John Alexander Symonds
“I'd say: ‘join the KGB and see the world’ - first class. I went to all over the world on these jobs and I had a marvellous time. I stayed in the best hotels, I visited all the best beaches, I've had access to beautiful women, unlimited food, champagne, caviar whatever you like and I had a wonderful time. That was my KGB experience. I don't regret a minute of it ...”
KGB Romeo Spy Part 4 - Drury
This is the story of John Alexander Symonds life. The draft book was circulated to about 200 publishing houses and several showed an interest in offering it to the public.
Unfortunately the D-Notice Committee made objections to some of the contents on the grounds of National Security and so the book was never published.
The book is now published in its entirety on this website for the first time.
INDEX to my Biography
Charlie and Eddie Richardson had started off as a couple of young lads from Camberwell. Their parents were honest working class people but the boys were a bit of a handful and they piled up the usual slate of juvenile convictions. Left to their own devices, they probably would never have been anything much more than scrap metal dealers and hirers of fruit machines but I think they would have been successful whatever they did. They may have gone on to become respected millionaires, working-class boys made good but, as far as being a criminal organization is concerned, they were created by corrupt police. (I believe the same is true with the Kray brothers in the East End, though I never served there, but) I know that the Richardsons could never have grown to become so powerful or accumulate such immense influence without their tame policemen.
But in reality, it wasn’t the policemen who were tame. On the contrary, the police regarded them, the Richardsons, as tame. In other words, we could deal with them. They were our boys. For the most part we controlled them. They weren’t an independent operation, they were a subsidiary, an appendage, of the local police. There was so much talk of gangs and organized crime but all the time there was another far bigger criminal organization, only it wasn’t called a gang. The public knew it colloquially by the name of its headquarters building as that much-revered institution, Scotland Yard. More precisely, it was the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police. But to those in the know, it was called ‘the Firm’.
The Firm was Us. Sure, criminals used to see us as their mortal enemy, just like they did in British B movies of the day, but that wasn’t because of our dedication to wiping out crime. It was because we were their greatest competitors. At that time crooks often used to say things like, ‘Cor, I wish I was on your Firm’, as they handed over yet another wadge of money. They each had their own little firms, and when they were gossiping to us about rival outfits, they would say, ‘Oh, so and so's got a nice little firm up’, or, ‘I was in this pub and in came this little firm...’. ‘Little firms’ was a common expression for what the press or the public were calling gangs, whereas the members of these little firms used to call all of us in the CID, The Firm. That's how the expression arose back in the 1950s and 1960s when London’s CID was the biggest criminal organisation in the whole of Britain. And no other firm - be it the Krays, the Richardsons or the Freddie Foreman mob - could ever have existed without our Firm.
We used to look at it this way. There's only one Firm, and that’s us. The rest are minor firms operating under licence from us. But when they become embarrassing, or the word goes out that their licences have expired, we put them down, as major firms have always put down minor firms. It's as simple as that.
Of course, in the later 1960s newspapers were full of banner headlines and sensational stories about gang warfare in London, especially between the Krays and Richardsons, but all these stories were being orchestrated by the master organisation for organised crime in the capital: Scotland Yard itself. It was the Pot calling the Kettle black. As for most lowly detectives on the ground, such as myself, we were either knaves or fools. Either we were at it ourselves or we turned a blind eye to what was going on around us. And Boy! Was a lot going on! We thought we were untouchable, indestructible. We were young men, most of us fit as fiddles, enjoying the best sports facilities and health care, and we did not even wear uniforms. We went around in plain clothes, we always had cars and drivers at our disposal, and we had a job where we could go anywhere, do anything and get away with it. We could ignore the law because, quite simply, we were the law.
So myself and my CID colleagues, if we took a dislike to you, it would be quite easy for us to find some cannabis in your pocket. Or we might swear blind in court that we found you alone on Hampstead Heath, with your trousers down (though we did see another man running away whom we failed to catch) and that you were flashing or importuning - but the whole story would be a fabrication. Can you see how dangerous it is? Where you have a group of people who would back each other up, tell lies on oath, and, dressed up in smart suits and looking the part, probably be believed in court. And no matter how much you complain or what lawyers you get, you are going to be convicted of importuning, flashing, having dope in your pocket or even - hypocrisy of hypocrisies - attempting to bribe a police officer!.
As crooked police, we were more powerful than the most fantastic criminals you could imagine - the Krays, Richardsons, everyone else put together - because we could take away anyone's liberty at any time, on any pretext, for any reason, twisted mentally or otherwise. That was the power - and neither I nor my colleagues should ever have had it because power corrupts. For a time I believed my position was untouchable, invincible. I could do what I like, say what I like, break any law I liked, hurt anybody I like. If I had a violent disposition, I could punch anyone in the face, and then take them to court and charge them with assaulting me.
That was the power and a lot of people knew we had it, they felt it daily, especially crooks. Yes, the Richardsons could terrify little villains around Peckham and Camberwell but only because we sub-contracted petty justice to them, mucky work but wholly necessary and a form of public service which served almost everybody’s interests. It worked like this. There was a sort of relationship between gangsters and the police which ensured that, even in the roughest neighbourhoods, it was safe for old ladies to walk the streets. I'm not saying they could leave their doors open but at least if some villain or psycho from outside the area moved into Peckham or Camberwell and started hitting old ladies on the head or raping young girls, then the Richardsons and any other local firm would sort him out in their own way. And in time, when the criminal fraternity realised that the Richardsons had secured such a hold on the area, only a complete crazy would be so foolish as to go into their territory and do things like that, because they were sure to be ‘seen to’.
