Who killed Jack Royal? Part one.

Just after half past eleven on the night of March 19th 1990 Jack Royal got up to answer the doorbell at his home in Sunniside, Newcastle. As he looked through the porch window, a shotgun blast fired at close range hit him in the face.

In the last few years Andrew Adams has been in trouble a lot.

In 2009, he stole 30 packs of fillet steak. When caught, he readily admitted the crime and said he did it because he had no money and was hungry. The day after he stole the meat from his local M&S, he was in court on fraud charges relating to a previous crime – he’d found a cheque book, and cashed two cheques totalling £640. The penniless meat thief was ordered to pay the same amount to the bank by way of compensation.

In 2012, Andrew was found guilty of yet another theft. The judge activated an existing suspended sentence and Andrew went to prison for 12 weeks – for stealing a pair of trousers. Andrew’s lawyer tried to argue for a reduction in his sentence. The judge refused, saying that the fact that Andrew wrongly spent 14 years in jail before being thrown out onto the streets with no money or support and having claims for compensation repeatedly and perversely denied by the government was no longer a mitigation.


The sequence of events that would see a pair of trousers land Andrew Adams in prison started 25 years earlier. On the night of 10th January 1987, a man called Alfred “Jack” Royal got into a scuffle outside his local chip shop in Newcastle. At some point, the fight turned ugly, a pen knife was produced and the other man was stabbed, fatally. The other man in this case was called David Thompson, and Jack Royal knew him. David had been Jack’s son’s business partner.

Jack was tried, twice, over the incident. At his first trial the jury was unable to reach a verdict; at the second, the jury believed Jack’s story of self-defence and the 54 year old science teacher walked free.


Just after half past eleven on the night of March 19th 1990 Jack Royal got up to answer the doorbell at his home in Sunniside, Newcastle. As he looked through the porch window, a shotgun blast fired at close range hit him in the face. He died almost instantly. The noise drew one of the Royal’s neighbours to the window and she watched the killer run to a white Austin Montego. The car, which had been stolen earlier that day, would be found ablaze in a car park just a few hours later.

Thirty minutes or so earlier, Andrew Adams had been stopped by police. As a 42 year old, a judge ruled that he had so little of anything there was no point fining him. However, as a 23 year old aircraft engineer Adams was living the high life, and on this particular night he was driving his silver Renault 5 Turbo around Newcastle accompanied by long time friend John Hands. Constables Howstan and Robotham stopped the pair and, after quickly establishing that it was Adams’ car, sent them on their way.

In the following days the neighbour who watched Royal’s murderer escape the scene was invited to help the police identify the gunman. From a set of 55 mugshots Beverley Yeadon picked one out. She was sure that she recognised the man and later picked him out at an ID parade; at the subsequent trial she told the jury that ‘He was definitely the driver. I had seen the face that night.’ The man’s name was Walter Hepple and the police went on to discover that David Thompson – the man killed by Jack Royal – was Hepple’s sister’s partner, and father to her children.  


Ten months later, in January 1991, Andrew Adams suddenly and unexpectedly found himself single. His girlfriend caught him in a nightclub with another girl sat in his lap, and promptly moved out of the house that she and Adams had bought together. Adams invited his friend Kevin Thompson – no relation to David Thompson, or any of the other Thompsons in this sorry tale – to move in with him. If Adams thought that having a new housemate would help restore harmony to the household, he was wrong. Thompson soon owed Adams money and tension escalated between the two friends.

In May of 1991 the atmosphere in the house was fatally disrupted when police burst in and arrested Adams and Thompson for an armed robbery on a nearby Presto supermarket. Adams was not involved and was quickly released when police checked out his alibi. Thompson was charged by police after being picked out of an ID parade, and, although the case against him was later dropped, Adams asked Thompson to find somewhere else to live.

In the intervening ten months, police had been working on building a case against Walter Hepple for the murder of Jack Royal. At trial the defence team of James Chadwin QC and Patrick Cosgrove argued that the neighbour’s identification of Hepple during the ID parade was flawed; that as she had seen 55 mug shots before the ID parade, she was merely recalling one of those when she picked Hepple out of a line-up. Despite the curious coincidence in managing to pick out someone with such a strong connection to the victim – a possible motive for killing him, even – Chadwin and Cosgrove were successful and Hepple was acquitted.


