Episode 33 - The Crimes Of Dale Cregan

On the 18th of September 2012, Police Constables, Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes set out on routine patrol in the Greater Manchester area. It was a typically pleasant autumn day, with nothing to indicate the horrors that would later unfold for them both.    

Nicola Hughes was 23 years old and had wanted to be a police officer since she was a young girl. She had been on the force just a few short months when she was paired with Fiona who was tasked with showing her the ropes. Fiona Bone was thirty-two years old and a kind and caring woman who was dedicated to her job and her family. She was engaged to be married and often spoke with her fellow officers about how excited she was to be planning her wedding.  

Nicola and Fiona were dispatched to respond to an address in Abbey Garden in the village of Longendale, after a caller reported a possible burglary.  The address was only a few minutes from their location so they drove their police-issued Volkswagen van and parked outside the front of the home.   

When they arrived at the quiet cul-de-sac there was no sign of anything untoward and so they exited the van and walked towards the gate bordering the front garden.  

Breaking through the stillness they heard a voice yell POLICE POLICE!  A split-second later shots rang out from the home. Bullets flew toward Fiona and Nicola and with no time to react they both took rounds to the chest, with only their stab vests to protect them. In the seconds following the shots, they ran in opposite directions in a desperate attempt to dodge the gunfire raining down upon them.  

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Nicola turned back towards the van while Fiona ran sideways away from the house. They were both seeking shelter with Fiona edging against the wall of the neighbouring home out of view of the window where the shooter appeared to be positioned.   

As Nicola ran for her life towards the van she was shot in the back. This time her body armour offered little protection and a bullet tore through her back and into her spinal cord.  She was instantly paralysed and collapsed face first to the ground.  Nicola was shot three further times as she lay on the ground fighting for her life.   

The shooter repositioned and came face to face with Fiona as she cowered in front of the lounge room window of the home. She attempted to fire her taser at the shooter but it discharged into the pavement. The shooter unleashed a deluge of 24 shots toward Fiona. Although many of them missed or were deflected by her body armour, one bullet found its mark. A single bullet entered her chest cavity via a gap between her arm and her armour. It pierced Fiona’s heart causing fatal injuries.  She slumped against the side of the house no longer able to defend herself or her fallen colleague. 

But the shooter wasn’t done yet.  

He returned to Nicola who was lying motionless on the pavement. He pressed the gun against the back of her head before firing three final shots directly into her skull.  

The once calm front yard was now splattered with blood and two desperately injured policewomen lay brutally injured and dying. The shooter stood calmly and looked about the scene before throwing a hand grenade onto the ground closest to where Nicola lay and taking off at a run before it exploded.  

Fiona passed away there on the street while Nicola died from her injuries in hospital. Both officers suffered eight bullet wounds and sustained further injuries from the detonation of the hand grenade. Both women were unarmed.   

Background 

As the story broke the horrendous murders of two policewomen shocked the nation. It was the first time in Britain’s history that two policewomen had been killed in the line of duty.  

Who was the killer and what could have driven them to take the lives of two Police officers so callously that September day?  

 Two hours after the murder a man presented himself to the Hyde Police Station. He told the officer manning the counter “I’m wanted by the police and I’ve just done two coppers.”  The man identified himself as Dale Cregan. 

Dale Cregan was born on the 6th June 1983 to parents Anita and Paul Cregan in Manchester England. He was to be the second of three children and while his early years were fairly settled, eventually his parents separated and his father moved out of the family home.  

 He appeared to have some difficulties with learning during primary school but a lack of interest in his education was most evident in high school. Dale began to hang out with an eclectic mix of wannabe thugs and gangsters and soon he was smoking and dealing cannabis. He also discovered a rather concerning fetish for knives and at any given time he could be found carrying upwards of 5 knives of different shapes and sizes.  

After dropping out of school he went to live with his younger sister in Tenerife but after 18 months he was forced to return to Manchester when his sister became frustrated by his concerning behaviour and associates. By now his love of knives had progressed to an all-out obsession with firearms and he had a collection of more than ten weapons including a machine gun. His marijuana dealing had given way to a much more lucrative trade – cocaine.  

