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   Inside Out - North East and Cumbria: Monday February 6, 2006

A tale of two brothers

Ronnie Campbell and brother Eric McGraw
Ronnie Campbell discovers he has a long lost brother

Inside Out tells the remarkable story of how Ronnie Campbell, MP, was reunited with the brother he didn't know he had.

This is the story of two men from very different backgrounds.

Ronnie Campbell is Labour MP for Blyth Valley.

He spends most of his time travelling between his constituency and attending to his duties in the House of Commons.

Eric McGraw lives in Taunton and owns a barbecue restaurant.

Until recently the two men had never met and didn't know they shared a family connection.

Now Inside Out can tell the incredible story of these two brothers for the first time.

Ronnie's story

Ronnie Campbell has been the MP for Blyth Valley since the 1987 election.

He grew up in Blyth in a large family with eight brothers and sisters - and a strict father.

Ronnie Campbell
Ronnie Campbell in his role as MP for Blyth Valley

Like many North East teenagers Ronnie left school at 14 and went down the pit.

He got involved in the miners strikes of 1972 and 1974, and then the big strike in 1984.

Ronnie was a union organiser during these strikes.

He was also a councillor on the local council.

When the pits closed down, he was signing on the dole - and was about to embark on a career as a care worker.

But then the local MP resigned and Ronnie was asked to stand.

He won the selection by two votes, and won the 1987 election with a narrow majority of 856.

Eric's story

In contrast Eric McGraw has had a very different career.

He runs a restaurant in Taunton and is Editor of the National Prison Newspaper Inside Time.

Eric had always known that he was adopted so he started a search to track down his birth mother nearly 30 years ago.

Eric was working for the United Nations and needed to get his birth certificate because he found it embarrassing turning up to embassies with his adoption certificate.

Eric McGraw
Searching for his roots - Eric McGraw

When he got his birth certificate, he found his name used to be Derek Campbell.

The certificate had his mother's name and address on it - and showed that he had no father.

So Eric went to Blyth to find the street - but the family had moved, and so he went to the housing department and eventually the police station to see if anyone knew of the family.

He was lucky because a police officer had played football with the brothers and he gave Eric the address.

Eric then arranged through social services to meet Edna Campbell, his mother.

She told him that he had been kept within the family for a year, before circumstances had forced her to give him up for adoption.

Because of the problems it would cause with Edna's husband (Ronnie's father - now deceased), Eric didn't keep in touch.

However he remembered that Edna had told him that one of her son's was in politics.

Out of the blue

Thirty years later Eric came across the name Ronnie Campbell who was MP for Blyth.

Eric's job took him into the Houses of Parliament from time to time, and Ronnie had been picked to ask a question in the House twice in one week.

It was at this stage that Eric decided to look him up in Dodds' Parliamentary Companion, and he found that Ronnie was the son of Edna and Ronnie Campbell.

He then decided to write to him in his office in Parliament:

"It was a difficult letter to write - I was very conscious of alarming him.

"I wrote a fairly low key kind of letter. Dear Ronnie - if I may so presume - I wondered if you could say if you're the son of Edna.

"I was born Derek Campbell - I met your mum and my mother, I think 30 years ago - terribly sorry to write to you out of the blue."

When Ronnie got the letter in early 2005 he was completely stunned - he had no knowledge of his brother's existence:

"He wouldn't have put his full name and address if it had been a spoof - and I thought it's real," he recalls.

"But I hadn't any clue basically that I had a brother, and I was stunned for a few days.

"I went down to see me mother and she confirmed it was true."

Remarkable reunion

Ronnie wrote a letter back saying that he would love to meet Eric and they arranged to meet up outside the House of Commons.

The long lost brothers recognised each other instantly.

Ronnie and Eric in Blyth
On home turf - the two brothers back in Blyth

"Standing outside the House of Commons, I was waiting for him coming along - and there's always hundreds of people outside... and I spotted him a hundred yards away - as soon as I seen him, I said that's him!," says Ronnie

"I just knew it was him - he just looked the part - I had a good idea how old he was. I think it might have been the walk you know - that style of walk - we have in our family and he has the looks as well.

"We had a good handshake that's for sure - we didn't cuddle and kiss," continues Ronnie.

"Eric's flesh and blood - he's my half brother. I'm delighted, he's delighted - he's the belle of the ball... He's in the clan - he's one of the lads now."
Ronnie Campbell on his brother Eric

"We hit it off straight away - got very close together straight away - cos we came down and went on the terrace - and talked about his life and my life and that sort of thing."

The two men are now good friends - "brothers in fact," says Ronnie.

Ronnie's delighted to bring brother Eric back into the family, and they get on really well.

Eric has now been up to meet the whole family twice and is getting to know his mother Edna.

It's been a very interesting experience for both men and their extended families.

Eric jokes that, "it's quite a large family - enough to make a few football teams".

But despite sharing some of the same genes and having a lot in common, there's one thing that two men don't agree on - politics!

Ronnie is a Labour man whilst his brother is a Liberal!

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Angolan fraud

Man signing cheque
Cheque fraud - cashing in on cheque theft

Every air crew's worst nightmare is an on board terror alert.