Stung by that defeat, the police renewed their efforts to find Jack Royal’s assassin and in early 1992 they thought they’d made some headway. Forensic tests carried out on a shotgun found at the home of a local con left scratches on the cartridges similar to scratches on cartridges retrieved from the Royal’s. Not similar enough to be definitive by any means, but similar enough to be very interesting. Mark Dixon, at whose house the shotgun was found, was a friend of Kevin Thompson’s and would eventually be convicted of the Presto armed robbery that Adams and Thompson were arrested for. At one point, the police visited him in prison to question him about the Royal murder. Dixon denied any knowledge and the police investigation into the Dixon connection was buried.

A few weeks after Hepple’s acquittal, on 6th April 1992, a gang broke into the home of an elderly couple in County Durham. Henry and Mary Thomas were both in their seventies, and both were tied up as the gang stole valuable antiques from their home. Henry Thomas suffered a heart attack whilst bound.

In contrast to Northumbria Police’s dilatory and ineffective investigations into Jack Royal’s murder, Durham Police seemed to be a paragon of swift and effective justice. Within hours, they had caught Kevin Thompson in the act of inventorying the Thomas’ stolen belongings at the home he shared with new girlfriend Nicola Henderson. The Vauxhall Cavalier (with fake plates) that the gang had used for the robbery was parked outside, and, just for good measure, one of the Thomas’ neighbours had given police a description which even Thompson had to admit matched him perfectly. He was charged with robbery and facing the very real prospect of ten to fifteen years in jail.

That same day officers from Newcastle police created a memo that read “D/Insp Sharp, DC Mackle recommence full time enquiry. Thompson quickly identified and converted to assist the cause.”;  the cause being the investigation into Jack Royal’s murder.

On April 10th 1992, DI Kenneth Dixon and Kevin Thompson’s then solicitor Karen Graham discussed a lighter sentence for Thompson in return for him naming his accomplices in the Thomas robbery, a deal that detectives refused to make. By another curious coincidental twist Karen Graham was the older sister of Andrew Adams’ ex, the one who walked out on Adams leading to Kevin Thompson moving in.

But the  following day Thompson asked Graham if she knew that detectives wanted to speak to him about the Royal murder, something Thompson indicated he was happy to do. Accordingly, DI Sharp and DC Mackle turned up at Thompson’s house a couple of days later to discuss it, as planned.

And so, exactly a month after the raid on the Thomas’ house, Andrew Adams was roused from sleep in the early hours by a call. By phone a police officer told Adams that his house was surrounded by armed police and that he should surrender. He did, as seemed prudent, and was arrested for the murder of Jack Royal.

One month later two police officers visited the judge who would be presiding over Kevin Thompson’s trial. DI Ian Sharp of Northumbria Police and DI Ian Scott from Durham Police told him that Thompson was providing valuable assistance in the matter of the Jack Royal murder. Scott later went on to become head of Durham CID where he was a proponent of PDP – Potentially Dangerous People – surveillance, where people not convicted of any crime would be subject to heightened covert surveillance.

The trial went very well for Kevin Thompson. Despite being positively identified at the scene and having the car used during the crime parked outside his house, the prosecution dropped the robbery charge and Thompson instead pleaded guilty to the much lesser charge of handling stolen goods. As a result, he avoided the ten to fifteen stretch that would have been the sentence for armed robbery and walked free that same day with a suspended sentence.


On 8th April 1993, after being in custody for a year, Andrew Adams met his new barristers for the first time. Adams’ legal team – James Chadwin QC and Patrick Cosgrove – soon learned that John Hands, co-accused with Adams, was planning to explore some of the evidence that Chadwin and Cosgrove had earlier used to acquit Walter Hepple. The barristers told Adams they would have to step down. The possibility of this happening had been identified early on, but Adams’ solicitor John Foley had insisted they take the case. And so, thirteen days before going on trial for murder, Adams had no barrister.

