28 April 1999 was a warm sunny spring day in London. Met Police Traffic Officers, Acting Sergeant Mark Newman and PC Steve Cox started a 15:00 – 23:00 hrs shift in the normal manner. Having attended their shift brief and checked over their patrol Land Rover Discovery, Oscar 523 they proceeded out of Hampton Traffic Unit north on Station Road, the A312. They intended to patrol the M25/M3 sector. It was routine and they anticipated the shift to be as such.

The briefing however included poignant references to the Jill Dando shooting which had occurred just two days earlier across the river in nearby Fulham. Despite the routine there was a need for extra vigilance and attention, Jill Dando’s killer was still out there.   

The BBC Broadcaster Jill Dando had been shot dead outside a property she owned in Gowan Avenue, Fulham, across the Thames and just 10 miles to the NE. The murder despite being perpetrated in broad daylight on a suburban street had not left immediate and major clues for detectives to pursue. The bizarre circumstances had quickly led to a media frenzy. The killer was still at large, and it was known that he had used a 9mm semi-auto hand gun. Both Officers were fully aware of the implications and their visual presence to the public was a little more significant than usual.

These two police officers would never have imagined what was about to happen just 5 minutes after they set off from their Hampton base.

At the Apex roundabout, the A312 two-lane approach junction with the A316 intersection Oscar 523 pulled up at the red traffic lights in the nearside lane next to a dark red Vauxhall Cavalier on their offside. Mark Newman just glancing down at the rather grubby vehicle next to him immediately noticed the road fund licence was out of date, Oct 1998. He passed on the detail to Steve Cox and they both naturally decided that they would pull the vehicle over, an out of date road fund licence could lead to more issues. Allowing the Cavalier to move ahead as the lights changed so they could monitor his route the car proceeded straight ahead under the A316 flyover for the exit straight ahead into Hampton Road West. They closed in behind and Mark noticed the ProVida camera system was not turned on. Steve activated it along with blue lights.

The Cavalier driver made motions that he was aware of their presence and a short distance into the two lane road he started to slow down and then stopped in the nearside lane. Mark stayed behind the wheel initiating a vehicle check and Steve dismounted to approach the offender. Mindful of traffic passing in the offside lane as Steve reached the nearside rear door the Cavalier accelerated away. PC Cox sprinted back to the Land Rover, Mark was already prepared to give chase whilst Steve would give a running commentary updating the incident by radio.

After less than a minute into the chase the Cavalier braked hard, smoke pouring from the tyres and then turned left into Hounslow Road and stopped. The driver got out, a swarthy thick set character wearing camouflage trousers. Stopping just 15 metres behind him in the mouth of the junction both Officers sensed a confrontation and then became aware that the driver was pointing a hand gun at them and was already discharging it. They realised they could hear the gun firing and felt rounds hitting their vehicle, Mark recalls seeing the glint of spent cartridge cases being propelled from the weapon ejection port. Just seconds later the driver got back in the vehicle and sped off. Somewhat shaken by the armed confrontation Oscar 523 continued the chase now updating the control room that a semi-auto hand gun was being used against them. The gunman continued to fire the weapon at them, stretching his right arm back from the driver’s window. This firearm was in fact a 9 mm Glock 17 semi-auto. Cartridge hand guns had been banned from legal ownership in the UK since the Dunblane shootings in 1996.

The route was busy with traffic; pedestrians which included school children could hear the shots but could not comprehend what was happening. The Cavalier driver continued to try and intimidate the officers by applying his brakes hard and leaning out of the driver’s window firing further indiscriminate shots towards them.

After just ¼ of a mile he stopped across the carriageway just past Winslow Way. The officers stopped some 30 metres behind straining to anticipate what the perpetrator’s next move would be. Information was now out and armed units already poised and on standby since the Jill Dando shooting were keenly awaiting updates and locations. Unarmed and highly vulnerable the crew of Oscar 523 were desperate to do something to stop the gunman.

“I’m going to ram him”, indicated Mark.

“He’s probably reloading”, advised Steve.

To add to the horror when the driver got out this time he was holding an assault rifle and he began to move towards the police vehicle, he raised the weapon to his shoulder.

The gunman was now holding a Bushmaster assault rifle with a full auto function. Unbeknown to the officers he had fired 8 rounds from the hand gun and had then suffered a stoppage. He’d thrown the weapon into the footwell and picked up the rifle. Steve Cox got out of the Discovery to find hard cover. Mark Newman crouched in the driver’s side footwell, still to this day amazed that he was able to whilst wearing a stab vest and utility belt. He started to hear and feel 5.56 mm rounds hitting the front of the Land Rover as the gunman fired a short burst. These were high velocity jacketed bullets travelling at close to 3,000 feet per second. The energy was easily puncturing thin metal and components under the bonnet; only the engine block and luck was going to stop rounds entering the vehicle interior. Mark recalls rounds hitting the tyres which immediately deflated, the vehicle sinking by inches. His focus was acute, his full attention and senses could only hear the shots and the bullets penetrating the vehicle. His fear now was being trapped and he visualised the gunman walking up to the driver’s side door and just shooting him crouching in the foot well. His only thought was not his life flashing past him but simply the hope that it wouldn’t’ hurt.

