The Glasgow Ice Cream Wars

In the 1960s, the city of Glasgow, Scotland, built new housing projects that were far from the downtown shopping district. With no transportation, the residents bought supplies any way they could. The ice cream trucks that served the neighborhoods began to stock groceries and toilet paper along with ice cream -and eventually drugs and stolen goods, too. In the 1980s, ice cream vendors each had their own territory, and when a new entrepreneur wanted in on the action, it led to violence, while the trucks still played music box tunes and attracted children.   

The ice cream gang wars frequently ended up in Glasgow crime blotters. Even a summer job as a server could put you in danger: On September 9, 1989, The Glasgow Herald reported that while serving ice cream in a van, an 18-year-old was shot in the shoulder and permanently disabled by a 23-year-old ice cream gang member, who felt so guilty he attempted suicide over the incident. In 1986 one ice cream van was robbed by two young men with “a plastic bag of two revolvers in it”; they planned to “damage ice-cream vans in Castlemilk,” a district of Glasgow.

By 1984, the violence had graduated to murder. Ice cream man Andrew “Batboy” Doyle infringed on someone else’s territory, and allegedly refused to back away or sell merchandise for the dominant gang’s vans. Another van company began intimidation tactics against Doyle. When the standard glass-breaking and threats didn’t drive him away, they started a fire at his house that ended in the deaths of Doyle and five members of his family, including an infant.

A police crackdown led to arrests, falsified confessions, prison escape, and even hunger strikes. Read about the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Andy Mitchell)

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