What has happened to Boris Johnson? Where is the bouncy, exuberant, can-do leader who led his party to a triumphant victory last December?
He pops up quite often to remind us of his existence —sending tweets, writing a newspaper article, giving short interviews, doing photo opportunities — but much of his famous elan has vanished.
Television news bulletins on Sunday evening showed Boris visiting an empty shopping centre before yesterday’s reopening. He looked exhausted, and limply went through the motions — trying unsuccessfully to inspire.
This diffident, downbeat Prime Minister is very far indeed from the barnstorming politician who during the election campaign persuaded millions of erstwhile Labour supporters to vote Tory.
Television news bulletins on Sunday evening showed Boris visiting an empty shopping centre (pictured) before yesterday’s reopening. He looked exhausted, and limply went through the motions — trying unsuccessfully to inspire
On policy, too, there is a lack of direction and a sense of drift. Just as many European countries are dispensing with quarantine measures, the Government introduces onerous new rules, thereby sending out a signal that Britain is not open for business.
On Sunday evening, President Emmanuel Macron announced a return to full schooling and the opening of restaurants across France. His message in a television address was that life is returning to normal.
It’s true, of course, that the cycle of the pandemic in the UK is at least two weeks behind France. But our authorities are proceeding with such extreme caution that it seems possible we will be labouring under the effects of lockdown when the rest of Europe is buzzing with life.
Most classes in British schools will remain cancelled for the foreseeable future. Social-distancing rules won’t be relaxed from two metres to one for several weeks while a committee laboriously chews over the matter. Thousands of businesses could go bust in the meantime.
There is a question we have to ask — and on the answer depend millions of livelihoods. Is the deflated, indecisive Boris now on view merely a temporary phenomenon, soon to be replaced by the dynamic leader people voted for?
Or are we witnessing the true Boris Johnson — a lively and engaging campaigner, to be sure, but someone ill-suited to the demands of the top job, and lacking the organisational skills, patience and good judgment to run the country?
Some Boris-watchers believe the latter, but I still cling to the hope he has what it takes. In recent months, he has gone through personal upheavals that would have undermined the mental wellbeing of any of us in normal circumstances. Yet he has been grappling with a dreadful pandemic.
While trying to cope, he has divorced Marina Wheeler, his wife of a quarter of a century, who often gave sage advice. His much younger (and, one may surmise, less worldly wise) fiancee Carrie Symonds has had a baby, who is likely to disrupt his sleep and soak up some of his flagging energy.
His much younger (and, one may surmise, less worldly wise) fiancee Carrie Symonds (pictured with the PM clapping for the NHS outside Number 10) has had a baby, who is likely to disrupt his sleep and soak up some of his flagging energy.
Even more pertinent to his apparent tiredness and absence of a clear sense of direction is Covid-19. His contracting a severe version of the disease, and time in intensive care, must have left their mark. Others similarly stricken speak of an enduring sense of exhaustion, and sometimes a degree of intellectual impairment.
These, as I say, would be heavy burdens for anyone at the best of times. I’ve little doubt they have affected the Prime Minister. Although one should never be over-sympathetic to politicians who seek high office (after all, no one asks them to) we should acknowledge his pluck in challenging circumstances.
Moreover, the things that have psychologically and physically dragged him down will get better. Though he can never rely on Marina’s counsel again, the pain of the divorce may begin to recede. Baby Wilfred may cry less at night. Most important of all, the lingering ill-effects of the disease will diminish.
The trouble is the country needs a clear-thinking and decisive PM now who can make up his mind on a number of crucial issues, and convey the sense that he and the Government have a long-term strategy. In short, that they know what they are doing.
And here, it seems to me, Boris Johnson is labouring under another burden: the weight of past mistakes over Covid-19. People rightly say these should be dealt with by a future inquiry. But I am sure undoubted errors partly explain — in addition to the personal problems I’ve mentioned — the Prime Minister’s cautious approach.
