I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Saturday, September 30, 2017




Sir Charles Lampitt sat and watched the rain streaming down the glass of the waiting room window. His smooth, carefully shaven face was perfectly passive. Every crease of his suit was in place. He vaguely concentrated on staying entirely still. And breathing of course. Slowly. Long in and long out. Gently propelling oxygen through his arteries.

He was sixty seven years old and very much at the top of his game. His rise to the upper stories of the English Establishment had been seamless for nearly fifty years. When he had finally made it to the top, the first thing he had done was to tell his new secretary to bring him a copy of his personnel file. It hadn't made particularly interesting reading. He didn't learn anything about himself he hadn't known already. The words past bosses had used to evaluate his performance were a little detached. A little cold.

Effective. Diligent. Well organised. Committed. Assured.

He had always been a safe pair of hands. Solid. A good chap in a tight spot. He had never been one of the flamboyant high fliers. He had never made any attempt to cut a dash. Instead, he had completed each and every task he had been given with a minimum of fuss.

It had been enough. In the end, he had been the only realistic candidate to become the new boss of MI5 when Bill Simmons had retired.

And then like so many others who had gone before him, he realised it might have been a very good idea to have been careful about what he had wished for. He had been in the job for just under a year when Hackney had exploded into flames and the memories of the Cobra Committee Meetings were still enough to make him shudder. For a while it had seemed like the country might suffer a complete collapse. For a while, the State seemed to have lost the ability to maintain any kind of order. He had watched men and women age decades in a few short days.

And they had been given no choice. Only desperate measures would do. Day after day they had watched the near disintegration of the Prime Minister. His much vaunted urbanity had splintered. As the crisis deepened, a kind of darkness seemed to wrap itself around Edward Montford.

It must have been the third week of the crisis when Charles Lampitt first noticed the Prime Minister's eyes. The pupils were pinned. Tiny dark pebbles of rage in a pale, haggard face. Charles knew all about pinned eyes. He had lived through the pinned eyes of his daughter Camilla for six dreadful years until the day of her overdose had felt like a kind of merciful release. What on earth was the PM taking? And for what?

He had shared his time at Oxford with Edward Montford, but only in terms of the calendar. They had never spoken. He had watched the Montford star burn brightly. The hundred at Lords in the Varsity Match. The Presidency of the Union. The stream of doting debutantes. The bouts of hooliganism in white tie and tails. He had despised everything about him. The gloating privilege. The certainty of his entitlement. The gaping lack of any kind of moral compass.

Had he been surprised when Edward Montford had glided into Number Ten complete with his shining wife and children? Of course he hadn't. Had he been pleased? Of course he hadn't.

Charles had been summoned to an audience with the new leader a week after the photo call at the famous front door. Montford had been all smooth charm and born and bred authority. Sleek. Already at home. Absurdly confident. Charles's loathing had been undiminished, but he had consoled himself with the fact that the new Prime Minister was no fool. The cold eyes on the other side of the desk gleamed with the cunning intelligence of a fox.

But there was not so much as a shred of morality to be found in those cold, cold eyes.

When the Hackney Crisis seemed about to overwhelm them, Charles found himself transfixed by those cold, cold eyes. Those pinned eyes. Those merciless eyes.

It is time for you to find a way to resolve this, Lampitt. I don't care how you do it. I don't care how dirty your hands get. I don't care what laws you break. And I don't care if you burn in hell as a punishment. Find a way to fix it. Bring me whatever papers you need me to sign and I will sign them. I've had enough of fucking around here. Am I understood?”

And Charles had nodded. And Charles had once again been the safe pair of hands. The good chap in a tight spot. He had arranged a clandestine meeting with the man he considered to be the most evil he had ever come across.

Hayden De Kock. Ex of the South African Defense Force. A colonel. A senior officer of the Broederbond. A name whispered with recoiling horror. A name touted for trial in The Hague for endless crimes against humanity. A gun for hire in every godforsaken corner of Africa where minerals were buried beneath the earth.

Chief Executive Officer and majority shareholder of Holbrooke Securities BVI Ltd.

