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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Krays? They were both gay - and both brainless

02:12 |

Eddie Richardson is standing outside London’s Old Vic theatre. From a distance, he looks a twinkly old chap in a smart suit, with wild eyebrows and a drift of dandruff, and is proudly clutching a copy of his autobiography in a crumpled Tesco carrier bag.

But this is the man once described by not one but two Home Secretaries as ‘one of the most dangerous men in Britain’. He was the dark lord of the Sixties London gangland scene and, together with his brother Charlie, was as infamous as Ronnie and Reggie Kray and ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser. 

Under cover of his scrap metal business, he dabbled in torture, drug dealing, protection and extortion rackets and was sentenced to a total of 46 years in prison.

Gangland boss Eddie Richardson in his 60s heyday, standing next to his Rolls-Royce

Gangland boss Eddie Richardson lived a good life in the 1960s, and is seen here with his Rolls-Royce

Today, he is 75, lives in a £2.5 million house in Beckenham, Kent, drives a big, fat silver Mercedes, holidays in Marbella, organises charity golf competitions and paints pricey portraits of friends and, occasionally, their dogs (‘so much easier than people’).

He also hires himself out for ‘nostalgia lunch dates’ — £300 for a slap-up fish and chip lunch and a ‘nice chat about the good old days’ — courtesy of a bizarre website called Gangland Memorabilia. 

This online shrine to Sixties gangland sells everything from Ronnie Kray’s personal prison radio (£500) to a ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser autographed U.S. dollar note. Business is alarmingly brisk and lunch with ‘the legend who is Eddie Richardson’ is the star attraction. 

Today I am Eddie’s lunch date. He grins wolfishly, kisses me on both cheeks and escorts me to ‘the best fish and chips in London’ and what he promises will be a ‘good chat’.

He is true to his word. 

Over our (very excellent) fish and chips, we veer from the Wild West that was London in the Sixties and Seventies — ‘people think things are bad now, but back then the police were so corrupt that a straight copper would never have made it onto the Flying Squad’ — to the £70 million drugs deal that earned him a 35-year prison sentence in 1990. ‘That was a bit daunting, aged 54. That’s when I took up art.’

Daily Mail writer Jane Fryer gets the lowdown on London gangster life from Eddie Richardson

Daily Mail writer Jane Fryer gets the lowdown on London gangster life from Eddie Richardson

We have a gossip about some of Eddie’s pals. There are the Kray brothers (‘both gay and both brainless of Britain’ he says. ‘Reggie used to get The Times every day, but never once opened it’). And Frankie Fraser (‘Game for anything you asked him and now in an old people’s home in Nunhead’).

Not forgetting the Great Train robbers (‘really nice men’), the prison reformer Lord Longford (‘always scruffy but he never rammed religion down your throat’) and Brian Keenan, then head of the armed council of the IRA (‘lovely fellow but not brilliant at bridge’).

It’s all a bit surreal and disconcerting — chatting cosily about hardened criminals who wrecked countless lives and terrorised great swathes of London.

The only thing he isn’t too keen to discuss is the ‘torture chamber’ where ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser (the Richardsons’ enforcer) allegedly punished anyone who crossed the brothers, using pliers, electrodes, nails, electric fires, knives, axes and anything else he could lay his hands on.

‘It’s ridiculous!’ Eddie growls, suddenly not quite so twinkly or cosy. ‘There was no torture. How can you pull a tooth out with a pair of pliers?’

With a great deal of force, presumably. Fraser, who has admitted murder, was given a ten-year prison sentence for torture in 1966 and, with typical rogueishness, charges royally to tell of his horrific deeds.

But Eddie’s favourite subject, other than his autobiography (‘it’s so good some people have read it 20 times’) is prison. Which isn’t surprising given he’s spent over a third of his life behind bars (or ‘away’, as he calls it) as a Double Category ‘A’ prisoner. 

Eddie Richardson called Ronnie and Reggie Kray 'brainless of Britain'

Eddie Richardson called Ronnie and Reggie Kray 'brainless of Britain'

‘That’s one step up from Category ‘A’,’ he says, absurdly proudly. ‘You have to have two screws with you everywhere you go. They were scared of me. I was always working out how to crack the system.’

