When in 1967 in County Durham, England, 33-year-old Angus Sibbet is found slumped in the back of his Jaguar Mark 10 with three gunshot wounds, it had all the hallmarks of a gangland murder. Found in the early hours of a bitter January morning, his car was parked on a quiet stretch of road next to Pesspool railway line in South Hetton, the driver’s side window wound down and the rear passenger window shattered from gunfire.
Angus Sibbet was a man with money working with three associates supplying fruit machines to the working men’s clubs of the North East after the men had fled London to escape the pressures of local gangsters and organised crime. Fruit gaming machines which were known as ‘one-armed bandits’, an association that quickly gained this case the nickname it would become known by.
It was a murder that inspired a book written by Ted Lewis called Jack’s Return Home which was then picked up and adapted to the Michael Caine film ‘Get Carter’. In it, gangster Jack Carter comes home from London after his brother is murdered, seeking revenge.
Within hours of Angus Sibbet’s body being discovered, his two business associates were arrested and charged with his murder and in two months, they would be convicted and behind bars. The evidence against them was weak and circumstantial and now 50 years later, many fear these men are innocent and the real killer of Angus Sibbet has remained free to roam the streets.
Angus Sibbet would meet his future employer in London in 1956, where Vince Luvaglio ran a tv aerial fitting company that was not always on the right side of the law. Vince and Angus were arrested in 1958 on suspicion of receiving stolen TV sets and Angus Sibbet would go on to serve a year in jail for his participation in the scam. While he was behind bars, Vince Luvaglio got involved with the notorious Kray twins of London, two men who together ruled the region with their violence and control extorting money for protection and dishing out harsh and brutal punishments if anyone tried to cross them.
Vince soon found himself out of his depth and fled to Newcastle followed by his brother Michael Luvaglio. Once there and with the change in licensing laws allowing gaming machines into social clubs, Vince realised there was money to be made. He changed his surname to Landa, most likely to throw off any unsavoury characters from London from tracking him down, and set up a new company called Social Club Services.
His brother worked with him and Angus Sibbet joined them soon after his release from prison. Vince Landa provided fruit machines and jukeboxes to the numerous working men’s clubs across the North East region. With over 400 clubs on his books, it was an enterprise that soon began to net him huge sums of money. By 1966 the company had been valued at £8 million which is over £30 million ($38,625,000.00) in today’s money. With this kind of income Landa and the men working for him could buy plush homes, holiday villas abroad and expensive cars. They were living a more than comfortable lifestyle and enjoying what the money they were earning could buy them.
Later that year Dennis Stafford, a small-time gangster who knew Vince from London, arrived in Newcastle and began managing a nightclub Vince owned. Within less than a year, however, this comfortable bubble they lived in would be destroyed when Angus was shot dead and Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford would find themselves in prison for his murder.
After spending Christmas with their families, in early January 1967, Vince Landa flew to his villa in Majorca telling his friends his son had become ill. Before he left he had lent his Jaguar E-Type to Dennis Stafford for use while he was away. On 4 January, Angus Sibbet left the La Dolce Vita nightclub in the centre of Newcastle at around 11.20pm on his way to meet both Luvaglio and Stafford at the Birdcage nightclub that Stafford managed in the city, a club owned by Vince Landa.
At around 4 am the following morning a local miner who had just come off a night shift at the South Hetton colliery noticed a brand new red Jaguar Mark 10 parked at the side of the road. Finding this strange he approached the car and found Angus Sibbet dead in the backseat. Contacting the police, he reported he had just found a murder scene.
When police arrived the body was quickly identified as Angus Sibbet and officers set about discovering his movements in the previous hours. They found he was due to meet Luvaglio and Stafford but had never arrived and began to dig into the business dealings between the three men. Luvaglio and Stafford were able to tell police they had been at Dennis Stafford’s house in Peterlee, five miles away from the murder scene, until around 11.30pm the previous evening when they had then left and driven to Michael Luvaglio’s house in Newcastle. From there they had arrived at the Birdcage nightclub where they were due to meet Sibbet at 12.30am and had stayed there into the early hours wondering where their friend was.