Charles's first meeting with De Kock had lasted half an hour. At the end of the meeting, he had shaken the South African's hand. The handshake had been the moment he had crossed a line. There was no point in trying to convince himself he had been in the dark about what was about to happen. De Kock had laid it on the line with brutal clarity.

You need to understand what your money is buying here, man. There will be a lot of dead people, ya? You know that?”

Yes. Yes, he did. Only too well. Edward Montford had told him to do what needed to be done and he had done it. He had handed over a chest of his country's treasure to Hayden De Kock and the South African had duly dispatched his secret death onto the streets of London.

The Prime Minister's secretary appeared. “He will see you now.”

It was nearly three thirty in the morning. Outside the rain was lashing the pavements. He should have been asleep in his bed. He should have taken early retirement and lived out his final days in the Dorset countryside. He should have resigned when Edward Montford commanded him to cross the line. He should have done all kinds of things, but he hadn't.

And now here he was in the dark hours before a grey dawn. Montford didn't bother to rise. He waved Charles to a chair with a vague flap of a gaunt hand. The man looked dreadful. Deathly pale. Almost bleached.

Charles.” Just that. No 'thanks for coming at such a late hour, 

'Charles'. No 'how is Gillian keeping?' No nothing. Just 'Charles'.
Charles sat and waited for the eyes. After thirty seconds or so the Prime Minister raised his gaze from the papers in front of him. Still pinned. Still tiny malevolent pebbles.

So? How far have they got?”

He hadn't been told to prepare a brief about the Guardian's ongoing investigation into the alleged Hackney Death Squads. There had been no need. Charles reached into his briefcase and took out a transcript of the brain storming meeting which had been held the morning before.

Would you like me to summarise?”

Obviously. Do you seriously think I want to listen to you reading out the whole fucking thing?”

No Prime Minister. Of course not. I'm afraid they now have Holbrooke Securities. They have the location of the compound in Colchester. They have various pieces of footage of suspects being taken.”


Indeed. The good news is they have hit a brick wall.”

What kind of brick wall?”

The kind they build in the British Virgin Isles.”

Ah. Good. That kind. So they have no evidence of HMG paying Holbrooke?”

No Prime Minister.”

What are the chances they will find anything?”

I would say minimal at best. But there are no absolute guarantees.”


Montford heaved himself out of his seat and once he was on his feet the true extent of his emaciation shocked Charles.

I'm just thinking aloud here, Charles. Just musing, OK? Maybe there is someone we could maybe get out of the way? If you get my drift?”

I would strongly advise against such a course of action Prime Minister. It would merely set alarm bells ringing. It would make them even more determined.”

Yes. I suppose it would. So what do you propose?”

I think we need to sit tight. I find it hard to imagine anyone from Holbrooke leaking. Were they to do so, they would basically be signing their own death warrant.”

Fucking evil bastard, isn't he? This De Kock?”

Yes, he is Prime Minister."

Wait it out and hope then? That's what you think?”

It is Prime Minister.”

Montford sat back down.

OK. Fine. Thank you, Charles."

The Chief of MI5 left by the back door.


The weather forecasters told us the rain was going to stop two days before the rain actually stopped. Once upon a time, such news would have been greeted with a general air glee. The news of a coming spring heatwave would have been something to celebrate.
But this wasn't the case any more of course. Not in 2030. Instead, the evening news was again home to a selection of climate experts whose faces had become as familiar as footballers to the watching public. And none of them were smiling. All measurements and projections suggested the coming summer would almost certainly break all records.


The people of England resigned themselves to weeks and weeks of being rationed to one shower a week. Programme schedulers pondered on the problem of how to find new ways to cover all too familiar news.

But as things turned out, they didn't have to. On the last day of the rain, nobody had heard of either the Rioni River or Lake Qaraoun. By the time the sun set on the first day of the heatwave, anyone who tuned into the news was beginning to become accustomed to both of these obscure locations.