If there was a crime of a particularly horrific nature, like a little girl being abducted, the criminals were just as outraged as the police and the public, so the criminals would do whatever they could to track down that child molester. Several serious, ‘out of order’ crimes as Charlie Richardson would say, were solved only with assistance from those quarters. All of a sudden there would be a phone call telling us where we could find the molester. By the time we found them, the molesters themselves might be in a dreadful state because the locals had taken justice into their own hands. This vigilante action operated even against people who had attacked the police. If a copper had been slashed across the face, someone from our Firm would go and see the Richardsons and very soon the attacker would be fingered and handed over. Perhaps the ‘criminal fraternity’ gave up such maverick offenders for their own peace and quiet, because otherwise the police would harass a lot of ‘straight’ crooks. In a case like that, we were sure to come down on every villain in the neighbourhood. We would get a mass of search warrants and turn them all over, rush into all their drinking dens and stop and search every ‘face’. Maybe it was to avoid that, maybe it was self-preservation, but I think it was more than that. It was all part of a system of give-and-take between the acknowledged crime bosses and the senior police officers in the same area. Symbiosis - that’s what academics and sociologists call this nowadays. For us it was a case of, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’.
So when older people seem to wax sentimental and say that a lot of the nasty things that happen now, on the streets of London, wouldn't be happening if the Richardsons or Krays were still around, they aren’t talking total nonsense, because those gangs really did operate their vigilante justice under our authority and control. They did it through us, for the benefit of the wider community. Today none of this would be tolerated, and quite right too, but remember that it was only when all these big gangs were broken up around 1970 that street crime began to get out of hand, leading to the appalling fear of crime among wide sections of the community which now mean many people are too frightened to go out at nights. As one senior officer said to me back in the mid-1960s when both the police and the gangs were coming under increasing media attack, ‘If this goes on, these people will get the police force they deserve, and it won’t be a force that can keep the lid on crime. The statistics will go through the roof’. And so they have.
But of course even though the Richardsons helped keep down the crime rate for particularly abhorrent anti-social offences. they did not keep down the crime rate for lorry heists, long firm frauds, scrap metal thefts and all the other things they were up to themselves. Sure, they helped keep the streets safe, but in return they expected to be left alone to control and discipline all the other gangs in the area. There was a stage where no criminal could do anything in Camberwell without them knowing. If you were a villain and you wanted to start anything illegal, they would want a share. If you were sensible, you went and got their permission in advance. You would say, ‘Look, I'd like to set up a long firm’, and they would give you a licence to do it. On the other hand, if they discovered - as they surely would discover - that you were doing something without their permission and not cutting them in, their tough guys would come round saying, ‘Charlie wants to see you’. And he'd talk to you about it. If you were lucky, he'd just take a percentage. If you were unlucky he'd take the whole blooming lot.
The Richardsons never did over the pavement ‘blags’. Sure, they used to profit from robberies, by taking a share of them, but neither Charlie nor any of his clan ever donned a mask and steamed into a bank with a sawn-off shotgun. They were ‘blaggers’ in the other sense of the term: they ponced off hardworking villains who would spend months plotting up a robbery, only to have half the proceeds taxed off them because Charlie had found out who had done it. He had to have his share or else... well, it never had to be spelled out because next day a local detective might be spotted in Charlie’s company and who knows what whispers might pass between them.
The Richardsons were not so much thieves as entrepreneurs profiting from other people’s thefts. They did quite well buying stolen lead off totters, who would come in with a gunny sack stuffed with lavatory overflow pipes, but they were using their scrapyards to receive whole lorry loads of stolen goods. That’s how they became ‘receivers’, they received stolen goods, but sometimes even they could be made fools of. An informant of mine was with them one night when a couple of cheeky associates phoned up, claiming they had a lorry full of fur coats but the lorry had broken down so they were going to abandon it but did the Richardsons have any other ideas. This sent Charlie and Eddie into a salivating flap, trying to work out a way to rush over to the other side of London and put this lorry on tow, or transfer the furs, without getting caught. This particular caper was a huge hoax which no doubt sent the hoaxers into fits of laughter, as this was just the sort of business which the Richardsons really did get away with, week in week out. If you had stolen a load you could phone them up, and they would take it off your hands. They had outlets in dozens of street markets and crooked shops. With such a distribution network, they could handle huge quantities of stolen goods which lesser firms could not.
My own association with the Richardsons began after I was posted to St Mary Cray on the edge of south east London. Charlie and Eddie had both bought large homes in St Mary Cray area - they no longer lived in the hunched-up streets of Camberwell. By chance I acquired some very reliable sources within their gang so, on occasion, I was able to give Ken Drury, information about what they were up to, which even Ken would not have known about from his own sources. Or so I first thought.
I quickly learned that they were no fools. They were hard-working, industrious, shrewd and far cleverer than most other criminals. They were organisers, they had good business brains and, although they leeched off other villains, they also made money themselves. At the same time they were violent and were prepared to use violence against anyone that dared set up in opposition. Even so, they were well thought of by Camberwell people because, like the old-style Mafia godfathers were supposed to be, the Richardsons would help ordinary citizens in trouble. If you were being threatened or someone was taking a liberty, the Richardsons would help.
In return Camberwell people were generally loyal to the Richardsons and never breathed a word of their criminal activities to the police. You would have thought there would have been a constant flow of information about businesses which operated so publicly - with lorry loads of stolen metal going in and out of their yards, and other forms of stolen property being recycled - but no information ever came in.
