For decades, Paul Massey was known as "Mr. Big" in the United Kingdom's criminal world. (Screen image/Bernard O'Mahoney)

Around town, they call him “Mr. Big,” but the nickname does not square with the man stepping out of his silver BMW around 7:30 p.m. on July 26, 2015.

Paul Massey is slight and unassuming, reportedly just 5-foot-8, his balding hair shaved tight, his face lined like a deflated football. As always, he’s simply dressed. A proud son of these working-class streets in Salford, a city west of Manchester, England, he likes to boast he’s never worn a suit in his life. His nickname is tied to a kind of stature not measured by inches or appearance.

He is clutching a bag from his local Bargain Booze, the Manchester Evening News would later report. Inside are his usual Sunday evening drinks — Bacardi rum and Coca-Cola. But before the 55-year-old enters his home, gunfire snaps and Massey goes down.

The shooter is wearing military-style fatigues. He steps over the smashed glass and spilled rum to where Massey has crumpled, unleashing another blast from the Uzi before melting away into the neighborhood.

Bleeding from 18 bullet holes, the fingers of his right hand blown off, Massey manages to make a phone call for help. But he dies at the scene. As word quickly races through Salford, friends and associates pour in behind the blue police tape, a flash vigil for the city’s “Mr. Big.”

Massey’s nickname stemmed from his influence in Salford’s criminal underworld, a scene of hoodlums and scammers with cartoonish monikers — such as “The Psycho” and “Cazza” — belying violent streaks. For decades, Massey was the elder statesman among Manchester’s crooks, a self-styled, street-tough Robin Hood who once leveraged his reputation in an unsuccessful bid for Salford’s mayor’s office.

“I could be shot dead anytime”, Massey once reflected to a film crew. “That’s the end of it. I am prepared to face that — I know the stakes . . . [but] I pity the b-----d who did it after.”

According to prosecutors, Massey’s assassination was the first domino to fall in a gangland war between former members of an organized local crime outfit known as the A Team. The beef would continue to leave blood on the streets in the years after Massey’s death.

This week, 38-year-old Mark Fellows was convicted of murdering both Massey and one of his top associates as part of the bloody feud, the Guardian reported. The verdict Wednesday closes the curtain on a criminal saga with Shakespearean echoes of honor and betrayal that also seems ripped from the tawdriest pulp fiction. Among Salford’s underworld, Fellows was known as “The Iceman.”

Salford’s “Mr. Big” grew up in a tough part of town, according to a 2015 report by the BBC. At 12, he first crossed law enforcement when he was arrested for damaging an empty house. The charge landed him in a reform school. According to the BBC, Massey later spoke of “bitterness against the system” for being “dragged away from his mother and father.”

“He had a strong anti-authority streak,” Peter Walsh, the author of “Gang War: The Inside Story of the Manchester Gangs,” told the BBC. “He wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the toughest, but he was quite charismatic and very principled in his own way.”

In the ’80s, when Manchester became internationally renowned as the ground zero for rave parties, Massey and his friends spotted an opening. The crew allegedly took over working the doors at the city’s popular clubs. Then, “they started smuggling ecstasy in from Holland and selling that” to ravers, Walsh claimed.

The “Mr. Big” nickname was coined by a city official at a 1992 public meeting decrying the lack of exposure of the criminals running wild in the streets. “Massey, ‘Mr. Big,’ why don’t the press print his name?” the official said, the Evening News has reported.

The name stuck. Massey would allegedly later be involved in numerous criminal schemes, ranging from burglary rings to protection rackets, according to the Evening News. But he also cultivated the image of a man fighting for his community. Massey allegedly outlawed heroin sales in Salford while he was in control.

In 1999, Massey was convicted of stabbing a man in the groin outside a nightclub. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Upon his early release in 2007, Massey’s reputation remained large on the streets. In 2012, he ran for mayor of Salford. “I don’t want to be known as Mr. Big. I don’t want a reputation,” he told the Telegraph at the time. “I just want to be me — people have got me wrong.”

He came in seventh out of 10 candidates in the election.

