PULLING up in a sleek Audi A5 at his sprawling white-washed villa overlooking the Costa del Sol, Peter “Snaggle” Williamson had seemingly left his old life in tough Salford far behind.
Yet Spanish police believe the expat father-of-two, 39, nicknamed Snaggle due to his crooked teeth growing up, had been tailed for days by two suspected British hitmen.
One of a hail of seven of the alleged assassins’ bullets punctured Williamson’s heart and his life ebbed away as his mother pitifully screamed for help.
Spanish cops say what resembled a professional hit in Riviera del Sol near Mijas last November was sparked by “the rivalry between two different drugs trafficking gangs”.
Williamson is reported to have had links with feuding organised crime figures from Salford, Gtr Manchester.
This month Spain’s Civil Guard confirmed that two British men have been arrested in connection with his murder — one in Murcia, south east Spain, and the other in the UK.
The Civil Guard said in a statement that the suspects had: “Travelled from England to Barcelona, where they hired a vehicle they used to get to Mijas.
“They followed the victim for several days until they chose the perfect moment to shoot him.
“The careful selection of the time and location to commit the murder shows their criminal experience, cold blood and dangerousness.”
The slaying is just one of 25 murders in the Malaga province last year. And the web of brutal mob attacks, kneecappings and bombings on the Costa del Sol often have UK and Irish gangsters at its epicentre.
‘Lockdown stopped criminals going out’
Spanish government figures showed a six-year high of 113 organised crime gangs operating in Malaga province, which includes the Costa del Sol, in 2018.
There were 14 UK-led crime firms — the fourth most prevalent after Spanish, Moroccan and Colombian mobs. The UK figure for 2018 was almost double that of 2016, when it stood at eight.
More than 60 other nationalities are involved in organised crime there including Venezuelans, Iranians and Georgians.
For behind its glossy veneer, the Costa del Sol remains a sunny place for shady people.
With around 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, harbour-side fine dining and an abundance of lavish properties, Marbella and other well-appointed Costa towns offer a suitable haven for criminals looking to launder dirty money.
It also lies on the lucrative narco-smuggling route from west Africa into Europe, with British drug middlemen eager for their slice of the action.
And police here say that after a Covid-19 induced lull, gangsters are once again flexing their muscles.
One Marbella British expat said: “Lockdown was tough here. Just as people didn’t go out because they couldn’t, nor did the criminals.
“Those that were on the run stayed indoors because they knew there were more roadblocks around and they didn’t want to risk getting stopped.”
Now, with lockdown eased, the bloodshed and mayhem has returned.
Police here arrested a fugitive alleged British drug dealer after a bar brawl on May 18 which left another man with his “guts hanging out” following a stabbing.
Zathon Dale Williams — who is now in custody in the UK — was on the wanted list after a no-show at Warwick Magistrates’ Court in connection with drug offences last September.
The 28-year-old from Bedworth, Warks, was held with five other Brits after the fight at Steve’s Bar in Mijas Costa, just an eight-minute drive from Williamson’s murder scene.
Another Brit was rushed to hospital for a life-saving op following an “evisceration” injury.
Days later a Brit was brutally kneecapped in what was an alleged warning by members of a gang led by his own compatriots.
The 27-year-old, who has not been named, was taken to hospital but is understood to have fled Spain.
He did not cooperate with investigators, insisting he had been mugged.
Police here have arrested British nationals aged 23 and 24 and a 29-year-old Irishman in connection with the May 25 attack.
A Spanish police spokesman said: “The Irishman is the person who accompanied the victim to hospital and pretended he was cooperating with investigators to deviate their attention from what had really happened and who was responsible.”
Drug-trafficking gangs part of criminal underworld
The bloodshed even spilled on to Marbella’s famous “Golden Mile”.
On June 2, a Bosnian who had served time in a Spanish jail for drug offences was gunned down in broad daylight on the street popular with wealthy expats, locals and holiday home owners.
Now a Malaga-based pioneering police team that specialises in solving gangster-on-gangster score-settling is taking on the drug traffickers and hoodlums.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun, the head of the unit revealed: “British drug-trafficking gangs are among those that make up an important part of the overall criminal Costa del Sol underworld.
“The city of Algeciras has a huge commercial port, which is on our doorstep and an important entry point for all sorts of merchandise, and Marbella is a very nice place to live, with a wonderful climate.
“That and the proximity of Morocco, which is a gateway for drugs including cannabis, help to explain why so many organised crime gangs operate in this area.”
He revealed it was his force that arrested the men allegedly behind the kneecapping in May.
