Pubdate: Sun, 15 Feb 2004
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2004 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson


Body Is Found In London Bed-And-Breakfast Two Months After Escape From

He owned dozens of properties in Britain, Africa and beyond, fleets of
luxury cars and had an estimated UKP10 million stashed away in bank
accounts around the world. Drugs baron Roddy McLean, 59, on the run
from prison since November, was said to have fled to Mozambique, but
last week it emerged that he had died penniless in a dingy South
London flat where he worked as a caretaker.

As the police investigate McLean's mysterious death, an Observer
investigation has revealed that it came days after it emerged that he
had been working as an informant for police, customs and the security
services. This is just the latest in a series of controversies
involving the man said to be one of the richest in Scotland.

The Prison Service is already investigating how McLean was downgraded
from a Category A high-risk inmate, described as 'one of Scotland's
most dangerous prisoners', to a low-risk Category D status and allowed
to transfer from secure Saughton prison in Edinburgh to Leyhill in

McLean claimed that the move was necessary so that he could be near
his estranged wife Susan, but it has since been revealed that she was
living in Edinburgh at the time.

In the past week there have been claims that MI5 agents helped
McLean's disappearance and that he may have been murdered to prevent
the full extent of his links to the security services emerging.
Scottish politicians have called for an investigation into why it was
that news of his disappearance from Leyhill was not made public for
seven weeks and why it took so long to identify his body - he was
discovered on 14 January but his identity was revealed only last week.

SNP Westminster home affairs spokeswoman Annabelle Ewing said there
were many unanswered questions surrounding the case. 'This has been a
bizarre story from beginning to end and there are issues that must be
explained to the satisfaction of the public, not least how Roderick
McLean managed to get transferred to an open prison in the first place
and then live in London when the assumption was that he was in South
Africa. A public inquiry into this case would answer those questions
and ensure that nothing like it could happen again.'

McLean, known as 'Popeye', was arrested in July 1996 when police and
customs officers captured a gang of eight drug smugglers off the
Caithness coast. During the raid customs officer Alastair Souter was
killed when he fell and was crushed between a customs cutter and the
gang's boat. The drugs haul netted three tons of cannabis, valued at
UKP10 million.

McLean, the gang leader, was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in
prison. A year later this was reduced to 21 years when the Court of
Appeal ruled that the judge had been punishing McLean for the death of
Souter, even though he had not been charged in connection with it.

In September 2003, six years into his sentence, almost five years
before he was even eligible for parole and with more than eight years
of his sentence left to serve, McLean was transferred, first to
Bristol prison, then to Erlestoke jail at Devizes, Wiltshire, and
finally to Leyhill, known for its relaxed regime and high number of

On Saturday, 8 November, McLean made an authorised town visit to
Bristol. Designed to help inmates begin to readjust to the outside
world, town visits are common in open prisons and on the day in
question as many as 50 other prisoners were in the Bristol area.

McLean had made several visits before and had always returned exactly
on time. He was due to return by 6pm but phoned to say that he would
be late. By 8.10pm there was still no sign and prison staff contacted
the police.

Despite McLean's standing in the criminal underworld and the fact that
he had access to vast wealth and strong contacts abroad, Avon and
Somerset police initially made the search for McLean a low priority. A
worldwide alert was not put out until the end of December. On 10
January the first reports were published linking McLean with MI5.

At around the same time he apparently began working as a caretaker at
the Argo B&B Hotel in Streatham, south London. Four days later he was

One former inmate who served time with McLean told The Observer: 'Everyone
was surprised that he hadn't gone very far at all. With his wealth, it seems
remarkable that he would have taken on that kind of job when he could have
been living it up in the sun.'

Throughout his colourful life, McLean was never far from controversy.
During the Sixties he worked as a property developer but it wasn't
until the Eighties that he took his first steps into the world of
organised crime. He set himself up as a fence, opening up a
second-hand shop and a jewellery store in Edinburgh, both of which
were responsible for disposing of hundreds of thousands of pounds
worth of stolen goods.

Within a few years he had begun importing drugs into Scotland using a
fleet of boats. Remarkably, one of his many boats was bought direct
from customs for the knockdown price of UKP5,000, a fraction of its true
value of around UKP500,000.

The 150ft Sea Ranger V offshore supply vessel had previously been used
by another drugs gang; its multimillion-pound illegal cargo was
confiscated and its captain and nine-man crew arrested by customs off
the Scottish coast in 1993.

When details of the purchase emerged in September 2000 it led to calls
for a probe into the running of the Customs National Investigation
Service amid reports that McLean had been given the discount because
he was acting as an informant at the time. Customs claimed that it had
been sold to the highest bidder.

By the time of his trial McLean was known to own dozens of properties.
He also had stakes in one of Edinburgh's busiest pubs and a brothel,
yet he was granted legal aid to fund his defence. An action taken
under the Proceeds of Crime Act found most of his assets had been
transferred into his wife's name. McLean ultimately forfeited only

A police source defended the time it had taken to identify McLean,
claiming he had lain a false identity trail which initially led them
to a dead end. 'Checking fingerprints is a last resort unless we know
for certain that someone has had contact with the criminal justice
system.' A spokesperson from Avon and Somerset Police said inquiries
would continue to establish where McLean had been during his absence
from prison.
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