By the 2010s, Massey was a father of five and a grandfather of eight. He claimed he was a legitimate business owner, running a number of security operations. According to the Evening News, his direct influence over criminal operations in Salford had allegedly waned. But he still commanded respect among the younger generation of Manchester-area crews, and was known to broker peace agreements between squabbling factions before arguments turned violent.

But the implosion of the area’s most powerful gang, the A Team, would allegedly lead to Massey’s murder.

In 2014, the A Team snapped into two factions, the Evening News reported. Police allege the divide was the result of a rowdy evening at a nightclub resulting in a woman throwing a drink in a A Team member’s face. The paper also cites “gangland sources” who source the split from when a gang member learned the Breitling watch he had bought from another member was fake.

Whatever the reason for the acrimony, a year before Massey’s death, the gang members were at odds. The original faction of A Team members were led by a close confidant of Massey’s, police testified at the recent trial. The break-off element was known as the Anti-A Team or the AA Team.

Massey was allegedly stuck between the two.

If “Mr. Big” Massey occupied the top floor of Salford’s crime world, “The Iceman” Fellows was stuck in the basement — a gangland “nobody,” according to the Evening News.

An illness growing up had left him with a colostomy bag for life, and he was fussy about both cleanliness and his health. A long-distance runner, he participated in grueling events like the Great Manchester Run, a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch strapped to his wrist tracking his distance and health stats.

According to prosecutors, Fellows aligned himself with the Anti-A Team crew following the dispute. He was allegedly paid 10,000 pounds (almost $13,000) to take out Massey. He reportedly spied on the underworld figure with a night-vision scope. He struck on July 26, 2015.

Massey’s death stunned Salford. His coffin was pulled through the streets in a horse-drawn hearse. A pipe band played in the procession. Flower arrangements shaped like cannabis leaves and big cigarettes were laid out. Gangland figures from across the United Kingdom sent tributes.

The death also sparked violent retributions between the A Team and Anti-A Team. Bullets tore into house fronts. Machetes were swung. Smoke grenades were rolled into wedding ceremonies.

“I’ve never known crime at these levels, the number of incidents in a short space of time,” City Councillor Paul Wilson told the Guardian in 2015. “These are targeted attacks but my fear is that an innocent person will get caught up in it.”

Police struggled to identify Massey’s killer. According to the Evening News, at one point investigators complied a list of 112 gangland suspects. Fellows was also suspected, but no evidence tied him to the hit.

The case ground on for three more years. Then, on May 5, 2018, a second murder struck Massey’s inner circle.

That morning, John Kinsella, a 53-year-old judo and jujitsu expert who was a allegedly a close gangland associate of Massey’s and had served as a pallbearer at his funeral, took a walk with his pregnant girlfriend across a footpath in a village called Rainhill. The couple brought along their six American bulldogs.

As Kinsella struggled to pull along a dog that was straying behind, Fellows huffed up on a mountain bike, prosecutors allege. He shot Kinsella twice in the back with a Webley revolver, then two more times from close range before pedaling away.

According to the Evening News, police immediately turned on Fellows as a possible suspect in both killings based on the similar execution of both crimes.

During a raid on his apartment, police discovered Fellows’s Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. The data from the watch placed Fellows at the scene of Massey’s murder. A picture of the suspect wearing the watch at the Great Manchester Run put the item in his possession at the time of the killing.

Both Fellows and an associate and A Team member named Steven Boyle, 36, were charged with both Massey’s and Kinsella’s murder, as well as the attempted murder of Kinsella’s girlfriend. Prosecutor’s alleged Boyle acted as a spotter for Fellows during the hits, the BBC reported.

On Wednesday, following a six-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, Fellows was found guilty of both murders. Boyle was convicted of Kinsella’s murder but acquitted in Massey’s death. Both were found not guilty of attempted murder of Kinsella’s girlfriend. The men are scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. They face mandatory life sentences.

After the verdicts, Louise Lydiate, Massey’s longtime partner and mother of two of his children, briefly addressed reporters.

“Anyone who knows Paul would tell you he was a very generous, kind man who would do anything for anybody,” she said of the late “Mr. Big.” “All these Mr. Big . . . things like that come from people who obviously don’t know him.”

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