Nowadays everyone talks of the Richardsons as if they were a monstrous gang of torturers, but they didn't go round bullying Camberwell residents or whacking city gents. Certainly they beat up the odd small-time crook who tried to ‘take a liberty’, but that was normal. They helped make the streets safe for old ladies but not for young men whose own idea of a good night out was a good fight. When I first knew Eddie Richardson, that was exactly his game. He'd fight anybody, it was a joy to him. He was like that from the first moment I saw him in a dance hall in Streatham. I used to go there when I was off-duty, having a night out, and I used to see many a fight going on where Eddie just knocked someone down and that was the end of it. He had old-fashioned principles. If he knocked you down, and if you said, ‘Alright, alright, I've had enough, it would be all over. You would have a wash-and-brush-up, and then go and have a drink with him at the bar, and from then on you would be friends. It was like being back at school, where you would have a fight with a lad, and afterwards he would be your best buddy. You'd establish some sort of bond. That was Eddie.
And if there was a really huge fight going on, and everyone else on his side was retreating in one direction, Eddie would whoop with joy and charge back into the enemy, swapping punches in all directions. Yet even in this kind of warfare, if he knocked a chap down, he didn't start kicking him in the head and face or break his ribs. He would just walk away. He was a clean fighter. He would stop, the fight was over, it was won.
In that sense Camberwell, along with the rest of working-class London, was a violent society, where people used to get whacked or smacked for minor infringements, and accept it. This was especially true if the whacking and smacking came from the police, who must have been dishing it out ever since the Met was set up in 1829. Long before my time, your friendly neighbourhood bobby would roll up his cape and hit petty offenders round the ear. We were still being issued with these old-style capes and I found that with one swing, a rolled-up cape could knock hooligans over and really injure them. Meantime it was common for a policeman to take his coat off, pile in and give someone a hiding. Violence was accepted as a way of life and you would often see squabbles being settled with flying punches. It was only when the pugs resorted to broken glasses and bottles and ultimately knives that it became nasty.
But if, by chance, someone ever did complain about any of the Richardsons’ activities, be it a good Saturday night beating from Eddie or something more criminal, that's where the police protection came in. And the policeman who oversaw this protection was none other than my boss at the regional crime squad, Ken Drury. Later he would become notorious and be jailed for eight years, but when I worked for him he was at the height of his honest thief-taking reputation.
I thought the world of Ken Drury. He was a big man in many ways, not only physically but in voice, manner and character. He needed a young detective as his regular driver and I was given the job He took a liking to me and I spent a lot of time in his company. I admired him and I liked to be with him because he was very knowledgeable, a walking encyclopaedia about crime in London. He knew more about who was doing what and what was going on than any other policeman I ever met. We were together for years and became friends, even though he was far senior to me and much older. I also spent a lot of time in his company off-duty, but, as grafting detectives, we were never off-duty. When work was finished in the office, Ken and I used to go off and usually end up in nightclubs or shady bars. Wherever we went, we never paid for anything. I just used to follow in behind Ken and everything was free: meals, drinks, as much as you wanted, even in the smartest West End clubs and casinos. If we wanted to gamble - and we often did - people would always come along and give us a handful of chips. ‘Go and have a spiel’, they’d say, and when we had lost those chips, up they would come again: ‘Have another handful’. Of course, if we won, we used to cash up and keep our winnings. It was a pay-off, of course, barely concealed, but this was the way Ken worked. In all these establishments he knew people who would tell him the latest on whatever crime or criminals he was pursuing at the time - or which, they thought, he ought to know about. I’m sure he enjoyed these outings as relaxation but he also used them to get a lot of information.
As a result he became a prolific thief-taker, winning promotion all the way up to commander of the Flying Squad. Even so, many of his colleagues regarded him as a buffoon. He knew that and didn't care. He was very gregarious and he liked to be handed triple gins with tonic and ice and lemon, eat a big dinner, and smoke a big cigar. He loved that sort of life, and to be talking slang with people who were his doubles - big, loud mouthed, crude, confident, couldn't care less - except that they were major criminals. Ken was a man's man, and that's why he got on so well with gangsters. He was like them, a cockney from humble beginnings, but he had made his way and he had respect. Some of them could have been his brothers, the way they went on. And I felt out of it. Well, I was only the driver.
Some people used to say, how on earth could a man like that have got where he did, because he wasn’t very educated, he was loud-mouthed, and crude in personal ways. If you were a sensitive soul, you could be very upset by the sort of things he might say. You might even feel destroyed. His nickname was ‘Trumpet’ because he was always bellowing across the office or down the phone in his loud voice but I assure you, he was no buffoon. He was very shrewd and he didn't mind being regarded as a buffoon - not that I would ever have called him a buffoon, either to his face or behind his back. He's dead now, and you can call any dead man a buffoon, but no-one ever dared say that to his face, when he was boss of the flying squad.
Yes, of course, he was corrupt but then we were all corrupt. Why single out Ken Drury? Just consider that some of the people who went on to occupy the very highest positions at Scotland Yard joined the CID at the same time as I did, when - barring a few individuals who swam against the tide - anybody who was appointed to the CID had to be corrupt. It's possible that when there were clamp-downs some people had religious conversions and - Abracadabra! - they weren't corrupt any more. A lot of those people applied for, and got, jobs on anti-corruption squads which were a safe haven, but they had been corrupt in the beginning. The difference between them and Ken was that he caught major villains. Who did they ever lock up?
