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Royals, Clubland and Two Unsolved Murders: The Inside Story of the 'Cornerman'

The 'Cornerman' ran the doors on Prince Harry and Kate Middleton's favourite nightclubs before being jailed for drugs and blackmail. But was he also behind two of London's most notorious gangland killings?

by Alon Aviram and Michael Gillard
13 August 2019, 10:18am

Andy Baker leaving court in May of 2006. Photo: Andrew Parsons / PA Archive / PA Images

After September the 11th, Scotland Yard began diverting manpower and resources away from fighting organised crime, and towards the war on terror. One gangster used this new breathing space wisely.

Dubbed the "Cornerman" because he "took a corner" out of every crooked deal that came his way – from property and sports management to extorting tattoo parlours, bars and lap dance venues – Andy Baker honed his skills in London under the umbrella of the notorious Adams crime family, before running drugs and protection rackets for his own criminal enterprise outside the capital, in Bristol and beyond.

For two decades he walked around freely, all while 13 people were kept in the police witness protection scheme, some after giving evidence against him when he was prosecuted – and then acquitted – for kidnap, extortion and murder. Last year, however, Baker's cockiness and choice of loose-lipped sidekicks finally proved his undoing when he was jailed for 11 years and six months on drugs and blackmail charges.

Using police files and access to a well-placed source inside the Adams crime family who is speaking for the first time, VICE reveals Baker's role in two of the UK's most important and still unsolved gangland murders.

Arguably the most infamous London gangland family since the Krays, the Adams are a band of London-Irish brothers who made their money from drugs and laundered it through their nightclubs. Like Miami mobsters, Terry, Patrick and Tommy Adams lived large, broke bones – or worse – and paid off dirty cops and men in suits for "koshering up" their criminal proceeds.

Yet, in March of 1998, at the height of their grip on London's underworld, the family's top enforcer – 37-year-old Gilbert "The Stick" Wynter – disappeared. Eight months later, their chief money launderer, 48-year-old Solly Nahome, was gunned down on his doorstep by a hitman riding pillion on a motorbike. Criminals, detectives and crime reporters spread gossip that rival gangsters, perhaps from overseas, had ordered the contract killings, or that the murders were the twisted outgrowth of an internal feud.

Wynter and Nahome were very important to the operation, but closer to Terry Adams, the oldest brother and boss of the family. Some speculated that only he would authorise the ironing out of two such heavyweights, but the police bugs hidden inside Terry's home showed a crime boss knocked sideways by the two murders.

Ironically, one of the men he sent out to find answers was someone detectives suspected was behind the killings. According to a well-placed Adams insider, it would be ten years before the police revealed the man's name to Nahome's widow: Andy Baker.

Andrew Baker mugshot
Andy Baker's mugshot.

The Cornerman's story starts in the early 1990s, in Chelsea's high society nightclubs.

The young Baker started off as a bouncer in the Epsom, Surrey area where he was born, before catching his big break working for a group of well-heeled young nightclub entrepreneurs behind the Po Na Na group – known as "the plums" – who provided the Negronis and nights out to A-list celebrities and the Sloanie set.

A nightclub source close with knowledge of this relationship claimed the plums enjoyed the frisson of having Baker around: "They're almost Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-type characters – public schoolboys running clubs – and someone's said, 'You need a gangster looking after you, sunshine,' and they've sucked it all up and thought it was rather glamorous."

During his recent trial, Baker described how, in the early-90s, Christian Arden – then-chairman of Po Na Na – gave him "a chance" to work for his public company and "earn a very good living and live a very nice lifestyle".

However, it was another plum, nightclub kingpin Howard Spooner, who Baker stayed most loyal to over the years. Spooner, a former student at Gordonstoun – the top public school where his parents taught and Prince Charles was educated – has had a troubled association with Baker for over 20 years. The pair were arrested and released without charge in 1999 over an alleged shooting incident at a garage in west London, while a few years later Spooner stood surety for Baker when he was tried and acquitted of kidnapping a printer involved in the club business.

"Baker was my security consultant, who negotiated rates with security companies and made sure we were with the right ones that didn't have gangsters behind them," Spooner explained.

The entrepreneur, who owns pubs and a racehorse with pools heir Guy Sangster, said he didn't believe Baker was a gangster until his recent conviction: "I had no idea. I thought he was a bit of a geezer that liked to drop loads of names. He didn't drop gangster names on me; he dropped posh, rich, influential people's names that he claimed to know, to do business with. It was all Lords and Ladies."

prince harry public
Prince Harry leaving Public in September of 2011. Photo: EDB Image Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Spooner became friendly with princes William and Harry when they and the Middleton sisters, including princess-to-be Kate, started coming to his Chelsea nightclub Public in 2010. Spooner first took over the club in 1994, when it was called Embargo, and almost immediately Gilbert Wynter – who'd been recently acquitted of killing a former Olympic athlete with a samurai sword – muscled in, with Baker by his side.

"Gilbert was one of the most intimidating and fearless people ever. He was fully aware of the impact he had on people," said the Adams family insider. "He was always immaculate, almost dandy-like in the way he dressed and with his cane."

In 1997, Baker stepped up when Wynter went to visit his mother in Jamaica. "Andy was the brightest of a bunch of goons [working] for Gilbert," said the insider. "He's got a natural cunning when it comes to making money."

