The Richardson Gang
|Founding location||South London, England|
|Criminal activities||Drug trafficking, loan shark, racketeering, murder, slot machines, weapons trafficking, gambling, smuggling, theft, fraud, fencing, prostitution|
The Richardson Gang was a crime gang based in South London, England in the 1960s. They had a reputation as some of London's most sadistic gangsters. Also known as the "Torture Gang", their alleged speciality was pinning victims to the floor with 6-inch nails and removing the victims' toes with bolt cutters.
Charlie Richardson (18 January 1934 – 19 September 2012) was born in Camberwell, south-east London. His younger brother Eddie was born in January 1936, followed in 1940 by the youngest sibling, Alan. Charlie and Eddie turned to a life of crime after the departure of their father. Charlie invested in scrap metal, whilst Eddie operated fruit machines. These businesses were fronts for underworld activities which included fraud, racketeering, usury, theft and stolen goods. Charlie was at one point arrested for receiving stolen goods, but was acquitted through lack of evidence and, allegedly, with the help of a large "donation" to the Police Fund. Eddie would on occasion "suggest" that a pub landlord should buy one of his fruit machines. Failure to do so meant running the risk of having the pub vandalised.
They preferred investing in fraud schemes known as long firms. A company would be set up by an acquaintance, who was well paid for the prison term he would eventually serve. The company would conduct normal business for some months, building lines of credit and winning the trust of suppliers, eventually placing a very large order on credit. The goods would then be sold for cash, the money pocketed, and the company and those involved in running it would suddenly disappear.
Feud with the Krays
The beginning of the turf war between the Richardson gang and the Kray twins can be traced to a brawl during a Christmas party at the Astor Club in December 1965. George Cornell, a member of the Richardson gang, called Ronnie Kray a "fat poof". He had first met the Krays while in Shepton Mallet Prison.
On 7 March or 8 March 1966, Richard Hart, one of the Krays' associates, was shot, intentionally or otherwise, during a brawl at Mr Smith's Club in Rushey Green, Catford. The owners of Mr Smith's, Manchester-based businessmen, Dougie Flood (a club/hotel/leisure business owner and alleged member of the Quality Street Gang) and Bill Benny, had asked Eddie Richardson and Frankie Fraser to "protect" the club in exchange for gaming machines being placed there.
On the night in question, both groups were "drinking and chatting quite happily", according to a guest who was with his girlfriend in the bar, but who were suddenly ushered out of the club soon after midnight. Around 1 a.m., Eddie Richardson told Peter Hennessey and the others to "drink up" and leave. In response, Hennessey called Eddie Richardson a "half-baked fucking ponce" and shouted that he could "take you any fucking time you like". Richardson and Hennessey began exchanging blows, and other fistfights had started, when shots rang out. It was said that Hart was shot on or near the bottom of the stairs as he was making his getaway. For many years, Fraser was held responsible for accidentally shooting Hart, although he always vehemently denied it.
Several years after the incident, an unnamed gangster who was in the club at the time, said that it was "like Dodge City". It is alleged that Billy Gardner shot Fraser with a .38 pistol. When Fraser confronted Gardner, Gardner asked "you tooled up Frank?" and shot Fraser through the thigh. However, Eddie Richardson, Frankie Fraser and others ended up in Lewisham Hospital and denied all knowledge of the incident ("Shooting? What shooting?") when questioned by police. Hennessey sustained a bayonet wound to his scalp. Hennessey, Gardner and others sought help from Freddie Foreman after the altercation and, although most of the gang were arrested, some were put up by Foreman until things had blown over. Although he was declared insane at least twice previously, it has been suggested that Fraser acquired his "Mad Frankie" sobriquet from this incident. Apparently Henry Botton, a Hayward associate, saw Fraser kicking Hart in the head and shouted: "You're fucking mad, Frank. You're fucking bonkers."
A member of the gang, Jimmy Andrews, was injured in the affray and went for treatment in the Whitechapel Hospital the day after. This was where George Cornell (né George Myers), an old friend of Andrews, went to visit him. That evening, Cornell was seen walking down Whitechapel Road, drunk or drugged, shouting: "Where's that fat wanker?" (referring to Ronnie Kray). At about 20:30, he went into the Blind Beggar and started shouting insults about the Krays. Ronnie Kray arrived with two associates and shot Cornell through the head at close range. One of several local businessmen, in the saloon bar at the time, claimed he heard Cornell's last words: "Well, look what the dog's brought in." 
Cornell was heavily involved in drug dealing — "purple hearts", "dexys", "uppers and downers" and marijuana. He was also involved in pornography and may have been associated with Jimmy Humphreys, who was responsible for the exposure of corrupt police officials in 1971, including Commander Ken Drury of the Flying Squad. Humphreys was under investigation by another squad, and Drury refused to acknowledge his association with Humphreys even after Drury reportedly received a "wish you were here" holiday postcard from him. Cornell was originally a member of an East End gang called "The Watney Streeters" and later became involved with the Krays. However, he changed sides around 1964 and allied himself with the Richardsons. Cornell was unstable, unpredictable and nearly caused an all-out war between the two gangs; a conflict which was neither desired nor sought.