Preparations did not improve. Seemingly minor errors would turn out to be extremely damaging. Reportedly Foley wrote down the wrong timings when setting out Adams’ alibi, meaning that the prosecution were able to accuse him of changing his story when this error was corrected. It was starting to look as though Andrew Adams’ experience at trial would be nothing like as rewarding as his former friend Kevin Thompson’s.

A couple of days before his trial, on 19th April 1993, Adams met his second set of barristers, Andrew Menary and Robert Fordham) for the first time. At this time Fordham was not even a QC, and only became one on the first day of the trial, April 21st. Given the short time that they had had to prepare for a three year old murder case with three defendants, they requested a four-week adjournment to properly prepare Adams’ defence. The judge gave them five days.

It’s important to remember that although they had separate representation at this point, John Hands was essentially facing the same charges as Adams purely on the basis of what Kevin Thompson told police, and the fact that the police stop placed the two of them together on the night of the murder. The third co-defendant implicated by Kevin Thompson was Catherine Thompson (no relation). Adams’ girlfriend at the time of Jack Royal’s murder, she was sister to the late David Thompson and according to the prosecution, it was she who supplied the motive.

At trial, it was clear that there was no case against the three without Kevin Thompson’s testimony. There is not and has never been any physical evidence in support of Thompson’s testimony. Instead the defence wheeled out some of Kevin Thompson’s cronies to provide largely irrelevant testimony, none of which related to the crime itself.

Thompson’s story was that Adams had asked him to drive him, plus John Hands, to Whickham “to chin a bloke who had been cheeky to Cath[erine Thompson]”. Thompson agreed to meet them at the Denton Hotel at 10pm. When they did, he asked them to come back half an hour later, and asked if he could borrow money for petrol (Adams gave him £5). The three of them left in Adams’ car and went to collect Thompson’s blue Ford Escort. Both cars then drove back to a petrol station where Thompson used the £5 to put petrol in his car. From there, they went to Adams’ house to collect a dark-coloured holdall and a petrol can, and then to a car park where the stolen white Montego was waiting.

From there, Thompson says, Adams drove the Montego with Hands in the passenger seat past him and away. They were gone for “ten or twenty minutes”. Upon their return he saw them drive past and into the car park. Moments later they came jogging over to Thompson’s Escort. They had with them the holdall and petrol can.

“Did you chin the bloke?” Thompson asked. Adams took a sawn-off, single-barrelled shotgun from the holdall.

“I blew his fucking head off.”

Thompson drove the car [the account is unclear at this point, but we presume he means his Escort] to another car park where Adams and Hands burnt some overalls. At Adams’ request Thompson agreed to hide the shotgun in a shed at his home, but then said he would hide it in a bin behind the flats where his mother lived. He then drove Adams home. Where Adams’ Renault is at this point is also not clear.

Thompson then said that Adams’ visited him at work the next day. He said the Montego had been stolen from a hotel car park by “a lad called ‘Owla’”, that it had contained computer equipment, and that Adams had set up a false alibi involving his friends Neil Graham and Brian Duffy.

A few days after this helpfully divulgent episode, Thompson says that he retrieved the shotgun. Adams and Hands smashed the gun up. The trigger mechanism went in one bag, the rest in another, and the cartridge which had been in the breech was burnt.

That was the whole of his testimony. Thompson did not claim that he saw Adams pull the trigger (and neither has anyone else); all we have is Thompson’s account of Adams’ braggadocio.

In terms of corroboration, Thompson’s friend Kevin Briggs established the motive by telling a story where Catherine said to Adams, “If you loved us you’d sort him [Royal] out.” with Adams responding, “do you want us to go and shoot him?” His girlfriend replied, “go on then” and Adams said, “alright, I will”. This batonage, being, apparently, enough to turn Adams into a killer. Briggs also clamed that he was the one who showed Adams how to fire the shotgun, using a phone box as target practice.

Briggs’ girlfriend Jane McBeth also said that she had seen Adams with the shotgun, when he had apparently and for reasons unknown demonstrated to her that the serial number had been filed off. And the defence also found an ex of Adams’ who testified that Adams once said to her that he and Hands had done “the worst possible thing” – which according to the defence was an admission of the murder of Jack Royal.