Hastily put together visuals informed us the source of the Rioni River was to be found on the western facing slopes of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. We were told the river flowed west for 327 kilometers through a drainage basin of 13,400 square kilometers. The river eventually emptied out into the Black Sea at the port of Poti.

Lake Qaraoun was a reservoir complete with a dam and a hydroelectric power plant which provided water to most of the southern half of Lebanon.

It seems ridiculous now, but at the time none of us saw any of it coming. How blind we were. Hindsight tells us it was inevitable. Other thirsty countries were bound to latch onto the idea Suleiman Khalidi had sold to the Scottish Government.

Many countries were trying to learn how to get by with less and less water. But some countries were thirstier than others and Turkey and Israel were among the world's most parched.

When the Turkish Parliament reduced the daily water ration for the citizens of Ankara to twenty litres a day, the people didn't take it well. They embarked on a month's worth of street riots which made Hackney look almost serene. Turkey had a well-practiced routine to fall back on to deal with this kind of civic mayhem: The Generals took charge and they cracked the whip. Thousands were killed and tens of thousands were detained. A brutal calm was imposed and people learned to fill up their government issue 20 litre containers once a day from standpipes in the streets without so much as a word of complaint.

The Israelis took the news of their Government's 30 litre daily ration with more stoicism. They complained mightily and everyone was angry all the time but they took it on the chin.

Nobody predicted what happened on the ninth of April. The early hours must have seemed like some kind of a gift from God to insomniac news junkies. A few minutes after 4.00 am GMT, the men and women who had drawn the short straw of marshalling their news channels through the quiet hours when nothing ever happened suddenly seemed energised. They absorbed what they were being told in their ear pieces and adopted appropriate expressions.

There seem to be extraordinary events unfolding in the Middle East.”

For several hours the breaking news was all about jumpy video footage from mobile phones which had been uploaded onto the social media.

A long column of tanks on a wide road on a flat plain. Helicopters ducking and stooping overhead like over-protective hawks. A dawn sky blooming with parachutes bursting into flower. More tanks, in threes and fours, throwing up dust in small baked villages.

Experts were roused from their slumber and brought into studios by speeding taxis. By 5 am, there were plenty of digital maps to go along with the garbled reports from the locals on the ground. Soon two maps sat side by side. In the north, there was the border area of Eastern Turkey and Western Georgia sitting snugly by the Black Sea. In the south, there was the border area of Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon.

It seemed a force of many Turkish army tanks was racing north up the coast road. There were no reports of any kind of opposition. A small force of tanks had been ordered north by the Israeli Defence Force from a jump off point a couple of miles from Kiryat Shmona. For a while, everyone was desperate to know if the footage of parachutes was true or fake. It was true. Over three hundred airborne troops had dropped into what appeared to be pretty much the middle of nowhere.

The experts were struggling. Was this a coordinated attack? Well of course it was. To imagine two neighbouring countries would launch attacks on two other neighbouring countries at the same hour on the same day could hardly be a coincidence. But why? Were Turkey and Israel long term allies? No. Had anyone been expecting this? No.

By the time Europe brewed the day's first cup of coffee, the two armies had put plenty of miles behind them. And still, no expert could be found who had the first idea of why any of it was happening at all. Of course, Israel had plenty of previous when it came to invading South Lebanon, but there seemed little reason for them to do it again. Most Hezbollah fighters had left the area years earlier to fight in Syria at the behest of their Iranian paymasters. Israel's northern border hadn't been so quiet in years. As to what kind of Georgian bee had found its way into the Turkish bonnet, nobody had the faintest idea.

Everything was cleared up at 9 am GMT when the Chief of Staff of the Turkish Army and Prime Minister of Israel staged a joint press conference in Ankara. Both men were grim faced as they read prepared statements and took no questions. They explained their countries needed water. The water they needed was available in neighbouring countries. They were, therefore, annexing the territory they needed to improve water supply.

And that was it. They offered no kind of provocation or justification. They had sought no kind of UN mandate. They hadn't bothered with any careful ground laying through the media.

The experts were aghast. Speechless. This wasn't how things were supposed to happen. Even Hitler had taken the trouble to concoct a cover story before invading Poland. Countries didn't behave this way.