It was only when I started driving Ken round south London that I realised that among his circle of criminal chums were none other than the Richardson brothers. It has been said that Ken was their minder, though the brothers deny it, and I could see for myself that he must have established a relationship with them, years before when they were nothing but Camberwell scrap dealers, and he was then the detective sergeant at Camberwell, At that time there were scrap dealers down every back alley, totters with carts collecting bits of lead. Most were minor villains, so how did the Richardsons emerge as major ones? Probably due to Ken Drury ‘minding’ them, looking after their interests. He kept them safe from the petty aggravations of his CID colleagues, while ensuring that their rivals were sent to jail.
Ken had a two way relationship with the Richardsons. He was helping them by eliminating their competition and they were helping him with money or information. I must say that I never saw anyone giving Ken money. I used to see him with these gangsters, but even if he was taking money from them, they weren't silly enough to do the deal in front of a young sprog detective. It was out of my class. But I am sure that, if he did take money, it wasn't small sums. If Ken was doing favours for the Richardsons, he wasn't doing it out of the kindness of his heart, or because he liked Charlie Richardson's face. The way things were in those days there had to something in it for Ken!
But however much he took in cash, I am equally sure that to him the information they supplied would have been far more valuable. This would have been information about other criminals, for there is no gang - no top-line criminal, no criminal enterprise - whose success cannot be attributed in part to knocking off the opposition. That’s what drug dealers are doing now. Most of the information on drugs comes from other drug dealers who want rival dealers put away and removed from competition. It was the same then with lorry loads of stolen scrap metal. If it had not been for Ken Drury, some other gang would have become the overlords of south London instead of the Richardsons who would never have got anywhere without his protection. They would have got nowhere, if he hadn’t looked after their interests.
Not that this did them any good in the long run. If they had never received any ‘help’ from Ken and other bent detectives, they might now be respected pillars of the community, comfortably retired in villas in the sun, instead of notorious gangsters, unjustifiably bracketed with the psychopathic Kray twins. If the Richardsons had not been given licences by Drury & Co, they would not have fallen so far.
As for me, after a couple of years of advanced corruption training by Ken Drury, it was time for me to take my own step up the CID ladder. I now had enough 'service' to become a sergeant but, before I could apply for that promotion, I had to take the sergeant’s examination. You may feel by now that there was no form of corruption which I had not encountered at first hand, and there was nothing left to shock me, But everything was so corrupt, this did not matter because the sergeant's exam papers were up for sale. They were being sold by the superintendent who was setting the questions! And beyond that the inspector’s exam papers were for sale too!
Well, once we had ‘passed’ these exams, we all ‘had it made’ because, beyond the rank of inspector, there were no more exams. After that it was promotion by selection board all the way up to the top of the tree. Now your future is entirely in the hands of people who are a rank or two above you but who know you as partners, buddies, and fellow-shareholders in the Firm. That's why it was so important to keep in with your colleagues, because, if you didn't behave the way they wanted you to behave, you wouldn’t get promoted.
And to me promotion mattered far more than money. If I had been really corrupt - which I wasn't - I could have become a very wealthy man. I could have lined my pockets in a big way but I didn't. I was just trying to get on in the CID. Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that, not only did I sail through the exam, I was immediately promoted to sergeant. This itself was a sign of favour because passing the sergeant’s exam was no guarantee that you would ever reach that rank. Many people had to wait years for promotion. For some it never came. More curious still, I was posted to Ken Drury’s old stamping ground, Camberwell and I’m sure Ken had a lot to do with me going there. It was a ‘laying on’ of hands, an apostolic succession. He had engineered this posting so I could look after his Camberwell interests, notably his interests with the Richardsons. He had looked after them and allowed them to grow. Now as he went off to Scotland Yard to head the Flying Squad, he needed someone on the ground in the heart of his old empire to watch his back and theirs.
And so by the mid-1960s I was a detective sergeant at Camberwell where I had almost unlimited power. I was lord of all I surveyed because Camberwell was a ‘sergeants station’: we were just four sergeants, there was no one above us, we worked in two shifts and had a dozen detectives under us. And we inherited the status of everyone that had been before us, which meant that in Camberwell we could do what we liked. We could put anyone away: we could pick them up, lock them up and then get them put in prison. Or we could pick them up and not put them in prison: we could let them go or we could let them have bail. If we didn't want to dirty our hands, we could arrange for certain people to be beaten up or terrified by our sub-contractors. It was a ridiculous power to give anybody, particularly people of our relative youth and inexperience. We got over-confident. We felt no one could touch us. I could walk down Camberwell High Street and do anything. And this was only Camberwell. There were many other stations where the same thing went on. And as people went on up the rank structure - inspector, superintendent, commander - this feeling must have become thoroughly intoxicating.
There we were, a pack of unsupervised young men who could have nicked anyone, even the Richardsons, despite the insurance policy they held with Ken Drury. And they knew it. After all, they were just human beings - walking the streets, living in houses like anybody else - so they were vulnerable to a corrupt policeman. I'm not talking about half crowns in pockets, I'm talking about the totally corrupt man, who has spent years perjuring himself, getting innocent people locked up in jail. And how it corrupts. When you start off, you can justify it: ‘Yes, I'm telling lies but it's all for the benefit of the state. These are bad men anyway. He's a crook. We know he did it’.
