How the Krays first faced the Richardsons in Shepton Mallet
They were ruthless London gang-leaders – said to deal out torture as easily as card players deal out cards – but the Krays and the Richardsons first met in the most unlikely of places, rural Shepton Mallet.
The Somerset town’s prison, Britain’ oldest jail, was a military jail during and immediately after the Second World War, first for the Americans, and, from September 1945, for the British.
It was in this tough prison, known to soldiers as ‘the glasshouse’ that twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray first met Charlie Richardson.
All three – who were to later rule London’s criminal underground – were awaiting dishonourable discharge from National Service for delinquencies, including absconding.
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Back in London they were rivals who surrounded themselves with feared subordinates capable of killing or maiming to order.
The Krays ruled the East End of London and the Richardsons were the kings of the South London underworld.
Their shadowy world, and that strange meeting in Somerset, is in the news again following the death of Charlie Richardson, 78, said to be one of the shrewdest and most violent of the major criminals who infested post-war London.
Richardson, born in Camberwell in 1934, was the oldest of three brothers, who, like the Krays, were youthful boxers.
Charlie and brother Eddie were capable of hard work and Charlie built up businesses, dealing in scrap metal, amongst others.
But apparently-legitimate businesses hid others, said to include extortion, fraud and protection rackets, which Richardson denied.
The Richardsons became known as “The Torture Gang” which was notorious for alleged punishments during mock trials at the brothers’ scrap metal yard.
Victims were reportedly burned, whipped, and even pinned to the floor with six-inch nails.
Toenails were said to be ripped out with pliers.
Charlie Richardson was arrested on the day of the World Cup Final on July 30, 1966, and stood trial with brother Eddie and hit man Frankie Fraser in the headline-grabbing “Torture Trial” the next year.
Richardson was charged with assault, robbery and demanding money with menaces and was jailed for 25 years.
He denied using torture and claimed a key witness lied and the judge was biased.
In 1980 he escaped from an open prison and was on the run for a year in France.
After his release from prison in 1984, he campaigned for young offenders.
He always maintained that the torture claims were a myth, and that the Establishment had worked to jail him unjustly.
In 2004, his life story was made into a film starring Luke Goss.
In an interview for a History Channel documentary following his release, Richardson admitted he had even tried to bug Prime Minister Harold Wilson's phone on behalf of a South African intelligence group.
He said: “MI5 went mad. I never realised what I was doing.”
His rivals, the Kray brothers, created a criminal enterprise that included racketeering, hijacking, armed robbery and arson.
They were jailed for life in 1969, with a recommended sentence of 30 years, for two separate murders in London.
Ronnie died aged 61 at Wexham Park hospital, Berkshire, in 1995 after suffering a heart attack.
Reggie died from cancer at the age of 66 at the Town House Hotel in Norwich in 2000.
Richardson died on Wednesday, from complications from peritonitis, leaving a wife, Veronica, and six children.