The Glasgow Ice Cream Wars: A Tragedy That Shook a Community

Unveiling the Haunting Memories of Stella McGuire

When Stella McGuire closes her eyes, she can still vividly recall the bloodstains on the windowsill of the top-floor flat that became the tragic scene of an arson attack. In one fateful night, six members of the Doyle family, including an 18-month-old baby, lost their lives in Glasgow’s infamous Ice Cream Wars. The sights and sounds of that horrific event left an indelible mark on Stella, who at the age of 12 lived in a flat that faced the Doyle’s home. She was abruptly awakened by the desperate cries for help from the trapped family, prompting her to dial emergency services.

Now, almost four decades later, Stella is speaking out for the first time about the chilling events that unfolded that night. In a compelling two-part documentary series, titled “The Ice Cream Wars,” produced by BBC Scotland, Stella recounts the brutal gang war that ravaged Glasgow’s tough housing estates in the early 1980s. The film delves into the infamous miscarriage of justice that followed and the unsolved crime that continues to haunt the city.

A Glimpse into the Past

As Stella recalls, “I awakened to shouts of help. At first, I didn’t pay much attention, thinking it was just another family argument. But the cries for help grew louder and more frantic. Multiple voices echoed through the night. Curiosity pushed me to open the window and shout, ‘What’s wrong?’ Their desperate response sent chills down my spine: ‘Fire. Fire.’

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Living in a third-floor flat on Milncroft Road, Ruchazie, Stella had a direct view into the bedrooms of the Doyle family’s flat on Backend Street. After alerting emergency services, she woke her younger sister, uncertain of the unfolding tragedy. Overwhelmed by fear and helplessness, both sisters watched in shock as the window of the Doyle home flung open, and a man frantically climbed out. Amidst the commotion, more neighbors were roused from their sleep, providing a glimmer of hope that adults would take charge.

The Lingering Horror

As morning broke over Ruchazie, the true extent of the horror gradually revealed itself. Smashed windows, bloodstains running down the walls—these haunting scenes served as constant reminders of what had transpired. Stella vividly states, “That image never left me. Even after all these years, I can still see it, as clear as day.

Little did Stella know initially that nine members of the Doyle family were trapped when their home was engulfed in flames, caused by petrol that had been doused and set alight. Sadly, James Doyle Sr, 53, along with his sons James Jr, 23, Andrew, 18, Anthony, 14, and his married daughter Christine Halleron, 25, and her infant son Mark, lost their lives in the blaze. Lillian Doyle, the mother, and her sons Daniel and Stephen managed to escape, but sustained injuries. It was soon revealed that the fire was linked to organized criminal gangs vying for control over Glasgow’s lucrative ice cream trade.

The Dark Underbelly of Glasgow’s Ice Cream Wars

In the early 1980s, Glasgow’s vast housing schemes housed a large population with limited access to essential amenities such as shops and pubs. Within this vacuum, ice cream vans thrived, attracting not only the neighborhood’s sweet-toothed residents but also the attention of the city’s gangsters. These criminals resorted to violence to gain control over the most profitable ice cream routes.

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In the weeks leading up to the arson attack, 18-year-old Andrew Doyle, a new driver for Marchetti Bros, refused to surrender the route assigned to him despite gangsters firing a shotgun at his van.

On the day of the joint funeral for the Doyle family, the streets of Ruchazie were filled with mourners. Stella recalls, “The estate was bustling, packed with hundreds of people. I attended St. Phillips Primary School, which faced the church where the funeral service took place. I remember our teachers closing the curtains, urging us not to look outside.” She tearfully adds, “Some of our classmates, serving as altar boys, shared the heartbreaking news that the baby was laid to rest with his mother in the same coffin.

The BBC One Scotland documentary, narrated by Kate Dickie, brings together esteemed contributors such as writer Douglas Skelton, crime author Denise Mina, and respected lawyers John Carroll and Aamer Anwar. The film offers eye-witness accounts, including that of fireman Hugh McCafferty, who courageously faced the blaze.

Hugh vividly recalls, “Christine, the daughter, managed to create a small gap under her bed to keep her child safe. My colleague discovered the baby beneath its mother. He swiftly placed an oxygen mask on the child, never leaving his side until they reached the hospital.” He adds somberly, “I thought they would survive as they were being rushed to the hospital, despite their severe burns. Unfortunately, when you inhale super-heated air into your lungs, recovery becomes even more precarious. You may appear fine initially, only to succumb to the injuries days later.

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A Dark Chapter in the Quest for Justice

In the months following the massacre, seven men faced court proceedings, charged in connection with the Doyle family’s deaths or related crimes linked to the Ice Cream Wars. Eventually, only two men, Thomas Campbell and Joe Steele, were convicted of murder. However, doubts regarding the strength of the evidence against them persisted.

Over the next two decades, both Campbell and Steele fought tirelessly to keep their case in the public eye. Their efforts included hunger strikes and three daring prison escapes. Finally, in 2004, a staggering 20 years after their conviction, they were released from prison, and their case was declared a miscarriage of justice. To this day, the murders of the Doyle family remain unsolved.

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