Not in 2030.

A Historian from the University of East Sussex was the first to smack the nail firmly on the head. He said it was like the world had gone back into to the second half of the Nineteenth Century when strong countries had felt entirely justified in invading and colonising weaker countries who had the resources they craved. Back then it had been all about gold and silver and cotton and opium and tea.

Now it was all down to water. And from now on it looked like everything would always be down to water.

A boffin from a high powered Washington think tank seemed to get behind the thinking of the Turks and the Israelis. If only one of them had launched an unprovoked attack, then the world might just have turned on them. But two? Two at once? Did the rest of the world have the energy to actually do anything other than issue statements full of appalled words? Probably not. And when all was said and done, would anyone really care enough about either Western Georgia or Southern Lebanon to risk either people or treasure? Probably not

The boffin was proved right. Just about every country on earth condemned the invaders in the strongest of terms. But nobody actually did anything. The fact barely a shot was fired certainly helped. The motives of the aggressors were quite different. The Israelis had a clear plan on how they would build a network of canals and aqueducts to carry water all the way from the Lake Qaraoun reservoir to the thirsty towns and villages of the north of their country.

The Turks had no such worked out plan about how on earth they were going to move the waters of the Rioni River to the parched towns of Anatolia. It was a bridge they intended to maybe cross later. Maybe they never would cross it all. In the short term, the Generals needed something to make their people feel better about being Turks. State TV even talked about the coming of a new Ottoman Empire.

For a while, all eyes were on the Permanent Security Council at the UN. The USA and France were close allies of both invaders. But what of Russia, China, and India who had taken the place of the UK when Scotland had flown the coop and England had been deemed to be too small and too weak to play with the big boys. Would the Russians or the Chinese thrown down a resolution and force the Americans into the embarrassment of a veto?

There was nothing. Not a peep.

A month after the tanks rolled, Chinese forces took over Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For many years Beijing had tried to secure a reliable supply of Coltan by spending fortunes on roads and phone lines. This strategy had worked, but only up to a point. Local warlords refused to give up on murder and general mayhem and it made life endlessly difficult for the Chines companies on the ground. So it was that China followed the lead of Ankara and Tel Aviv and simply invaded the place.

Once again they were condemned in the strongest of terms by more or less everyone. And once again nobody even thought of actually doing anything. World War Three for Katanga? Come on. Be serious. I mean who the hell even knew where Katanga even was?
The world was a changed place. Old rules were back in play. Conquer and colonise. Invade and take.

Was this the get go of a second age of Empire? Maybe it was.
The reaction of the world's stock exchanges to the three invasions was probably the most shocking thing of all. The years of drought had been anything but kind to stocks and shares. The days of jubilant traders popping champagne for the cameras seemed to have disappeared forever. Now, for the first time in a long time, the Dow and the Footsie 100 and the Hang Seng were surging again. Global capital markets clearly like the look and feel of this new era of Imperialism.

Shocking? Of course it was shocking. Surprising? Of course it wasn't. 



Friday, September 29, 2017




More accurately, we have arrived at our destination. Me, the writer. You, the reader. It's time to switch off the ignition and wind down the windows. Take in the view. Feel the air on the face. Light up a cigarette if that is your thing. Maybe get out of the car and stretch the legs.


A set of four numbers to go along with other similar sets of four numbers. 
1314. 1513. 1650. 1745.

Bannockburn, Flodden, Dunbar, Culloden.

A stream, a field, a town, a moor.

Places of slaughter. Places where history was turned. Places where the English and the Scots ran out of patience with each other. Places where hundreds and sometimes thousands of men ended the day with lifeless eyes staring up into the Scottish sky.

When I was a teenager, I remember hearing a political talking head on the car radio. It must have been a couple of weeks after the English voted for Brexit. The political chaos of the days following the vote was unprecedented at the time, though it seems like pretty small beer now. The guy on the radio said that from this point onwards no matter what the political question in a pub quiz might be, the answer will always be the same: 2016

And at that point, the guy didn't even know the people of America were lining themselves up to vote Donald Trump into the White House.