The fact is that, notwithstanding his critics’ claims, he is not a Trumpian narcissist wholly lacking in normal human empathy. He may be careless and inattentive, but he is also sensitive and well-meaning.
So he will have been wounded by the suggestion of leading epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson (a former Government adviser who resigned after breaking rules he had helped devise) that if the lockdown had been enforced a week earlier, 20,000 lives could have been saved.
Who wants to be accused of causing the deaths of many people? Certainly not Boris. He knows he’s already under attack for being asleep at the wheel at the end of February and early March, when the contagion gathered force, and for doing daft things such as attending a virus-spreading rugby match on March 7.
This helps explain why he is demonstrating such timidity. Despite advice by the World Health Organisation that one metre is sufficient for social distancing, and its adoption by many countries, most of the Government’s scientific advisers still insist on two.
As a result, the early return of schools has been thwarted — though if a bit more gumption had been shown by the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, more could have been accomplished even within the existing restrictions.
Pubs, restaurants, clubs and cafes have been told they should be able to open on July 4, but they have no idea whether the two-metre rule —economically catastrophic to nearly all of them — will still apply, and if so for how long. They are therefore unable to plan ahead.
Why, in God’s name, has No 10 only just set up a review to look into this issue when the problem has been obvious for weeks? And why is this body taking until next month to reach its conclusions?
Pubs, restaurants, clubs and cafes have been told they should be able to open on July 4, but they have no idea whether the two-metre rule —economically catastrophic to nearly all of them — will still apply, and if so for how long. Pictured: The Sherlock Holmes pub in Charing Cross closed
It should work around the clock until making up its mind. Thousands of businesses and millions of jobs are at stake. Yet, with its lack of planning and relaxed attitude, No 10 seems unable to grasp the acute seriousness of the situation.
Of course, I understand how difficult it would be for the Prime Minister to override the advice of scientists, which is at odds with that of many European counterparts on this and other issues. Having made mistakes in the recent past, he is terrified of doing so again, and precipitating a second wave of the contagion.
But I like to think the old, buoyant Boris Johnson — more confident of his judgment, less deferential to boffins, and readier to take a well-calculated risk — would not have watched and waited while the economy crashes.
If this country is to prosper again, we need that old Boris to shake off his demons, recover his brio and his health, and take control. Unless he does so, the outlook for him, and more importantly for the rest of us, is grim.
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What’s it like to marry a complete stranger?
Resplendent in white satin, her hair perfectly pinned and her make-up pristine, a blushing bride grips her brother’s arm as she takes a deep breath to calm her nerves.
On the other side of the solid oak door her handsome groom stares straight ahead, his palms sweating, his mind racing.
A ripple of excitement sweeps through the 40 guests as they eagerly wait for the ceremony to begin.
But this is no ordinary wedding. When the bride walks down the aisle and locks eyes with her husband-to-be, there isn’t the usual comforting look of love shared by a couple who have spent months planning their big day together.
Just six weeks earlier, Shareen and David were told they were each other’s perfect match and they agreed to get married, meeting for the first time on their big day. But these aren’t the usual young reality TV wannabes — David is a 56-year-old sales director and his bride is 47 and an events manager
That’s because this is the first time Shareen and her groom David have ever clapped eyes on each other.
They’re the latest desperate duo to put their hearts in the hands of a team of matchmaking experts for Channel 4’s hit show Married At First Sight.
Just six weeks earlier, Shareen and David were told they were each other’s perfect match and they agreed to get married, meeting for the first time on their big day.
But these aren’t the usual young reality TV wannabes — David is a 56-year-old sales director and his bride is 47 and an events manager. So was there instant chemistry when the pair met?
‘I looked at him and I felt that instant sigh of relief. I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a good-looking man. That’s a relief, wow, OK, I’m happy!’ ‘ laughs Shareen.
The feeling was mutual, it seems. ‘I fancied her the minute I saw her,’ admits David.
‘We were saying our vows and I got pretty emotional. We did end up having a bit of a fumble when it came to our first kiss. I went for the lips and she went for the cheek! But it was funny, it helped break the ice.’