At around 2 am, Dennis Stafford told police he had gone out to his car, the Jaguar E-Type had leant to him by Vince Landa that was in the car-park of the club and discovered it had been vandalised with damage to the bumper.
The police appealed for any witnesses on the night of the murder or anyone who could remember seeing Angus Sibbet’s Jaguar on that evening. Two witnesses came forward, the wife of a farmer who lived at West Moor Farm not far from where the body of Angus Sibbet was found, reported she had heard two ‘loud cracks’ that night just before midnight. The second witness was a cyclist who said he had been overtaken on that stretch of road by an E-Type Jaguar and then an older type Jaguar which seemed to be following the first.
Police arrested Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford less than 24 hours after the murder of Angus Sibbet. The police theorized that Sibbet had been stealing money from the company by skimming the takings from the fruit machines and pocketing the extra cash for himself giving him the funds available to buy himself a brand new Jaguar Mark 10. This they said, gave Luvaglio and Stafford and the owner of the business, Vince Landa who was still out of the country, a motive for murder.
The theory they had was on that night, Luvaglio and Stafford had followed Angus Sibbet and there had been some form of a collision between the two Jaguars accounting for the damage to the E-Type Jaguar Stafford claimed to have occurred from vandalism outside the club. The time period between Luvaglio and Stafford leaving Stafford’s home at 11.30pm and arriving at the Birdcage nightclub at around 12.15am was their opportunity the police said, to carry out the murder.
There was no forensic evidence to link Luvaglio or Stafford to the crime scene, their fingerprints were not found on the car nor was the murder weapon used to kill Angus Sibbet ever found. Luvaglio and Stafford quickly went to trial and in March 1967 at Newcastle Crown Court they were convicted of first-degree murder and given life sentences. Vince Landa had returned to the UK briefly when his brother was charged with murder but fearing he too would be arrested he fled back abroad and stayed away for the next 12 years.
Despite the quick arrest and conviction of Luvaglio and Stafford for this murder, there have always been suspicions that this was a gangland murder because of how the body was found and the connections the victim and his associates had with the gangsters of London. Both men were released from prison in 1979 after serving 12 years and have consistently maintained they did not murder Angus Sibbet.
“Michael Caine charging round on screen blasting away with a shotgun hardly helped my case” – Dennis Stafford
Vince Landa did eventually return to the UK but the murder and imprisonment of his partners destroyed his business and he lost his fruit machine empire. He and his brother Michael Luvaglio had little contact since Michael was sent to prison. At 78 years old Landa died in his flat in Chelmsford, Essex in 2011.
Michael Luvaglio is still fighting to overturn his conviction and obtain justice for Angus Sibbet who he says was his friend and a man he would never have harmed. He has his own website villan-or-victim.com dedicated to clearing his name before he dies which contains extensive information about this case. Dennis Stafford is also keen to find the truth in a murder he says was ordered by Vince Landa. Both Luvaglio and Stafford have expressed their belief that the murder of Angus Sibbet was a gangland hit, with Stafford pointing to the Glasgow ‘Godfather’ Arthur Thompson as the hitman and Luvaglio putting forward the names of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who he claims were trying to muscle in on Vanda’s multi-million pound business.
Filmmaker Neil Jackson and photographer Ian Wright began investigating this case in 2012 after becoming intrigued by the doubts that were circling these two men’s convictions. Their investigations have included re-analysis of the crime scene photos which they claim show Angus Sibbet may have been tortured before he was murdered and dispute the theory that there was a collision between the two Jaguars on the night of the murder. Furthermore, they have found a witness who has told of a man who ran into a local garage on the night of the murder claiming to have just killed someone. All evidence they claim that was available to police at the time of the murder but was not passed onto the defence teams of Luvaglio and Stafford.
To date, the Criminal Cases Review Commission have rejected requests to pass the case back to the Court of Appeal and most recently this decision was upheld by the High Court who say there is not enough new evidence to warrant the case to be looked at again. 80-year-old Michael Luvaglio, however, is not giving up, “I am a sick man but I do not want to die as a convicted murderer” he says, “…the fight will go on.”