Police Constables Howstan and Robotham were also called to testify that at 10:47pm and 10:53pm on the night of the murder, they performed a number plate check on the police computer system (quite why they needed to check the same car twice within a few minutes is not a matter of public record). The prosecution claimed that this chimed perfectly with Thompson’s recollection that he had seen a police Astra GTE while he was filling his car with petrol using the money loaned from Adams.

Another friend and workmate of Thompson’s claimed to have seen Adams and another man talking to Thompson in the Denton on the night of the murder, and that Thompson had later shown him a shotgun in a green nylon sports bag, although he admitted that he did not see Adams near the bag when Adams visited Thompson at work that same day.

Neil Graham – named by Thompson as being one false alibi witness that Adams had colluded with – was called as a prosecution witness. He revealed that Adams had been with him at Neil Duffy’s house at some point that evening, but had left, at some point, and was gone for a time, but he wasn’t sure for how long, but that they had returned, “later”, in testimony that surely kept the gallery captivated with its overwhelming detail.

And the last prosecution witness was a Home Office pathologist, a Dr Sunter. Thompson claimed that Adams told him, “There was blood everywhere. The blood was all the way up the wall on the side of the porch.” The role of this eminent pathologist was to testify that yes, after Jack Royal had been shot in the face, through a window, at near point blank range, with a shotgun, there was blood on the wall.

In his evidence Adams denied any knowledge or involvement. He did admit to having a shotgun for a few days at his house, but it was Thompson’s. He also admitted shooting the gun but that it had been Thompson’s friend Briggs, an ex-soldier, who had wanted to shoot it.

As for the night of the murder, yes, he and Hands had driven into Newcastle city centre with the intention of getting some food, but had changed their minds. This was at about 10:30pm. He corroborated the constables’ story about being stopped at 10:53pm. He said they got back to Duffy’s just after 11pm. They left between midnight and half past, called at Adams’ house to collect some keys, and was stopped again by police on his way to Newcastle airport (where his family had premises).

The defence called David Clarke, who had been a member of Thompson’s gang for the Thomas robbery. He said that in 1991 Thompson had told him he would like to shoot Adams, and “that it wouldn’t be the first time he had shot someone”. Clarke claimed that Thompson said that he and a friend had been paid to do the Royal murder and had carried out their contract. Clarke admitted that,  at his own trial two months earlier, he hadn’t mentioned this particular detail but had sought to discredit Thompson by other means.

Adams’ father William was called to testify that Adams had 24-hour access to their business premises at Newcastle airport, as Adams himself had claimed. His father said that the premises would have given him absolute privacy in which he could have destroyed the shotgun if he had so chosen. Strangely, he was also asked to testify about the amount of time it would take to destroy a shotgun with a stone mallet, presumably on the grounds that it was difficult to find a professional shotgun destroyer who specialised in using a stone mallet for shotgun destruction purposes at short notice and could act as an expert witness to the fact.

The defence brought up the soft sentence that Thompson got for the Thomas robbery. Thompson denied that he made a deal with police, and said under oath that the visit from Sharp and Mackie ‘came out of the blue’ and that he had no knowledge that it would happen beforehand.

Thompson claimed that he helped police with the Adams case purely as a matter of conscience, although interestingly Thompson’s conscience had remained unpricked whilst Walter Hepple stood trial for the same crime.

On 18th May 1993 the jury acquitted Hands and Catherine Thompson, but found Adams guilty. Logically this should have been impossible because of the nature of Thompson’s testimony – either you believed his story and all three were guilty or you didn’t and all three were innocent. Without Catherine Thompson there was no motive, and the police stops proved that Hands and Adams were together around the time of the murder. What was it that set Adams apart from the other two?

Shortly after the trial, three jurors contacted Adams’ family and said that the jury had been influenced by one particular juror who claimed to know Adams personally and possessed personal character information about him that had not come up in court. Adams’ team would later argue that this juror played a large part in convincing everyone else of Adams’ guilt, referring to Adams as a ‘bad lad’ and insinuating that he was connected to the local drugs trade. They argued that this was highly prejudicial, as the evidence against Hands was virtually identical but he was acquitted. The damage was done; Adams was in jail.

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