But then it comes to the personal thing: ‘He's given me a funny look in the pub. I think I'll fit him up’. I’ll even tell him, ‘I'm going to fit you up’. Then, if the chap’s street wise, he’s terrified, because he knows that he will be fitted up. So then probably he’ll send in someone to speak up on his behalf, a local bookmaker or publican, some sort of middle man. ‘Oh don't fit up old so-and-so, he's sorry now and he wants to know if he can buy you a drink. He's not a bad lad, you don't have to fit him up’. Or the fool himself would say, ‘Ah, fit me up then. Do your worst!’. Well, that's all right with me, and the next thing he finds himself doing seven or eight years in prison for some nonsensical made-up offence.
I hadn’t been at Camberwell very long when I started getting phone calls from Ken Drury asking me to sort out problems that had arisen with Richardson people or their enterprises on the manor. This I did. I soon realised that the Richardsons were into a new line of crime for them: long firm fraud. A ‘long firm’, otherwise known as an LF, is when fraudsters start up a business or, even better, take over a going concern which isn’t doing too well but still has credit lines with suppliers of quite valuable goods. The fraudsters then place small orders with these suppliers, for a couple of dozen of this or that and pay on the dot. If the suppliers ask for references, the fraudsters show false references or references naming another bent enterprise which they also control, using one dodgy outfit to give credibility to another. Now they build up the size of their orders, bigger and bigger, but simultaneously they delay payment, or they pay off just enough to keep things going. Eventually they are doing this to umpteen suppliers, only by now they are shifting goods at rock-bottonm prices. Say, they are due to pay the supplier £10 per item but they are selling it for £5 to a market trader to unload on the public immediately at less than the £10 which the Richardsons are supposed to pay wholesale. Naturally the goods are selling like hot cakes. So now they have pushed their orders to the limit, they have all the credit they can get, they owe perhaps one hundred thousand pounds, they suddenly place a massive order and pay by cheque. And then - dear me! - the cheque bounces.
Meantime overnight the fraudsters have cleared the warehouse, taken everything out, removed all the books, and extinguished all sign that such a business has ever been there. They might even have burned down the warehouse. All this time the suppliers have kept writing letters until they turn up to find either a burnt-down shell or a place which has been cleared out and closed up, or maybe some other business entirely on the premises. As for the fraudsters, they have vamoosed with hundreds of thousands of pounds from this one operation. That's a long firm fraud.
One fraud property run by the Richardsons was right next to Camberwell police station. We knew it was a long-firm and we used to go in and help ourselves. It was selling everything you could imagine: boxes of shoe polish up to the ceiling, stockings, cigarettes, Schick pens, razors, whatever they had swindled out of suppliers. There was another long-firm going inside the Elephant and Castle shopping centre when it first opened. This was a perfect place because the fraudsters could impress the representatives of the firms that were going to be ‘done’. They would turn up and see this business trading alongside reputable stores like Boots and Woolworths, and think the fraudsters must be legitimate too.
Where were the police in all this? There were usually little notes attached to the CID notice board: ‘Any complaints about such and such a firm, please pass to DC so-and so’. This was necessary because, when we had these long-firm fraud premises on our ground, we knew that sooner or later the supplier of a thousand dozen tins of boot polish would realise he has been ‘done’, discover the premises have been shut down, and storm into the nearest police station. So whenever there were LFs on our territory, we made sure that the uniformed sergeant downstairs referred any complaints directly to us folks in the CID upstairs. By rights these complaints should have gone to the main Metropolitan or City fraud squads which had special units to investigate this kind of racket, but instead our local CID unit made sure these frauds were handled by junior officers who had no idea of how to investigate a fraud. This guaranteed they never got anywhere and the suppliers never got any satisfaction. They just had to write off their losses.
If challenged, the investigating officer could always say he was correlating a number of complaints about the firm in question before sending them all to the fraud squad. But, of course, if he never sends anything to the fraud squad, it will never know. Sometimes, the suppliers would have the sense to employ their own experienced investigators who would complain directly to the fraud squad. In that situation the fraud squad would ask you for the papers and you just sent them up, spluttering that you were just about to do this anyway.
When the Richardsons were doing LFs, Charlie always used plausible front men. He wouldn't stand there himself, in the front of the shop or warehouse, taking deliveries or making orders. Not every LF on the manor was one of Charlie’s. It could be run by some other villain who had got a licence from Charlie and was giving him a slice of the revenues. Meantime Camberwell Police Station would be quietly shielding all these enterprises, according to Ken Drury’s benign guidance from his Flying Squad redoubt at Scotland Yard.
A time would come when not even Ken could protect the Richardsons. In the end it wasn’t one of these highly lucrative frauds that did for them but good old-fashioned gangland thuggery. The roots of their downfall lay in a confrontation which had occurred back in Catford in 1966 That was what brought everything to a head. The trouble started with what seemed little more than a punch-up. It proved to be ‘a punch-up too far’. Guns were used, a couple of people were shot, and one man was killed.
It all happened at Mr Smith’s in Catford, a club which was popular with police and criminals. Many a time I've been into a pub or club and the customers have nearly all been police and criminals, mixing freely, buying each other drinks, though usually the criminals were doing the buying. Mr Smiths was one such club. I remember only one bit of trouble there, when I was with my chief inspector Bert Guiver. Someone said something out of order to Bert, so Bert said to this chap, ‘Well I'll fix you up’ - and the man, tough guy though he was, drunk though he was, collapsed before my eyes. Everyone who saw this was most concerned because when a police officer of Bert Guiver's rank issued such a threat, it had to be taken very seriously. When a detective chief inspector said, ‘I'll fix you up’, they had no doubt that they could be fitted, so intermediaries got to work to take the heat out of the exchange and calm things down.
