The Dead Frogman of Cardiff Docks

Queen Alexandra Dock 1974
Shipping in the Queen Alexandra Dock 1974

One of the most significant criminal enquiries undertaken at Cardiff Docks was a case involving large quantities of drugs brought from the West Indies. It was a lengthy investigation that began with the death of a scuba diver whose body was recovered from the Queen Alexandra Dock.

During March 1982, several anonymous telephone calls were received about a man alleged to have gone missing while using sub-aqua diving gear at the docks. Calls were made both to the South Wales Police and to the British Transport Police at the docks, initially by a female and later by a male. With each call, more details emerged- the man was described as West Indian and the location was given as the Queen Alexandra Dock.

Searches by Police Underwater Search Teams did not find anything. Visibility in the dock was extremely poor and as they worked, huge conga eels slithered and scraped past the divers- it was not a pleasant experience in the inky blackness. When HMS Cardiff put into docks on a courtesy visit the opportunity was taken for a sonar sweep to be carried out. Once again nothing was found- what happens to a human body submerged in water depends on many things and the chances of finding one were minimal.

However, some weeks after the calls began, two tugs were assisting a ship leaving the Queen Alexandra Dock and as they took up the tow their powerful screws churned up the water and a body was flushed to the surface. It was a body dressed in sub-aqua diving gear and was showing signs of having been in the water some time. At the mortuary, with the diving gear removed, it was found to be that of a West Indian male and all the circumstances suggested that this was the missing man. The heavy diving gear may also have been why the body had not surfaced earlier. A conference between senior officers of the South Wales and British Transport Police did not find agreement on whether the death should be regarded as suspicious.

The post mortem examination was carried out by eminent pathologist Professor Sir Bernard Knight, who found it difficult to establish the cause of death. But significantly, none of the tiny microbes known as diotodes, normally present in water, were found in the bone marrow possibly indicating the deceased did not die from drowning. There were also several interesting marks on the body, the significance of which would become apparent later. A square bruise was seen on the right side of the face and a similar one on the chest. There was also an unusual wide mark on the left wrist. One other piece of vital evidence came from examination of the diving equipment; the valve on the oxygen cylinder was closed, pointing to the fact that diving had been completed by the time the death occurred.

DI Vic Miller began an investigation and looked for a connection with the West Indies. The shipping line Geest operated between South Wales and the West Indies and one of their boats- the MV Geestland had been diverted into Cardiff Docks a few weeks earlier, about the time the diver had gone missing. Crucially, it had unloaded its cargo of bananas on the north side of the Queens Dock, exactly where the body had been brought to the surface by the tug! The Geestland was brought back into Cardiff and dry docked and something very significant was quickly found. A length of chain was discovered hanging below the hull near the propeller. It was about 20 feet long and on the end was a shackle secured with a nut and bolt. That answered a question that had been puzzling the officers ever since the body had been found; an unexplained spanner had been discovered tied to the wet suit chest. When the spanner was matched to the shackle, they were an exact fit. And one of the Geestland’s engineers told of hearing a strange metallic sound coming from the hull during the voyage from the West Indies. A picture was emerging and the police suspected that a container had been secured to the ship’s hull before the vessel left the West Indies and was to be recovered when the ship arrived in the UK. The dead diver was apparently part of a well-organised drug running syndicate!

Following a different line of enquiry, the man who had made the anonymous calls was traced and he identified the deceased as his friend- Peter Macdonald Jones. The dead man’s mother told police that he had had a girlfriend known as ‘The Duchess’ who worked at a department store in Reading. At the store, a former employee was tracked to South Wales and enquiries at a store in Cardiff found that a new member of staff had recently been distressed; she had confided to a colleague that her boyfriend had died. Back in Reading, enquiries established that there were connections to some fairly undesirable people involved in the local drug scene.

The woman, known as ‘The Duchess’, was arrested and immediately lied about her identity. Realising she may have made a mistake she fell silent and remained that way throughout an initial interview. She was taken home for a search of her flat in Newport. At first, nothing incriminating was found nor was there anything to link her to Peter Jones or even to Reading. Seemingly, she was a woman without a past but as the search progressed, officers noticed that the only indication of any wealth in the flat were two original paintings by L.S. Lowery on the lounge wall. DI Miller examined the paintings and took the back off them. Between the canvas and the backboard of one was a photograph of Peter Jones and in the second was a photograph of her and Peter together. Here was the connection the police had been searching for.