The downfall of the Richardsons came about by the Mr Smith's Club affair and a gang member, Johnny Bradbury, who reportedly went to South Africa to murder a business associate named Waldeck, allegedly on orders from Charlie Richardson. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. He offered to inform on the Richardson gang in exchange for a pardon and immunity. This was arranged by a special squad of CID, led by Inspector Gerald MacArthur from the Hertfordshire force who were investigating the Richardsons, because the Home Office could not trust the Metropolitan Police, many of whom were in the pay of the Richardsons and other London gangs. By 1966, the Metropolitan Police was allegedly so corrupt that the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, was considering replacing up to 70% of the CID and other specialist branches with CID from Manchester, Kent, Devon & Cornwall and Birmingham. When Robert Mark became Police Commissioner in 1972 he succeeded Sir John Waldron. More than 400 CID officers and 300 uniformed police officers were "retired" early. Not long after Mark's appointment, Drury, Wally Virgo, Head of the Serious Crimes Squad, and other senior officers were sent to prison for corruption.
Other victims of the Richardsons were granted immunity from prosecution in other crimes if they "turned Queen's Evidence" at the Old Bailey "Torture Trial" at the beginning of April 1967. With the assistance of the Home Office, who arranged different identities and passports, several witnesses fled the country immediately after the trial. A few went to South Africa and others to Spain or Majorca; many did not return to the UK for a considerable time.
Methods of torture
In July 1965 the police were informed of a horrific crime by one of the gang's victims. The victim told the tale of being severely beaten and bruised after being found guilty of disloyalty by a kangaroo court; he then had to mop up his own blood using his own underpants.
The police unearthed the sadistic methods of torture that the gang specialised in. Victims were hauled in front of Charlie, Fraser and others in a mock trial. Then the punishments were meted out, anything from beatings to more severe forms of torture: whippings, cigarette burning, teeth being pulled out with pliers (for which gang member "Mad" Frankie Fraser was especially notorious), nailing to the floor, having toes removed with bolt cutters and given electric shocks until unconsciousness. The electric shocks were inflicted by an old Army field telephone which included a hand-crank-powered generator (much like the notorious Tucker telephone). The victims had the terminals attached to their nipples and genitalia and were then placed in a bath of cold water to enhance the electrical charge. Afterwards, if victims were too badly injured, they would be sent to a doctor who had been struck off the Medical Register. This process of trial and torture was known as "taking a shirt from Charlie", because of Charlie Richardson's habit of giving each victim a clean shirt in which to return home (since the victim's original shirt was usually covered in blood). Notable characters in the gang included the notorious hit man Jimmy Moody, Roy Hall (who operated the electric generator), Albert Longman, Tommy Clark and George Cornell.
On one occasion, a collector of "pensions" (protection money from publicans and others), who was twice warned by the Richardsons after he pocketed the money and spent it at Catford dog track, was nailed to the floor of a warehouse near Tower Bridge for nearly two days, during which time gang members (for example driver Harry Beard) frequently urinated on him.
Arrest and trial
Eddie Richardson was sent to prison for five years for affray, and Charlie was arrested for torture. There were also stories of Charlie being connected to the South African Bureau of State Security and an attempt to tap then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson's telephone. In July 1966 police arrested the remaining members of the Richardson gang following a series of raids in south London. In April 1967 the trial began. The Richardsons were found guilty of fraud, extortion, assault and grievous bodily harm. Charlie Richardson was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Eddie had ten years added to his existing sentence.
Charlie Richardson was arrested on 30 July 1966 (World Cup Final day) and was not freed for 18 years. At the "Torture Trial", he was sentenced to 25 years. In 1980, after many attempts to obtain release, he escaped from an open prison and went "on the trot" for almost a year, even dressing as Santa Claus and giving out presents to children to publicise his requests for release. He openly drank with friends and old associates (including police officers) at several pubs on the Old Kent Road before fleeing to Paris, where he gave an interview to a journalist. He was arrested with five other men in Earls Court on suspicion of possession of drugs, having just been seen coming out of a sex shop which was known to be controlled by the Richardson family. His identity only came to light once arrested and in police custody at Kensington when his probation officer contacted the police, having been informed by other gang members that he had been arrested. In 1983, he was able to go on day release to help the handicapped and was allowed to spend a weekend with his family. Charlie was finally released in July 1984.
In 1990, Eddie Richardson was sentenced to 35 years after being convicted of involvement in a £70 million cocaine and cannabis heist. He was originally sentenced to 35 years, but was released after 12, bringing his total number of years served to 23. The brothers fell out badly after Eddie accused Charlie of "ripping him off" over business deals during Eddie's time in prison. Charlie Richardson died in September 2012.
- Donaldson, William. Brewer's Rogues, Villains, and Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages. London: Sterling Publishing Company, 2004. ISBN 0-7538-1791-8
- Parker, Robert. Rough Justice: The Truth about the Richardson Gang. Fontana Books, 1981. ISBN 0-00-636354-7
- Richardson, Charlie. My Manor: The Autobiography of Charlie Richardson. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1991. ISBN 0-283-99709-5
- Richardson, Eddie. The Last Word: My Life as a Gangland Boss.Headline Book Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7553-1401-8
- "Kray Twins gangster rival Charlie Richardson dies". Retrieved 30 November 2012.
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- "Charles Richardson". Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "The truth about the Torture Gang". Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Keeling, Neal (17 October 2008), "Flood's children win will payout", Manchester Evening News
- "Dougie was no gangster", Manchester Evening News, 22 October 2008
- Morton, James. Gangland: Underworld in Britain and Ireland. Little Brown Book Group Limited, 1992. ISBN 0-7515-1406-3
- "Eddie Richardson – 'Ronnie and Reggie Kray were both gay and both brainless'". Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "Eddie Richardson and gangland 1960s London". Retrieved 30 November 2012.