I am pretty sure in decades to come historians will link the two dates together. They will conclude the tumultuous events of the summer of 2030 would never have happened without 2016 happening first.

Maybe. Probably. I don't care much to be honest.

2030 happened.

The set of four numbers duly took their place alongside all the other sets of four numbers.

Well, dear reader. The time has come for you and me to part company. From this point onwards there will be no more of the chit chat. I have done my best to present you with the line-up of characters who played lead roles in the epic drama of 2030.

The makers of history. Some were large figures on the world stage. Others were people barely anyone had ever heard of.

We all had our own reasons. Our own histories. Our own back stories. We all played our part.

We were there.

And after 2030 nothing would ever be the same again. I guess that is what history is all about, right?




Angus Campbell drained the last of his coffee and forced himself to focus on the agenda for the Cabinet Meeting which was due in less than ninety minutes. Christ, he was tired. He was tired all the way to the marrow of his bones. His schedule was becoming overwhelming.

When he had first assumed the role of First Minister he had wound his alarm back half an hour from his accustomed 6.30. After a month it had retreated a further half hour. Now it was five o'clock and every time the bleeping dragged him from sleep he felt like screaming.

He tried to recall when he had last slept for more than five hours and couldn't. There must have been a good reason for his decision to put his name forward to take on the role of Scotland's leader. And no doubt the reason must have looked pretty good at the time. Now? Now, not so much so. Now he hankered for the relative simplicity of his old life when all he had to do was sell solar panels and make a few quid.

Come on Angus you miserable old bastard. Shape up and stop the self-pity. More coffee. Stretch the legs a bit. Check the view from the big window. At least you’re knackered as a result of trying to keep up with riding the crest of a wave. Better than being in Edward Montford's shoes.

He grinned out of the window. Oh yeah. A million times than being in that toffee nosed prick's shoes.

A tap on the office door pulled him out of his reverie.

His secretary, Margaret.

It's Mr Khalidi.”

Oh right. Great. That's fine. Thank you, Margaret."

By 2030 the two men who had laid the first bricks of the Scotland/Qatar partnership had become firm friends.

Suleiman. Salam Alaikum my friend.”

Alaikum Salam.”

Here. Grab a pew. Coffee or are you going to give the chance Margaret to show off her mint tea skills?"

Why not mint tea?" Suleiman switched on his brightest smile to the waiting secretary. "When I drink your mint tea Margaret I am transported back to the deserts of Arabia."

Get away with you Mr Khalidi.”

They took a few minutes of small talk before getting down to the nuts and bolts.

So how was Spain?”

Khalidi grinned like a double glazing salesman who had just closed a deal for six windows and a patio door. Without discount.

Actually, Spain couldn't have gone any better.”

He went on to explain the draft agreements he had in place to supply Bilbao, Valencia, and Barcelona with a combined total of 25 tankers a month of water. Marseilles had become the first customer for Scottish water in 2027 and other cities soon followed. First, it was Nice, Toulon, and Cannes. Genoa came next. Then Lisbon and Porto. And now the cities of Spain were joining the club.

What is the new total?”

86 tankers a month.”

That must be pretty close to capacity.”

It is capacity.”

They moved along to the frantic reconstruction of the Girvan shipyards. Everyone was going at a hundred miles an hour but it would still be many years before the Clyde yards would be able to sail their first tanker.

Are there any more second hand ships to be had?”

Not really. There are tankers out there of course but the owners are being greedy. They think we will pay any price.”

Which we won't of course.”

Of course.”

Suleiman ran through a number of reports. It seemed like every week saw the opening of another hydroelectric plant in the Highlands. New towns and villages were coming to life in areas which had been empty since the Clearances. Scotland was home to the largest construction boom outside of India and China. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. The sums of cash involved made Angus almost physically sick at times but the economists who advised him laughed off his concerns. The money, it seemed, wasn't even close to being any kind of object. And fair enough, every time the Scottish Government released a new bond issue the money markets snapped up every penny's worth in a matter of seconds.