When it happened on a North East flight, it proved to be a false alarm - but it led to a multi million pound fraud being uncovered.

Dilson Filipe, an Angolan, was the ringleader of the North East branch of the gang.

He was on a British Airways flight from London to Newcastle when the cabin crew became concerned

In fact Filipe was so concerned about being mistaken for a terrorist that he quickly confessed to his real crime - that of a cheque book fraudster.

At this point - the inquiry took a new twist and he was handed over to the fraud squad.

What he told the police seemed too easy.

The gang had set up a network of false bank accounts. They also got hold of a huge number of stolen cheque books.

Stolen cheques were paid into a bogus bank account - and as long as the cheques kept coming in, the money was churned out from cash machines.

Stolen cheques

The police established that Filipe - the man they'd originally mistaken for a terrorist - was actually a courier farming out stolen cheques books via a small but tightly-knit community of Angolans living in the North East.

Dilson Filipe
Dilson Filipe

The cheque books were going missing in the postal system.

But at this stage the police didn't know how.

What they did know though was people with big bank accounts living in affluent areas of London were being targeted.

The Newcastle gang has now been successfully prosecuted.

Filipe has been deported but none of the money has been recovered.

Although he was initially mistaken as a terror suspect - ironically the police fear the money he stole could end up funding terrorism.

Gang operation

So were did the gangs seemingly endless supply of stolen cheque books come from?

The answer came as similar frauds across the UK, came to light.

Police found that it was at Golders Green sorting office in North London that the scam originated.

Dido Mayue Beleziki
Dido Mayue Beleziki
Photo - Metropolitan Police

Deliveries of cheque books were systematically stolen and sold on to criminal networks across Britain.

Former postman, Dido Mayue Beleziki, was the lynchpin of the operation - he's now starting a six year prison sentence.

He was amongst 20 arrested in the capital in fraud which the police now believe could cost the banks in excess of £20 million.

It seems for the time being that the gang has been broken up.

But with the relative ease with which money was stolen - what's to prevent it happening again.

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Slaves in Africa
Barbaric trade - slaves were sent to the Americas

Inside Out investigates the North East's links to the slave trade.

Whitby is one of our prettiest seaside towns but it also has an unsavoury past and links with the barbaric slave trade.

We investigate two men with Whitby connections who were involved in very different aspects of the slave trade - one who tried to stop it and the other who profited from it.

Inside Out travels in their footsteps to see who is remembered the most.

Slave labour

Two centuries ago sugar came at a price - it was produced by slave labour.

When Britain woke up to the inhumanity of packing slaves across the oceans, diplomats were sent to stop the slave trade at source.

John Beecroft was born in Whitby, and he was appointed as British Consul to try to stop the slave trade in West Africa.

It was his mission to persuade local chiefs to stop selling their fellow Africans into a life of slavery in the Americas.

The Slave Coast's biggest trading post was Ouidah in the kingdom of Dahomey - the modern Benin.

Vestiges of the slave trade are not hard to find - the town's museum is a former slave holding post.

The King of Dahomey captured neighbouring tribes, sold them to the Europeans in exchange for goods and weapons.

It was a case of a black man selling fellow blacks to the whites.

More than 10 million Africans were taken from the continent.

Stopping the trade

In the library of The Lit and Phil in Newcastle we can find clues about Beecroft's mission.

Beecroft writes about the Dahomey Palace having walls lined with human skulls, a warning to all that King Ghezo was a ruthless warmonger.

Ghezo had an army of thousands of soldiers - half of them were female warriors who thought nothing of chopping off an enemy's head.

When Beecroft reached the palace, he had a fearsome mission - to persuade the king to give up slavery.

King Ghezo
King Ghezo - ruthless warmonger

But Ghezo wouldn't sign a treaty.

However, Beecroft must have made his mark as the king presented him with an ornate chair.

This is the only tangible reminder of our man of good intent.

Back in Ouidah the only link to those times are the descendants of the king's viceroy with whom Inside Out was granted an audience.

We found that whilst they are proud that the kingdom eventually replaced slavery with agriculture, no one could recall the British diplomat.

What we do know is that Beecroft convinced other chiefs to sign the treaty against slavery.

So we can be proud of the role he played, but we cannot honestly say that he managed to stamp out slavery.

Pillar of society

Someone who's wealth depended on that slave labour was
James Wilson.

Slave ship
Slave ship used to transport the Africans

Whilst Beecroft was trying to stop the slave trade, Wilson was busy making his fortune on the backs of those forced to work on his Caribbean sugar plantation.

He would eventually give up his sugar plantation in St Vincent, settle in Whitby and try and re-invent himself as a model citizen.

He spent his wealth on ostentation, turning a large house into a castle, commissioning his own coat of arms, providing a new school and rebuilding the local church at Sneaton.

Wilson wanted to be seen as a pillar of the community.

Making their mark

So what impact could our two Whitby citizens possibly have had on such a massive trade in human lives?

Although Beecroft did make some advances in stopping the slave trade, he is barely remembered today.

And Wilson's legacy is now seen more as a model citizen than a slave trader.

However, there is one delicious twist of fate - Wilson's Castle is now owned by an order of Nuns whose main charity work is in Africa.

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