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My gangster life: Belfast man Stephen Gillen who turned his back on criminal underworld

Stephen Gillen witnessed bloody riots on the streets of Belfast as a child and later became involved in London's serious crime scene. As his biography is published he tells Linda Stewart how he changed his life around

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Chequered past: Stephen Gillen

Chequered past: Stephen Gillen

In east London where he was arrested

In east London where he was arrested

Speaking at International Peace Day in 2019

Speaking at International Peace Day in 2019

The Monkey Puzzle Tree is out now

The Monkey Puzzle Tree is out now

Chequered past: Stephen Gillen

Just outside Stephen Gillen's house on north Belfast's Antrim Road, where he lived as a young child, was the monkey puzzle tree that he has named his new book after. His uncle would warn him never to speak in front of the tree. It held all the secrets of the land, he would say, but was so loyal and silent that whoever it heard would lose the gift of speech forever.

Those were the short days of Stephen Gillen's innocence, before he embarked on a path that would lead him to become one of the UK's most dangerous gangsters with a history of robbery, violence and addiction.

At 14 he was sentenced to eight weeks in a detention centre for theft and criminal damage and would grow up to become boss of one of the East End's most feared crime fraternities.