Home to Parisian bankers, international golf hotel and Normandy residence of a British criminal who once joined the Queen on the Sunday Times ‘Rich List’. This is possibly the most unnerving postcard match to make the pages of Normandy Then and Now.
When we couldn’t find the location of this postcard a tweet about it bought back some helpful responses. One from Fabian who spends most of his days slogging for Médecins Sans Frontières, turned out to be truly remarkable.
Back in the Orne for a brief respite from a life that puts postcard matching truly in perspective, Fabian said he recognised the building and would send us a ‘now’ pic. We expected perhaps a couple of photos. The set of images he emailed us is truly remarkable and helped uncover the chateau’s small but important role in a shocking story from the archives of British criminal history.
Huge thanks to the fearless Fabian. Stay safe in all that you do.
This is Le château de la Poupelière.
‘The timeshare guy!’
The first hint of an extraordinary past came from a bitter newspaper article in France Soir July 2011.
Claims that the château was part of a web of companies across the world used to launder money failed to impress a judge. The case against the château owners failed, although millions of Euros of uncertain origin had been ‘invested’ in the chateau golf business. The article mentioned ownership first by John Palmer and then his associate Dennis New.
One of those names was very familiar.
For Brits the name John Palmer will get the response ‘the timeshare guy!’ or a reminder of his media nickname ‘Goldfinger’. Because that is the name the press gave him after the Brink’s-MAT robbery at a Heathrow trading estate in 26 November 1983.
On that day in 1983 Brink’s-MAT security thought the building was burglar proof, they had not expected an inside man to simply open the door. Once inside the armed gang violently overpowered guards who were then doused in petrol and told that if they did not reveal how the vault could be unlocked or they would be burned alive.
The gang then loaded into a van around £26m (nearer £82m by today’s prices) of cash, jewellery and 6400 bars of gold.
Initially the police enquiry went well. An early lead gave them the dishonest guard Anthony Black whose sister was living with one of the robbers Brian Robinson. The police were soon led accomplice Micky McEvoy. All were found guilty and were sentenced to 6, 25 and 25 years. But the rest of the gang disappeared.
They went back to their normal lives, for a while, trying to act as though nothing unusual had happened to avoid attracting the wrong sort of attention. They also went straight into the history books for the biggest heist of all time.
So much gold was stolen international trading was affected and the price shot up. In two days on paper the gang had made a £1m profit.
The gold smelters
Miles of words have been written about the Brink’s-MAT robbery and those involved and in none of it will you find mention of a Normandy chateau. That happened later. First two gold smelters.
Rumours are the gang did not expect the amount of gold they found and needed to bring in experts to help.
Over a year after the robbery John Palmer, once a scrap metal merchant now a jeweller and bullion dealer with the knowledge to smelt gold, was arrested for supposedly melting down Brink’s-MAT bullion in the smelter on his land. A neighbour had first told police about lots of smelting activity in John’s garden just two days after the robbery but after an initial search the police did not go back for 14 months. During the second visit suspicious gold was found and John arrested. His case went to the Old Bailey.
In court John said he didn’t know where the gold came from and in 1987 he was acquitted. As he left John blew a kiss to the jury.
John left the UK for Tenerife to concentrate on what would become a notorious timeshare business, started he said with funds from selling his West Country jewellery chain. Detectives were convinced investment came from Brink’s-MAT proceeds but there was nothing they could do.
Meanwhile the owner of a haulage business and bullion dealer was being watched by the police. Kenneth Noye was known to them as a fence for stolen goods with some interesting friends in the criminal underworld as well as some useful ones on the force. He was suspected of fencing Brink’s-MAT gold
On 26 January 1986 Brian Reader, associate of London criminal Tommy Adams was seen to drive into the grounds of Kenneth’s estate, Hollywood Cottage in West Kingsdown, Kent. Undercover DC John Fordham went in for a closer look. Unfortunately in spite of his training with the British Army and experience in Northern Ireland, Fordham disturbed Kenneth’s three Rottweiler dogs. Kenneth rushed into the garden armed with a kitchen knife to see Fordham in military fatigues and a balaclava. John Fordam was killed in the ensuing fight, stabbed 11 times, most received while immobile. Kenneth pleaded self defence and was found not guilty.
The case against Kenneth for fencing Brink’s-MAT gold went ahead when a search at his home uncovered 11 bars of suspect gold. During the trial one of the many ways the gold was fenced was revealed. Kenneth would fly to Jersey with a bag of cash to buy gold. On the island he bought ingots, carefully stored the receipt, went to another bank and placed the gold in safety deposit boxes. Back in England the authentic receipts were used to sell the Brink’s-MAT re-smelted gold.
Kenneth Noye was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years in July 1986 for handing Brinks-MAT gold.
John Palmer claimed to barely knew him.
By hook or by crook
While Kenneth was incarcerated John Palmer become so wealthy he made the Sunday Times Rich List in 1996 with an estimated fortune of £300m. ‘John Palmer’ reported the Sunday Times, ‘runs a large and lucrative timeshare operation on Tenerife.’ He reportedly owned most of the island, had a hugely expensive yacht and property across the world, including a château in France.