For the first time ever the show, which first aired on Channel 4 in 2015 and is now on its fifth series, has opened up the process to people who are over 40, have children from previous relationships or have been married before.
Bosses claim this is in order to keep up with the times, as nowadays more people are finding their intended after they’ve reached 40.
But finding love in the 21st century is harder than ever before. Fast-paced lives and swiping left or right on superficial dating apps has left many singletons fearing a long, lonely life. So it’s no wonder that at the start of this year more than 7,000 Brits applied to be on the show.
David and Shareen are making show history as the oldest couple to be matched and married. They have five children between them, and while David was married for a decade, Shareen’s longest relationship of 15 years never saw her walk down the aisle.
When the bride walks down the aisle and locks eyes with her husband-to-be, there isn’t the usual comforting look of love shared by a couple who have spent months planning their big day together. That’s because this is the first time Shareen and her groom David have ever clapped eyes on each other
So why did this pair, who have both travelled the world and gained so much life experience, decide to pass control of their love lives to a team of expert matchmakers?
Shareen, who was born and raised in South Africa before moving to Wales, believes now is the time to put herself first after years dedicated to raising her three daughters, aged 24, 22 and 20, as a single mother.
‘My girls have been my driving force, they’ve been my reason why, but now I feel the next stage of my life is for me.
‘Single life is lonely — the thought of living the next 20, 30, 40 years and not sharing them with someone actually terrifies me.
‘Marriage is the one thing I haven’t been able to attain.’
Meanwhile, David, who lives in Herefordshire and has a son, 19, and daughter, 16, from his first marriage, admits he’s been a disastrous dater since his divorce in 2007.
‘I’m actually treating this more seriously, if anything, than my first marriage,’ he confesses.
‘I’m a little bit more grown up. I’ve had a dozen years to reflect on why the marriage didn’t work, and areas where I probably didn’t help that in the sense of communication. I think I’m a lot more relaxed now — I don’t sweat the small stuff any more.’
That’s probably a good thing when you’ve agreed to marry a complete stranger in front of your family and friends, not to mention millions of strangers who will be judging your decision from the comfort of their sofas.
Yet while the show is a firm favourite with viewers, of the 12 couples who have been on it, none of them is still married.
However, David and Shareen thought they would have better luck than past couples in finding the partner of their dreams, thanks to a new team of relationship experts.
For this series, Channel 4 bosses put together the self-titled ‘Avengers of Dating’, who claim that if they can’t match the right people to create a long-term marriage, then no one can.
Heading up the team is ‘Love Doctor’ Paul C. Brunson, who Oprah Winfrey describes as ‘much more than a matchmaker’ after working with him on her U.S. shows.
The smooth-talking American, who has been married for 20 years, is considered one of the most successful matchmakers in the world — a title he doesn’t plan to lose.
He’s joined by leading UK matchmaker Genevieve Gresset, and between them the pair have successfully brought together more than 100,000 people. Completing the new line-up is psychologist Dr Angela Smith, billed as the ‘walking lie detector’.
As in previous series, the singletons are put through rigorous interviews — but gone are the scientific tests and DNA profiling used in the past. Computers have been banned, and this time it’s all about the personal touch.
The matchmakers grill the singletons for hours. ‘It was very intensive,’ says David.
‘There were lots of trips to London to meet the matchmakers; they want to know everything about your backstory, all your life, your hobbies, your friends, your family. It was exhausting.
‘But it was quite enlightening because you’ve got to be able to vocalise what you’re looking for in a partner, what your core values are, what your morals are, so it does make you take quite a long, hard look at yourself.
‘It was quite surreal when they actually said ‘We’ve matched you’, especially as I knew how many thousands of people had applied. I’ve never won anything in my life. I’m never going to win the Lottery, so when they called I thought: ‘Wow, that doesn’t happen to me very often!’ ‘
Agreeing to marry a complete stranger is a brave decision for anyone, but throw a handful of children into the mix and it becomes even more complicated.