The rest of the time it was a good atmosphere until, according to our investigation, several gangs wanted to provide protection for Mr Smith’s. Till that point Flash Harry Haward and another gang had been doing the protection, but the owner wasn't satisfied and gave the job to the Richardsons. So the Richardsons went down to take over.
I was on duty at Catford police station, (Divisional 'Q' Car) the night it happened, a Monday, 7 March. In came a phone call about an affray. I went straight to the scene where it was clear that guns had been used. At the start it all looked pretty simple and the officers handling the case expected to sort it out just like this. Someone's been killed. Right, who fired the shot? Arrest him, charge him with murder. Eddie Richardson’s been shot in the leg, somebody else has been shot, arrest the shooter, charge him with grievous bodily harm. End of story. But that was when someone in our police hierarchy decided it wouldn’t be enough to put a couple of low-grade gunmen away. Somebody really big must go to jail too, and it has to be the Richardsons.
And that was the beginning of the end for the whole set up. When there are dead bodies about, when respectable members of the public hear gunshots on the streets, and find bleeding gangsters prostrate in their front gardens crushing their precious daffodils, that's when the police are forced to act. Only, even now, there was a problem for the top cops who seized overall charge of the case. They had to start using their brains because the fact that a few Richardson gang members were involved in a punch-up, even one that had ended in a murder by gunshot, wasn't enough to put the entire gang away - especially as Eddie appeared to be a victim, not an aggressor. Even more inconvenient for those who wanted to make a really spectacular arrest, at the time of the incident Charlie, the brains of the gang, was three thousand miles away in South Africa.
And so it was decided to puff the whole thing up. ‘Inside stories’ were leaked to Scotland Yard’s crime reporter toadies in Fleet Street who dressed it up to look like a law-and-order crisis.. There were headlines about gang warfare right across London. I’m not saying there wasn’t gang warfare. It’s just that for years many of these same reporters had supinely connived in portraying London as being policed by greatest force in the world, incorruptible ‘untouchables’ who always got their man. Now suddenly it was in the Yard’s interests to spread the gang warfare gospel, and Fleet Street duly preached the word.
This happened to coincide with the ambitions of one of the investigating officers who seized the chance to boost this seedy little incident up way beyond anything it deserved. If you arrest one man for shooting that's nothing, it's not going to get you a promotion, but, if you can turn the one shooting into major gang warfare, then whoever's in charge of that case is going to get kudos. And police detectives court publicity. I've known many a detective who had very close contacts with reporters who were only too anxious for stories to go with the detective’s name. That way the reporter gets a story and the detective gets himself noticed and stands out from the pack.
And so the word went out to ‘get the Richardsons’, and by now no-one, not even Ken Drury could help them. He had risen through the ranks of the CID in parallel with their rise through the ranks of the underworld. It was the old story. You start off as a DC dealing with one criminal, he becomes a major criminal supplying you with crucial information about his rivals, and you end up as a chief superintendent or a commander, more or less on the principle: ‘You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours’. But for the criminal, the downside is that when your police protector moves on, retires or dies, then you and your gang no longer have that protection.
In the case of the Richardsons, Drury was still in the force but he couldn't do much about it then because he was no longer at Catford and he had no way of influencing the investigation into Mr Smith’s. Also it has to be said that there had been a breakdown in the gang’s management.The fact that Charlie was away in South Africa at the time meant that certain people were allowed to get out of control. Charlie was a man who controlled things but when the cat's away the mice will play. And even Eddie was getting out of order because he had fallen into bad company. He was running around with Frankie Fraser, who was the worst influence you could wish on your worst enemy.
I know Frankie Fraser. At least, I did know him when he was at his criminal height - or rather his depth because, as a criminal, he was a failure. Anyone who spends forty years of his life incarcerated in jails of one sort or another can’t be considered a success. I've met him. He was charged over that fatal shooting at Mr Smith’s and I was at his trial for murder when he was acquitted. Mad Frankie was a good nickname for him because I think he really was mad. Probably still is, because he would think nothing of seriously injuring anybody on any pretext or on none. You've got tough guys who will say - as he breaks your leg - it's just business, no hard feelings. He's being paid to break your leg and that's it. But Frankie Fraser would pick on strangers walking past with their briefcase, and little more than a newspaper in it, and batter them to the ground for no reason. Fraser's contact with the Richardsons was part and parcel of their eventual downfall. Before Frankie came on the scene Charlie Richardson could always step in and sort out any little unpleasantnesses which arose between minor members of his gang and other gangs or members of the public, or he could he fix things directly with the police, but Frankie’s violence was in a wholly different league which no-one, not even Charlie’s senior police allies, could cover up for long.
In contrast Eddie had always been a fair fighter. But when he came under the influence of Fraser, they just got carried away. They were being violent to the wrong people. As long as they were violent to small-time crooks in their own area, who would accept a beating and not report it, or be too frightened to report it, or the incident would be reported and a policeman would straighten it out, or the policeman would speak to Charlie who would straighten it out, and probably give a small sum of money to the injured person, that was all right. But when Charlie was away and other people were supposed to be controlling things and they didn't, the violent side ran away with them, and that was part of the reason why eventually the whole lot were put away. It was still Charlie’s fault, of course. Sure, for much of this time he was off in Africa trying to develop mines, portraying himself as a legitimate multinational industrialist but he can’t blame what went wrong entirely on underlings because he really was the governor. The buck stopped with him. It was his gang and when he went away on other jobs, other people were running riot. A lot of the violence was associated with the fruit machines when they first came into Britain around 1962. And this was Eddie's side of the business.
