2015

July 3, 2015

John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer: too many wounds, too many enemies

The case of the timeshare fraudster shot dead but initially said to have died of natural causes will be an unsolved crime, says one of his associates


The death of John Palmer was classified as ‘non-suspicious’ for six days before a postmortem revealed that he had been shot

John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer: too many wounds, too many enemies

The case of the timeshare fraudster shot dead but initially said to have died of natural causes will be an unsolved crime, says one of his associates

The death of John Palmer was classified as ‘non-suspicious’ for six days before a postmortem revealed that he had been shot

When John “Goldfinger” Palmer was acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1987 of conspiracy to handle stolen gold bullion worth £26m, he blew a kiss to the jury that had found him not guilty. He was soon on a plane to his crooked timeshare business in Tenerife and must have thought that he had also kissed goodbye to the high-risk end of criminal life. But last week he was shot dead at his home in Essex, the latest in a long and bloody roll call of those involved with one of the biggest robberies of the last century.

What has caused a stir about Palmer’s death is the fact that initially it was attributed to natural causes. It was six days after his body had been found close to his house in Sandpit Lane, near Brentwood, that the police announced he had actually been shot and a murder investigation launched.

“It’s like something Spike Milligan might have come up with,” said a member of the criminal fraternity who knew Palmer. “It’s like: ‘He has been shot in the chest but foul play is not suspected’.”

Detectives refer to what they call “the golden hour”, the time immediately after the discovery of a body in a murder investigation. It is when they are most likely to find the best clues. Gold may well have played a part in Palmer’s death but none of it will be attached to the many hours now lost in the hunt.

There was no shortage of people, on both sides of the law, who had good reason to wish Palmer ill. He was regarded by his contemporaries as a high-rolling bully and the events that took him to the Old Bailey in 1987 will be one of the many leads now being followed by the police. Among the other possibilities are a Palmer connection with the Hatton Garden safe deposit robbery.

Having left school at 15, Palmer, from just outside Birmingham, made his first money selling paraffin off the back of a lorry, but he was soon on his way to more profitable work as a dealer in jewellery and director of a small bullion firm on the outskirts of Bristol. It was this involvement with smelting that led police to Palmer after the 1983 Brink’s-Mat gold bullion robbery – hence the nickname.

He was acquitted of handling the bullion, but others, including his associate Kenneth Noye, were convicted. Noye had previously been acquitted of murdering the undercover detective constable John Fordham in 1985, after saying he killed the police officer in self defence. He was later convicted and jailed for the 1996 road rage murder of Stephen Cameron.

Others linked to the robbery in different ways have also met violent deaths.

Palmer was a ruthless operator, taking advantage of thousands of gullible souls, many of them holidaymakers, who believed his spiel about the fortunes they could make by investing in timeshare apartments that were never built; no one ever accused Palmer of only hurting “his own”. He had a large staff and any of those who complained that they had not been properly paid were rewarded with a smack in the mouth.

For a while it looked as though he had it all: the yacht, the cars with the personalised number plates, the dozens of properties. He even made it to No 105 in the Sunday Times rich list, rubbing shoulders in the rankings with the likes of Michael Heseltine and the Duke of Devonshire. But he could not resist boasting about his abilities to launder money to undercover reporters from The Cook Report in 1994, which led to a programme called The Laundry Man, and the police were still keeping a watchful eye. In 2001 Palmer was back at the Old Bailey charged with a massive timeshare fraud.

There were no kisses for the jury this time. They may have taken a record 21 days to make up their mind but this time the tanned Palmer cut a less dashing figure. The prosecuting counsel, David Farrer QC, told the court that Palmer was “the largest shark in the timeshare water” and had callously exploited his clients. He was jailed for eight years and served four. The following year the court ordered that he repay £33m of his ill-gotten gains, a sum later reduced to £2.3m.

“My abiding memory of him is that he was a very tight little fellow and hated parting with any money in spite of the fact that he had millions,” said Jason Coghlan, a former armed robber who served time with Palmer in Long Lartin jail and now runs JaCogLaw, a legal advice firm in Malaga.

“I recommended Giovanni di Stefano who represented John in an appeal against the £2m penalty. Giovanni was staying at John’s apartment in central London whilst handling his case at the high court and, after one of the hearings, Giovanni did a press conference, and when we all watched it on television that evening John started jumping up and down because Giovanni was wearing one of his suits – they’re both short wee fellows!”

Coghlan believes Palmer’s real legacy will be the vast network of crooked timeshare schemes in Spain, many of whose victims he now represents. “These snidey scams are not the work of professional villains but scumbags hiding in anonymous offices based all over Spain and a lot of them learned their trade from John’s activities in Tenerife,” he said.

In 2007, Judge Baltasar Garzón, the man who pursued the Chilean dictator General Pinochet through the courts, suggested Palmer was involved in a little more than “el timesharing” and was responsible for money laundering, fraud and firearms offences. Palmer was arrested, held in jail in Spain but later released. The possibility of a Spanish trial for money laundering and firearms offences was in the offing this year.

He had had surgery recently – the results of which, in terms of surgical wounds, seem to have confused the initial investigators last week – and did not fancy further trials. One theory about the killing is that some people feared he might be about to do a deal so as to avoid another long term inside.

Already the usual north London suspects are being suggested as those who did the deed, and the queue of people with good reason to do damage to Palmer would have gone all the way down Sandpit Lane and on to the A12. “But this was nothing to do with people who’d been ripped off on timeshares,” said one associate. “This was a lot heavier. It was a hitman and it will be an unsolved crime.”

“Remember the golden rule,” was the motto Palmer liked to quote, “he who has the gold makes the rules.” Not always.

Article from The Guardian, 3rd July, 2015