By the time Dale was 22 years old he was making twenty thousand pounds a week and had a large network of big and small-time dealers associated with him. He was known as a vain and paranoid, drug-fuelled gangster. He threatened violence against rivals and acquaintances at even the slightest misstep and he cut an imposing figure.  Dale spent hours at the gym every day lifting weights, and when he wasn’t at the gym he was at the pub undertaking marathon drinking sessions.  But it wasn’t his height or muscle mass that was so intimidating. Dale was missing his left eye and in its place, he wore a pitch-black onyx replacement. He told anyone who cared to listen that he had lost his eye during a brawl on one of his luxurious, drug-fuelled trips to Thailand. In not so many words he was telling people – mess with me and I’m prepared to lose an eye to win the fight. He wanted to be the most well-known and richest drug dealer in Manchester. And that meant that anyone who stood in his way would have to go.  

He spent his drug earnings on business class holidays to Egypt, Thailand and Europe scoping out ways to further expand his drug enterprise. When he was in Manchester he drove a flash Mercedes and always carried wads of cash, splurging on cocaine-fuelled benders for his friends and acquaintances.  

At 24 years old he became a father when his girlfriend Georgia gave birth to their son. Whilst this would have been the perfect opportunity to turn away from a life of crime for the sake of his child it had the opposite effect for Dale. He doubled down on his enterprise and found a new way of making money…and this time there would be plenty of it.  

 He put feelers out to his acquaintances and offered to act as the hired muscle. He told them he was willing to do the dirty jobs that no one else wanted to do.  

Associates 

It wasn’t long before he had his first big job. An associate named Leon Atkinson asked Dale to take care of a little problem he had. That little problem’s name was Mark Short. With no questions asked Dale took on the job and prepared to get his hands dirty.  

In typical Dale fashion, he didn’t make any master plans to murder Mark conspicuously or to conceal himself as the perpetrator. He wasn’t worried about being found out and collateral damage wasn’t of any concern to him. If anything it would help enforce his reputation as someone to be feared and respected. 

On the 25th of May 2012 Dale and two of his pals walked into the Cotton Tree Inn in Droylsden and opened fire. He shot Mark and his drinking companions as they stood together at the bar. Mark died from a gunshot wound to the neck and three others who were hit in the shootout were taken to hospital. Dale fled the scene in a Ford Focus which was later found abandoned by police.  

Mark Short was just 23 years old and was described as a “a loving son, brother, father and boyfriend to Naomi”.”People who knew Mark, knew him as a young man with a big heart. He would not think twice about helping his family and friends when they were in need. Mark was only 23 years old and looking forward to a future with his son, Mark Junior. This has now all been taken away from him” 

But Leon Atkinson wasn’t finished – Mark’s death was just the start of his plan. The Atkinson family had a long-held rivalry with the Short family. Both families were known in the local area for racketeering and while they weren’t considered mafia-level criminals they had many altercations over the years as they competed for notoriety and territory.  

After a seemingly minor incident where the Matriarch of the Atkinson family threw a bottle of alcohol at an associate of the Short family in a pub, Leon Atkinson had taken it upon himself to exact revenge in his family’s name.  

First up was Mark and then all sights were set upon his father, David Short. In fact, David was meant to be taken out at the same time as his son in the pub shooting that night but perhaps luckily for him he had been in the toilet when Dale had opened fire. Mark had copped the shot intended for his dad. When David exited the bathroom after hearing the commotion in the pub he held his dying son in his arms as Mark took his last breath. When police arrived, David immediately identified the Atkinsons as being behind his son’s murder.  

Eventually, Police caught up with Dale after he returned from a celebratory trip to Thailand. They arrested him on suspicion of murder. But Dale refused to speak with officers and eventually, they were forced to release him on bail pending further investigation and hopefully the gathering of evidence which would tie him to the crime. When DNA evidence of was found an arrest warrant was issued for Dale – but when Police arrived to serve the warrant Dale was nowhere to be found.  

Meanwhile, Leon Atkinson wasn’t content with just one of the Shorts being punished. He told Dale he wanted David dead and it was Dale’s responsibility to uphold his end of their arrangement.  

