Charles Sabini

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Charles Sabini
Born Ottavio Handley Sabini
Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, London, England
Died 1950 (aged 62)
Other names "Derby"
Occupation Mobster, bookmaker, fence
Criminal charge Racketeering, corruption, murder, fencing
Criminal penalty 6 years of prison
Children One son
Parent(s) Ottavio Sabini and Eliza Handley
Conviction(s) Enemy alien (1940)
Receiving stolen goods (1943)

Charles "Derby" Sabini (born Ottavio Handley 1888, Saffron Hill, London – died 1950, Hove, Sussex) was a British Italian criminal.

Sabini was born Ottavio Handley, the illegitimate child of Italian immigrant Ottavio Sabini and Englishwoman Eliza Handley. He was christened Ottavio Sabini, but frequently called himself Charles or Fred, actually the name of one of his brothers.[1]

As leader of the Sabinis and "king of the racecourse gangs", he dominated the London underworld and racecourses throughout the south of England for much of the early twentieth century.[2][3][4] Although his Clerkenwell-based organisation gained the core of its income from racecourse protection rackets operated against bookmakers, it was also involved in a range of criminal activities including extortion, theft, as well as operating several nightclubs. It had an estimated 100 members, and is said to included imported Sicilian gunmen, although the Sabinis originated in central Italy,[citation needed] and was notorious for razor attacks. At its peak, Sabini had extensive police and political connections including judges, politicians and police officials.

Conflicts with competing gangs the Birmingham Boys, Elephant and Castle Mob, Cortesi brothers, the Yiddishers and the White family were common, and in 1922 he was involved in a gunfight with the Cortesi brothers.[5]

In 1926 he was declared bankrupt following an unsuccessful libel action against DC Thompson & Co.[6] 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 reluctant to come forward.

The coming of the Second World War threatened his powerbase, because Sabini's power rested on an alliance of Italians and Jewish bookmakers and with the rise of Fascism in Italy came 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[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gangs of London, 2010, Brian McDonald (has a chapter devoted to the Sabini family).
  2. ^ Traditional Organised Crime in Britain (2005)
  3. ^ Italian Gangster Detained In WW2 - BBC Archives
  4. ^ Morton, James and Parker, Gerry 'Gangland Bosses' London: Time Warner, 2005
  5. ^ The Times, Clerkenwell Shooting Charge. Italians On Trial, 16 January 1923
  6. ^ The Times, D. Sabini's Bankruptcy. A Dismissed Libel Action 11 June 1926
  7. ^ Linnane, Fergus 'London's Underworld' London: Robson Books 2004, p124
  8. ^ 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