If you've got a fruit machine, you've got a licence to print money. People keep putting coins into it, but they only get a fraction back. The takings were divided 50/50 between the machine’s owners and the club or pub renting it, so you put in a good fruit machine in a good club where people had plenty of money to spend, the profit could be a hundred pounds or more in one evening. That's £50 each. Tax free. And I’m talking about the 1960s when that was a lot of money, especially as the machines used to cost no more than two or three hundred pounds. A lot of them cost nothing because they had been stolen. Soon everybody wanted to be in on that business but Eddie used to go along to clubs and pubs and advise the managers to take his machines. He would have someone like Frankie Fraser with him, and if a manager said no, then anyone else’s fruit machine in there could be smashed up, along with the fellow himself. When word got around about the Eddie-Frankie combination, people did not dare refuse. Sometimes there were problems with the people who owned the machines that were chucked out, but as Eddie and Frankie were more violent than everyone else in the business, Eddie soon established a monopoly on fruit machines in the area. And he started driving around in a Rolls Royce, he bought himself a mansion in Chislehurst and he had other businesses, like a wholesale chemist, and all sorts of fingers in many pies. People say Eddie was nothing without his brother, but Eddie was a shrewd, hard-working, successful businessman in his own right. He did business the way he knew best. There was money to be made from installing fruit machines and he knew the way to do it. And if it hadn’t been him and Frankie doing the violence, some other roughie-toughie would have come along and slung out his fruit machines, and bashed him when he complained. It had to be the law of the jungle.
If I had a pub in Camberwell and Eddie and Frankie came in and said, ‘Look here, you're going to have our machine in’, I would have had it in. Not because I might be frightened of them as individuals but because I didn't want aggravation. I would be thinking, if I don’t go their way I may have my windows smashed in, I may be fire-bombed, hooligans may rush in and bash everybody. It wouldn't have been worth my while to try and stand against them.
I had a very good informant who was present at some of the beatings which Eddie and Frankie were handing out at this time all over London. And that was part of the trouble: they went off their patch. Eddie and Frankie could have carried on happily beating people up in Camberwell right up until today but when they start turning up at London nightclubs, in the City and the West End and other areas controlled by other villains, that just wasn’t good underworld politics. On one occasion they wanted to go into a club and the doorman would not let them in. The door was on a latch and chain and Eddie punched through the gap between the door and the chain so the doorman slammed the door on his arm. Result for Eddie? Defeat and humiliation. But neither Eddie nor Frankie saw it like that because they had begun to believe that the licence they had for running crime in south-east London could extend all over London, even in areas ruled by other gangs, protected by other bent policemen. And that's what brought them down.
Even so, that kind of incident wasn’t going to be enough to lock up the entire Richardson Clan for the twenty or thirty years the authorities were now looking for. So that’s when all that stuff about torture cropped up.
I believe many of the torture allegations were fabricated. If the papers were drawn out now, and if the statements of the alleged torture victims were subjected to the sort of forensic tests that it's possible to do nowadays, I don't think they'd stand up. It could be found that these statements were created, written, revised, changed and chopped around, and altogether concocted by police who would give them to the alleged victim to sign. If all that turned out to be what happened, the whole case would have to be thrown out. In fact, after their trial the Richardsons did try to claim they had been framed on false testimony, but of course once they had been convicted and built up into monsters by the press, their complaint never really saw the light of day. I knew one of the officers who was working on the subsequent investigation and the Richardsons’ claims were just treated with contempt.
A lot of people had told horrific stories against the Richardsons, but it's dog eat dog isn't it? When you know the chap's down, that’s when you put the boot in. Don't forget, the people that gave evidence against the Richardsons were all crooks themselves and so they knew which side their bread was buttered. If people are down and they're going down, they're a lost cause, aren't they? You're not going to do yourself any favours by sticking up for them, so you might as well go with the police instead because, after all, we were still the real Firm.
And in Frankie Fraser they had the perfect fall-guy. Because he was so crazy, so ‘mad’, anything anyone said against him would be believed. So the police made this offer to all the front men in the frauds: ‘Either you help us send them down or we'll do you for your role in the long firm’. For sure, the Richardsons had ‘smacked’ these guys, as they used to say, and they had smacked some frequently, but if that was all they were accused of, they could have been charged only with assault or grievous bodily harm. So that’s why everything had to be exaggerated - ‘hyped’ as they say nowadays - to ensure these people were locked up for twenty years. That’s why all those tales were devised - the pliers in the teeth, the nail through the foot, the electric torture box. I don't believe any of this happened, because at that time I was working in an atmosphere of ‘anything to get them down’. Pressure here, pressure there, and these limp whimp fraudsters were bound to co-operate. I'd done it myself many times to other criminals, Later other people did it against me. It's very easy to pressure someone to make a statement against another person, especially if you belong to a ‘Firm’ like Scotland Yard. When you're taking a statement, it's very easy to give it any meaning you like. If you're doing the writing of the statement, and your witness is an ordinary person, you can influence it any way you like.
The main reason the Richardsons were happy to recruit Frankie Fraser was that they thought their main rivals, the Krays, had teamed up with the Mafia. That's why Eddie and Charlie felt the need to get some real muscle on the firm. Sure, they had stout lads but these were basically scrapyard workers, they weren’t professional tough guys. What they needed was hard cases like Cornell and Fraser who weren’t going to sweat or soil their hands with hard work, breaking up cars or sawing things up, in a dirty old pair of overalls. They were just there to frighten people.
