A FRIEND of Albert Dryden last night recalled how he dug the hole to help the former steelworker create the illegal bungalow that led to the murder of a council planning officer.

John Snowdon, a former haulage contractor, had known the infamous killer, since the 1960s when he made deliveries at Consett Iron Company.

The two men shared a love of American cars, would chat in the canteen and stayed in touch after the closure of the steelworks in 1980.

Dryden talked of using his redundancy money to build a house and Mr Snowdon mentioned a newspaper article he had seen about a man who did not need planning permission because it had been built below ground level and was not visible.

Dryden had seen the same article.

Mr Snowdon, now 81, said: “He said: ‘I am going to do that at mine. Will you dig the hole for us?’ I said: ‘aye’.

“It must have been two years before it was destroyed, so it would be 1988-89.”

Mr Snowdon, who lives in Satley, between Consett and Crook, used a mechanical digger he owned and took three days to remove 2,000 tonnes of earth, leaving a hole about 20ft deep.

He said: “We started on the Monday and by the Wednesday he said: ‘Right stop, that’s enough, that’ll do, that’s champion’. So I pulled the tractor out.

“That night it rained until the following Sunday, and when we went and had a look it was like a pond.

He said ‘I’ll go and hire a fire engine pump’ and when he did the sides had come in with all the water, so we had to dig it out again.

“It was that heavy with clay and with muck it knackered the engine and the gearbox up so I had to get another machine to pull it out.

“The other machine had a cab on it and I was well underneath the ground, but I did it.”

In return, Dryden cemented a garage and built a fireplace for Mr Snowdon, but the original digger has not been used since.

When the land was ready Dryden set about building his bungalow by hand, a labour of love, that would set him on a fatal collision course with planners from Derwentside District Council.

The dispute came to a head on June 20, 1991, when principal planning officer Harry Collinson, 46, joined by televisions crews, newspaper reporters and photographers, arrived at the site in Butsfield, near Consett, to enforce a demolition order.

Armed with a First World War pistol, Dryden, who was then 51, shot Mr Collinson dead, blasted police officer Stephen Campbell in the buttock and hit BBC Look North reporter Tony Belmont in the arm.

Police subsequently found Dryden had amassed an arsenal of weapons in the bungalow and, at a trial the following year, he was convicted of murder and jailed for life.

Mr Snowdon said: “It was a shame what happened. I never had any idea what he had planned or what he would do, but he did express remorse to me. He did say ‘I shouldn’t have done it’.

Dryden, who was released from prison on compassionate grounds last October, died in a nursing home on Saturday, aged 78, having suffered from strokes, which left him unable to talk and confined to cot-like bed.

Mr Snowdon shared letters Dryden sent him from his prison cell in 2016.

They tell how he dreamed of using ten-seat 1978 Lincoln limousine he had been given to go to Tow Law to get cod and chips.

He starts his correspondence ‘Rocket Man hear’ a reference to his hobby of making rockets, and signed them Man of Steel, a nod to his role in his hometown’s industrial past.

Mr Snowdon said: “They called him rocket man because he set one off one day and it nearly hit an aeroplane.”