Camorra Mafia Don Hides Out At Caravan Park in Preston, Lancashire

Where would a member of one of Italy’s major Mafia clans flee if he’s feeling the pressure from law enforcement in his native Naples? A nondescript caravan park in the county of Lancashire, UK, provided the perfect solution.

Gennaro Panzuto was born in Naples, Southern Italy, in 1974. His family’s home was in a pitiful apartment amongst the other poor families of the area. He found the quickest way to get out of his life of poverty was through crime. By the age of fourteen he was on his way to becoming an expert thief, and he would steal Rolex watches straight from the wrists of unwitting rich. Bigger things were to come….Panzutto’s criminal flair was soon noticed by the Camorra.

A younger Gennaro Panzuto
Pic Credit: BBC News

Panzuto’s initial introduction to the Camorra was via an aunt who had married into the mob. Her husband, Rosario Piccirillo was head of one of the clans in his enervated area, and was overseer to a large tax-free cigarette smuggling operation. Uncle Rosario wanted to train an apprentice to help the clan survive – and he trusted Panzuto. Piccirillo introduced Panzuto to a third man, who turned out to be a senior in the Camorra, a problem-solver. This fixer met Panzutto with a serious proposal. He said that some rivals were planning to assassinate Piccirillo in reprisal for a battle to take control of a certain area of the city. ”Kill the person who wants to kill him,” Panzuto was told. “You have to do it because you’re his family.” Gennaro Panzuto agreed to this.

Rosario Piccirillo
Pic Credit: BBC News

Panzuto kept to his promise, though his first target was unharmed – but only because he was arrested before Panzuto could get to him. Before long he had a second Camorrista in his sights, and this time he was able to follow through with the execution. The man was shot dead. Panzuto seems remarkably blase about his first forays in murder. “I don’t remember the faces,” he says. “I remember the dull thud of the bodies falling after you’ve shot them. I remember the screams of the children, the women, ringing in my ears.”

Over the next ten years or so, Panzuto became a leading figure in both extortion and narcotics in his locality. He had excelled following his apprenticeship, and by 2005, he was ready to take over the clan.

In late 2005, a new inter-clan war began, and allies of Panzuto asked for his assistance in holding their area, La Sanita, in the Stella quarter of Naples. During late 2005 and into 2006 there were several shootings and murders, as clans tried to kill rivals. One of these murders could be directly linked to Panzuto. Italian police had intercepted a conversation in which Panzuto had told his gunmen to carry out the murder of a man named Graziano Borelli, and they had enough evidence to launch an onslaught of arrests.  Panzuto was one step ahead. He had already fled the country.

As luck would have it, Panzuto had met a British businessman in Naples. This man was the head of a British gang that were involved in shipping shoes into Naples without paying any tax. The Camorra would then sell them on at reduced rates, undercutting legal traders. After the Borelli murder, Panzuto was looking to lay low for a while, and his new British friends offered the perfect opportunity – a hideout in Lancashire, England.

Gennaro Panzuto in England
Pic Credit: BBC

Upon his arrival at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, Panzuto found a Rolls Royce waiting to collect him. “You don’t know how much I smiled,” Panzuto says. “These English guys – and they were scrambling to meet me –  they sent me this chauffeur. And then we went to the pub.” Panzuto then met other members of the gang and was given more information about their operations, all whilst enjoying a pint of bitter.

Panzuto’s businessman friend immediately arranged for him to stay hidden away for a while. He arranged for Panzuto to rent a unit at the Six Arches Caravan Park, which is situated near the River Wyre between Preston and Lancaster. Soon after Panzuto rented the caravan, his wife and children arrived from Naples to join him. Staff at the caravan park remember their Italian guest liked flash cars – and had to be told off for breaking the 5mph speed limits on site. The cars, including a Porsche, were gifts from his host, the unnamed businessman.