Thankfully, Shareen’s daughters were supportive. ‘They know the one thing that I’ve always wanted is to find a man to travel with,’ she says.
‘All they wanted was Mum to be happy, and if I can share the rest of my life with a man, they’re awfully supportive of that.’
Sadly the same can’t be said for David’s children, who were far from impressed by his choice to approach the show and bring a stepmother neither of them had met before into their lives.
‘They didn’t react well, if I’m honest,’ he admits.
‘I thought the youngsters would take on new ideas and actually roll with it — because I remember when online dating started and my generation was saying ‘Don’t tell people we met online’ — but they were very cynical.
‘Part of that is just being protective of me. They were asking me not to do it throughout the process, and it actually forced me to really think about my decision.
‘At the end of the day, when I had done all that self-reflection, it made me feel even more sure that Shareen and I would be a good match. Eventually, they came round to the idea, thankfully.’
As there were only six weeks between being matched and getting married, the couple had very limited input into their big day.
The venue — Eastwell Manor in Ashford, Kent — was chosen for them, as were the flowers, food, cake and decorations.
Relinquishing control was tough for Shareen, who makes a living planning events. But she did get to pick her own dress and the bridesmaids’ outfits her daughters wore on the day, as well as the music for the key moments.
Rather aptly, she chose to walk down the aisle to Bruno Mars’s hit Marry You, and when the newlyweds took to the dance floor for the first time as man and wife, it was to Could You Be The One? by Welsh rock band Stereophonics.
‘I think maybe because I’m not so young, it wasn’t all about the wedding for me,’ she says.
‘It was about actually meeting David.
‘I didn’t have a comedown during the whole day. It was like I was walking on air. I mean, everything was perfect — the venue, the flowers, the cake, the guests, the speeches, just perfect.
‘I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was everything I dreamed of and more.’
David agrees. ‘A lot of my friends described it as a fairy-tale wedding,’ he says.
‘It was a wonderful venue. Everything was perfect, including my bride. It was like we’d known each other a long time. Even our friends said that — it didn’t feel contrived, it didn’t feel forced. It was magical.’
The show follows David and Shareen from being matched to getting married, going on honeymoon and beginning their lives as newlyweds just as lockdown hit, putting extra pressure on their fledgling romance.
The conditions of the show give them ten weeks to make life as husband and wife work before they decide whether to part ways or remain in wedded bliss — and the clock starts ticking the moment they say ‘I do’.
The reason the programme has been so popular is that it throws up so many questions viewers are desperate to have answered.
Will the match work? Do their families like each other? Will they move in together? And if the sparks do fly, how quickly will they consummate the marriage?
‘Intimacy is vital; I have no inhibitions there,’ says Shareen with a wink, while refusing to reveal any more.
David adds: ‘My journey is 50 years with somebody, not two months. So if the chemistry happens on day one, wonderful. If it happens on day six, or month six, it doesn’t really bother me. I’ve been single for a year so it’s no rush for me in that department.
‘Coming on this show was about the next chapter of my life, and you’ll have to wait and see whether that’s going to be with Shareen or not.’
Married At First Sight airs on Tuesday at 9.30pm on Channel 4.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
HS2 activists get caught in a stand-off with security officers at treehouse camp
Protesters living in treehouses to stop an area of woodland being destroyed by the HS2 rail project clashed with police and security officers on Thursday.
A line of private security guards became involved in a stand-off with the environmentalists they are trying to evict from the site.
Nearly half of the ancient Jones’ Hill Wood near Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, is due to be destroyed to make way for HS2 this autumn, according to the Woodland Trust.
Protestors camped in trees that they are trying to stop being felled at Jones’ Hill Wood, near Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire, one of the woodlands which is due to be affected by the building of HS2
A HS2 protester looks from her treehouse as the tree protection camp faces eviction by the NET
Protestors who are camped in trees they are trying to stop being felled at Jones’ Hill Wood, near Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire, one of the woodlands which is due to be affected by the building of HS2
The wood is credited as the inspiration behind Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and the author was a regular visitor there.
