Liverpool door wars from tuxedos to straighteners and crime firms

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The security industry in Liverpool is now unrecognisable from the days when it was all about hard men and firms fronted by gangsters.

Modern firms like DoorSec and Nation now run a number of the big doors in Liverpool's night time economy – with a reputation for their professionalism and efficiency.

The Security Industry Authority, the body responsible for regulating the industry, stops serious criminals from controlling security companies and from working on doors.

This strict system means doormen who are convicted in court can automatically lose their SIA accreditation.

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But it wasn't always this way – and Liverpool's nightlife security industry used to look very different.

Door staff at Liverpool some bars and clubs were once hand picked from gyms and boxing clubs, with bosses taking them on because they knew they could fight.

In January 2019, the ECHO took a look back at the untold story of the city's door wars, straighteners and the criminal influence on many door operations.

It's a story of familiar faces, popular clubs and an area of criminal mayhem which shocked the city.

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The good old days?

In the 1970s Liverpool's big nightclubs employed their own doormen. Many were former wrestlers and boxers, who donned tuxedos and manned the door at the weekend.

John Brum, a colourful character, was the perfect example of a 70s doorman. John, who ran the Coconut Grove in Tuebrook, was a very well known Liverpool doorman.

Other famous city centre clubs such as the Blue Angel and She also employed well known characters to run the door at the weekend.

Former Liverpool criminal Charlie Seiga photographed in Liverpool city centre

Charlie Seiga, who used to be involved in crime, spoke to the ECHO about the era of the dickybow doorman.

Mr Seiga, who is now a successful author, said: "Famous clubs like the Continental, Odd Spot and Cabaret did not let any riff raff in.

"And the dickybow doormen were all gentleman. But God could they fight if they had to.

"The end of the 70s marked the end of the old school. The drug scene changed Liverpool. A new breed came in, and that meant a new breed of doorman."

Liverpool doorman John Brum (far left) with A-Team star Mr T and Charlie Seiga (background). This photograph was taken at Charlie Seiga's restaurant the Orchard Garden in West Derby.

Quadrant Park

The 80s the city saw the formation of the first security companies.

The city's club scene also started to change in the 1980s, with the rise of dance music and acid house.

The Liverpool based Total Control Management Solutions (TCMS) ran the door at Quadrant Park, a giant warehouse on Derby Road in Bootle which was transformed into a dance music venue famous for its 'all nighters.'

DJ Mike Knowler in his heyday at Bootle nighttclub Quadrant Park

The 1980s also saw Liverpool's criminals move away from armed robbery and embrace drug dealing, which led to increased levels violence across the city.

Aggressive young drug dealers, keen to make a name for themselves, became well known for threatening to kill doormen who refused them entry.

The 90s

Unfortunately in this era the security industry became associated with crime, criminals and violence.

Many doormen in the past had criminal records, and were employed because security bosses knew they had the ability to fight when required.

In the 90s Liverpool doormen were hand picked from gyms and boxing clubs, unlike today.

And there were gangsters in the background.

In the mid 1990s a new company called Premier Security became a growing force in Liverpool's security industry.

Former Liverpool criminal Joey Owens covered this period of time in a book, Race Wars to Doors Wars.

Owens, linked to far-right politics, described how Premier Security began to take over from TCMS.

Premier ran the door at popular Aintree nightclub Paradox. The Paradox became hugely popular in the 90s and Premier ran a massive door team at the popular club.

The Paradox club in Aintree

Owens described many violent incidents in his book, with Liverpool gangsters like George Bromley fighting with doormen among the shocking moments he recalled.

And he described a major incident in the car park at Quadrant Park, when a well known criminal was forced to drive his Ford Escort Cosworth through a car park barrier, which nearly decapitated the driver and his front seat passenger.

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A former Liverpool doorman who once worked at the Alicante club in Speke said: "Former boxer Tony Sinnott was a bit of a force in the Speke area at the time.

"He was a good fighter and always carried a knife. Anyway I caught one of Sinnott's henchmen in the club one night with a knife.

"He was bullying someone with it. I took the knife off him and told him I would maim him if he came in the club again.

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"I later caught up with his boss Tony Sinnott at a petrol station in Halewood. I jumped him as he was filling his car up. I put the nozzle in his mouth and told him that if had any more issues with his crew I would fill him up with unleaded."

Mr Sinnott died in a machine gun attack in 1999. He was 40.

Career criminals linked to door firms

In the 1990s many Liverpool criminals were either directly or indirectly linked to door firms.

Stephen Clarke, from Netherley, was associated with the Premier Security brand. And Everton crook John Haase became involved with a door firm called Big Brother after he was released form prison.

Questions were raised after the ECHO revealed that Big Brother was responsible for the security at Stanley Dock just on the edge of the city centre.

A few years later Haase was jailed for firearms offences and money laundering.

John Haase when he was in charge of Liverpool security company Big Brother

South Liverpool criminal Stephen French, who once earned a living taxing money from drug dealers, was also a director a company called Crymark Security.

And Speke gangster Stan Carnall ran a security firm in the city. But Carnall was jailed after he armed with himself after an apparent threat to his life.

Intervention

Prior to the formation of the SIA, local authorities were responsible for regulating door firms and doormen – but the system was not rigorous and individuals with serious criminal records were still linked to the doors.

But the SIA, formed in 2001, put the directors of security firms and doormen under increased scrutiny.

The SIA also introduced compulsory training for people working in the industry. The approved contractor scheme shows that a security company has met agreed professional standards and has embraced good practice.

Car bomb terror in the city

One of Liverpool's worst ever door disputes happened after a violent new drug gang called the Piranhas were excluded from a couple of clubs and pubs in Liverpool.

In 2003 the Piranhas launched an unprecedented terror campaign across the city, when they targeted the family who owned the 051 club.

The dance floor at 051 nightclub on Mount Pleasant

The gang blew up cars outside nightclubs, residential addresses and police stations. The first massive car bomb went off outside the famous 051 nightclub on Mount Pleasant, which resulted in widespread damage.

Police said it was miracle nobody was killed or seriously injured. As the police stepped up activity to stem the violence the gang decided to let off massive car bombs outside police stations.

One of the largest devices went off outside Tuebrook police station, which shocked the law enforcement community at the time.

Richard Caswell, a former Liverpool doorman, was linked to the campaign and jailed for 17 years.

Prosecutors connected Caswell to car bombs outside two family homes, and Tuebrook police station. Liverpool Crown Court heard that Caswell was not the brains behind the terror campaign and was a foot soldier who worked for other criminals who had fallen out with the family who owned 051.

The aftermath of a car bomb near Tuebrook police station

After Caswell was jailed criminals tried to break him out of HMP Liverpool with a cherry picker. Guards spotted the device and the attempt was foiled.

A new order

The Liverpool car bomb campaign was seen as a new low by many people working in Liverpool's security industry.

The scale of the violence also led to a change in mindset, with security bosses and senior doormen becoming far more willing to cooperate with the police.

A new company called Doorsec led the mood of change. The Liverpool based company, formed in 2006, introduced a more professional approach, and were happy to work closely with the police when necessary.

A police mugshot of Richard Caswell who was jailed for 17 years

Premier Approved

In January 2016 a proceeds of crime hearing at Preston Crown Court against convicted drug dealer Stephen Clarke revealed more information about Merseyside's security industry.

The court heard that Clarke was linked to a network of companies including Premier Approved, Fortis and Stealth.

Nick Johnson QC prosecuting, said Premier Approved, which supplied 100 contractors for the 2012 Olympics was 'highly suspicious.' Prosecutors claimed the company operated a 'protection racket.'

A police surveillance still of Liverpool gangster Stephen Clarke

The court had earlier heard extensive evidence in defence of the business, which operated by sourcing work on building sites and sub-contracting it out to other security firms, which would supply the guards and pay a percentage of the profits to Premier as commission.

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In his ruling Judge Woolman found that Premier Approved was run as a legitimate business which provided services to respectable clients.

But Judge Woolman also said that there was a plan to manipulate the the company's books to make it appear that Stephen Clarke was not a shareholder in order to meet with SIA regulations.

How things have changed

A former Liverpool security boss, who worked in the city during the door wars era, spoke to the ECHO about the changes over recent decades.

The man, who asked not be named, said: "The bottom line was that you needed handy lads on the doors in the past. Violent drug dealers don't like being knocked back from a door, and can become very aggressive very quickly.

"Doormen needed to able to handle themselves in volatile situations, when knives and even guns were used.

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"The SIA and CCTV in the city has changed everything. In the past you had a bit of CCTV but you knew where the blind spots were.

"If you had to fight someone, you would get them in the blind spot. But there are no blind spots now and if you use your hands you can be out of a job.

"But many of the lads on the doors now have great first aid skills and all that, but they cannot handle trouble.

"They need the police, where in my day we did not use the police. I think the changes have been mixed. Yes there are less thugs on the doors now, but there are also less people able to face down drug dealers and baddies."

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