1980s >> 1985 >> no-965-january-1985

Ice Cream Man Cometh

On the night of April 16 last, petrol was poured through the letterbox of a top floor flat in Glasgow and then set on fire. The Doyle family was trapped in the blaze and six of its members, aged between 18 months and 50 years, died. Summing up at the end of what became Scotland’s worst multiple murder trial, the judge provided the convenient scapegoat for the horrific incident: “No decent person could be other than appalled by such dastardly deeds. Those who set fire to the flat were wicked, depraved. inhuman and evil” (Scotsman, 9 October 1984).

But were these men just wanting to kill without reason? Evidently not, as they had had plenty of opportunities to do so simply with a shotgun and, according to one of the two men accused, the fire was only meant as “a frightener which went too far” (Scotsman, 20 September 1984). Indeed the court, in its hurry to find someone to blame, ignored the fact that people are not in real control of this competitive system:

There was nothing wrong with competition during the normal dealings in day-to-day business. But when this developed into some kind of feud between rivals in which criminal offences were committed, it was totally unacceptable. The danger of such a matter is that it can escalate out of all proportion.
(Sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Scotsman, 3 August 1984.)

To find the real reason we have to look beyond that simplistic excuse “human nature” and examine a more dominant factor in determining the everyday actions of people — their everyday environment. All the time, people find that this society denies them access to food, clothing and housing by such things as cash registers, security guards and rent demands. The main concern for most people therefore is how they get money and how much they get — in the case of the two men convicted, they sold ice cream from a Fifti Ices van.

The events finally leading to the six week trial started in the summer of 1982 in the Cartyne and spread to other housing schemes in Glasgow. According to the Guardian, “Trouble began in Garthamlock when an ice cream van operating under the name of Fifti Ices appeared in September last year. It invaded the patch which a rival ice cream company, Marchetti Brothers, had held as a virtual monopoly for years (11 October 1984). This rivalry soon led to a spate of intimidation and violence, including a shotgun being fired at a 15-year-old salesgirl. However. according to the wife of one of the convicted “the people of Garthamlock wanted another van in the area because the Marchetti’s was . . . overcharging them” (Scotsman 2 August 1984). The couple hired vans on hire-purchase from Fifti Ices and were able to undercut their rivals by selling stolen cigarettes and other goods. The traders get about 10 per cent of the weekly turnover which would rarely be more than £200. the rest going to the companies. Marchetti Brothers, on the other hand, by leasing all their 37 vans on a week-to-week basis only, also ensure that the traders buy all their stocks from them.

According to the Marchetti Brothers’ accountant however, the subsequent loss of business from threats, abuse of customers and the “wedge” achieved by their rivals, had moved the company’s profitability out of the black and into the red (Scotsman, 4 September 1984). This was obviously a far more serious situation than a few incidents of violence, so the firm put a third man into the battlefield. The unfortunate new employee — Andrew Doyle — was presumably chosen because, as the Glasgow Herald described him. he was “a young man of massive appearance but quiet disposition” (11 October 1984). In court, he was described as . . . not a hassle man. He was just a young boy from a nice family (Glasgow Herald, 7 September 1984). At one point in the war. according to the Herald, “the beleaguered company secretary of the van firm. Marchetti Brothers, asked a colleague What is it going to take to stop these people . . .  a body?”‘ But these six deaths have only stopped the activities of the men convicted. A social system based on conflict will not be restricted by the charred remains of a few human beings. Even as they were being sentenced, other members of their team were putting further ice cream vans on the road. This is despite the fact that “ever since the fire which killed the Doyles . . . Marchetti Brothers have tried to re-establish themselves in Haghill” (Glasgow Herald, 11 October 1984).

The war, it would seem, must go on. This is not an unfortunate little incident, a sad aberration in an otherwise acceptable society. St Tropez had its own ice cream war fought on the beaches of the Riviera this summer, with French police arresting one man for planting explosives in the sand (“Beaches mined in ice cream war”, Guardian, 23 July 1984), and all over the world the same conflicts arise, initiated by the rivalry of a system of society in which access to wealth is controlled by a minority in conflict. rather than by the whole of humanity in co-operation.

But of course those who stand to gain most profit out of these battles are not those who do the fighting. Quite the opposite would seem to be true in this case. The Glasgow Herald considered it “a matter of considerable embarrassment” that the owners of the two rival companies were related through marriage and enjoyed harmonious relations. The fighting and dying then is left for the workers, whether it is Andrew Doyle or the two would-be entrepreneurs whose only mistake would appear to be that they did the job themselves. In fact, while denying in court that he was overheard in a pub offering “an easy £300” for help to “torch” the Doyle house, one said “if I wanted somebody assaulted. I would assault him . . .” (Glasgow Evening Times. 28 September 1984).

All violence under capitalism, from world war to muggings, is for property — be it the land and wealth within borders or the notes in a pensioner’s purse. In each instance can be seen the effects of a society based on control and powerlessness; ownership and non-ownership. Capitalist society is no innocent bystander but rather the main determinant of human behaviour.

Brian Gardner