Around 15 of the 40 activists manned makeshift treehouses 60ft above the woodland floor, where Thames Valley Police made three arrests.
Demonstrators, who range from teenagers to pensioners, have been fighting against the construction of the high-speed rail route through the wood for seven months – but evictions teams arrived to remove them yesterday morning. The mammoth rail project will see some 0.7 hectares of the 1.8-hectare site dug up.
Steve Masters, 50, a Green Party councillor on West Berkshire Council and the oldest protester camping in the tree canopy, said he had slept in the wood every night for the past three months.
: A HS2 protester traverses the canopy as the tree protection camp faces eviction
A HS2 protester looks from her treehouse. Around 15 of the 40 activists manned makeshift treehouses 60ft above the woodland floor, where Thames Valley Police made three arrests
The 1.8 hectare beech wood, one of 108 ancient woodlands that are scheduled to be destroyed along the proposed HS2 route, is considered a habitat of principal importance and home to bats, badgers, tawny owls, and foxes
The activist said he wants his three grandchildren to ‘grow up safe from the effects of climate change’ which he believes ‘will not happen if projects like HS2… are going ahead’.
The rail line will ultimately provide high-speed links between London Euston and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
But following a series of setbacks and delays, the initial £36 billion cost has now spiralled to £106 billion.
HS2 said in a statement: ‘The land at Jones’ Hill Wood is legally owned by HS2 and we need safe access to begin archaeology and ecology work.’
A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: ‘Our role is to ensure public safety, and facilitate a peaceful protest while at the same time ensuring HS2 Ltd’s legal rights to carry out their work.’
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
Mafia: Story of Gerald Shur who helped jailed 10,000 mobsters
His fellow inmates were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes when the men in black came for Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano.
It was an April morning in 1995, and a sharpshooter on board a black helicopter hovering over the Federal Correctional Institution in Phoenix, Arizona, watched as an armoured personnel carrier rumbled into the Mesa Unit, a high-security ‘prison within a prison’.
Six heavily armed men in black jumpsuits, their faces hidden by black hoods, jumped out and marched into the prison unit. They went straight to the cell of a solitary prisoner and ordered him to put on a bulletproof jacket.
They were there not to kill him but to save him.
Outside the prison, four cars were waiting to escort the personnel carrier at high speed to a nearby military airfield, where a Lear jet was waiting to fly to a destination unknown to anyone except four government officials. Gravano was going to meet Gerald Shur, the remarkable founder of the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Programme.
Gerald Shur, the retired founder and longtime head of the Federal Witness Protection Program, poses for a portrait May 6, 2002 at an undisclosed suburban location
Gravano, who had been involved in the murders of 19 people, had a $2 million bounty on his head for helping to put a string of Mob bosses, including the notorious John Gotti, in prison.
‘There were guards guarding guards guarding guards,’ recalled Mr Shur of the Bull’s protection.
Having served just five years in prison in exchange for giving evidence, the New York mobster was given a new identity — as ‘Jimmy Moran’ — and a new business, installing swimming pools in Arizona.
However, within months, he tired of the restraints of his government-managed new life and left the programme. In 2002, he was jailed for 20 years for running a drug-smuggling ring.
Gravano may have preferred to take his chances but thousands of others didn’t.
During his 34-year stint at the Justice Department, Shur — who recently died of lung cancer, aged 86 — provided new identities and homes for 6,416 witnesses, not to mention thousands of their dependents, including wives, children and even mistresses. Their evidence helped to convict at least 10,000 criminals — not only mobsters but, later, Latin American drug-traffickers and terrorists.
Joseph ‘The Baron’ Barboza, a tough talking former Mafia enforcer, sought to connect Frank Sinatra and three Boston sports figures with the New England crime syndicate headed by Raymond Patriaroa in testimony before the House Crime Committee
In the process, Shur naturally made himself very unpopular with criminals. (He spent his later years living with his wife on a converted trawler in Maryland, protected by a high-tech anti-intruder system and a lot of guns and ammunition.)
