5.15am

Album: Shangri-La (2004)
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Songfacts®:

  • This Mark Knopfler composition is a contemporary murder ballad based on the notorious one-armed bandit murder. As a boy, Knopfler lived near Newcastle around which it was centred.

    On Janaury 4, 1967, Angus Sibbet was murdered at South Hetton by self-styled fun-loving criminal Dennis Stafford and Michael Luvaglio. The victim's car was forced off the road, and he was at shot point blank range. No attempt was made to conceal the body, which was found draped across the back seat of his Mark 10 Jaguar, although the killers manufactured an alibi by among other things shunting their car (which had been damaged) outside the Birdcage club in Newcastle.

    Sibbet's body was found at 5.15 the following morning - hence the title - and the police were up to speed, seizing the vehicle from a garage. Stafford and Luvaglio were brought to trial speedily, and convicted at Newcastle Crown Court where they were each given the mandatory life sentence. Two years earlier they may have been hanged.

    Both men were paroled after only 12 years, and Luvaglio led a blameless life although like Stafford he continued to protest his innocence. Indeed, their appeal went all the way to the House of Lords, and along the way they picked up some high powered support, but the evidence against them was overwhelming, although they have both attempted to muddy the waters with lies.

    Although Luvaglio turned over a new leaf, Stafford continued his criminal career in both Britain and elsewhere, including dealing in fake passports and forged travellers' cheques. A ruling in his case by the European Court led to a change in the law and to the release of another convicted murderer, Free Satpal Ram.

    In February 2012, after Lord Lucan was back in the news, he claimed to have run into him in Africa around 1982, although like anything Stafford says, this claim is to be taken with a rock rather than a grain of salt. Stafford's proudest truthful boast is that the low budget British gangster film Get Carter was based on his life story.

    Knopfler's song focuses on Angus Sibbet; although he has clearly done his homework, he is too diplomatic to name the killers. The motive was said to have been purely financial. Sibbet collected money from fruit machines - hence the name given to the killing - and it was claimed he may have been skimming up to a thousand pounds a week, an enormous sum at that time for an ordinary working man. Luvaglio was the brother of club owner Vince Landa, who was rumoured to have ordered the hit, although unlike the actual killers he had a rock solid alibi. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England

Comments: 1

  • Pamela Daniels from ChirkMy father was one of the police officers who worked on the Bird Cage Murder (aka the One-Armed Bandit Murder) in Newcastle. The Birdcage, 69, and the Dolce Vita mentioned in the lyrics of 5.15 am were all nightclubs in Newcastle at the time of the murder. It was a time when London gangsters - allegedly including the Krays - were keen to establish a foothold in the North East.

    I believe hewers were the miners who hacked the coal from the seam whilst the crutters opened the tunnels, often using explosives. Trappers were young lads who operated the trap doors allowing the wagons (and air!) to pass through, and putters were those who filled the baskets with the coal the hewers were extracting. The hod boys then carried the baskets of coal to the wagons, which would usually be pulled by pit ponies along the tunnels, or rolley ways. The rolleyway men made sure the passages which the ponies used were kept clear and free-flowing. Children often worked long shifts down the pit where their size and agility were a bonus. The bigger boys were called half-marrows and the smaller ones were called foals. Black lung was the term used for pneumoconiosis caused by inhaling coal dust.
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