I can't help but feel this is all too good to be true. My innate Scottish pessimism I guess. I keep looking for the catch.”

Well here's something which might qualify.”

Angus sat back and wrapped his hands around the back of his head. 

“Go on.”

I have had a back channel contact from London.”

For Christ's sake, what do they want now?”


Angus sat forward. “Water? You're bloody kidding me.”

Suleiman shrugged. “Not at all. They are looking for ten tankers a month into Tilbury.”

There's no bloody chance. Not until we get a few more ships. Even five a month would be a stretch.”

Four actually.”

And you told them that?”

I did. They didn't seem to want to listen.”

Angus jumped up to his feet and started pacing. “Oh they didn't, did they? For fuck's sake Suleiman. So come on. What are they expecting us to do?”

Reduce our contracts with France.”

WHAT!! Are they fucking kidding?”

It certainly didn't seem that way to me.”

So who was it? The back channel boys?”

Whitehall Mandarins. You know the type. All grooming and expensive cologne. I could tell one of them was itching to call me a jumped up wog.”

Arrogant bastards. Sod it. I'm going to get that bastard Montford on the phone right now, so I am.”

And what will you tell him?”

I'll tell him to get caught up with his fucking electric bill and then we might just consider it. That's what I'm going to tell him. I mean for Christ's sake Suleiman they're five months in arrears.”

Six months. And if they are not in a position to bring their electricity payments up to date?"

Then fuck them, that's what. They've used my country like a convenient piggy bank for seven hundred years. Well not anymore. Those days are bloody gone. If Edward Montford wants water he can get a spade and dig himself a fucking well."

Angus stared furiously at the phone in front of him and his hand started to make a move towards it.

Suleiman's voice dripped calm. “Are you quite sure this is a good idea?”

No. Of course, it isn't a good idea. But that arrogant bastard is seriously starting to get under my skin. They kill our people on the streets, give a mealy mouthed apology and then they expect us to keep their lights on and their toilets flushing without paying their bills. "

The old habits of Empire die hard.”

It seems so." Angus jumped up again and stood by the window with his hands plunged deep into his pockets. "OK. You're right of course. No doubt you have some wisdom ready."

The Qatari smiled. “I hope so. I think we should give them four ships a month. Just because England is proving to be the neighbour from hell doesn't mean we have to stoop to their level. Michelle Obama came up with a line which has always stayed with me. 'If they go low, we go high.”

Angus laughed. “Maybe I should go and spend a few days in one of your Bedouin tents. A bit of quality desert time might just teach me to think more diplomatically.” He sat back down and some of the tension seemed to ease a little. “What are you hearing about things in London?”

Nothing good. A lot of people are getting very worried about the story your daughter's friend is working on."

The alleged death squads?”

Indeed. It looks like the truth is going to be somewhere beyond ugly. They are bracing themselves."

How bad could things get?”

Pretty desperate actually. There are rumours. People are saying France might ask the UN to impose sanctions.”

Jesus. I had no idea it was that serious.”

They were silent for a moment whilst the First Minister tried to get his head around just how bad things were getting for his country's ex-partner.

As a Qatari, much of this situation feels very familiar. We always had Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other. Two countries many, many times larger and more powerful than we ever were. We were much richer than they were in comparative terms, but that didn't really count for anything. They were like a pair of frustrated bears driven mad with fleas. They were always itching to find an excuse to reach out and rip our heads from our shoulders. So we learned how to play nice: to keep them distracted with jars of honey and pots of flea powder. So if Edward Montford needs some water, the best thing to do is to let him have some water. And if Edward Montford is struggling to keep up with his electric bills, then we will give him a little more time. Things are going well for us. Better than we could ever have dreamed of. What is the greatest threat to our continuing prosperity?"

Even more chaos in England.”

And why is that First Minister?”

The potential for a huge refugee crisis at the border. A collapse in Anglo-Scottish trade. It's a long list..... Fair enough. As per usual, I am thankful for your words of wisdom. You'll do the deal?"

Of course.”

Good man.”