But Shur, a veteran New York prosecutor, knew the government had to do far more to protect organised crime witnesses, even if it meant giving them wholly new lives. This controversial policy has long been a mainstay of film and TV thrillers, including Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas, which features Ray Liotta’s memorable portrayal of the mobster Henry Hill, whose testimony resulted in 50 of his former Mafia associates being convicted.
But the real story — often even more outlandish than fiction — was revealed by Shur in a book he wrote with journalist Pete Earley in 2002 (Witsec: Inside The Federal Witness Protection Program). ‘No witness got protection without his personal attention,’ said Mr Earley. ‘He helped to create false backgrounds, arranged secret weddings, oversaw funerals.’
When, in 1961, Shur joined U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s war on organised crime as a Justice Department lawyer in New York, the Mafia was a powerful force in America. It expressed its displeasure at ‘rats’ who informed by brutally eviscerating them, so their demise would serve as a warning that anyone who ‘spilled his guts’ to the police would end up doing so literally.
Shur had witnessed at first hand the Mafia’s insidious power when, as a teenager, he saw thugs trying to intimidate his father, a Manhattan dressmaker, who worked in an industry the Mob had infiltrated.
‘My father hated the Mob and what it did to the community,’ he recalled. His father’s anger was ‘the fuel that fed my fire’.
As a federal organised crime investigator, he quickly came to realise the Mob bosses were virtually untouchable unless witnesses were prepared to give first-hand testimony.
Yet even when law enforcers had a willing witness, it was almost impossible to keep him alive.
John Gotti was pictured leaving The Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street In New York City’s Little Italy on the evening of his acquittal of Federal Racketering Charges in March or April 1990
In 1967, Joseph ‘The Animal’ Barboza agreed to testify that he had carried out 20 murders for New England’s Mob boss, Raymond Patriarca, after learning that the crime lord had put a $300,000 bounty on his head.
Barboza’s protectors in the U.S. Marshals Service initially hid him and his family in a lighthouse off the coast of Massachusetts, with 16 bodyguards. The day after they relocated him, a hitman had planned to crash a motorboat loaded with 1,600lb of dynamite into it.
At least five hitmen were waiting outside the courthouse when the trial started and one almost got into the court disguised as a policeman. Barboza’s lawyer lost a leg to a car bomb and the marshals ended up smuggling him to court in a post van, a sports car, a helicopter and even a fishing boat.
After the trial, Barboza and his family were housed along with the U.S. gold reserves in Fort Knox — the only place considered sufficiently safe.
Shur realised they couldn’t go on like this.
‘The solution was protection through anonymity,’ he said. ‘The best way to keep a witness safe was by moving him away from the danger area, to a place where no one knew who he was.’ After all, he reasoned, they weren’t dealing with sophisticated KGB spies but with mobsters who had often never left New York in their lives. The creation in 1970 of the witness protection programme (also known as Witsec, or witness security) to protect them both inside and outside prison was almost entirely Shur’s doing. And he made up the rules as he went along.
After giving evidence, witnesses had to be moved to a secret location in the U.S. and given a new identity. But Shur was worried that if they gave criminals too good a cover — especially a spotless financial history — it would enable them to start a new criminal career.
Instead they were given, at the very least, a new birth certificate, driving licence and social security card. Their children were even given new school records — but Shur drew the line at upgrading their exam results.
Witnesses had to accept a legal change of name (although they could keep their first name and initials) but could not tell friends or anyone beyond immediate family of their new identity. Witnesses could talk on the phone and correspond by mail — both had to go through their federal handlers — but that was it.
And for all the Mafia’s pride in its omerta, or code of silence, disaffected members were soon singing like canaries. In early 1970, on average one mobster a week was seeking witness protection. Four years later, the annual number had soared to 400.
By the 1980s, it cost Witsec an average of $40,000 each time it relocated a witness. Often, not only wives and children but also mistresses had to get the same service, as they were obvious targets for retaliation. Shur recalled how one witness asked him to protect his mistress but not his wife (he protected both women).
