LANCASHIRE EVENING POST
Back from the Deep!
Once it was a beauty spot.
But that was before it became the watery grave of an international drugs dealer.
Eccleston Delph, a flooded quarry in the heart of Lancashire, was never meant to reveal its gruesome secret. But the body of Martin Johnstone never hit the bottom.
Instead it came to rest on a ledge after the perpetrators of the most notorious deed in the history of crime in the North West, had bundled him over the edge.
And there it was discovered - that butchered, hideously scarred body which led disbelieving detectives to the earth's four corners in pursuit of those who would kill to protect a multi million pound drugs empire.
ConnectionThis week the Handless Corpse rose once more from the Delph's murky depths. For two days and nights a television crew reconstructed the killing and dumping of Kiwi Martin Johnstone, the man dubbed the Mr Asia of international narcotics smuggling whose ruthless execution 13 years ago put nine behind bars for dealing in drugs and death.
The Lancashire connection will be a dramatised by Granada this autumn as part of a Friday night peak-time crime series. Ironically, perhaps, it will be called All Good Friends.
Those were the words used in a statement by Preston-born Barbara Pilkington, girlfriend of the man who pulled the trigger. She and killer Andy Maher were indeed good friends with Johnstone and his Lancashire lover Julie Hue.
"We examine that friendship and the pressures which finally blew the whole thing apart," says producer Bill Jones
Drugs, Death and a Grisly Man-hunt
He remembers it well. As a newspaper reporter he covered the case in its early stages. Now he watches as two film units bring about the realisation of a project which took him six months to research.
At Leyland in a lock-up garage they recreate the moments in which Johnstone's body was mutilated in the vain hope that even if it was discovered it might never be identified.
And at Eccleston Delph - it's actually in neighbouring Heskin - they film the dumping of his heavily weighted body, its discovery by two amateur divers who thought it was a tailor's dummy, and its recovery by police frogmen.
Lancashire police have co-operated with the makers. Few police forces, they believe, could have concluded the case in the way Lancashire did. From the time they'd finished there were 180 witnesses from across the globe.
"They kept at it like a Jack Russell with a rabbit," says Bill Jones. "It really was an incredible case and it is still a very powerful story."
There is a delay in filming because Mike Armitage is in make up. It takes four hours to get him looking.....like death.
For Mike, underwater expert and boss of Standish-based Northern Diver, is the corpse of Martin Johnstone for the day. When he finally arrives at the Delph, make-up artists continue to work on him, attaching a sandy wig and various prosthetics.
These include specially-made and uncannily realistic handless arms which are placed prayer-like across his chest in the manner they were found. While it is all going on he says with unintentional humour: "The tension is killing me."
Bill Jones looks across the water. There is litter and there are rusting cars and vans beneath the surface. One or two fishermen go about their business: "It's an eerie place," he says. Maybe I think that because of what happened here, but there's something weird about it."
He reveals that Andy Maher will be played by Vic McGuire, Jack in TV's Bread. In reality Maher, then 27, was given a minimum 20 years after an historic 128-day trial at Lancaster Castle, and remains locked away until the last year of this century.
SyndicateBarbara Pilkington and Julie Hue whose mind-boggling statements finally blew the gaffe on a drugs-running operation spanning Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Britain gave evidence for the prosecution.
Since then they have been living new lives with new identities. Which leaves one more character from the cast of All Good Friends. He is Terry Sinclair, the hugely wealthy Mr Big on whose orders Maher shot his friend in the head.
Johnstone had double-crossed the syndicate. Maher believed his own life would be snuffed out if he didn't shoot Johnstone. So he did - in a layby north of Lancaster.
Sinclair, arrested by armed officers during a dawn raid on a London flat, read books in the dock a Lancaster Castle. So powerful was he that he believed he could simply buy his way to freedom. When he died of a heart attack not long into a 20-year sentence at Parkhurst prison in 1983, Lancashire police were immediately suspicious.
Says Bill Jones "They had put away this fit-looking guy in his mid forties and he'd suddenly had a heart attack. They felt it wasn't him. They thought he might have been sprung from prison and that someone else had taken his place. That's how powerful he was.
"So they went down to look at his body - and they took someone along who knew him very well. It was Sinclair all right, but his hair was white and he'd aged 25 years.
There he lay, the multi-millionaire drugs baron whose downfall had begun with the discovery of a handless corpse in a Lancashire quarry off Halfpenny Lane
Victim Martin Johnstone
His battered "death mask"
Brutal killer Andy Maher
The "Mr Big" Terry Sinclair
PC Arthur Marshall is at the waters edge. He is the man who brought Johnstone to the surface all those years ago. Now, 45, he's still with the police, still diving and still enjoying the life.
"I remember it as a job of work," he says. "We were conscious all the time that we had to preserve all the evidence. These days we could have rigged up a video camera and CID could have watched from the surface
"But there was nothing like that then and no one realised the problems we had. There were 140 lbs of weights tied to his legs. It must have been at least two hours before we got him up. He was about 20 to 30 feet down on a ledge.
If they'd dropped him just a few feet away I don't think he would ever have been found." Arthur is taking part in the filming, together with colleagues.