Dale began keeping tabs on David, following his movements, and it didn’t take long to pick up on the man’s routine.  

When Mark was buried David began to visit his son’s grave at Droylsden cemetery every day. Two months after killing Mark, Dale set in motion a plan which would end with David beside his son permanently. He hired a rental van and set about staking out the cemetery.  

On the 10th of August, Dale took a friend and drove the rented van to the cemetery where they waited for David to arrive.  

But David didn’t show up. After hours of waiting the men were fuming and Dale knew Leon Atkinson wouldn’t let him off with a second failure. So the men decided to stake out David’s home in the hopes they would catch him there.  

They gathered supplies and stocked up the van as they prepared for a long wait.  They parked the rental close to David’s home – ready to pounce as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  

When David stepped outside his home he was unaware he was being watched. But Dale was ready and he wasted no time in jumping from the van and chasing David down.  

The two men pursued David through his own home firing their guns wildly in his general direction. Some bullets found their target and others didn’t but ultimately David would be hit and unable to escape his attackers. He made it out the back of his home where he finally collapsed.  Dale walked to his side and unloaded three bullets point blank into the back of David’s head. He threw a hand grenade toward David’s body and the two killers fled the scene.  

Next, they drove the van to an address on Luke Road where they threw a grenade at the front door of the home. They abandoned the rental van and set off a grenade inside it, hoping to destroy any evidence of their crimes.  An associate to picked them up and took them to a gang-safe house in West Yorkshire where they intended to lay low for a couple of days.  

Manhunt 

Police immediately connected the murder of David and Mark and they were extremely concerned about the fact that the perpetrators were in possession of a stash of hand grenades. Most officers won’t see a grenade in their entire careers and in one day they had evidence of three being used. These incredibly volatile weapons made the criminals a danger to the public and police and they needed to be apprehended quickly.  Significant resources were diverted to identify the culprits and hopefully end the crime spree.  

Police were able to identify Dale from CCTV footage from the street where he had thrown the grenade. They announced a fifty-thousand-pound reward for information which would lead to his capture and they published his photo across social media and news outlets.  With his unique black onyx in place of his missing eye, they hoped for a swift response from the public.  

A  considerable manhunt was initiated and Police carried out more than 100 armed raids on addresses believed to be associated with Dale. They visited Dale’s mother every day hoping to catch her concealing her son or to intimidate her into revealing his location.  

But ultimately their efforts were in vain. Even with the reward and significant police resources they didn’t receive any tip-offs or information about Dale’s whereabouts.  

All the while Dale seemed unconcerned about the manhunt. He moved from the safe house to an apartment and then to a flash resort in Dover. He continued with his regular business and visited his associates and clients in Manchester regularly. He seemed to be one step ahead of the police, always missing their raids by a day or two. He watched TV at night and mocked the public appeals for his capture.  

Blaze of Glory:  

After being on the run for 42 days Dale returned to Manchester with a plan in his mind of how he was going to go down in a blaze of glory.  

He turned up at number 30 Abbey Gardens – a home in a quiet cul de sac where the occupant, Alan Whitwell, had once cut his hair. He barged through the front door with a gun in his hand and demanded Alan give him a crew cut. Alan’s wife and child were ordered upstairs while he completed Dale’s haircut. When Alan was finished he was ordered to visit the local store for some Budweiser and cigars. Meanwhile, the man’s wife and child cowered in a bedroom upstairs afraid that any misstep would turn the crazed man against them.  

Dale helped himself to the house and threw himself a party. He had a bath as he drank beer and smoked the cigars which had been brought for him. In the evening he placed his gun and the grenade on the mantlepiece and told the family if they said anything he would kill them. In the next breath, he made small talk and laughed at his own jokes while they were made to feel like hostages in their own home.  

The next morning Dale shaved, put in his most sinister onyx eye and put on a brand-new set of clothes. He knew exactly what he was about to do and he wanted to look good doing it.   

At 10.15 he picked up the phone and rang 999. Using a friendly voice he reported a bogus robbery at the address in Abbey Gardens. He ended the call with the chilling words: “I’ll be waiting”. 