The government usually helped towards rent and food for a few years, but there were often extra costs. Aladena Fratianno, alias Jimmy the Weasel, the highest-ranking mobster ever to join the programme, even weaselled out of officials the cost of his mistress’s breast enhancement operation. Another witness had a penile implant funded by the U.S. taxpayer, after a psychologist warned that he might not be able to testify unless his ‘self-esteem’ was restored.
Shur countered that he set a high bar on who was admitted to the programme. ‘I guarantee you that the kind of people we accept are ones where if the guy testified on Monday morning and didn’t get protection, he would be dead by Monday afternoon,’ he said.
Shur’s biggest challenge was finding jobs for his ‘clients’, many of whom had never done an honest day’s work in their lives. He personally met corporation bosses and managed to persuade some to employ former hitmen as delivery drivers.
But Shur, a veteran New York prosecutor, knew the government had to do far more to protect organised crime witnesses, even if it meant giving them wholly new lives. This controversial policy has long been a mainstay of film and TV thrillers, including Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas, which features Ray Liotta’s memorable portrayal of the mobster Henry Hill, whose testimony resulted in 50 of his former Mafia associates being convicted
Although witnesses’ children were considered the greatest risk of giving the game away, witnesses themselves were sometimes their own worst enemy, even breaking Shur’s cardinal rule to never, ever return home.
One man who did turned the knob of his booby-trapped front door and was blown up.
For other witnesses, the main problem was going straight because, as one of Shur’s colleagues put it, they ‘simply didn’t know the direction’.
Joseph ‘The Animal’ Barboza — the mobster the Feds had tried so hard to protect — moved to California, murdered a fellow drug dealer and was shot dead within minutes of trying to extort money from a bookmaker, revealing his real identity for added effect.
And Marion ‘Mad Dog’ Pruett, who was given a new identity in 1979 after testifying about a prison killing, two years later went on a crime spree that included murdering his wife and four other people, and robbing a string of banks to feed his $4,000-a-week cocaine habit. Local police were furious they had never been told of his true identity.
The first big ‘star’ of the protection programme was Vincent ‘Fat Vinnie’ Teresa, a 21-stone Mafia hitman who helped convict 50 gangsters in 19 trials.
Teresa, who once ran a loan-shark company and kept a tank of piranhas in his office, into which he forced latepayers’ hands, was one of many witnesses who relished their fame and kept giving new Mafia names to prosecutors to remain in the limelight.
Eventually, he was relocated to a seaside town and given a fish shop to run. Within weeks, he had to be moved after other fish traders complained that someone was breaking their windows. He was next given a bar in Texas but one night got very drunk, climbed on to the bar and told everyone who he really was.
Teresa went on to rack up a string of convictions.
‘He just couldn’t stop conning people,’ said Shur.
But no witness conned quite like Hugh Wuensche, who was provided with a new identity in 1971 after he testified that he had laundered $50 million of stolen securities for the Mob.
He had a British wife and chose to relocate to England. A year after leaving, he sent one of Shur’s colleagues a Christmas card saying that he was now living in a 17th-century mansion, had a chauffeur-driven Bentley and owned his own bank.
A year later, he sent another Christmas missive, this time from prison and apparently written on lavatory paper. It transpired that he had used his new identity to commit a $2 million fraud. Furious that it had never been warned about him, the British government made a formal complaint to the State Department but Shur refused to repatriate him.
Although Shur insisted that his strategy was the only way to win criminals’ co-operation and break the Mob, some U.S. marshals resented having to protect hoodlums who were often getting paid more than they were.
They certainly made a few terrible slip-ups — some them possibly intentional — such as paging a witness by his real name over an airport tannoy, putting another in a jail with his sworn enemies, and redirecting post to witnesses with ‘U.S. Marshals Service/Witness Security’ as the return address.
However, that didn’t stop Shur viewing his project as a success.
Some witnesses may have become so depressed in the programme that they attempted suicide. But Shur was proud to say that no witness who followed his rules was ever found and killed.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
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