William Lobban is selling his car tomorrow. A man is coming up to the Highlands from Glasgow to buy the car. That is quite a long way to travel to buy a car, but he thinks it is worth it. Then William will buy an even better one.
That was last November. In June this year, The Glasgow Curse went back up to No 1 in Amazon’s ‘true crime’ sales chart. It is still hovering around the Top 20 in various lists of crime books. And it was his publisher’s second best-selling e-book (after Alexander McCall Smith).
None of this is normal.
So, as I am still in Edinburgh, I drove up to the Highlands yesterday to ask him why the book had gone back up to No 1 in the summer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed a shorter distance on the map.
He had no idea why the book had gone back up to No 1 in June, so I asked him: “Why did you move up here from Glasgow?”
“There’s a big pal of mine lives up here,” said William. “He’s about 79 now. One of the old school. Done a life sentence. Two of them got life back in the early 1960s for killing a butcher. Robbed him in his shop; killed him. They both got caught and got a lifer. It was just after they stopped hanging people, so he was quite lucky.
“He was a big man in his day. I came up to see him initially and quite liked the place. There was no really great connection. You know the cops are carrying guns up here now?”
“I read that in The Scotsman,” I said. “They’re carrying guns on regular call-outs. They were photographed just going into a McDonalds with guns for no reason.”
“You remember,” said William, “that Paul Ferris was (allegedly) threatening me online and on Twitter and stuff. Veiled threats like: Your time’s coming soon.”
“He was allegedly posting your postcode online,” I said.
“That’s right,” said William. “Although that’s an open secret. People have known I’m here since I’ve been here. But I sought advice on what to do and I was advised I should report it to the cops, which I did – cos I want to be seen as a reformed character doing the right thing. Right after that, the local police started carrying guns up here. It does make you wonder if they decided to do that just in case they do get any trouble. It just makes you wonder. Who knows?”
William is usually referred-to in the press as “a notorious underworld enforcer”. He was once the ‘Most Wanted’ criminal in the UK.
“But I’m trying to create a different image for myself,” he told me yesterday. “I’m a different person. I want to be accepted for who I am and what I’m trying to do now, not for what I did 20-odd years ago. I’m on the e-fags now. I’ve not smoked a cigarette in about two months.”
“Much cheaper,” I said.
“A lot cheaper,” agreed William, “but it’s the health aspect. I was a smoker all my life. I’ve changed my ways, John. I take tablets to lower my cholesterol. I’m on 40 milligrams of simvastatin.”
“And I see you’re drinking orange juice,” I said.
“When I first came up here (he lives just outside a Highland town) back in 2006 or 2007, I had a bad problem with drink. It lasted for about a year. I went off the rails a bit. Now I have not touched a drink in over four years.
“I first got done in Stornoway for drink driving. I got a two-year ban there and then I got done just outside Perth. I was out of order. I really was. They gave me another four-year ban and that ran concurrent. So I ended up losing my licence for about five years in total. I got it back two years ago.
“It’s all behind me now, but it was at that time the police came and lifted me. I was in one of the local nightclubs here and I had a suit and a big coat and all that on. I was drunk and I must have been standing and swaying about and the bouncers have come up and they says: Can you take yer coat off, because people are starting to get a bit paranoid? Can you just take yer coat off and put it in the cloakroom? And I says: F off. I was out of order. So the next thing is they’ve all jumped on me and the police have come.
“So they’ve got me in the back of the police car and I can’t remember doing this – that shows you how drunk I was – but apparently I head-butted one of the cops while I was cuffed. I can only remember waking up in the morning and I was sore everywhere and black-and-blue because the cops had beat the shit out of me. But they dropped the charge of me assaulting the police because I had such a list of injuries myself. I guess they must have thought Well, if we take this any further, then he is going to bring all that out. It ended up as a breach of the peace.”
William is currently writing a sequel to The Glasgow Curse. “Spain is going to be a big part of the second book.” he told me. “But not just Spain: all over Europe. France, Holland; I’ve got lots of great stories to tell.”
The Glasgow Curse included the killing outside the family home of the son of Glasgow’s godfather Arthur Thompson and the revenge killings of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon, who were suspected of being involved.
Gangster Paul Ferris was arrested for the shooting of Thompson’s son and later found not guilty after a £4 million trial. He accused William Lobban of luring Glover and Hanlon to their deaths, which William denies. A 2013 film – The Wee Man – was made about Ferris’ life. There is a trailer on YouTube.
“You know that Ferris film The Wee Man?” William said to me yesterday.
“I was trying not to mention that,” I said. “I was reading recently that the producer felt it had been pirated out of existence. He appeared not to have seen the irony of being ripped-off by criminals. I have to say I thought it was a very good film. Bits of it might not be true, but it was a good film.”
“You enjoyed it?” asked William.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Did you?” William asked again.
“Yeah,” I replied again. “You know what the real people in the movie were really like and what really happened, but I don’t. Once I’ve accepted the main actor as Paul Ferris, I can go along with it. Because you knew him, you never can.”
“I suppose so,” said William. “But the explosion in the Jaguar, for instance – when Arthur Thompson’s mother-in-law gets killed. Ferris was only two or three years old when that happened, so to put that in the film wasn’t right because it wasn’t part of his story.”
“I think,” I said, “if you know the truth about something, then you can’t watch films about it. I mean, Arthur Thompson, for some bizarre reason, seemed to be played by an actor with an Irish accent. What was that all about? But maybe someone will make a film of The Glasgow Curse. You seem to be successfully changing yourself from a ‘hard man’ gangster into an author.”
“Well,” said William, “turning the corner and living legitimately can be very difficult. It does throw up challenges all the time.
“A couple of months ago, I was in Tesco’s car park. I was coming out of the shop with the trolley and someone says to me: Oh, he’s just spat on your car.
“I’d just had it all polished.
“I said: Who?
“That man there.
“So I left the trolley and, sure as hell, on the driver’s window was – och – he’d brought all this up and I… I thought: How disgusting. So I ran after him and got hold of him. I never put my hands on him, but I says: You’ve just spat on my car there. He tried to deny it and, to cut a long story short, I ended up saying: Now, look, you’d better get back and clean that or I don’t know what I’m gonna do here.
“And he did. He must have known by my… you know… by the way I was… And my reaction was – to me – it was a good thing, because normally I’d have just head-butted him… because I felt like doing that… But I managed to hold myself back – and that is a good thing.”