Unlike many criminal peers who operate further down the food chain, the Gillespie brothers have flown under the radar for more than two decades.
Secretive James and Barry have kept a low profile since they started out as low-level drug dealers more
than 20 years ago.
But now the pair’s ascent from a council flat in Rutherglen to the top of organised crime appears to have come to a shuddering halt.
It follows a series of arrests and raids by an elite team of Police Scotland detectives.
Officers working on Operation Escalade have linked seizures of cocaine, heroin and pressing equipment used in the distribution of drugs to the siblings.
A string of successful police searches has also resulted in guns being removed from Scotland’s streets.
The Gillespies – who left Scotland with their families about 10 years ago – started to feel the net close in and suddenly left their luxury homes in Portugal in the last two years.
The Brothers are thought to be hiding out in South America. Brazil has been suggested as a possible destination but it’s believed they have the resources and contacts to move quickly.
James’s wife Lyndsey lives in the Paisley area but sources say they are still together.
The couple lived in a high-rise flat in Rutherglen’s Stonelaw Towers when they got married in 1997. By then, James had already started carving out a reputation within Scotland’s illegal drugs trade with his younger brother Barry, who married his wife Adrienne in 2001.
Barry and Adrienne lived in a tenement flat in Rutherglen’s Johnstone Drive before both couples left Scotland around 2008.
They moved to the same luxury estate in the Algarve, where police say they built their organised crime empire. One source said: “The contrast from their humble beginnings to the life they led in Portugal could not be more marked.
“They have cash, power and resources and have managed to maintain their criminal empire by remote control.”
The Gillespies appeared to suffer their first setback in 2009 when cocaine worth £31million was discovered
hidden in a lorry in Montpellier, France. Customs officers found 1500 boxes containing 684kg of the drug.
The haul was hidden among a load of cash registers and coffee. The truck was owned by Lanarkshire businessman Charles McAughey, who was jailed for separate drug offences in France in January 2017.
French authorities hailed the seizure as the country’s biggest ever. Truck drivers Kenneth Ross and James Davidson were arrested and spent three years in a Marseilles jail before being allowed home in 2012.
Both men denied being involved in the transportation of the drugs.
The Gillespies blamed the bust on John Jackson – a former associate of dead gangster Stewart “Specky” Boyd – who was monitoring the truck’s journey back to the UK.
A source said: “Losing the consignment of cocaine in France was a big obstacle for The Brothers to overcome. If someone is in possession of a drugs parcel and it’s lost, then that person is still responsible for the bill being paid. It’s never written off or put down to experience.
“Losing that amount of coke was a nightmare for them and cost a lot of money. Some people thought they would be finished after that.”
But the Gillespies were able to recover from the loss and set about developing what police believe to be the country’s most dangerous crime syndicate. They have ties to gangs in South America, Spain, the Netherlands and England.
The group was linked to the death of Dutch underworld figure Martin Kok, who was shot dead in 2016. Police investigating his murder met the Operation Escalade officers in Scotland last year to share intelligence.
Kok had met Gillespie associate Christopher Hughes before he was murdered outside a sex club in the Dutch town of Laren.
Hughes represented a mobile phone firm which wanted to advertise encrypted phones on Kok’s crime
website Vlinderscrime. The company, which cannot be named for legal reasons, also wanted to sponsor his appearances on Dutch crime shows.
Encrypted handsets are popular with organised crime groups desperate to thwart police efforts to detect their activities.
Hughes fled the crime scene before handing himself into police. He was held for three days but released
The mobile phone firm, which no longer trades, operated from a mailbox address in Woodlands Road in Charing Cross, Glasgow.
In 2016, The Brothers also recovered £2million of dirty money which was stolen from a safehouse in Glasgow’s Castlemilk area.
The cash was taken by a criminal nicknamed Black Fergus, who had no idea it belonged to the Gillespies. But it was returned a week later when the brothers told rivals it was theirs. A source said: “The Brothers have been known to police for years.
“Over the last few years, they’ve become the biggest crime gang in the country with connections
throughout the world.
“Some people think they’ve acted disproportionately and the levels of violence they’ve been responsible for have been over the top.
“That is the one thing that makes police lose their patience.
“They are quite happy to bide their time when it comes to catching drug dealers but, when guns and violence are involved, they become much more proactive.
“This is why the Gillespies have made themselves Scotland’s most wanted criminals.”