In 1996, while Wynter was overseas, Spooner sold Embargo and bought a new club down the road in Fulham – Leopard Lounge, whose investors included Lord Edward Spencer Churchill, a relative of Britain's wartime leader. Wynter saw himself as a silent investor in Embargo, and when he returned from Jamaica he demanded his cut from the Leopard Lounge, or else threatening to take Spooner for a long walk.

Then, one morning in March of 1998, it was Wynter who disappeared, never to be seen again. Police sources say Andy Baker's name came into the frame almost immediately. Support for the theory came from a former associate of both men, David Duff, who was taken into the witness protection scheme in 2003 after a fallout with Baker. Duff claimed to the police that Baker had admitted murdering Wynter with the help of a childhood friend at a flat in Chelsea, to take over his security operation and retain Spooner as a "golden goose" client.

"Gilbert would never have believed that anyone would have had the guts to kill him in such close proximity," said the Adams family insider, adding that Wynter was not himself at the time of his disappearance. "Gil was very dishevelled," they said, "and looked to me as if he was on drugs in the way he had let himself go."

Spooner said he was unaware of the threat to his life from Wynter until the police mentioned it to him ten years later, while investigating Baker for the suspected murder of a prison guard – of which he was acquitted. "I never had any contact with [the Adams] family," said Spooner. "I've never met Wynter or had anything to do with him, and I told the police that."

Last year, detectives questioned Spooner after secretly watching one of Baker's gofers collect envelopes of cash from his Clapham Grand club in south London. "Baker earns £300 a week from us as a security consultant. He's been paid in a variety of ways, depending on how he wants it," Spooner explained.

solly nahome
Solly Nahome. Photo provided.

In November of 1998, the Adams family suffered a second blow when Solly Nahome was shot dead on his doorstep in Finchley. Minutes earlier he'd sung "It's Not Unusual" down the phone to his wife, Joanna Barnes, in anticipation of a Tom Jones concert. The couple hadn't been married long, and had a baby daughter. Terry Adams had been the best man at their wedding and Wynter was a guest.

At the time of his murder, Nahome was helping Terry Adams sell a lease for the Connaught Rooms, a grand wedding reception complex in central London, for £370,000. David Duff claimed to police that Baker was skimming money off the cash payments from the buyer and had said he didn't care if Nahome found out, saying he would soon be dead. The story chimed with other police intelligence, which linked the Wynter and Nahome murders to a land deal in Lancashire.

According to a police report seen by VICE, Terry Adams, Gilbert Wynter and Solly Nahome were part of a group of gangsters investing in the Hanging Chadder Quarry project. They planned to sell sand excavated from the quarry to builders and fill the hole with waste from the forthcoming 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. When paved, the land would become a cash business lorry park, where the gangsters could launder their money.

But the project was beset with objections from the local community and, by November of 1998, the Adams family wanted their £300,000 investment back. Nahome was supposed to meet Ken Pilkington, the Manchester businessman fronting the deal, on the Friday he was shot – but Pilkington told the police he cancelled the meeting and was on the phone to his solicitor when Nahome died.

A police document seen by VICE told another story: "Intelligence links Pilkington to an Andy Baker, who following the disappearance of Wynter took over the running of security at most of the clubs the Adams had an interest in. It is known that following the [Nahome] murder [Baker] received a phone call to tell him that 'the accountant is dead', and he then in turn contacted Pilkington."

The document continued: "Baker subsequently received a large amount of cash, which he used as a cash deposit on a house in the West Country. Baker is in turn linked to a Newcastle based violent criminal who fits the description of the suspect. Baker was in London and has no alibi for the time of the shooting. Subsequent to the murder [the Newcastle man] deposited £5,000 in cash into his bank account. Previous to that, the account was usually in the red or with minimum funds."

The Adams family insider claimed that ten years after Nahome's murder the police told his widow that Baker was a suspect. The detectives didn't name Pilkington, who remained friends with Joanna Barnes after the assassination and died of natural causes shortly before the police visit in 2009.

"The stuff about the land deal is right," said the Adams insider. "Ken had been very close to Gilbert for decades and had stayed with Solly and Jo when he was down from Manchester. Ken definitely had some psychotic tendencies – he claimed he'd been sectioned twice and once went with Jo to the local supermarket in nothing but his pants. She had no idea he was involved in Solly's death."

Further corroboration of Baker's alleged involvement in the Wynter and Nahome murders came from an unlikely source – his ex-wife. Vanessa Heather, the wayward daughter of a police officer, was taken into witness protection in 2006 soon after Baker's acquittal on charges of forcing at gunpoint the director of Queen's Park Rangers football club to sign over his shares and resign.

Heather was one of 13 people who the police took into witness protection between 2002 and 2006 because of Baker. Andy Baker declined to answer questions about the murders of Wynter and Nahome, which the Met are still investigating.

Baker appeared untouchable until 2017, when Avon & Somerset police began secretly targeting his organised crime group.

A bug in Baker's car secured vital evidence of his involvement in the supply of cocaine from London and a conspiracy to blackmail Bristol businessmen. He was found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to blackmail in two trials, and jailed for 11 years and six months at Bristol crown court in December of 2018.

As he was sent down, Baker sung The Clash's "I Fought the Law".

This is an abridged and updated version of a series of articles about the Cornerman published in the Bristol Cable.

@mr_gillard / @AlAviram