Which he did. And soon boasted an array of special privileges that included his own TV, constant access to the prison yard and a steady stream of epicurean delights and post prandial brandies.

‘A few of us took turns to cook for ourselves — I once did a Christmas dinner for 16 with a 20lb turkey and I always had an after-dinner brandy. In one prison we had so much food —legs of lamb, joints of beef, chickens — that we couldn’t get it all in the prison fridge. I had to apply to the governor for permission to buy another fridge.’

Permission was granted.

There were the endless bridge games with IRA man Brian Keenan.

‘We’d be playing a nice game of bridge and someone would come rushing in and Brian would have to leave the table and go and sort out some crisis in Ireland.’

Frankie Fraser was game for anything, now he's in an old people's home in Nunhead'

And football matches, jellied eels and strawberries and cream with the Great Train robbers. Not to mention countless teas and biscuits with the Krays (‘though they were both so brainless you couldn’t have a decent conversation with them’) — until Ronnie was certified and sent off to Broadmoor.

He was also involved in a prison mutiny, a six-week hunger strike, countless assaults and a failed escape attempt which left two guards in hospital. ‘We were supposed to be making a nice wooden cabinet in the woodwork class, but actually made two 26ft ladders and no one noticed’ — until the bungled break-out.

Eleven years later, including an extra 450 days for bad behaviour, Eddie returned home to his scrap metal business, all his old friends and, funnily enough, sufficient funds to pay for a glamorous life skiing, bobsleighing and jet-setting around the world.

It was only a matter of time before he was caught out again — when cashflow slowed down and a £70 million cocaine and cannabis heist caught his eye.

‘I used to turn down loads, but this one looked too good. I knew the people this end, I knew the South Americans. I thought I could trust them. If we’d got away with it, we’d have made a lot of money. But c’est la vie.’

Instead, he got 35 years (eventually commuted to 13), bringing his total served years to 26.

Does he feel any remorse, as he tucks into his cod and chips?

Charlie Richardson can been seen 2nd right, with associates Eddie Richardson (3rd right-holding face). Also in the picture are Alfred Berman (right) and Lawrence Bradbury (extreme left)

Charlie Richardson can been seen 2nd right, with associates Eddie Richardson (3rd right-holding face). Also in the picture are Alfred Berman (right) and Lawrence Bradbury (extreme left)

‘Remorse? No!’ he looks outraged, leg jiggling in protest. ‘I’ve been given more than enough punishment.’

Would he ‘go near’ anything again, aged 75, or has he finally retired?

‘No. I don’t need the money. At least I don’t think I would . . .’ 

He’d be risking a lot. Today he leads a very genteel life in Beckenham. He lives with his beloved 85-year-old Auntie Dorothy (‘She can’t cook so I do all that’), eats in expensive Italian restaurants with his 56-year-old girlfriend June, meets up with some of the Great Train Robbers once a month. It all seems rather outrageous.

Aren’t those paid-for nostalgia lunches morally repugnant, I ask him. ‘So what? I don’t care. I really don’t,’ he snaps.

And despite all his cosy chat about his Auntie and his doggy portraits, I get a unpleasant glimpse of the thug glowering beneath. So was he really one of the most dangerous men in Britain?

Eddie lives a more genteel life these days, and has even taken to painting, which he took up in prison

Eddie lives a more genteel life these days, and has even taken to painting, which he took up in prison

‘I probably was. I was full of adrenaline and dangerous. I wouldn’t want now to meet myself as I was then. And the daft thing is, I was a bright boy — not like most of the others. If I’d put my mind to it I bet I could have made more money honestly than I did through crime. But I’m not complaining.

‘I’ve been to some of the best restaurants in the world and I’ve been in some of the worst solitary confinement blocks. So I’ve had a bit of variety.’

And with that he gives me a big dandruffy hug and a scratchy kiss on both cheeks and I try very hard not to think about pliers and electrodes and all the crimes that he wasn’t caught for.

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