This is 5.56 mm bullet debris extracted from the engine compartment of Oscar 523. It was the engine block that saved Mark Newman’s life that day as he managed to use the cover offered by the footwell.

The firing stopped, Mark Newman cautiously dragged himself up into the driving seat, the gunman was driving away. The police officers continued the chase and continue with the radio commentary, but their vehicle was so badly damaged and disabled they pulled over after 400 metres. Other police units rapidly converged into the area, Traffic and Area cars and armed response. All call-signs were advised that the perpetrator could be linked to ‘Foxtrot Foxtrot’, the police phonetic code for Fulham; they could be pursuing Jill Dando’s killer, or somebody connected to it.

The gunman decided to abandon his car and hijack another in a bid to evade. Threatening drivers and randomly firing his assault rifle he created maximum confusion and panic. Crashing one vehicle he commandeered another. As more police vehicles appeared he fired at them. Ascertaining what vehicle he was in created confusion on the radio net and the now immediate priority was to stop and contain him. He missed a bus driver by inches when he fired a round through his bus windscreen. Four bullets passed through a builders van narrowly missing two young tradesman. Jason Wilson who was in the driving seat experienced two rounds passing between his legs and a further two close to his head. Eventually the gunman took a hostage, this was Hedley Jenkins a local businessman. Climbing into his Audi he ordered him at gunpoint to drive.

                                                                 

Mark Newman is a silhouette on “Airman’s Bridge” near Feltham. This image was taken from the gunman’s position from where he was firing at police vehicles as they started to appear and come to a forced stop on top of the bridge.

The police units continued to give chase. Crossing a narrow bridge in afternoon traffic, bullets were striking police vehicles trying to manoeuvre around the public who, forced to stop in their cars were oblivious to what was happening. Bullets were striking the road and bridge parapet. The gunman disabled two more police vehicles with bullets narrowly missing the occupants.

 

                                                               

                    George Knights maisonette in April 2019 and where he was dramatically arrested in 1999.

 

The gunman decided to take refuge in a maisonette in Feltham and got Hedley Jenkins to drop him nearby; he even thanked him. With police vehicles all around still unaware of exactly what vehicle the gunman was now in Jenkins approached officers and had problems convincing them that he had just simply dropped the perpetrator at what he assumed was his home. They only believed him when he was able to show them 5.56mm shell casings in the footwell of his Audi.

The property was soon surrounded, and the approaches secured. The downstairs portion of the property was rented by a George Knights who ran a security organisation. Whoever was in there now began firing an assault rifle out of the rear of the building. Up to this point a total of 80 rounds had been fired from a hand gun and an assault rifle. There was a family with children in the accommodation above Knight’s property and they were at home. After a period of attempted negotiation darkness fell. The Operation Commander ordered SO19 specialists to assault the building. Advising the family through an established communication link, power was cut to the building. Using distraction grenades, the side door was breached, and George Knights was found inside; he was quickly apprehended. There had miraculously been no casualties throughout the entire episode. Knights maintained he was innocent and claimed that he had been at home all the time. The gunman the police had been chasing he protested was one of his team, John Paul, who had now managed to escape.

The story continued. George Knights claimed that he had been recruited by MI6 and the CIA and he was training a combat team to assist and support the “Kosovo Liberation Army”. John Paul was one of his team. Despite the claim that he was not involved in the shooting that led the police to his property Knights continued to revel in his perceived notoriety and led police to a weapon cache near the Clacket Lane services close to the M25.

On remand and awaiting trial Knights insisted on speaking to the Jill Dando investigation team. He wasted their time by falsely claiming to know the source of the Dando murder weapon.

Knights had made numerous trips to Florida since 1996 and always via Newcastle Airport. He had procured a Florida driving licence and this had enabled him to legally buy firearms. His visits included playing golf and frequenting shooting ranges. He had illegally bought numerous weapons and ammunition back to the UK, the components broken down and disguised amongst golf equipment.

He was described as an obsessive and dangerous fantasist and received nine life sentences. At The Old Bailey witnesses recalled he had walked with a distinctive limp, (he had been a polio victim as a child). He denied that he walked with a limp so he was instructed to walk a few paces in front of the assembled court. He made an attempt to walk normally. Despite this he continued to maintain his innocence insisting that he was wrongly identified.

He suggested to the court that the reason nobody was hurt throughout the entire incident was down to the skill of the gunman, (who he had trained), and who was carefully placing shots so as not to inflict casualties. John Paul, if indeed he ever existed was never apprehended and George Knights received a life sentence for the offences.

George Knights remains in prison. Awaiting parole his case is difficult to manage, physically impaired with complex mental health issues, he is very self absorbed. I have corresponded with him. He immediately declared a desire to meet the two police officers he could easily have killed if pure luck hadn’t played a part. Sgt Mark Newman (Retd) is willing to meet him in a bid to rest his own nightmares. Both might benefit and the ball is now firmly in George Knights court.

A prison wall protects his fragility. Whilst he can protest the conditions he has to comply with for a successful parole there would appear to be a sound reason why he is still in custody. I don’t know the answer to that. Mr Knights is not happy with the system. We will have to wait and see what develops. To date, Steve Knights as he now prefers to be called has made no further move.

     A live video of the shooting from the interior of their police vehicle, (Cox/Newman), is still available on Utube.