It's a Guy Thing

From Hell to the Heavens

The curious case of Mr. F 

According to Albert Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” And who am I to argue with such a luminary? Little did I know that this piece of guidance would begin to prove itself on a scrap of paper. Nor, come to think of it, did I ever imagine that as a direct consequence I would be intimately exposed to the ‘perfect murder’ of an MI6 operative, the harrowing searches for hidden homicide victims, and eventually an uplifting spirit of adventure born out of the tragic death of a child. 

The route from Dublin airport to County Mayo, in the Northwest tip of Ireland, meandered across some of the most stunning countrysides I had ever seen – lush open green fields dotted with the odd rustic dwelling, and lakes that shimmered like giant tears, surrounded by thick woodland. Alone in my hire car, I constantly stopped just to breathe it all in. Sightseeing was not, however, my intended purpose. It was the business of risk that had taken me to this incredible part of the world and keeping staff safe at one of the most divisive locations, on behalf of a global energy provider, was my ultimate goal. Serious protestor activity coupled with local tensions had created a perfect storm of intimidation and potential violence, and my expertise was sought to better protect those working on the project. 

Up early the following day along with other colleagues, I was chauffeured across a differing terrain – peatland stretched as far as the eye could see, with the flatness only interrupted by hardy bushes and stricken, weathered trees which at dawn resembled skeletal fingers pointing skyward. On reaching the coastline the vicious Atlantic waves battered the beautiful granite cliffs with unrelenting force and the ensuing rain made me squint, despite having donned protective gear from head to toe. 

On the way back we called into a local pub, and as we walked in, I was immediately reminded of a scene from the film “An American Werewolf in London.” The hubbub was replaced by an ominous quiet. Did we Englishmen have some form of obvious vibe, or did we simply look out of place? An hour or so drive from the border of Northern Ireland, I had been briefed previously about the legacy of sectarianism. As I quietly, and swiftly, drank my pint of Guinness I was minded to conclude that this latent discord still bubbled under the surface. 

It wasn’t long before we had gathered sufficient evidence to inform the client that a professional cadre of protestors had landed. The increased sales of plastic downpipes, typically used to manufacture ‘lock-on’s’ (allowing protestors to securely harness themselves to, amongst other things, vehicles) and locals reporting an influx of unusual camping activity were the most obvious data streams. Overheard conversations revealed that some had traveled from abroad and were planning significant disruption to operations both at land and sea. The latter engaged with the deployment of The Solitaire, a 96,000-ton monster of a pipe-laying ship, with a crew of over four hundred anchored just off the rugged coast of Corrib. The finances associated with the hiring of this vessel were simply staggering and every moment lost, due to any form of interruption, was colossal. My area of responsibility was straightforward, and a training plan was readily agreed upon. 

The Solitaire 

At dinner that night, tucking into the best quality steak in town, there was no better way to while away the evening than by shooting the breeze about the good old days with my colleague Merv, a former boss in the police, and silver commander at the notorious Newbury Bypass in rural Berkshire. This policing operation had seen the birth of domestic eco-extremism, where protestors had literally buried themselves deep underground to thwart the construction of the carriageway. The mere thought of locking myself in such a subterranean hell, let alone trying to safely remove someone, brought back my own anxieties of claustrophobia. I steered the conversation back to the present day and the issues relating to the sea, an environment that made me feel equally uncomfortable, especially following my own experiences earlier that day, as the force of the ocean showed zero respect for the sanctity of human life. 

Our mutual assumption was that inflatables and single canoes would be deployed to frustrate the pipe laying and although the local Garda (Irish police) confidently predicted that they would spoil any attempts to do so, neither of us were convinced, simply because they had never dealt with this type of committed and agile foe before. I then asked a naive question, “Who could beat them?” Merv reached inside his jacket pocket, removed a pen, wrote on a napkin, and handed it to me. “You need to call this man.” I saw a mobile phone number under ‘Mr. F’. Like a scene from a spy movie, my gaping-mouthed response was halted as in a hushed voice he explained, “Peter Faulding, the guy who defeated Swampy and his friends at Newbury. That’s all you need to know.” That night I didn’t sleep that well. The combination of intrigue and isolation are never good bedfellows. 

Mr F with ‘Muppet Dave’ 

The cheery greeting caught me by surprise. My first contact with Peter, founder, and CEO of Specialist Group International (SGI), wasn’t the whispered, secretive dialogue I was expecting. Within a few days, I was parked outside an inconspicuous industrial unit in the south of England. After the tour of his headquarters, I was convinced that his operations had fused together the attributes of the “A-Team” and Gerry Anderson’s “International Rescue”. Deepwater apparatus, climbing gear, and sophisticated ground-penetrating radar equipment used to locate human remains, adorned each separate bay alongside a myriad of other technical kits. As we drank tea and chatted, I immediately warmed to this hitherto man of mystery. I explained the Irish scenario and he started to map out a comprehensive plan. I was intrigued to discover how he had been drawn into the police operation at Newbury and his route into such a narrow discipline. 

I had never seen tunneling, or to be more accurate, working in confined spaces, as an option on my school curriculum. In his now familiar quiet, but detailed narrative, Peter reflected upon his life journey, which had started with exploring old firestone mines deep under the green fields of Surrey with his dad. The opportunity to fill an exposed operational gap within the police response to the two-year construction of the bypass came by chance, and shortly after his fledgling business faltered as a consequence of the dark dealings of others. There was an unmistakable metaphor in the making – working below ground and losing his house in 1991 would have broken more ordinary folk. 