They also tracked down the suspected killers of Puerto Banus nightclub boss Marco Yaqout, who was shot in January 2019.
The 49-year-old Moroccan was the owner of at least five well-known nightspots in the holiday resort, including Towie favourite Tibu.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the police source added: “The conflicts between gangs is often borne out of police drug seizures, which can result in million or billion-pound losses for them.
“That can lead to in-fighting over who is responsible for those losses.
“There are obviously going to be conflicts between gangs vying for control of the distribution of drugs in Europe and the control of their entry into a country like Spain.
“But recently there have been a lot of police seizures of large amounts of cocaine, which inevitably leads to reprisals by members of the organisations involved in the importation and distribution of those drugs.”
He dismissed the long-held idea of Costa del Sol-based British gangsters living in ghettos and shunning contact with other nationalities.
The senior cop added: “The British depend on Colombians to bring in cocaine and Moroccans to buy cannabis and there’s often intermediaries who could be Spanish.
“They can’t be self-sufficient or act alone.
“Once they have the drugs, the job of getting it to the UK, if they are not going to distribute it in Spain, is likely to be a British-only operation.
“But they can also organise operations from here where drugs reach the UK without ever passing through Spain via, for instance, boats that head directly for Britain.”
British gangsters have been fleeing to what became known as the Costa del Crime since the Seventies, when extradition agreements between Spain and the UK broke down.
Barbara Windsor’s former husband and convicted criminal Ronnie Knight is credited with establishing Spain as a getaway destination for old lags.
It was popularised in the 2000 movie Sexy Beast, where Ray Winstone played an out-of-shape bank robber lured out of retirement for one last job.
Former armed robber turned Spain-based legal fixer Jason Coghlan, 50, originally from Stockport, tells me the days of “old school” criminals are over.
Young firms are very different to my generation. For example, instead of using baseball bats they’re more likely to use a machete. It’s a scary weapon.
Former armed robber turned legal fixer, Jason Coghlan
The boss of JaCogLaw, which helps those facing legal difficulties abroad, explained: “Young firms are very different to my generation.
“For example, instead of using baseball bats they’re more likely to use a machete. It’s a scary weapon.
“Some of the violence emanates from the inherent dishonesty of any villain, which inevitably leads to villains robbing other villains.”
Jason — a former Category AA high-risk prisoner — added: “Every heavy villain on the Costa del Sol arms himself.
“When they go to rob each other they know they’re coming up against another armed villain.
“It has caused an escalation in the use of firearms.”
Jason agrees with the police and local authorities who say ordinary people are unlikely to get caught up in the gang violence.
Felix Romero, the Marbella local authority’s deputy mayor, told The Sun: “The violent incidents linked to drug trafficking that have taken place on the Costa del Sol are isolated incidents and involve individuals who move in that criminal underworld.”
The head of Malaga’s special police gang violence unit added: “In the last 15 years none of the gunshot victims in drug-related settling of scores was a stranger to that underworld.
“For law-abiding people not involved in that world, the Costa del Sol is a safe place.”
So will the authorities one day rid this idyllic coastline of its criminal malevolence?
The senior cop added: “Is it going to end any time soon? When’s the Costa del Sol going to become a place of rain and grey skies?”
Bab’s ex-malaga kingpin
By Katy Docherty
BARBARA WINDSOR’S then husband Ronnie Knight fled to the Costa del Sol after his involvement in a £6million security depot robbery in East London in 1983.
He had made a name for himself running gangland clubs in London’s Soho, rubbing shoulders with gangster twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
Nicknamed “The Celebrity” for his love of fame, Ronnie ditched first wife June to marry theatre star Barbara in 1964.
Their 22-year marriage got off to a rocky start when Babs’s mum Rose refused to attend their wedding ceremony in London.
They both admitted to having affairs.
In 1975, Ronnie expanded his club empire to Spain, where he built a villa called El Limonar in Benalmadena.
Babs stood by Knight’s side as he faced trial in 1980 for putting a £1,000 hit on the murderer of his younger brother David. He was acquitted.
But in January 1984, a day after his brother John was arrested for the security depot robbery, Ronnie fled to Spain without saying goodbye to Babs. Two years later Barbara asked for a divorce.
Knight spent ten years in Fuengirola, running bars, nightclubs and an Indian restaurant before returning to the UK in 1994 to tend to his elderly mother.
He was finally caged for seven years for handling £300,000 from the 1983 heist.
After his stint in prison, Ronnie moved into £360-a-month sheltered housing in Cambridge.
He said: “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me because I’m Ronnie Knight.”
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