TWO men who shot dead a celebrity minder with an AK47 Kalashnikov assault rifle after rumours that he had turned police informant were jailed for life for his murder yesterday.
Dave King, 32, a body builder who had minded Robbie Williams, the singer, and Nigel Benn, the boxer, was hit by five of 26 rounds fired as he left the Physical Limits gym in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.
It is thought that the gangland killing was the first time that such a weapon had been fired in automatic mode during the execution of a crime in Britain, police said. The rifle, described by officers as “a weapon of war”, discharged the armour-piercing bullets in three seconds but no one else was hurt in the shooting.
Mr King, a 6ft 2in, 17-stone muscleman, said to have been a drug dealer who also ran property and security companies, died almost instantly in the drive-by shooting in October 2003. The man who pulled the trigger, Roger Vincent, 33, was told that he must serve a minimum of 30 years.
At Luton Crown Court, Mr Justice Wilkie told Vincent: “This was a thoroughly planned, ruthless and brutally executed assassination of a criminal led by you. It was committed in a public street in day-time and involved an automatic firearm, and it is only by great good fortune that no other passers-by were seriously injured or worse.”
David Smith, 33, who had driven the stolen Peugeot Boxer van from which the weapon was fired, was told that he must serve a minimum 25 years.
But who ordered the murder remained a mystery last night. The judge said Vincent had carried out the contract killing at the behest of “others” not before the court. During the six-week trial the jury was told that Vincent had been in regular contact with fellow hitman Gary Nelson who was being held in Belmarsh Prison.
In a series of phone calls taped by prison authorities Vincent and Nelson, who is now serving a life sentence for firearms offences, spoke in code to confuse the authorities. But it was clear that the pair talked about a shadowy senior underworld figure whom they referred to as “Dad”.
King, 32, lived in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, with his girlfriend and their four children. After his death, police discovered that King, who had been friends with his killers and others in their circle, had been heavily involved in crime.
The prosecution said he died because he had made enemies among his former associates, probably because they thought he was an informer.
Through the grapevine King learned that a contact had been taken out on his life.
Upon leaving the gym with his friend and bodyguard Ian Crocker, King was getting into the passenger seat of a car without his customary bulletproof vest when the van pulled alongside and the masked gunman fired the AK47 through an open window.
In a hail of bullets, he was hit in the arm, hip, abdomen and thigh, but died from a chest wound.
The following day a couple walking beside Breydon Water in Great Yarmouth discovered a partially submerged holdall. Inside was the Kalashnikov wrapped in towels and a pillowcase.
Co-defendant Julian Elfes, 38, was convicted of assisting an offender. He was jailed for five years for booking an hotel room to allow Vincent to lie low. A fourth man, Jason Attridge, 36, was cleared of murder. Dean Spencer, 31, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder and awaits sentence.