April 2030 started with eight straight days of rain. And it wasn't just any old rain. It was pure pissing it down all day rain. And never in the history of the British Isles had a prolonged period of spring rain been celebrated with such nail biting enthusiasm. News items focussed on empty looking reservoirs which maybe were not quite as empty as they had been. Climate experts refused to jump down from the fence and say the rain might just be a sign of something better. In pubs and offices and shop counters, everyone was talking about the rain and hoping against hope it would last all the way to October.

The whole thing completely washed over me if you'll excuse the unintended pun. I was locked down in the office and I even lived up to the ultimate journalistic cliché: I asked my editor for permission to put a camp bed in my tiny office and he said it was OK.

All my reporting life I had yearned for a story like the one which was completely dominating my eighteen hour days. The story of the alleged Hackney Death squads had everything. It was dark, harrowing, and it had the ability to change everything. Even in the chaotic, turbulent early months of 2030, no government could survive being caught in the act of ordering kill squads to murder English citizens in the nation's capital.

I had always anticipated working on this kind of story would have all the thrill and adrenaline of a big dipper ride. How wrong I had been. Maybe if things had been different, it might have been the case. If I had been dispassionate. An outsider looking in. Patiently picking at the threads and gathering my evidence. But I didn't feel like an outsider. I had only met Leroy once, but once was more than enough. He was so very different from Wendel but they shared the same courage and utter sense of right and wrong. I guess in hindsight I spotted the martyr in Leroy the very first time I laid eyes on him outside the Guardian offices. The diffident stance. The bookish glasses. The canvas shoulder bag. The nervous smile. The careful handshake. The thoughtful silence.

I could see the huge toll Leroy's disappearance and subsequent loss had taken on Wendel. On the surface, nothing had changed but there was a new look in his eyes. A mix of pain and rage. He refused point blank to talk about his feelings. Instead, he grilled me about all aspects of the investigation and did all he could to think of new dark corners I could delve into.

At first everything was about the victims. As the word of our genuine determination to look under the rocks spread through Hackney, the families started to come forward. I met mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and grandmothers and grandfathers. We met in cafes and parks and pubs. Their stories were different, but in a way they were always the same. An abduction. Weeks and weeks of frantic searching. Begging the police to investigate. Waiting for hours on end to get five minutes with their MP. Firing out an endless stream of 'Have you seen?' pages into the vastness of Facebook. But the end result was always the same.
Nothing. A wall of silence. A giant brick wall.

By March we had a growing collection of evidence of how so many had disappeared. We had over a hundred affidavits sworn in the company of the paper's in-house solicitor. We had some grainy footage of a van pulling up outside a low rise block and five masked figures jumping down from the back and returning a few minutes later dragging a writhing figure. Next, we received actual footage from inside a flat. It was jumpy, noisy, chaotic and absolutely terrifying. Screaming and shouting. Furniture tipped over and four masked men who seemed too large for the small room. Angry voices which a language expert identified as Latvian. A young man yanked out through the front door with undistilled terror in his eyes. A final brutal warning backed up with a pointed weapon.

By the third week of March we had a hundred cases under our belts. We had a clear handle on the tactics the snatch squads had used. We had reasonable proof of at least eight different nationalities under the masks.

One fact overwhelmed all others. Of the ninety two men and eight women who had been taken from Hackney, not a single one had ever been seen or heard from again. They had disappeared. Vanished. Become statistics nobody was willing to put on any kind of public list. The police always shrugged and said the disappeared ones were no doubt on the run. Hiding out in another city. Maybe even in another country. After all, they had been a part of a terrorist group. What was so surprising?

