They told Stockport's Mr Big who was really in charge. Then the burning started

Chris Little was known as a 'Devil Dog Mobster' -Credit:Manchester Evening News
Chris Little was known as a 'Devil Dog Mobster' -Credit:Manchester Evening News

The attacks were carried out with a degree of coordination that 'bordered on military precision'. The aim was 'to do as much damage as possible in the shortest possible time'.

On the night of April 17, 1994, a spate of terrifying petrol bomb attacks was launched in Stockport. In just four hours one school was burnt to the ground and five others were badly damaged. A florists, two cars and two education centres were also torched.

At the height of the blitz 200 firefighters were tackling 12 separate blazes. Remarkably no-one was hurt.


The morning after, one fire chief told the Manchester Evening News: "It looks like an orchestrated conspiracy to do large-scale damage." But the man police strongly suspected of being behind the 'terror blitz' was nowhere to be seen.

In fact Chris Little was on holiday in the Canary Islands. But chances are that was little more than a convenient cover story.

The sadistic gangster, dubbed the Devil Dog Mobster because he was said to terrorise anyone who crossed him with his ferocious pack of rottweilers and mastiffs, was thought to have orchestrated the whole thing.

It was said to have been show of strength to scare off rival gangs and show the police who really ran the town. "Chris Little loomed over Stockport like a storm cloud," the journalist Peter Walsh wrote in Gang War, his account of organised crime in Greater Manchester.

'Chris Little loomed over Stockport like a storm' -Credit:Stockport Express
'Chris Little loomed over Stockport like a storm' -Credit:Stockport Express

"Few men in recent history have so successfully cowed local people or displayed such arrogance. Little burned down public buildings to show his power, organised marches to antagonise the police, intimidated magistrates, journalists and crime witnesses and publicly brutalised those who crossed him."

Born in 1963, Little's career in crime apparently began at Our Lady's School, where he would sell drugs to fellow pupils. Pugnacious and truculent, he gravitated towards the boxing ring, first as a teenage amateur, then as an unremarkable professional.

His brief career was notable only for a loss to future world champion Johnny Nelson at the Quaffer's Club in Bredbury in 1986. But while his boxing skills were too limited to bring him success in the ring, his imposing presence and willingness to use violence earned him a fearsome reputation on the streets of Stockport.

He took a job as a bouncer and employed gangs of doormen to provide 'security' to Stockport's pubs and clubs. Soon he had 50 men working for him.

And the security business gave him the perfect platform to move into the drugs trade. Using a combination of extreme violence and intimidation, Little soon established himself as Stockport's self-styled 'Mr Big'.

Those who crossed him could expect a beating or a savaging from the fighting dogs. It was rumoured one man who betrayed him was forced to wear shorts to show off the scars on his legs from the bites.

Another rival was reputedly thrown off a bridge over the old M63 motorway, but it was a case of mistaken identity. The victim was said to have spent 10 weeks in a coma after a nine-and-a-half hour operation to rebuild his shattered face and skull.

Little is said to have apologised by buying him a pint of lager. All the while Little maintained a carefully constructed front as a self-employed builder and man of God, who would read scripture with his neighbours before working out in a gym at his terraced home in Offerton.

But in reality he was a feared underworld figure who flouted his wealth by driving around town in a £50,000 convertible Mercedes. And the arrogant gangster wanted everyone to know who held the real power in his hometown.

It was said he would ring Stockport police station to mock and jeer at officers, taunting them to prove he was guilty of the many crimes they suspected him of. But when one officer bluntly informed him it was the local constabulary, not him, that ran Stockport, Little is suspected of concocting the plan that would see the town go up in flames.

Little had a brief career as a professional boxer
Little had a brief career as a professional boxer

With the mob boss overseas several of his lieutenants met on a playing field in Offerton. Around them they had gathered a group of young men waiting to receive their instructions.

Orders issued an arsenal of petrol bombs was assembled at a nearby flat. Then they struck.

At 9.55pm the first petrol bomb was launched at a house on Magda Road in Offerton. Luckily for the occupants, the glass shattered but the missile failed to ignite.

Five minutes later the first school - Offerton Hall primary - was targeted, followed moments later by the Davenport Education Centre. Soon the smell of smoke and the sound of sirens filled the air across Stockport.

At 10.08pm came the worst fire. Around 50 firefighters were called to Dial Park primary in Offerton.

Despite their efforts the school was destroyed. Over the next four hours around 200 firefighters faced a battle against the odds as arson attacks were launched across the town.

By the time the flames were extinguished, it was estimated around £1m of damage had been caused. In April 1995, almost 12 months to the day of the attacks, 16 defendants, aged 18 to 36, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson.

"The arsons were all part of a planned, organised attack which was prepared for at a meeting on school playing fields where instructions and orders were given by leaders," said Anthony Gee prosecuting. "They were carried out with a degree of coordination which bordered on military precision and behind the attack appears to have been the desire to do as much damage as possible in the shortest possible time."

How the M.E.N. reported the arson attacks -Credit:Manchester Evening News
How the M.E.N. reported the arson attacks -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Little, however, wasn't among those in the dock. He'd been gunned down on the night of Friday, July 22, 1994, while driving with a friend in his dark blue Mercedes 500 SLE to buy wine.

As they stopped at traffic lights near the Jolly Sailor pub on Stockport Road in Marple a stolen Ford Granada pulled alongside them. The front seat passenger fired a 12-bore shotgun through the open window of the Mercedes. Little was shot twice in the head, dying instantly.

The automatic Mercedes ran on for about 125 yards, hitting two vehicles before ploughing into the wall of the Bowling Green pub. Four people were seriously injured in the crash, two seriously.

The Granada was found 30 minutes later burnt out in the car park of Bredbury Hall, two miles from the shooting scene. Three guns, including the suspected murder weapon, were found inside.

No-one has ever been convicted of the murder.