Kenneth Noye was released in 1994 and kept a low profile. For two years.
People who have met Kenneth Noye say he is clever, controlled and can be quite charming. All of these attributes failed him completely on 19 May 1996.
Witness to a roadside tragedy
Danielle Cable was driving her 21 year old fiancé Stephen Cameron’s small red Bedford Rascal van on the motorway for the first time and perhaps not very well. The prosecution would later say a Landrover Discovery ‘cut them up’. As both vehicles stopped at the lights leaving the M25 for the M20 the Rascal flashed it’s lights and thinking he recognised the driver, Kenneth Noye age 52 got out of his car. Stephen got out of the van.
The fight that followed was witnessed by lecturer Amanda Whelan as she sat in her car with her partner and four children. During the trial she said the men were ‘trading punches” and the fight was “quite ferocious”.
“The younger man was larger and was kicking at his legs and trying to punch him away. The older man was lunging with the right hand clenched, striking the younger man in the midriff. This didn’t seem to deter the younger man at all and he was coming forward and attacking at the same time. The lady got hold of the younger man’s arm or jacket and seemed to try to break the fight apart. I was concerned about her. She was screaming and leaping about. She was beside herself. The younger man had his back right up against the bumper of the van.”
“I saw no weapon being used and I had no idea anyone was injured. We were saying to the children how absolutely stupid it was for grown men to fight. When I heard the news on TV I called the police.”
Only one man lived to tell the tale
Kenneth told the court how he tried to hold off Cameron by pulling a 4in lock knife from the pocket of his jeans, one that he kept there because he said he was in constant fear of his life.
“I was in fear of my life from two sources. The police definitely detested me and I had it in my mind that they would pull in a villain who had done something really serious and would get them to do something to me.”
“I cannot fight, I was worn out”…
Kenneth explained what happened next “I said, ‘Don’t come near me, you nutcase.’ I was holding [the knife] outstretched. He stood there for a second or two. His girlfriend got out of the van and said, ‘Don’t go near him.’ That just fired him up. He came straight at me. The fight started again. He has punched me and given a few kicks and then I said, ‘Hold up, hold up.’ He’s telling me he’s going to kill me. He was in a completely wild rage. He grabbed me and started smashing me in the face. I was trying to get back, to get away from him.
“I cannot fight, I was worn out. I didn’t have nothing left. I thought if he catches me again, then I’m out. He will take the knife and definitely use it on me. So I struck out with the knife. I can’t remember exactly how I done it, but I accept it was twice.”
Far from being a violent man, Kenneth said he could not fight. “I’ve never hurt anyone. I’ve never hurt an animal.”
Hated by the police
Kenneth quickly made plans to leave the country. He later explained “The police detest me”. “If I go down the police station, I knew myself what would happen, I would never be believed, I would never get a fair trial. All those witness statements would, without a shadow of doubt, have been tainted against me.”
A château in Normandy
Kenneth reportedly called John Palmer. He then packed a bag, mostly with money, and drove from his home in Kent to John’s grand home ‘Battlebridge’ near Bath. The next day he was flown by helicopter to a château, with a golf course, in Normandy. Le château de la Poupelière.
Hours later Kenneth would be on a train to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where Palmer’s Lear Jet took him to Madrid, Spain under a false passport in the name of Alan Green. From Madrid he went to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Here the trail went cold for two years.
Capture in Spain
After an elaborate investigation in August 1998 the police took Danielle to Zahara in southern Spain, where she identified Kenneth in a restaurant and he was arrested and extradited.
Kenneth Noye, then 53, was convicted of murdering Stephen and jailed for life.
Years later during one of Kenneth’s appeals Lord Justice Woolf said “there was no justification for Noye taking out a knife, opening it and using it in the fracas with Mr Cameron”.
Death in a garden
When quizzed on their friendship in 1999, John said: “Kenneth bloody Noye! A drink or two at a boxing match. I’ve met him once or twice. I don’t know him.”
In 2001 John Palmer was back at the Old Bailey charged with a massive timeshare fraud and given an eight year sentence but out in less. By 2007, following a fifteen year investigation, Spanish authorities had imprisoned him for a series of crimes ranging from money laundering to drugs trafficking.
John was released on bail after two years and back in the UK for an operation when in June 2015 he was shot six times in his back garden. No-one has been convicted for his murder.
Falling down, in the Orne
The château in these photographs looks abandoned for some years. Perhaps the French money laundering court case made the owners feel unwelcome, or perhaps they were just fed up with changeable Normandy weather and moved to sunny Spain.
We are pretty sure whatever they decided to do it is none of our business.
Thought that was all?
Something very interesting arrived in the post a few days ago.
Thrown across one of the rooms were heaps of brochures from the chateau’s golfing days. Fabian kindly sent one to us so we could see Le château de la Poupelière, not long ago, in all it’s glory.
Here are some scans of the brochure photos for you: