Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms

Time for Parting

Late in the evening of May 8th, Read gathered his team together for a final briefing. By midnight, over sixty extra police officers had arrived at Tintagel House. The plan was to strike at dawn, and simultaneously arrest the twins and twenty-four other members of The Firm. The police officers would all be armed, and could expect to meet violence. Every one of the twenty-four addresses targeted had to be hit at the same time, so no one could give warning of the attack. All those arrested would be brought in to West End Central Police Station, Headquarters of C Division, situated in Saville Row, for processing.

As Read was briefing the squad, the twins were on the town, entertaining the New Yorker, Joey Kauffman. After picking him up at The Mayfair Hotel, they first went drinking and socialising in a favourite local pub in Bethnal Green and finished the night at the Astor Club in the West End. The twins returned to their parents' apartment at Braithwaite House, in Shoreditch, where they were currently living. Here, at dawn, Read and his men smashed in the front door and stormed the bedrooms. Ronnie was curled up with a fair-haired boy and Reggie was sleeping with a girl from Walthamstowe.

Before they knew what was happening, they were handcuffed and on their way to the police station in the West End of London. Read's car was the first one to arrive at the building in Saville Row.

Once Read had the twins remanded and safely locked away in Brixton Gaol, he and his team had only a few weeks before preliminary hearings to stitch together their case. Two of The Firm — Ronnie Hart and Ian Barrie — had escaped the police net on May 9th, and it was feared that many of the potential witnesses would back off, fearing retribution. However, they were quickly tracked down and arrested, and on July 6th, the twins were arraigned in a preliminary hearing before the Metropolitan Chief Magistrate, Mr Frank Milton, at Old Street Court. A preliminary hearing lays down evidence to discover if there is just cause to commit defendants for trial to a superior court.

Seated in court, the twins realised just how thorough Read and his team had been in their investigation, when one of their crew, Billy Exley, was summoned to give evidence. A former bodyguard of Ronnie's, he had helped to organize some of their long firm frauds. He knew a lot of their secrets; among other things, he had been on watch the day Cornell was killed. His presence as a witness for the prosecution was an ominous warning of things to come. In the East End of London, police informants were sometimes known as "wedding men" — they like the weddings, but wanted no part in the funerals of life. Another Cockney term to describe them is "screamers" — people who are okay when life is going well, but who scream their heads off when things go wrong. The police called a long list of these people, and their evidence was a crushing blow to the Krays.

Also among the witnesses paraded through the court in the days that followed was the barmaid from The Blind Beggar. Although she had been unable to identify the killer of Cornel when questioned by the police that night, she was now under police protection and a lot more confident when she pointed out Ronnie and Ian Barrie as the two men who had walked into the bar and committed the murder.

By the time that the preliminary hearing was over, enough evidence had been presented to refer the case for trial at the Old Bailey, London's central criminal court and the premier court of criminal justice in Great Britain.

After eight months on remand, the Kray twins went to trial early in January 1969. Theirs was to be the longest and most expensive criminal case in British history. Held in Number One court before Judge Melford Stevenson, it rolled on for many weeks.

Although they had spent years running a criminal empire across the East and West ends of London, involving long firm frauds, extortion, strong-arming of club owners, disposal of stolen securities, fraud, blackmail and assault, the twins in fact were only tried and convicted for the murders of George Cornel and Jack McVitie.

On March 8th, 1969, after the jury found them guilty, Mr Justice Melford pronounced sentence. For the murders of Cornel and McVitie, Ronnie and Reggie would go to prison for life (under British law, this generally means serving a sentence of between ten and twelve years), but the learned judge, in his wisdom, recommended that their sentences should be not less than thirty years.

The twins were thirty-five years old, and their lives on the streets were over forever.

Their brother, Charlie, now aged 41, received a ten-year prison sentence for being an accessory to the murder of Jack McVitie. For his part in the Cornel murder, Ian Barrie went down for life, with a recommendation that he serve at least twenty years. Four other members of The Firm were sent to prison for their parts in the murder of McVitie.

After his sentence, Reggie was transferred south to Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, Ronnie was sent north to Durham Prison, and Charlie went east to serve his time in Chelmsford Prison.

The brothers and their crime organization were effectively eliminated by a sentence that reflected more the petulance of the establishment, than the legal requirements of justice being served. Particularly when examined in the light of another iniquitous crime that occurred only two years earlier in London.

On August 12th, 1966, in broad daylight, three police officers were shot dead in Braybrook Street, Hammersmith, in west London. Three men were eventually arrested, tried and convicted of the crime, which the presiding judge described as:

"The most heinous crime to have been committed in this country for a generation or more."

And yet, one of the killers, John Witney, was released from prison after twenty-two years. To murder a street thug like Jack McVitie was apparently a more heinous crime than to shoot down a police officer; Reggie still languishes in prison, thirty years after his sentence was imposed, with no apparent sign that the Home Office will agree to his release.


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