Pic Credit: Daily Mail

The locals found Panzuto to be chatty, friendly and cheerful, and welcomed him to the park. However, on one occasion he clipped his neighbor’s car. Mick Bury told the BBC “I was that worked up about it, I said, ‘Oi! Have you seen what you have done to my car? Couldn’t you see it?’” The Italian couldn’t make sense out of what the Lancastrian was shouting but apologised as best he could and gave Mr Bury a number to call. Around 20 minutes later a suited and booted local man arrived and after assessing the situation slipped £200 from a stack of bank notes. ‘No questions asked – he just wanted it sorted.’ Mr Bury told the BBC. And after that, Bury and Panzuto became friends, and together watched Italy win the football World Cup final in Berlin that summer.

‘The joke – when I went out with my friends – was, “Hey, you need to watch out, he might be a mafia man.”‘ Mr Bury said.

Panzuto was known for his generosity, and often gave extravagant gifts, such as Italian leather shoes to his friends.

Six Arches Caravan Park
Pic Credit: Google Maps

Soon though, his British businessman friend wanted Panzuto to repay him for all he had done for him since he had left Naples. He was asked to put some pressure on a debtor, and Panzuto did this by headbutting him in a car park. The victim was shaken. ‘Remember what I’ve done.’ Panzuto told him. ‘Tell everyone this is how the wind blows now.’ He then reportedly bit off a piece of the victim’s ear.

His businessman friend was impressed, and agreed to show him the inner workings of his scams. Panzuto was apparently astonished at how easy it was to evade the taxman in the UK compared to his home country. He began to use his Italian contacts to move shoes, cars and plumbing supplies.

As he was now settling down and building a career in England, he moved to a semi-detached house in Garstang, a leafy village near Preston. He was still boss in Italy and was sending funds back home to help the clan, along with payments for the families of those imprisoned. He was flying his wife in on a regular basis, then his mistress when she was away, and he was holding conferences at his residence with dozens of his capos from the Old Country. Somewhere along the line, it seems he got too comfortable with the situation.

Cock Robin Lane
Pic Credit: BBC News

Back in Naples, Panzuto was a prime suspect for the city’s mafia-hunting Flying Squad. Then, detectives got a breakthrough – thanks to five repeated numbers. 00-44-7 – the international prefix for UK mobile phone numbers. The Italian detectives needed to know for sure whether Panzuto was in England, so they asked Scotland Yard and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to help.

Panzuto’s downfall could have been the movements of his wife, mistress, and top lieutenants – all flying in on a regular basis to see him. He was even bold enough to invite all of his allies to a mafia summit at Cock Robin Lane. About a dozen leaders made the trip – including bosses from three of the biggest Naples clans. By now he was also in negotiations with his English associates regarding leveraging their financial muscle into his own world. The plan involved setting up a front business in England, posing as a network of shoe stores, to help move cash back to Naples. This never had a chance to get off the ground.

On May 16 2007, two British officers knocked on Panzuto’s door. They asked if he had any guns in the house and after replying that there were none, he peacefully surrendered.

No one in the area or back at the caravan park had any idea who Panzuto really was until he had gone. All were said to be in disbelief after learning the details of his arrest.

Panzuto didn’t fight extradition and was taken back to Italy facing life imprisonment. However, Italian authorities put a plea deal on the table. Would Panzuto break the oath of Omertà?

Gennaro Panzuto
Pic Credit: BBC News

Panzuto told BBC News, “My girlfriend begged me to confess – to collaborate. I didn’t want to listen to her at first – but I was missing her deeply. And one day she went straight to the prosecutor’s office and said: ‘Let’s go see Gennaro. I will convince him to collaborate.’”

Panzuto eventually agreed to cooperate with authorities. ‘Do I need to now spend my life in prison – and if so, who am I doing this for?’ He said he asked himself. ‘I chose my family.’  

He told the prosecutors everything about his British associates. He told them about the scams – and the name of the businessman, though he cannot be named publicly for legal reasons. Apparently he’s still out there working his scams.

After cooperating, it’s thought Gennaro Panzuto could be released from prison as early as 2021.

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