Oh yes. That particular part of the narrative had by now hardened. The narrative was parroted by policemen and politicians alike and they stuck to it ferociously. The Peoples' Republic of Hackney had in fact been a vast terrorist cell. It was something akin to the 'so called Islamic State of Syria and the Levant' which had scared the pants off the western world a few years earlier. The men and women of the so called Peoples' Council were much like the men and women who had ordered murder and mayhem from their seats on the IRA Army Council back in the 1970's and 80's. The so called Peoples' Republic had presented a clear and present terrorist threat to the whole of the nation. Only the dedication and professionalism of the police and the security services had driven this particular pack of rabid dogs from the door. The tabloid press was more than happy to take this narrative and run with it with everything they had. The people of Hackney learned how it felt to be cast as designated bogeymen and bogeywomen. Hackney became the latest version of the useful baddy state. Hackney became the new Cuba. The new Libya. Iran. North Korea.
Nobody was in the mood to give a damn about the alleged disappearance of over a hundred English citizens. Desperate times had required harsh measures. The threat had been neutralised. The good guys had prevailed and the bad guys had been put back in the box. 
In mid-March I was introduced to a young hacker who was, without doubt, the most paranoid individual I have ever met. I had some time-stamped video footage of a man being thrown into the back of a van. And my footage showed the number plate surprisingly clearly. Could he hack into whichever system collected number plate recognition data? He could. For a price. I was pleasantly astonished when my editor agreed to pay up without batting an eyelid.

The hacker came good after two days and managed to track the van across London and all the way to an industrial estate on the outskirts of Colchester. A stand-alone one storey warehouse. Nondescript. Mildly decrepit looking and rather unloved. The only part of the compound which looked remotely new and cared for was the ten foot high razor wire fence which was wrapped around the perimeter. Alf and I arrived on the first day of the Spring rains to find a 'To Let' sign on the padlocked gates and nothing but shrugs from everyone we talked to. The letting agency was grumpy with us. No, they couldn't reveal details of any of their tenants. Not in a million years. And there was something more behind the aggressive order to leave the office. There was genuine fear.

Could the hacker find a way into the records of the Estate Agents? He could. For a price. Nice work if you can get it.

And suddenly there it was. A name. Something to get a hold of.

Holbrooke Securities.

Now the investigation was racing along two different roads. A further fat envelope of cash to the hacker gave us the footage from a CCTV camera sited two streets away from the locked warehouse. Alf's eagle eyes had noticed what was a freakish piece of good luck. The camera was keeping an eye on a small row of tawdry looking shops. A betting shop. A bit of everything mix of groceries and booze. A charity shop. A launderette. A Chicken and Kebab place.

At the end of the row, there was an alley which provided a cut through to the next street. On the far side of the next street, there was a building site which a developer had earmarked for six new houses before the crash in prices. So instead of six new houses, there was a patch of overgrown waste ground and a clear view all the way from the CCTV camera to the chained front gate of the warehouse compound.

We soon had three weeks’ worth of footage which showed the comings and goings of ten different vans. Our first van was filmed coming and going on eight different occasions. We had nothing else. No pictures of figures being yanked from the vans and dragged inside. But it was another brick in the wall we were trying to build.

The second strand of the investigation involved engaging the services of a renowned firm of forensic accountants. They were digital bloodhounds and we allowed them to inhale the scent of Holbrooke Securities and then we let them loose.

Two days later they returned with an air of resignation. They walked us through their journey from a bank in Jersey to a bank in Macau to a bank in Delaware all the way to their final destination which was a bank in the British Virgin Isles.

All they had was a list of three nominee directors. Were they worth looking into? Not remotely. They were complete nobodies who were paid a few pounds to masquerade as directors for literally hundreds of shell companies. Could our intrepid hacker find a way through the off shore firewalls of the bank? He just laughed. Be serious guys.

Outside the windows of the office, the sky crackled with thunder and the rains of April started in earnest.

There were six of us around the table in the conference room. Nobody was in the mood to speak. We were all sleep-deprived and strung out. For weeks we had chased the elusive Holbrooke Securities and it had seemed like we were about to land our prey.
Instead, we had reached a brick wall.

Our editor slowly packed up his brief case. "OK. Enough for tonight. Get yourselves home. Get a proper night's sleep. We'll reconvene at ten and do some brain storming. There has to be a way. Keep the faith."

We slept and showered and breakfasted and commuted. And we brainstormed. And we kept the faith. And none of it did any good whatsoever.

We remained parked up on the wrong side of an offshore brick wall.