IT was the gangland execution in a pub full of children that showed nowhere was off limits in the city’s escalating drugs war.

Twenty years ago, the Springcroft in Baillieston was packed with families enjoying an early evening meal.

Regulars were watching the Scotland rugby team play Wales at Murrayfield and the incoming football results.

Earlier Celtic had defeated Rangers 1-0 at nearby Parkhead.

Few noticed a young man in a grey hoodie and jeans walking into the Brewers Fayre owned bar around 5pm.

He made straight to the stockily built man on a stool watching the TV screen and pulled out a six-inch blade.

Men, women and children watched in horror as the hitman stabbed him repeatedly, before striding out of the stunned bar as calmly as he had walked in.

Bleeding heavily, Billy McPhee fell from his chair with customers desperately trying to give him first aid on the floor of the venue.

It soon emerged the victim was the right-hand man and trusted associate of crime boss Tam McGraw, with a reputation for inflicting violence on others.

Glasgow Times: Tam McGrawTam McGraw (Image: Archive)

But the roles had been reversed that night with fatal consequences.

When news of his stabbing emerged, officers raced to the scene and the 38-year-old was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

A woman then turned up at the pub claiming to be the dead man’s sister and she was taken away by detectives to be interviewed.

Around 35 people were kept in the pub by police until around 8pm that night – March 8, 2003.

They took away a video tape from the CCTV to see if it had captured the attack and if it could identify the killer.

That evening one eyewitness told reporters: “It was about 20 minutes into the Scotland rugby game when there was a commotion. The victim had been sitting at the bar with a friend, who was in the toilet when the attack took place.

“He was quite a young guy, and he was sitting in shock afterwards.

“It was a frenzied attack. It was terrifying. I helped the man into the recovery position, but he couldn’t speak as he had been stabbed through the throat.

“No matter who you are, you don’t deserve to die like that.”

In the days afterwards the police met a wall of silence in their bid to identify the killer.

Given the reputation of the victim and his associates many, understandably, simply did not want to get involved.

One officer at the time said: “It was a bloody and brutal attack.

“A Brewers Fayre is not the kind of place where you would expect a gangland hit or associate with an assassination.

“To do this in a place where children are around is shocking.”

At the time McGraw was one of Glasgow’s most notorious gangsters said to have made a £30 million fortune from organised crime – including drugs.

Much of it had been laundered through legitimate enterprises such as ice cream vans, taxis, pubs, security firms and property.

McGraw also had the nickname The Licensee among fellow criminals.

To some that was a reference to the Caravel Bar he and his wife Margaret had ran in nearby Barlanark for more than a decade until 1996.

To others it meant he had a licence to commit crime by the police in return for information on other lawbreakers.

Nevertheless, McGraw appeared to be Teflon coated, nothing ever stuck.

A classic example was when he and McPhee both stood trial on cannabis smuggling charges in 1998 at the High Court in Edinburgh.

They both walked free on a not-proven verdict following a 55-day trial.

Four months before his murder, McPhee had been shot in the face with a flare gun as he drank in Shettleston Juniors social club. He’d survived that attack but knew his life was in danger.

There were various motives and theories over his death. Most were due to his links to McGraw and organised crime.

In the aftermath of his murder, it emerged McPhee was suspected of carrying out attacks on two high-profile Glasgow underworld figures in 2002.

One was a street assault on Thomas ‘TC’ Campbell. Campbell had recently been released from prison pending an appeal against his conviction for the murders of six members of the Doyle family in 1984, during the city’s notorious ice cream wars.

Glasgow Times: Thomas TC Campbell Thomas TC Campbell (Image: Archive)

The second was the shooting of a heroin dealer in Cranhill in the East End of the city.

McPhee was also the third associate of McGraw to lose his life in the previous 12 months.

In March 2002, Trevor Lawson, 32, died after being hit by a car near his home in Denny, Stirlingshire, having fled from a fight.

Then in the September, Gordon Ross, 36, was stabbed outside Sheiling Bar in Shettleston and died in hospital that night.

It was while attending Ross’s funeral in February 2003 that McPhee was warned he was in imminent danger.

The hardman began wearing body armour when out of his house. But he thought he was safe in the Brewers Fayre.

He was convinced no one would strike him with kids sitting nearby. But he could not have been more wrong.

When news reached McGraw of McPhee’s murder – at his luxury bungalow home in nearby Mount Vernon – he realised his time was also running out.

His right-hand man was dead, and his enemies were out for blood. Was he to be next on the hit list?

McGraw had already had a narrow escape only a few months earlier.

In 2002, he was attacked less than a mile from his home and stabbed several times, suffering wounds to his arms, wrists and buttocks.

Protected by a bulletproof vest, McGraw however avoided severe injury, though he needed hospital treatment.

He died aged 55 in Glasgow Royal Infirmary in July 2007 after collapsing at his home in Mount Vernon from a heart attack.

In the years leading up to his death he had kept a low profile and was said not to go out in Glasgow after dark.

Another underworld figure, Mark Clinton, 33, was charged with murdering McPhee, five weeks after the pub slaying.

Clinton went on trial at the High Court in Glasgow in April 2004, but the case collapsed after one day through a lack of evidence.

The court was told McPhee had died from a dozen stab wounds, possibly inflicted by a short ornamental sword, mainly round the top of his chest and neck.

Clinton claimed he was elsewhere at the time of the murder and blamed several other men for the killing.

The prosecution case rested mainly on the identification evidence of two witnesses, David Hart, 56, and teacher Henry Carey, 54.

Both had been in the pub that night and saw the killer walk up to the bar.

Mr Carey said the attacker had a rolled-up black polythene bag on top of his head.

He described the scene as “surreal”, with not a word being spoken as the attack was carried out.

The teacher also said the attacker walked with his face fixed downwards, and left the same way, after picking up the murder weapon from the floor.

When asked in court if he saw the killer, he pointed to Clinton, who was sitting in the dock and said he was “60% sure” it was him.

Mr Hart had previously pointed out Clinton at a police ID parade, but when he gave evidence, he said he had possibly picked out the wrong man. It was at this point the prosecution decided to admit defeat.

Clinton later bragged on a Channel 5 documentary that stabbing was “the easiest thing in the world”.

He also told presenter Donal MacIntyre that he once attacked one victim so hard the blade snapped.

Clinton was sentenced to six years in 2005 for carrying a knife and threatening building site workers. He died at his home in Paisley in 2019 at the age of 48.

Police Scotland says it is still committed to bringing McPhee’s killer to justice.

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes added: “The murder of Billy McPhee remains unresolved, however, as with all unresolved cases, it is subject to review and any new information about his death will be investigated.

“Police Scotland never considers such cases closed and the passage of time is no barrier to the investigation of unresolved homicide cases.”