By now you are aware of the tragedy that unfolded that morning. Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone walked straight into Dale Cregan’s trap. Unarmed and unprepared for the barrage of gunfire waiting for them – they stood no chance against Dale.  

Call handlers tried desperately to make contact with the officers who unbeknownst to them were fighting for life outside the home. But of course, there was no response. When backup officers arrived they stumbled upon a horrific scene. Two of their colleagues were mortally wounded with blood spreading across the pavement. A neighbour tried desperately to stem the bleeding from the gaping wound on Nicola’s stomach where the bullet had exited after entering through her back and piercing her spinal column.  

Another officer arrived and was frantically trying to remove Fiona’s body armour in order to administer first aid. But his attempts were in vain, Fiona was already dead. Nicola was still clinging to life despite her horrific injuries. She passed away in the ambulance and was formally pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.  

Surrender: 

Dale fled the scene in the homeowner’s BMW and drove at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour to the Hyde Police station where he walked in the door and announced “I’m wanted by the police and I’ve just done two coppers.”     

He held out his hands so he could be handcuffed while he held his phone between his ear and his shoulder and made a call to his girlfriend.  

Asked whether he was armed, he responded: “I dropped the gun at the scene and I’ve murdered two police officers. You were hounding my family so I took it out on yous.”               

He was arrested on the spot and admitted he was the one who let off the grenade which had become his calling card. He calmly told police “Sorry about those two that have been killed. I wish it was men.”               

Despite handing himself in and admitting what he had done he refused to answer any questions during his police interview. It wasn’t until an officer suggested he was a coward for handing himself in that he answered “Cos youse couldn’t fuckin’ find me, could youse?” 

 A nation mourning:  

The deaths of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone shocked the United Kingdom and indeed the world. Their murders were condemned widely and the following day a moment of silence was held by all of the Greater Manchester Police at 11am, twenty-four hours after the women had been slain. The union flag at Police headquarters was flow at half-mast and a statement from then Prime Minister David Cameron decried the killings “a shocking reminder of the debt we owe to those who put themselves in danger to keep us safe and secure”. Across the UK tributes were paid to the two women who had died so valiantly. Manchester City Football Club wore black armbands at their next match while the manager of the Manchester Unites Football Club, Sir Alex Ferguson said in a statement that the club was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of two young policewomen protecting our community.” Their funerals were held on consecutive days and were attended by many officers from around the country. 

Following their deaths, Sir Peter paid tribute to the policewomen, calling Hughes a “chatterbox” and a “great bobby” who was “always smiling”, and Bone a “calm, gentle woman” and an “excellent bobby” who had been in the middle of planning her wedding. 

“Clearly we are devastated today by the loss of two of our officers,” Sir Peter said. “This is one of the darkest days in the history of the Greater Manchester Police if not for the police service overall, because we have lost two deeply loved and valued colleagues, because they are part of our team.” 

 Aftermath:  

The deaths of unarmed officers also brought forward renewed calls for Police officers in the UK to be armed. But the public also wanted questions answered as to why Dale had not been apprehended earlier. They were pleased he was in custody and no longer presented a threat to anyone but why had the substantial reward which had been offered for his capture not brought forth any reliable leads? 

As police began their investigation they spoke with known associates of Dale and the Atkinson’s and Short families and what they found was surprising, to say the least.  

Whilst witnesses revealed they knew Dale was a wanted man, there was also a sense of relief at the deaths of David and Mark.  

When asked why he didn’t report Dale’s whereabouts one Droylsden resident who claimed to know Cregan stated “It’s not hard to work out why,”. “The Shorts being taken out was the best thing to happen to Droylsden for years. Bullies, they were. Bullies and thugs. Cregan was a hero round here – until he went and killed the policewomen. None of us can understand that.” 

Others claimed they would be in more trouble than it was worth to be seen as a snitch and that the police couldn’t protect them if Dale found out what they had done.  

People don’t want to get involved do they, and to be labelled a grass, I guess that’s one thing. 

“But also the repercussions. The police aren’t there 24/7. 