I knew George Cornell by sight, he was on the Richardson firm and he used a couple of little pubs in Camberwell, but he was living in the Krays’ territory where he had the nerve to cheek them, and insult them. I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to hear he had been shot to death, in the Blind Beggar pub in Stepney in March 1966. It was on the Krays’ turf and so we knew straightaway that it had to be the one of the Krays who had killed him - especially as it was two days after the Krays had lost one of theirs, Dickie Hart, at Mr Smith’s. Cornell was too brave, too tough. That was his epitaph: ‘He had too much 'bottle' for his own good’.
Sure, Eddie himself was a tough guy, but he was a just a rough-neck who liked a punch up. Even when he was a millionaire through his fruit machines, even when he had his Rolls Royce and his mansion in Chislehurst, he stayed the Camberwell street fighter He didn't change, he was still the same guy I had first known many years earlier at the dance-hall in Streatham and that's another reason why I don't believe the torture tales. That kind of thing just wasn’t Eddie or Charlie, as far as I know them.
But meantime, over the water, the Krays were getting so powerful and threatening that the Richardsons felt the need for protection. The Krays were complete lunatics, shooting and cutting people up. They were lunatics who hurt just for the sake of it, so the Richardsons had to get in their own lunatics to keep that lot at bay, And now they have people hanging around who are really nasty, dangerous, murderous folk, who carry guns and start killing people. And when Charlie went off abroad, the uncontrolled combination of Eddie Richardson and Frankie Fraser turned into a fatal cocktail, especially when they tried installing their fruit machines all over London.
It was those machines that started the war between the Richardsons and the Krays, because once Eddie had got a fruit machine in every place in Camberwell, he wanted to move out and out and out. His way of doing business? ‘Have my machine. What” you don’t want my machine! So, what do you want? My machine or a punch in the eye? Take your choice’. Well, of course, that was enough to persuade the pub landlord or club manager to take the machine. So far, so good. But once Eddie moved into the West End, he started infringing on the Krays who were also interested in fruit machines by this time. The result was several uproarious confrontations. First car loads of Krays would drive through Camberwell all shouting, hooting out of windows, and then carloads of Richardsons lot would drive into Kray territory, hooting and hollering right outside their clubs.
It’s said the Richardsons became sadists and started electrocuting people but I don't believe a word of it. I'm quite sure they whacked more than their share of people and they probably were behind some more serious injuries, but I find it hard to imagine them getting involved in psychological things and electric machines, reducing people, to shivering wrecks. It's just not them.
The only people that would know the truth are those who were present, but if you add those up you will find one person saying he had his teeth pulled and nine or ten more saying it's a nonsense. I'd go with the majority because during my military and police service and especially during my life thereafter, I have met people who were professional torturers. Some of them were very sophisticated people with degrees in sciences of the mind, skilled people, who wouldn't dream of leaning over and punching you in the face, any more than the Richardsons would dream of hooking you up to various fiendish devices such as scrapyard generators and electrocuting you. We’re talking about wholly different kinds of people.
A torturer gets pleasure out of torturing people, he would go on and on, he wouldn't stop when someone was down. Whereas these roughie-toughie Richardsons, clean cut fighters in the back-street way, who wouldn't dream of kicking an unconscious man in the face, are these the brothers who are supposed to have indulged in fiendish tortures? Never. I don't believe it - and neither does anybody else who knows them. In court, it was clear to everyone but the judge and jury that the Richardsons were fitted up from start to finish. Indeed they tried to get back by making a detailed complaint afterwards but it went nowhere. By making complaints they just made even more trouble for themselves, because the authorities used the process of investigating complaints to harass families and friends, when there was never a hope of that complaint being allowed to succeed, or an appeal granted and the conviction overturned.
I didn't take a direct part in fitting up the Richardsons but I know the fit-up went on. I assisted in the fit-up only by taking statements and turning them certain ways. Remember this. As a member of the public, whether you are a witness or a suspect, the only safe way to make a statement is to write it yourself, or get your lawyer to write it, because if you give a statement to a police officer, the meaning that's going to come out may be quite different to the one you meant to give. And that was how the police did for the Richardsons. As we were taking the statements, we could get whatever result we wanted from them. That way police can use honest, decent folk as part of the fit-up. It isn’t the snivelling fraudster claiming he’s been tortured that convinces a jury but the ancillary witnesses, upright citizens all, who will carry the day for you in court and get people like the Richadsons locked up for decades.
The government put them away. The word went out that they had to go. The whole business was political, to do with things that Charlie Richardson had been getting up to with foreign secret services, like the South African agency BOSS, including break-ins at politicians' houses. Only they couldn't or didn't want to charge him with such activity because Special Branch and the security services were also in it, up to their necks. None of them wanted to put Charlie on trial at the Old Bailey on espionage charges because they would have been very difficult to prove, and dirt would have come out about MI5 and MI6 in the process. But then Manna from Heaven! The Mr Smith’s shoot-out occurred, Scotland Yard was pointed in the direction of the torture allegations and that was it. That's why the Richardsons went down. It had nothing to do with torture at all, or buying bent lead or because full-scale gang warfare was about to break out between the Richardsons and Krays. They were fitted up for reasons of state, and what better fall guys than Frankie Fraser and Eddie.
So that’s how our Firm, big and bent as it was, could be bent several notches further by an even bigger firm, the state itself. We put down the Richardsons, as major firms have always put down minor firms, but we were merely tools in the game of nations.
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