Fixers are the consultants of the criminal underworld. Paid to organize crimes without actually getting involved in any of the hands-on stuff, they're capable of earning large sums of money purely for advising the bank robbers and smash-and-grabbers who employ them.
A couple of years ago, while trying to make a name for myself as a writer, I ghost-wrote a number of true crime autobiographies. One of the people I wrote for was a guy named Colin Blaney, a former member of a Manchester, UK gang called the Wide Awake Firm, who introduced to me a highly respected fixer. "Mr. C" was responsible for organizing a wide variety of crimes, and agreed to talk to me on the condition of anonymity.
VICE: What exactly is the role of a fixer?
Mr. C: A fixer is a person who can influence or set up a time and a place for the perfect robbery. He can organize a person or group of people so they get the job done, so it happens as planned, so it goes off to a tee. The term applies in the same way in the drug world; it's somebody who's behind the scenes, organizing the movement of drugs. Drug cartels will trust the fixer to plan how they move the drugs, how the money is laundered, when the product's coming through, how much of it is coming through, which countries each bit's going to, and so on.
Talk me through the process of fixing a robbery then. What does it entail?
Well, I'll give you an example. I know of a job that was done where a load of expensive watches were stolen. The guys had a car and a motorbike stolen in advance. On the day of the robbery they went into the shop, took all of the high-priced watches out and bagged them up. They knew that they only had a certain length of time before the helicopters scrambled, so they did it quickly and then jumped into the car, knowing it would be spotted right away and the police would be looking for it. They then drove to a set of bollards. A motorcycle was positioned there. The police can't go through bollards, so the robbers could escape that way.
There was a van with a ramp leading into the back of it positioned at another point in their escape, and they drove straight up into it. The coppers were looking for the car or guys who had abandoned it and were on foot, not knowing that the guys were in the back of a van. All of this was arranged by a fixer. Your average person wouldn't have a clue, which is why one was needed.
A fixer is familiar with other techniques for doing the perfect robbery, too. Sometimes they'll plan it so that the robbers let an explosion off or burn a car out somewhere else before the robbery takes place so the police will go straight to that. They'll make sure it's in a parking lot at a supermarket so that the police think, We don't want another car blowing up so close to that grocery store. It's a diversion technique. A fixer also tells people how to avoid getting caught through police technology.
So they need to stay abreast of advances in technology?
Yeah, big time. The police have a new piece of technology now where, when you're balaclava'd up and going in to do a job, they take the outline of your face and use it to identify you. It's based on where the bones in your face are. It's like a fingerprint, but what you do to disguise that is put a rubber mask on underneath the balaclava, making sure that you buy the thinnest one that you can get so that it doesn't look too obvious. You can use one of those masks that kids wear on Halloween. The way the technology works is that the police need to identify a certain amount of points that correspond to the points in your face so that they can make an arrest. I think it's 16 points.
And presumably you can make technology work in your favor, too?
Yeah, fixers can sometimes advise grafters how to use it to their advantage—for example, giving them a tracking device attached to a magnet and telling them to throw it under a cash-in-transit van. The robbers can then follow where the van goes. A lot of the time nowadays there's a police car following the van. Sometimes it will be a marked car, but sometimes the vans are followed by unmarked cars. If the police think a job's going down, there'll be a couple of unmarked cars and they'll have firearms teams in the vehicles. These are all things that a fixer is clued in on.
How would the police be aware of the fact that a job is about to go down?
There are a lot of grasses around. Some people have too many drinks and put too much cocaine up their noses and talk about stuff. Sometimes, someone will walk into a police station and say, "I was in the pub last night and these lads were all coked out of their heads and talking about this G4S van." A lot of them do it out of jealousy, because they're working all day and see the grafters driving around in top-of-the-range Golf Rs or the new R8 Audi. Next thing, they're in the fucking police station or they're phoning Crimestoppers.
Apart from being knowledgeable about crime, what other qualities does a fixer need to have?
They need to be strong, strong men. If they're good at intimidating people, they can give out orders. A fixer needs to be somebody who never, ever talks about his business. If they see him in the street, people should think he's just a normal Joe Public, even though deep down in the underworld he's the one doing the organizing. He might not have a mansion; he might only have a little house, and he might feel comfortable like that.
How much do fixers get paid by the people who carry out the crimes?
Well, if the lads who do the graft are getting a million dollars and there's three of them on the job, they'll probably give the fixer 75 grand.
How often are fixers caught?
The fixer is the person who a lot of people don't see. Even though he gets money back off the grafters, he'll have someone else doing a lot of the face-to-face interactions, which means they're very rarely caught.
Do fixers usually gather intelligence about specific times and places to strike during robberies? Or is it up to the people who are going to be carrying out the robbery to provide all of the necessary information?
It depends, but usually the fixer has done a bit of reconnaissance. I'll give you an example; in the late 70s and 80s, grafters used to rob jewelers' sales representatives as they transported jewelery from one place to another. This mixed-race kid from north Manchester, who I'll call "Mr. R," was one of the main fixers for this type of crime. He was a big boozer and always used to booze with the Quality Street Gang [an organized crime group that was active in Manchester from the 1960s to the 1980s]. After a while, he started following reps and finding out which cafes they stopped at for their lunch, and which gas stations they used. Once he'd done this for a while, Mr. R would give the QSG the details of when they could strike for a theft. He would always be tailing a different rep and, every couple of weeks, one would pay off.
Do you ever find yourself looking at crimes on the news and thinking how you would have planned them differently?
Yeah. One example is the Great Train Robbery. Apparently they had a fixer who sorted the removal of all of the incriminating evidence and fingerprints, which wasn't done properly. If I'd been the fixer for that, I would have burned the evidence so that there was nothing whatsoever left. They exposed themselves right away by leaving fingerprints.
Rookies. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Only that I'm out of the game now and have been crime-free for the last six years.
Thanks, Mr. C.