“Sometimes there’s nothing the police can do… and they’re not in the neighbourhood at 10 o’clock at night when they come and give you a knock on the door or are just generally intimidating you. 

“It’s uncomfortable, it’s psychological. He was ruthless and people were scared of him and that’s what he wanted. Basically the reputation he wanted was that he ran things in that area and by all accounts he did. 

“He was in control of a lot of the drugs coming in and out of the area.” 

But his “associates” looked up to him and his lifestyle was attractive to young people. 

Mr A said it was hard for normal people seeing “people like Cregan, living a lifestyle that was far beyond most people’s means”. 

“Trips away, decent cars, I mean it was pretty obvious what people are up to when you go to school or the nursery in the morning and someone turns up in a 4×4 with a blazing suntan,” he said. 

“It’s attractive because that’s what we see on our televisions every day, that’s what we measure success by… what car you drive and what clothes you’re wearing.” 

Charges, Trial and Sentencing:  

Dale Cregan was charged with murder in the deaths of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone. He was also charged with the attempted murder of bystanders at the pub where he had killed Mark and the attempted murder of Sharon Hark who was the resident of the home on Luke Street where Dale had thrown a grenade after killing the officers.  

At his trial, Dale insisted on pleading not guilty to all the charges against him. But one week into the trial he changed his plea to guilty for the murders of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone. He continued to defend his innocence for the murders of David and Mark Short, even after his mother testified that he had admitted he was responsible for their killings.   

Psychologists testified that Dale demonstrated traits of a psychopath and that the murders of Nicola and Fiona were an attempt to go out in a “blaze of glory” and gain notoriety for himself. They believe him getting a haircut and wearing new clothes were because he knew he would be photographed after the murders and he wanted to look his best for his moment in the spotlight.  

 “In the criminal underworld there is not only people taken out because of turf wars and disputes… there’s also a very strange moral code where people mustn’t be offended, you must save face. 

“Perhaps in some circles the murder of police has some sort of kudos attached to it. 

“Grandiosity is central to the behaviour of psychopaths because usually their lives are quite pathetic, empty and meaningless… so they have to create a very distorted sense of their own self-worth.  

“The other side of that is that other people are not important to them.” 

 Just days before the trial was due to end Dale abruptly changed his plea and admitted he was responsible for the Short’s murders also, putting his death toll at four. He denied attempting to murder Sharon though with his defence being: the deaths of his four victims were proof enough that if he wanted her dead she would be dead. 

He explained in detail the events leading up to David’s murder:  

“I shot David Short point-blank in the head, three times, but I would have preferred it if I would’ve used a knife,” Cregan told James Collins. “I felt calm before killing David Short but, after, a big relief rushed through my body. If I’d had time, I would have cut his head off and arms and legs. I would’ve gone and got a knife from the kitchen and used that. The thoughts were such, I knew I would have to do it. However, after I killed Mark Short, he said he would rape my son, he said he would set him on fire. He threatened my whole family. He told me: ‘The gloves are off.’ So I was always going to kill him.” 

The night I shot David Short I had the best sleep of my life.” 

Dale was sentenced to life imprisonment for the four murders with a whole life order, meaning he would die in prison. He was cleared of the attempted murder of Sharon Hark.  

In his sentencing remarks Mr Justice Holroyde said he had no doubt that Cregan could see the policewomen approaching the house and that they were unarmed.  “You acted with premeditated savagery … you drew those two officers into a calculated trip for the sole purpose of murdering them in cold blood.” 

Dale’s associates were found guilty for their parts in the slaying of the Short’s and their roles in transporting Dale to and from the scenes of his crimes. Leon Atkinson was found not guilty of ordering the murder of Mark Short.  

Outside the court Nicola and Fiona’s fathers gave a statement in response to the sentencing:  

Nicola Hughes’s father stated: “She was brutally and callously murdered in the most despicable and cowardly way. 

“We can only imagine what thoughts and feelings she experienced in those few seconds it took for this person to pull the trigger and for Nicola to draw her last breath. 

“Our lives have been shattered beyond belief and will never be the same again.  

“To have a child taken from you in such a cruel and meaningless way is without doubt the worst thing any parent can wish to imagine.” 

