Charles Sabini

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Charles Sabini (1889–1950) commonly known as Darby Sabini, was a British criminal of mixed Italian and English parentage who, as leader of the Sabinis and 'king of the racecourse gangs', dominated the London underworld and racecourses throughout the south of England for much of the early twentieth century.[1][2] He was the son of an Italian immigrant who had settled in Clerkenwell and married an Englishwoman. He was apparently christened Ollovia, but frequently called himself Charles or Fred, actually the names of his brothers.

Sabini was actually born Otavio Handley, the illegitimate child of Otavio Sabini and Eliza Handley, in 1888. Gangs of London by Brian McDonald has an accurate biography of the Sabini family and their activities.

He was born in Saffron Hill, an area then known as London's Little Italy and his Clerkenwell-based organization, although rivalled by the Birmingham Boys, the Cortesi family, the Yiddishers and the White family, dominated the local underworld for nearly 20 years during the inter-war period.[3] Sabini's organization, notorious for razor attacks, which had an estimated 300 members including imported Sicilian gunmen in addition to local criminals, was involved in criminal activities including extortion, theft and illegal gambling (specifically horse racing) as well as operating several nightclubs. The core of his income came from racecourse protection rackets operated against bookmakers.

In 1922 he was involved in a gunfight with the Cortesi brothers.[4]

In 1926 he was declared bankrupt following an unsuccessful libel action against DC Thompson & Co.[5] That year he moved to Brighton and established a similar racket there using the name Fred Handley (his mother's maidenname). Although regularly charged with assault, his gang's reputation made witnesses naturally reluctant to come forward.

At its peak, Sabini had extensive police and political connections including judges, politicians and police officials. Sabini's power rested on an alliance of Italians and Jewish bookmakers. For this reason, the coming of the Second World War and the rise of Fascism in Italy threatened his powerbase, with antisemitism infecting London's Italian community. After the outbreak of war, Sabini was arrested at the Greyhound Stadium at Hove in April 1940 and interned as an enemy alien, despite his mixed parentage and inability to speak Italian. He was released the following year, but in 1943 found guilty of receiving stolen goods and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Meanwhile, his only son was killed on active service for the RAF in Egypt. After the war, his empire was taken over by the White family led by Alf White and subsequently by the organizations of Jack Spot and Billy Hill.

During the 1930s, Sabini was said to be permanently resident in a penthouse apartment in the Grand Hotel, Brighton. After the war, he worked as a bookmaker and was resident in Hove. He was immortalised as the gangster Colleoni in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock[6][7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Traditional Organised Crime in Britain (2005)
  2. ^ Italian Gangster Detained In WW2 - BBC Archives
  3. ^ Morton, James and Parker, Gerry 'Gangland Bosses' London: Time Warner, 2005
  4. ^ The Times, Clerkenwell Shooting Charge. Italians On Trial, 16 January 1923
  5. ^ The Times, D. Sabini's Bankruptcy. A Dismissed Libel Action 11 June 1926
  6. ^ Linnane, Fergus 'London's Underworld' London: Robson Books 2004, p124
  7. ^ In Praise of Brighton Rock, The Guardian July 20 2002
  • Devito, Carlo. Encyclopedia of International Organized Crime. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-8160-4848-7
  • Hart, Edward T. Britain's Godfather. London, True Crime Library, 1993. ISBN 1-874358-03-6