A self-confessed former gangland heavy who grew up in the Fens and even starred in a film called Big Fat Gypsy Gangster has been named as the man found dead at a farm in Essex.

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Billy Martindale, who once claimed to have been shot at, stabbed and to have spent 15 years on the run, was found with head injuries at his home in Ongar.

Paramedics fought to save the 39-year-old father-of-three but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr Martindale spent seven years of his life growing up in Manea, and when his best friend Tommy Shepherd was murdered it sent shockwaves through the Fenland travelling community.

Despite being linked with numerous crimes, including murder, kidnapping, armed robberies, fraud and causing grievous and actual bodily harm, Martindale spent just six months in prison.

During his stint in Pentonville, he turned to Islam.

Four years ago, he completed an autobiography, called Wanted, which he described as “my life from day one until now. It’s been an emotional experience putting it together”.

Mr Martindale was the son of former professional boxer and prize-fighter Lew “Wild Thing” Yates, who brought his family out of London to Manea when he was 10.

Mr Martindale lived in Manea for seven years and went to Cromwell Community College, Chatteris. He became best friends with traveller Tommy Shepherd, who was the same age. He said in an interview in 2008: “We used to wreak havoc in Manea and Chatteris. We were just kids trying to get our hands on some money so we’d steal cars and scrap metal and do whatever we could to get a note.”

In 1997, the body of Tommy Shepherd was discovered rolled up in a carpet, down a dirt track near Chatteris. Nobody was ever charged with the murder.

Martindale was devastated. He turned from armed robbery to targeting drug dealers, as well as becomiong a hired enforcer and doorman.

“In the early days I would rob businesses and post offices, I’d never target individual people or mug old ladies,” he said at the time.

“But after Tommy’s death I’d do over drug dealers. I hate drugs - I’ve seen them destroy so many people’s lives.

“But I don’t regret the things I’ve done. The people I’ve hurt are bad people. I’ve never been a bully. I’ve only ever bullied bullies.”

Factory worker Paul Groves, 33, of Ongar, has been remanded in custody until December 3 charged with murder.

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