Beware the ‘Ides of March’

I had the good fortune of interviewing Chris Lambrianou for my first podcast, which discusses issues relating to our criminal justice system. We chat about his time in prison, reform, mental health and lots of other subjects. The link above is to the podcast, however, before you listen here is a brief recap from a different perspective of London in the 1960s. You will also spot links to Chris’s books that we mention in the podcast.

A famous headline, LONDON: The Swinging City on the front cover of the American magazine, Time, on April 15, 1965, was more to do with the fashion, art and music culture than any reference to the suspension of the death penalty this side of the Atlantic. The phrase stuck and became synonymous with the era. 

In November 1965, Great Britain suspended its use of the death penalty. Although, it was not officially scrapped by parliament until 1969. The rope was last used in this country in 1964 when two men were sent to the gallows. Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans (real name John Walby) were found guilty of murdering a friend who they had knifed to death following an argument over money. The decision to suspend the death penalty probably saved the lives of many, as we shall see.

On March 9, 1966, in the Blind Beggar public house in Bethnal Green, East London, an associate of the south London Richardson gang and former childhood friend of the Krays, George Cornell, was shot by Ronnie Kray. Cornell was taking to hospital but later pronounced dead in the early hours of March 10.

Fast forward a few months and we see two major events take place in one day. One of which I doubt will ever be forgotten in England. July 30, 1966, where at Wembley, in London, in the warmth of a summer afternoon, England beat West Germany 4-2 in extra-time to lift, for the first and only time, so far, the football (soccer) World Cup. Earlier that morning, as night was becoming day and with the milkman beginning his rounds, raids across south London on suspected members of the Richardson gang would see the end of this formidable gang. Those arrested included, among others, the two Richardson brothers Charlie & Eddie and ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser.

Then, in what was described at the time as “the worst crime London has known this century”, and less than two weeks after victorious England captain Bobby Moore had lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy (from the 1974 football world cup to present-day the trophy has been known as the FIFA World Cup Trophy), Friday, August 12, 1966, with HMP Wormwood Scrubs in the background, Harry Roberts, John Duddy and Jack Witney were pulled over in their tatty Standard Vanguard motor car by police officers in an unmarked Triumph 2000 Q-car (in the First World War July 28, 1914 – November 11, 1918, the British tracked down German submarines in ships disguised as fishing/merchant ships code-named ‘Q-ships’. In 1934 the term was adapted to ‘Q-cars’ and used by the Metropolitan Police as a code name for their unmarked cars). The Vanguard didn’t have a tax disc on display, but things got progressively worse. Because, along with no MOT on the car, when the driver, Witney, was asked for his documents the policeman noticed his insurance had run out a few hours earlier. Roberts was sat next to the driver, between them lay a large canvas bag full of dirty overalls. Unknown to the police the bag also contained three loaded guns. An impatient and irritable Roberts was becoming more and more frustrated.

The officer who had been speaking to the driver walked back to the ‘Q-car’ to speak with his colleagues. DC David Wombwell then returned with DS Chris Head, as they walked back to the Vanguard, Roberts had removed a Luger from the bag and concealed it inside his jacket. DC Wombwell went back to the driver’s side, DS Head went to the front passenger side and tried to open the door but it was locked. DS Head then asked Duddy, who was sitting behind Roberts, what was in the bag. Duddy showed him the overalls. DS Head, still not satisfied, demands to know what else is in the bag. At the driver’s window, DC Wombwell wants to know what is in the back. Roberts had enough and taking out the Luger shoots DC Wombwell in the face. The bullet hit and went through, the policeman’s left eye, killing him instantly. Roberts then jumped out of the car. DS Head turned and was running back to the unmarked police car when Roberts shot him in the back. Roberts went to finish him off but the Luger jammed. DS Head struggled to his feet, stumbled his way back to the ‘Q-car’, and collapsed on the bonnet before ending up on the floor. The driver of the ‘Q-car’, PC Geoff Fox, put the car in reverse so not to hit his colleague laying on the ground. PC Fox was going to use the car to run Roberts down. As he drove forward Duddy slid out the back of the Vanguard and began to open fire on PC Fox, who slammed on the breaks and once again puts the car in reverse. Duddy continued to fire. The police car came to a stop. A bullet then hit PC Fox in the temple, as it did his foot pressed on the accelerator and the car lurched forward, trapping the prostrate DS Head under the Triumph 2000.

All three men were given life sentences.

  • Harry Roberts received a 30-year minimum tariff (he eventually served nearly 50-years before Prisoner 231191 was released on licence in November 2014).
  • Jack Witney died in terrible circumstances eight-years after he was released in 1991. In 1999, Witney was beaten with a hammer and strangled in Bristol.
  • John Duddy would never taste freedom again. He died in 1981 at Parkhurst prison.

