Family of London gangster found dead in Aberdeenshire insist he was murdered

© NewslinePolice near huntly where man's body was found in a lane off the A96 in February 2001
Police near huntly where man's body was found in a lane off the A96 in February 2001

The family of a London gangster found dead in the north-east almost 20 years ago have revealed they believe he was murdered.

John Donovan was found down a snowy embankment by the side of the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road in February 2001, with a shotgun wound to his head and the weapon lying just feet away.

His red Ford Scorpio was found in a lay-by on the other side of the dual carriageway, near Cairnie.

Following a lengthy investigation, the then Grampian CID concluded the 37-year-old had killed himself.

Mr Donovan, who had close ties to a powerful underworld crime syndicate, had driven nearly 600 miles from his home in East London.

But his family has always believed someone else was responsible for his death, and have now spoken out.

His stepson Lee Armstrong, whose mother Deana was married to Mr Donovan at the time of his death, told the Sunday Post: “John was like a father to me.

“I was 18 when he died and him and my mum had been together for nine years, so we were very close. He was a great guy.

“He was well respected and I really looked up to him.”

“I was devastated when he died. We knew back then he had been killed,” the 36-year-old from Tower Hamlets, London, added.

“It was never suicide. John was not the sort of person to do that. There’s no way he would have done that. He enjoyed life.

“There was no malice in John.

“He was a very nice person and his family meant everything to him.”

Mr Donovan’s name and death featured in a secret Metropolitan Police intelligence report called Operation Tiberius which looked at the London underworld and its links to corrupt officers.

But Grampian Police were unaware he was on the Met’s special intelligence section’s radar at the time of the investigation, and also had no evidence they could point to that suggested murder.

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The wintry conditions at the time of the death meant no forensic evidence was preserved at the scene.

And detectives also had been aware of an organised crime link but had believed he was a “gofer” – but the secret report described him as being closely tied to powerful gangsters who tasked him with delivering cocaine from London to Scotland.

A former detective involved with the probe said: “There was just no evidence to even suggest there was a murder. There wasn’t any evidence and if there isn’t that then there’s nothing you can do. You have nothing to investigate.”