Happy Valley: Who Are Halifax Gangsters the Kneževićs?

Drug dealers and people traffickers, crime family the Kneževićs have plagued Happy Valley from the start. Here’s their history.

Alec Secareanu as Darius in Happy Valley S3
Photo: BBC

Warning: contains spoilers for Happy Valley Series 1, 2 and episode 3.1. 

“You know how New Jersey has the Sopranos? Well Halifax has the Kneževićs.”

“Untouchable” is how Sgt Cawood describes Halifax gangsters the Kneževićs, the Yorkshire-Central/Eastern European (possibly Croatian) family whose criminal enterprises keep Catherine and her police colleagues busy in the Calder Valley. They’re drug dealers and people traffickers whose shadowy hand runs the local underworld. Everybody knows who’s behind their crimes, but nobody can link any evidence to them, and potential witnesses are too terrified by threats of violence and death to speak up.

2014: Ashley Cowgill, Darius Knežević and Gary Gaggoski

With good reason. In Series 1, we saw one of the Kneževićs’ employees shot dead by them despite being in police protection. Local drug dealer Ashley Cowgill had been arrested for colluding in the kidnap and ransom of Ann Gallagher, the daughter of wealthy local businessman Nev Gallagher. Ashley and his accomplice Kevin Weatherill had planned the kidnapping as an easy payday, not intending anybody to get hurt, but then Ashley made the grave error of involving Happy Valley villain Tommy Lee Royce, an associate of the Kneževićs recently released from an eight-year prison sentence on drug charges. Royce murdered a police officer, savagely beat Catherine, drugged and raped Ann, and stabbed his accomplice Lewis to death.

Ad – content continues below

Ashley paid for his mistakes with his life. After his arrest for his part in the kidnap, he made a deal with to inform on the Kneževićs in exchange for immunity from prosecution and witness protection. They still got him. While Ashley was being transported by police, two men on a motorbike drew up alongside his vehicle and shot him dead through the car window. In Series 3, his suspected killer is given a name – Alec Secareanu’s character Darius Knežević, the gang leader who had used the same 9mm Glock two months earlier in April 2014 to kill Gary Gaggoski – the body Catherine discovers in a barrel, partly encased in cement in the drained reservoir in Series 3’s opening episode. 

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Gary Gaggoski’s murder on Happy Valley. In Series 1, episode 4 (BBC Writers Room script extract below), when Ashley, Lewis and Tommy are discussing what to do about their kidnap victim Ann, Lewis suggests involving someone “higher up. Somebody who can make people disappear.” When Ashley scoffs at him, he says “Gary Gaggoski. He disappeared. Tony Stead says he’s sat at t’bottom of Scammonden dam in concrete underpants.” Sally Wainwright’s script specifies that Tommy responds with a noiseless snigger/sneer. Thanks to the St Christopher medal, now we know the sneer is because Tommy knows all about Gary’s disappearance, and his corpse’s real location.

Gary’s murder took place in April 2014, just after Tommy Lee Royce’s release from prison, before he got involved in Ann’s kidnap. Gaggoski’s corpse is a boon for Yorkshire police, who might finally have something concrete (excuse the pun) to pin on Darius Knežević. They just need the cooperation of prisoner Tommy Lee Royce, who was present at the murder, to take Darius down. 

Surprise surprise, Royce won’t cooperate, and instead names the Kneževićs Oldham rival Chris Oxley as Gary’s murderer. It’s possible that Royce made a deal with the Kneževićs to spare his life (Darius ordered his murder in prison when Kokovski’s body was discovered) in exchange for naming Oxley. 

2016: Aurelia, Ilinka, Goran Dragović and the Sex-Trafficking Ring

Putting bodies in reservoirs is by no means the extent of the Kneževićs’ crimes. As well as drug-dealing, Series 2 revealed that they also operate a sex-trafficking ring (“Course it would be the Kneževićs trafficking women, that’d be right up their alley”.) When trafficking victim Ilinka Blazevic escaped to Catherine’s police station, the illegal brothel she was being forced to work at by the Kneževićs was raided. 

During the raid, Catherine tasered sex trafficker Goran Dragović, who was arrested but later released on bail, which was paid for by his employers the Kneževićs. They didn’t help Dragović out of the goodness of their hearts, but in order to kill him to stop him from incriminating them. His hanged body was discovered by a nun in a local park, staged to look like a suicide, but it was clear that this was also the Kneževićs’ handiwork. 

Ad – content continues below

At one point in Series 2, it looked as though the Kneževićs were behind the serial killings of sex workers. One of the victims was Aurelia Petrovic, a sex trafficking victim controlled by the Kneževićs, identified by escaped trafficking victim Ilinka. Catherine placed Ilinka with her elderly neighbour Winnie Babbage, who spoke the same language as the trafficked women. When Winnie asked why Catherine didn’t arrest the Kneževićs’, she told her, “They’re clever clever bastards. It’s one thing knowing somebody’s done something, it’s a different kettle of fish having the evidence to arrest them for it.” 

2022: Darius’ Bid for Election, Matija, Ivan and Viktor

And in Series 3, it seems “the ever lovely Kneževićs, the Teflon-coated Kneževićs” are taking strides to enter the mainstream. In addiction to the prescription drugs racket, Catherine’s Inspector mentions Darius getting “elected onto Bradford City Council.” So not only do the gangsters have at least one of Catherine’s police colleagues in their pocket, they’re also infiltrating local government in a further power grab.

The Knežević brothers, we learn in Series 3, are likely behind heavies Matija and Ivan, who threaten pharmacist Faisal and coerce him into upping his illegal prescription drug racket and giving them the proceeds. They’re also behind the blind woman who died climbing out of her Elland flat in an attempt to escape Josep, Matija and Ivan, who had used her flat as a base for criminal activity and to store illegal Knežević money.

Happy Valley Series 3 airs on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.