Paul Bone said of his daughter: “My family is still coming to terms with our loss and not a day goes by without thinking of Fiona. 

“I am told that it gets easier in time but for the moment every Tuesday lunchtime is difficult, for that was when our lives changed forever.” 

In 2013 it was reported that Dale had undertaken a hunger strike while in prison. He was taken to Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital where he would remain until 2018 when he was transferred back to Manchester. It has been claimed that in an effort to torment him his fellow prisoners regularly steal his black onyx eye. He has spent long periods in solitary confinement in response to his trouble-making behaviours on the inside.   

In 2022 Leon Atkinson was jailed for his role in an international cocaine gang and for laundering over ten million pounds in dirty money.  

10 years on: 

 The tragic deaths of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone in the line of duty, continue to haunt Britain even ten years later. It has left deep scars on officers who were involved on the day, some of whom would never return to work after the slayings. Andrew Summerscales was close to both Nicola and Fiona and was working the same shift as them that day. In 2021 he took his own life leaving behind a wife and son.  Despite receiving counselling and eventually leaving the force after 15 years of service Andrew never fully recovered from the PTSD that had haunted him since that day.  

The deaths of PCs Bone and Hughes also changed the way policing was done in the UK. Whilst officers remain unarmed a broad review of the case made recommendations on improving safety precautions for officers involved in callouts.  

After the killings, some officers raised concerns about how the manhunt for Dale had been conducted in the lead-up to the 18th of September 2002. They believe that the decision to visit Dale’s mother every day had the opposite effect than what was intended. Rather than convince Dale to come forward it actually aggravated him more and led to him taking those terrible actions as a form of retribution for the Police hounding his mother. Indeed, when Dale was arrested he had stated ‘you were hounding my family so I took it out on yous’. 

 Just this year, a former senior detective turned whistle blower Pete Jackson, shared these concerns during his employment tribunal.  He alleged that at the time of the manhunt he warned his superiors that their provocation of Dale’s mother might have the opposite effect on the deranged man. He claims that they dismissed his concerns and as a consequence of speaking up he was sidelined and passed over for promotions. These claims are denied by the Police.  

Nicola Hughes’s father, Bryn Hughes was asked to respond to these claims and he stated “I think from the policing perspective, I think personally there wasn’t that much that could have been done. We know what was going on. We know there was a manhunt. They had to do certain things. It would be quite a different story if they hadn’t done what they’ve done and tried to find this person. 

He added: “‘If’ is the smallest word with the biggest consequence. I suppose if you sat alone and thought about these things, what if they’d done this, what if we’d have done that and what if this would have happened, you could torture yourself every day. 

Pete Jackson’s case in ongoing. 

Remembering Fiona and Nicola:  

A memorial garden was planted in memory of Nicola Bone and was opened two years after her death.  Fiona’s sister Vicky was involved in the opening of a £7.8M community centre and sheltered housing complex in Sale. 

Fiona Gardens, built by Trafford Housing Trust, provides accommodation for people over 55 with care needs and disabled adults of any age. 

Vicky stated: “Fiona was most passionate about working with the elderly and young people, it was the human side of policing that she really enjoyed. It was the vulnerable that Fiona was there to protect and to have this named after her is an honour and a privilege. She would have absolutely loved it.” 

“I am very proud of her – there’s a part of you that wishes she had run but I know she never would have.” 

“A major source of comfort for us after she died was letters from prisoners saying they thought [Cregan] had crossed the line and that we were in their thoughts.” 

“I always remember her with a smile.” 

 Episode Credits: 

Host – Rhiannon Doe 

Voiceover – Kwesi 

Website layout & design – Fran Howard 

Research & writing – Sophie Wild 

 References: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murders_of_Nicola_Hughes_and_Fiona_Bone 

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/bravest-cops-cowardly-killer-awful-25016324 

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/former-gmp-officer-found-hanged-12602351 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/13/dale-cregan-bottle-murders-policewomen 

https://murderpedia.org/male.C/c/cregan-dale.htm 

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/police-killer-dale-cregan-ashworth-18922762 

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/all-about/dale-cregan 

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