Prison officers say he is a kindly old gentleman who is preparing to bury his twin brother, Ronnie. But he has no regrets about his violent past, as Jason Bennetto found out when he was summoned to meet the former gangland leader in jail
It was one of the most bizarre requests I have ever received. My electronic message pager read: "Reg Kray called - please contact me at Maidstone jail. Urgent."

At the precise moment these words flashed up on my pager I was at home reading The Profession of Violence - The Rise and Fall of The Kray Twins by John Pearson. Equally worryingly I was on page 261, which recounted the details of the murder of Jack "The Hat" McVitie that sent Reggie and his twin brother, Ronnie, to jail for life.

Pearson wrote: "Ronnie grabbed him [McVitie], locking his hands behind him, and Reggie was holding a carving knife. `Kill him, Reg. Do him', hissed his brother.

"Instead of answering, Reggie pushed the knife into his face below the eye. The butchering followed as McVitie sank to his knees.

"According to Ronnie Hart (the Kray's cousin), Reggie stabbed his stomach and his chest and finished by impaling him through the throat on to the floor. Reggie claims it was Hart who did the stabbing."

It was therefore with a mixture of fascination, anxiety and a touch of fear, that I responded to the pager and rang Reggie Kray in the Weald wing of Maidstone prison and persuaded him to give an interview. On arrival yesterday I was searched and allowed through the stone gate lodge before being taken by a woman prison officer to a wood-panelled room usually used for training seminars.

How do you prepare to meet a former gangland leader, a man immortalised in films for his violence, someone who myth would have it ruled the East End through violence and intimidation. Most of the old images of the Krays show them in smart three-piece suits, slick black hair, white shirts, narrow ties, the models of respectability. That has gone. It was a chilly March day that had brought flurries of snow. But Reggie Kray appeared in a pair of blue shorts, matching blue shirt, leather waistcoat, Reebok trainers and long white sports socks. The only reminder of the Hollywood image of a 1960s gangster - on which Ron and Reg modelled themselves in their heyday - was a chunky gold watch, bracelet and a crucifix hung around his neck.

He was carrying a black tape recorder the size of a small suitcase and had a fistful of stick-on notelets covered with scribbled messages. His handshake was firm. His legs and torso looked even firmer - the result of his daily regime of a cold shower in the morning followed by a work- out in the prison gym. At a recent meeting with some friends he demonstrated his fitness by doing one armed press-ups.

The only obvious sign of his 61 years - the last 27 of which have been behind bars - were the creases and loosening skin on his face and neck along with his deteriorating hearing.

He was alert and attentive, eager and keen to keep eye contact whenever possible. There was no hint of the man who used to cut rival's faces and bodies open with a razor, shoot "double crossers" in the legs, and mete out savage beatings to anyone who tried to cross the twins.

While his brother Ronnie, who died after a heart attack 11 days ago while suffering from schizophrenia, was considered a savage murderer who enjoyed violence, his brother was described as more interested in making money than killing.

But if anyone thought age might bring remorse they should think again. Reggie Kray said yesterday that the twins had harboured no regrets about their past. "Ron and myself wrought some violence on different people, but we lived in a violent world and violence has been perpetrated on us as well. That was the way of life in the East End of London then. Some of the stories got magnified as well.

"The violence we used was against people from our own criminal culture. A lot of violence today is against innocent people. It has gone beyond the underworld now, it includes innocent women and children.

"I have got no regrets. My brother didn't have any either. I have learnt over the years, as did Ron, that there are many people worse off than us - particularly sick children. A lot of people have no choice but we did.

"It doesn't matter that I'm in prison, I now enjoy the little things in life. I've met people inside who have become part of my family - if I hadn't done what I did I would never have met them. I feel I have been blessed.

"I would not change anything. You can't just select parts of your life and alter them. I know Ronnie would not have wanted to change anything as well. It does not mean to say that I enjoy the fact that I committed a murder but you can't select the parts of life that you do and don't want."

The Kray twins were close to the very end. They were in contact by letter and telephone almost every day, although they had not met for about nine months before Ronnie's death.

"He was OK when I spoke to him last, although in the past he had the symptoms of being paranoid," said Reggie. He went on to reveal that the brothers had a "premonition" days before the heart attack that something bad was going to happen. "As twins you have a special feeling for each other, which we never lost."

But after seeing the body of his brother last Thursday Reggie said he knew he was at peace. "Being twins, there's a certain amount of telepathy. I know he is at ease. I feel relaxed and I know my brother does as well."

He added he had a sign when he was coming back to jail after seeing the body; the word "repose" suddenly came into his head, although he had never used it before.

As he talked, leaning close to my face to hear the questions, we were joined by a dozen of his family, friends and associates. The group, who were there to discuss Ronnie's funeral which takes place on Wednesday, sat on low cushioned seats around the edges of the carpeted room. This entourage, well dressed, on the edge of being glamorous, like so many of the Krays' acquaintances in the 1960s, was the surest sign of where the old man talking to me had come from. For they could have come straight from a film-makers imagination.

First in were two barrel-chested gentlemen in pin-striped grey suits. One had the face of a fighter. They arrived at the prison in a black stretch limo.

They were followed by the third and eldest Kray brother, Charlie, and "Mad" Frankie Fraser, 72, a former fellow inmate and one-time member of the notorious south London-based Richardson gang, made famous for his use of a razor blade.

Reggie enthusiastically introduced Mr Fraser. Then the two of them - considered in their day to be among the most dangerous criminals in Britain - sat either side of me and chatted about why criminals these days have no morals, no code of ethics.

Next into the room were several youngish men with short hair, dark suits and low voices. They were accompanied by George and Andrew Wadman, identical twins who are frequent visitors of Reggie and are organising a private get-together in a pub for close friends after Wednesday's funeral. There were two women, one had leather trousers and frizzy blonde hair, the other, I think, was in publishing. There was one prison officer.

After initial concern that the death of Ronnie Kray may have been suspicious, Reggie said yesterday that he was satisfied there was no foul play.

He said he had been sent a letter by the doctor who examined his brother and was now satisfied that he had died of a "massive heart attack", following a blood transfusion needed because of a bleeding ulcer.

He said: "I felt a lot happier after seeing Ron - the doctor has assured me there was no foul play. He was quite comfortable at the time he died."

However, he is still unhappy that the inquest was held by the coroner alone and took only three minutes to return a verdict of death by "natural causes".

"The only concern I have got after the funeral is the speedy inquest that took place. I have given my solicitor instructions to look into this matter and if I'm not satisfied I will take action."

Reggie's main concern now is that his brother gets a "large, dignified funeral" with a "lot of my friends and supporters". With plans to have the coffin pulled by a horse-drawn hearse through the East End on Wednesday it appears that there will be no shortage of interest.

Reggie is held in some regard at Maidstone, the category B prison where he has been held for 18 months. A prison officer said: "He is super fit - he doesn't smoke and goes to the gym every day. He's a strong lad, he has very strong muscles.

"He rarely watches television - when he was young and first came into prison they didn't have it. He's the radio type. When he talks about a car he talks about the old A's rather than anything modern.

"He's an elderly gentleman now. He's as good as gold. If every prisoner was like him there would be no problems here at all."