With her boyfriend dead, The Duchess could see that she had nowhere else to go and her best option now was to help the police. Over time, DI Vic Miller established a rapport and her story was slowly unravelled; it proved to be a revealing story indeed. She had been set up in the flat by her boyfriend, Peter Jones, and his associate, James Timothy for the purpose of providing ‘a safe house’ for drug importation operations in South Wales. Jones was a married man and lived in Reading as did Timothy, who was believed to be heavily involved in the drugs underworld. Almost every month she would meet the two men and a canister of drugs would be recovered from a ship bringing bananas from the West Indies. She would fetch the drugs from the docks and drive them to an address in Reading, having been given a cover story in case she was stopped. The operation had been going on for nearly five years, and each consignment meant anything up to £500,000 in street value. It was understood that no-one involved in the drug trafficking should display any outward sign of wealth. Recently though, Peter Jones had begun to deviate from the rules and shortly before he died he had put down a £5,000 deposit on a Porsche motor car. He had also purchased a plot of land in a residential area in Barbados and was having a bungalow built. It was not a wise move; Timothy had learned of the deposit on the car from an associate in Reading

Both Timothy and Jones were experienced divers and on that March night in 1982 they set out on one more drug recovery operation from beneath a ship. They were probably expecting the Geestland to be at Barry Docks but bad weather made Cardiff a preferred option. It was a foul night when The Duchess drove Peter Jones and James Timothy to Cardiff Docks- a gale was blowing and it was lashing with rain- in many respects perfect conditions to undertake their hazardous activity, safe from casual observation. The men changed into their diving gear and as usual it was arranged they would be dropped off by The Duchess who would return later to avoid having the car attract attention. Through the rain and the darkness, she watched them descend the steps into the uninviting water and then left; she would not see Peter Jones again.

The Duchess returned at the prearranged time but Timothy came back to the car alone. He had his diving kit but there was no sign of any drugs and he was vague and evasive about what had happened to Peter Jones. As they waited for around half an hour The Duchess became angry and began to panic, believing that Timothy had done something to him. Eventually, she drove Timothy to Newport, intending to go back and look for Jones in daylight. Timothy led her to believe that an argument had taken place about the drugs and that he had ended up hitting Jones with a lead diving belt and he had fallen back into the water. Timothy had returned to the car believing that Jones would get out alright, but obviously he had not. The Duchess made enquiries herself amongst other drug dealers to see if Jones had been heard of but she did not go as far as reporting her missing man to the police.

With the discovery of the body the investigation had intensified. One aspect concentrated on the enquiry to trace and interview Timothy, whilst others took on many of the other lines of enquiry including the Reading connection. Many long hours were spent as enquiries spread the length and breadth of the land. Officers learnt that both Peter Jones and James Timothy had contacts in the West Indies and had recently visited the islands. There was evidence that Timothy and Jones had been associates for ten years at least and both had bought diving equipment from the same shop in Falmouth five years previously.

By the middle of June, Timothy had been arrested, taken to Cardiff and interviewed at the BTP Divisional HQ. But throughout the interview he made no reply except to indicate he did not wish to answer questions. His reply was always the same and he never once lost his cool or became perturbed- he simply remained silent. Despite the serious allegations, Timothy was allowed bail and was interviewed on a further five or six occasions. The only variation from his veil of silence was an occasional stock answer- “I have never murdered anyone in my life. I have the highest regard for human life.”

The truth about the events that took place in the dark on the quayside at the Queen Alexandra Dock between Jones and Timothy has never been established. The police investigation had always been led with a murder or manslaughter charge in mind but although there was plenty of circumstantial evidence it was insufficient to bring a charge of homicide. No drugs were ever recovered by the police as a result of this incident, nor were any seen by The Duchess when she collected Timothy. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that there were no drugs there to be recovered. Had Jones or someone else intercepted the haul when the vessel was at an American port during its voyage? And if this was not the first consignment to go missing, was someone doing a bit of freelance work, in the USA perhaps? It may be significant that Jones’ passport showed that he had recently returned to the UK from Barbados via Florida.

James Timothy was charged with conspiring with Peter Macdonald Jones and others to import controlled drugs at Cardiff Docks. He pleaded not guilty at Cardiff Crown Court but was convicted and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. No person was ever charged in connection with the death of Peter Macdonald Jones, the dead frogman of Cardiff Docks.