A young Peter Faulding 

Presenting our plan to a mixed client and Garda audience became visibly and increasingly hostile as the latter group refused to accept that their mitigation plan was inferior. This intransigence didn’t falter, even when Merv explained the obvious need to collaborate with specialized partners when new forms of activism took hold. My uncomfortable feeling at the pub a few weeks earlier once again filled the auditorium. Throughout Peter remained remarkably relaxed. I was less so and angry that a clear bias towards anything different was becoming the persuasive pitch. During a welcome break, I invited the client executive team into a side room along with Mr. F. My bluntness and Peter’s calm won the client over and we teamed up on the project which eventually propelled both of our businesses onto a new level and forged an important friendship, allowing me to chronicle some of the more intriguing and poignant cases that have seen us talk long into the night. 

My usual greeting is, “Mr. Bond!” since the SGI portfolio often resembles a briefing by M, the fictional Ian Fleming character who is Head of the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6. This enigmatic organization was subject of the full public gaze when one of their operatives was found dead in the most bizarre circumstances which wouldn’t have been out of place in any Cubby Broccoli production. 

In 2010, Pimlico, London, the body of codebreaker Gareth Williams, 31-years, was discovered naked in a holdall placed in his bath. If this wasn’t unusual enough, the makeshift coffin was zipped up and padlocked from the outside in true Harry Houdini fashion. Immediate media speculation exploded around his sexuality, with some observers suggesting that the real-life spook, with an appetite for cross-dressing, had suffocated during a lone sadomasochistic activity. After a three-year investigation, the Metropolitan Police concluded that he had locked himself inside and there was no trace of foul play. Case closed. Peter thought differently and I was on the same page. 

Called as an expert witness, even to this day Peter’s skills relating to conquering confined spaces have never again been tested to this extreme. Of similar stature to the deceased, he tried more than three hundred times to fold himself into the bag. His attempts to secure himself in the same manner also failed. At the inquest, and in direct opposition to the posture of the police, Peter demolished their claim, adding, “There was unidentified DNA found – but none of Gareth’s own DNA on the padlock, the zipper, or the bath screen, and no palm prints on the bath from lowering himself in. Nothing.” The coroner ruled that this had been an unlawful killing. To date, no one has been arrested in relation to this crime. Peter and I have often deliberated over the who and the why. Our speculations will remain between ourselves but as to the conspiracies that suggest the ‘perfect crime’ I will leave you to decide. 

Crime is compelling viewing, no more so than when a white tent appears – the site of the murder victim. Forensic teams come and go, dressed in full-body paper suits. Peter is no stranger to these scenes. Locating the victims, often of brutal killings, has become commonplace, yet one case remains central. The victim he has yet to find. 

In 1988 Helen McCourt was killed after leaving work in Billinge, three miles north of St Helens in Merseyside. Despite the absence of a body the police built a compelling case against Ian Simms, a local pub landlord, who was jailed for life for her murder the following year. An evidence trail, including a claim that the killer drove to Rixton claypits, coupled with corroborative samples in his car and on dumped clothing, along with the discovery of a spade belonging to the murderer at the bottom of an eighteen-foot-deep flooded gully, sealed his fate. Helen’s mother Marie championed a successful campaign that led to the passing of “Helen’s Law” in 2019, requiring convicted murderers to disclose the location of their victim’s remains before parole could be considered. In the case of Simms, the decision by the parole board was to grant his release on license shortly before the legislation received Royal Assent. Although the McCourt family sought to keep him incarcerated, the High Court rejected this bid and Simms was released. Having conducted a cold case review Peter remains convinced that Simms concealed Helen’s body proximate to nearby woods. Bodybuilder Simms would have been able to remove her body from his car with little difficulty, albeit carrying her in this terrain for more than fifty meters or so would have become unsustainable. As Peter reflected, “All the evidence points to this location.” Adding, “He had only seven hours, so he buried her in a grave no deeper than 1.5 meters.” He continues to offer his truly unique expertise. 

She knows Helen is dead and just wants closure.” Giving hope in such incredibly harrowing circumstances is nothing short of humbling. 

As a cop, I attended many sudden deaths. Most were of natural causes leading to a sense of realism and dignified respect since that is the way of life. Only a handful were ever as the result of crime. Conversely when SGI are called in it is at the tipping point where hope ebbs away and despair rushes in. There is probably no more painful example than that of the appalling death of six-year-old Lucas Dobson. Falling into the River Stour at Sandwich, south of Ramsgate, whilst out fishing with his dad Nathan, he was swept away by the strong currents, even though he could swim. His body was found four days later by Peter and his team. This was a turning point for Mr. F. The recovery of those who drown alone in terror would eventually catch up with even the most resilient, and Peter decided that he had to do something to mitigate these often-avoidable tragedies. Together Nathan and Peter launched The Lucas Dobson Water Safety Campaign. The initial aim was to provide schools across Kent with lifejackets for children and their families to borrow whenever they visited water. The movement has expanded and in true Peter style the reach has gone skyward. Flying across the country he descends from the heavens in his helicopter and hands out these lifesavers to hundreds of excited kids. 

Fate brought us together and our camaraderie has meant that we can laugh together, often in the face of adversity. Tweaking the opening monologue of the A-Team, “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them… maybe you can hire the SGI-Team.” On a more serious note, the not-so-curious Mr. F is one of the good guys and I am proud to call him my friend. 

© Ian Kirke 2021 

All photographs reproduced by kind permission of Peter Faulding