At the beginning of April 1967, the trial into the Richardson gang opened and lasted for 45 days, spread over ten weeks. During that period over 120 witnesses entered the stand and took the oath. A lot of the witnesses were former associates of Charlie’s, most of whom had questionable pasts. Yet, all their evidence was deemed reliable! The summing up by the judge extended into the fifth day. The jury was then excused. After ten hours of deliberation, they reached unanimous guilty verdicts on all but one of those arrested in the July 30, 1966 raids.

  • Charlie Richardson received a total of 25 years for various charges including; robbery, violence and demanding money by menaces.
  • Eddie Richardson received a total of ten years, which was added to a five-year sentence he was already serving.
  • Frankie Fraser received five years on top of a five-year sentence he was also serving.

Nineteen sixty-seven would also be the year where we would see the murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie. After a gun had failed to go off in the basement of a house in Stoke Newington, London, Ronnie Hart, cousin to the Krays, handed Reggie Kray a kitchen knife who then proceeded to violently stab McVitie multiple times. Not only did the twins leave McVitie for dead, but they also ran off leaving others to clear up the mess.

On March 4, 1969, nearly three years to the day of the Cornell murder, Reggie and Ronnie Kray were sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation that they serve no less than 30-years before being considered for release. Other members of the Kray gang, known as ‘The Firm’, were also implicated in the murders of Cornell and McVitie, in a trial that saw betrayal from almost every corner as a high majority of ‘The Firm’ and their associates turned Queens Evidence. The twins older brother Charlie was sentenced to 10-years for helping to dispose of Cornell’s body.

Freddie Foreman, who years later admitted after taking the lifeless body out to sea by boat dumped McVitie into the sea at Newhaven, Sussex also received 10-years.  Cornelius Whitehead received 7 and Albert Donaghue 2-years in prison. The men had all been found guilty of being accessories to the murder. John Barrie, for his involvement in both murders, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Another Barrie – though spelt slightly different this time – Anthony Barry was cleared of all charges and was discharged. Three other men, two of whom were brothers, also received life sentences.

After realising what was going on, Chris Lambrianou left the house in Stoke Newington before McVitie had been stabbed to death. However, while at home having a quiet cup of tea with his dad, Chris, through a combination of loyalty and wrong place wrong time had found himself in a dilemma. Worried for his brother Tony, Chris drove back to the house only to find everyone had left. Knocking on the door, Chris was relieved when Ronnie Bender opened the door. His relief was short-lived though because as soon as Chris saw Ronnie Bender’s face he knew immediately something wasn’t right. Ronnie told Chris what had happened and that the twins had run off with others following. As Chris was about to walk away Ronnie begged him to stay and help. What Chris didn’t know, but soon would, was that two young children were asleep in their beds upstairs. The house in Evering Road was the home of Carol Skinner aka Blonde Carol, the two children were supposed to have been looked after by the twins. “We can’t leave it for Carol to find, Chris”. Chris made the fateful decision to stay and help Ronnie clean up and when Chris realised the two children were in the house when he had gone upstairs to get a blanket and walked into the room where the children were sleeping. Chris felt he was doing the right thing. Who would want a child to have seen what was in the basement? Chris grabbed a blanket, closing the door quietly behind him, he then went back downstairs with the blanket that would soon act as McVitie’s coffin.

Chris had been using a bucket full of water to mop up the blood, as he made his way up the stairs, to where the toilet was and to empty the bucket, Carol returned home. Carol noticed the bucket, of what was clearly blood, and looked at Chris, he told her there had been a bit of an argument and downstairs was a bit messy and for Carol to go and sit with the children until they had gone. By this time, Chris’s brother Tony had been home and found out from their dad that Chris was out looking for him. Tony knew where Chris would be so made his way back to Evering Road, where Ronnie and Chris were about to take McVitie out to Ronnie’s car. McVitie was too big to fit in the boot and they had to lay him across the back seats. Ronnie refused to drive the car, Chris didn’t want his younger brother to drive McVitie’s body away but Tony was insistent. So, with Tony following behind in Ronnie’s car, Chris and Ronnie pulled away. Chris, who before he went back to the house looking for Tony had picked up and armed himself with a gun he had at home, then had a shock as he looked in the rear-view mirror. There was a police car right behind Tony and to make sure his brother was safe, Chris was prepared to shoot and kill the two-policeman following them. Fortunately, for all involved, the police turned off. The trio in the late-night funeral cortege of two cars could breathe again. A few minutes later, near the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the car Tony was driving ran out of petrol. They then abandoned the car and the body. Both of which were then taken care of. For their roles, Ronnie, Tony and Chris all received life sentences with a minimum term of 15-years to be served before they would be considered for release.  





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