Fireworks exploded over Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. SIPA USA/PA Images

'Protecting the 2012 Games by covering up a scandal was more important than protecting Londoners'

Read this extract from Michael Gillard’s book on the Olympics.

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from Legacy by Michael Gillard.

The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.

– The Olympic Creed

The breaking news sent officials at the Olympic stadium into a panic. London’s closing ceremony was just hours away but the heavily choreographed event, themed around the history of British pop music, might have to be cancelled for safety reasons.

Eight miles away, one of the largest waste recycling plants in Europe had caught fire and a menacing cloud of toxic smoke was drifting slowly towards the new stadium. Hundreds of firefighters had been attacking the blaze since the afternoon but couldn’t get it under control. The London Fire Brigade told reporters they’d seen nothing like it and feared the heat could trigger an explosion at a nearby oil depot. Scrambled helicopters periodically buzzed above the inferno in Dagenham, filming a spaghetti junction of hoses spraying the burning shell of a one-storey building by the Thames.

The name of the recycling business was of little consequence to short-tempered television types scheduled to broadcast the closing ceremony to an estimated 750 million viewers at 9pm. Even if they had looked, the land registry revealed little but an innocuous-sounding company registered offshore in the British Virgin Islands.

In truth, the toxic cloud emanating from the recycling plant represented more than just a threat to the closing ceremony. It was a metaphor for the violent and corrupting influence that its owner, a leading UK crime lord known as ‘the Long Fella’, exerted over the Olympic borough of Newham and beyond for the last three decades. An alternative battle for gold — one of death threats, broken bones, political chicanery and crooked deals — had recently ended in defeat for a small group of local detectives who were all that stood in his way.

What began as a battle for control of a lucrative strip of land in Newham had become a test of whether London stood for anything more than a cosmopolitan laundry for malodorous men and their money.

In ancient Greece, the Newham crime squad would have been garlanded for putting up a good fight against the odds. But these were risk-averse times of brave hearts led by desk drivers, bean counters and back stabbers; light-touch regulatory times where money had no smell.


Still, with one arm tied behind their backs, the detectives had carried on coming forward, determined to expose London’s hidden wiring where organised crime, politics and big business met. Until, that is, Scotland Yard decided to throw them under the bus.

Protecting the ‘legacy’ of the 2012 Games by covering up a scandal of suspicious deaths and corruption was more important to the police and politicians than protecting Londoners from the predatory Long Fella and his friends in suits. For others at Scotland Yard, the crime lord was simply ‘too big, too dangerous’ to take on which, for all its pre-Olympics bluster, was a sad indictment of the UK’s biggest police force.

By 5.30 that afternoon on 12 August, Dany Cotton, the director of safety and assurance, was able to announce that her firefighters had contained the blaze and the greatest show on earth could go on. There was just enough time for the 10,000 athletes to take their places in the new stadium alongside Britain’s pop aristocracy, politicians and the bloated male relics of the tainted International Olympic Committee.

After several hours of show business, any trace of a toxic cloud over east London had faded away under a dazzling display of fireworks, political hyperbole and The Who belting out ‘My Generation’.

This is the story of that smokescreen.

Legacy: Gangsters, Corruption and the London Olympics by  Michael Gillard is published by Bloomsbury. More info here.

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