‘My life as an undercover cop – being a gangster took its toll, it was madness’

A former undercover officer has told how he risked his life to get close to some of Britain’s most dangerous gangsters.

Soldier-turned-policeman Shay Doyle played the part of a 24-hour villain after a bloody gang war left innocent kids dead in Manchester’s violent Moss Side area.

He was also on the frontline of the hunt for double cop killer Dale Cregan and the murder probe into the gangland slaying of Salford’s “Mr Big” Paul Massey.

But a life in the shadows took its toll, sparking a devastating breakdown.

Now, in an explosive memoir, Shay tells how he went from Manchester “street kid” to one of the UK’s most ­secretive and elite officers.

Built like a cage fighter and street smart, he was raised on a council estate rife with drugs – and could have turned to a life of crime.

Instead, he ended up playing the part of Northern Irish gangster Mikey O’Brien.

He was given a new identity, his DNA and fingerprints were removed from the national database and any trace of his old life was removed.

Shay, now in his early 40s, said: “It was like I’d vanished. I was given a new passport, birth certificate, driving licence, bank cards, credit cards, all the essential documents for a new identity.

“I was sent to the secret Special Branch facility in Lisburn, where I received ­further training in handling firearms and improvised explosives because part of my backstory – or legend – was that I was a professional robber.

“I learned how to make cutting ­charges to blow a hole in a wall and how to breach the skin of an armoured cash van with a shape charge.

“I was even sent to a diamond centre to learn about clarity and cut. No stone was left unturned.

“Back in London, MI5 spooks gave me a crash course in lock picking and breaking into cars. I also became adept at anti and counter-surveillance. I’d wear designer jeans – Diesel or Armani – a Boss or Ralph Lauren polo and Members Only-style jacket with a five-grand kettle, usually a Rolex.

“It was decided I needed a girlfriend so Nikki (a fellow UC officer) would be dressed to the nines in Jimmy Choo heels with a Gucci or Vuitton handbag.

“I had a 50 grand Mercedes, a tidy bird by my side, pockets fat with cash and the menace of a big league villain.”

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Shay got into some of Moss Side’s main players. He was put to work to gather info on criminals taking over from the feared Gooch Gang, many of whom were jailed in 2009. Ringleader Colin Joyce was caged for 39 years and Les Amos was given 35 years for a catalogue of crimes, including murder.

But playing a gangster started to wreck Shay’s home life.

He said: “Even going to the supermarket with my girlfriend was a f***ing drama. One time we were in my local Tesco when I spotted someone I knew turning into the aisle we were in.

“I quickly turned on my heels and walked out without being seen.

“Socialising was a no-go. I was exhausted from long late-night deployments. The pace was relentless.”

Based on intelligence he’d gathered, police arrested four gangland figures and found a fully loaded MAC-10-style machine gun and a couple of kilos of skunk in a car. He added: “We’ll never know who those bullets were meant for, but this crew didn’t carry guns for show.

“My home life suffered though. I knew when I started the job it was madness, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be – absolute f***ing madness.”

Shay now works with organisations to break the stigmas around mental health, particularly in the emergency services.

“I’d spent my life at the sharp end, chasing gangsters. Feeling the adrenaline of going through the door, the rush of a big arrest. All that was gone.”

*Deep Cover: How I Took Down Britain’s Most Dangerous Gangsters by Shay Doyle and Scott Hesketh out now RRP £16.99 (Ebury Spotlight).

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