Charlie Richardson: Shrewd and ruthless leading figure of London's 1960s criminal scene

 

Charlie Richardson was among the shrewdest of the serious crime figures who populated London's post war underworld. "He was a genius, not like a professor who might know about art and paintings, but as a money maker," Frank Fraser said of him.

He was born in Camberwell, south-east London in 1934; his brother Eddie was born in 1936, the youngest sibling Alan in 1940. Charlie and Eddie were brought up in a traditional south London working-class family, and like their east London counterparts, the Kray twins, they endured a wartime childhood, enjoyed the vibrant street life of working-class London and developed as talented young boxers and prominent street fighters.

According to folklore, the Richardsons were the south London nemesis of the Krays. However, unlike the twins, Charlie and Eddie had a penchant for hard work, and made good money from the post-war scrap metal trade, plundering the remnants of abandoned wartime airfields.

With a merchant seaman father who was often missing from home, the teenage Charlie exhibited an entrepreneurial zeal. He moved into a number of areas, including wholesale chemists and mineral mining, as well as extortion and, notably, long firm fraud. This involved an apparently legitimate wholesaling business being set up, initially paying for goods on time. When their credit limit was reached, they sold up and disappeared.

Richardson surrounded himself with long firm specialists, men described to me by Eddie Richardson as "plausible rogues", and a number were sent to Milan to place orders with manufacturers for stockings on behalf of a company called Central Supplies. On arrival in London the stockings were sold by mail order, but with money and goods leaking from the business, and with the Italians pressing, Central Supplies burnt down. Richardson then set up a new company, LR Gray, based in Mitre St in the City. A number of Richardson associates were beaten for stealing from the long firms, before LR Grey also "had a fire".

Charlie Richardson had first encountered the Kray twins in Shepton Mallet military prison, where all were awaiting a dishonorable discharge from National Service. The honeypot of the West End brought them back into contact, and though the east London firm claimed to be preparing for warfare, there is little to suggest the Richardson firm took them seriously. The Richardsons could boast among their associates some of London's most feared men, including one of the "Chainsaw Robbers" Jimmy Moody, as well as George Cornell, an East Ender who had clashed with the youthful Krays, and Frank Fraser, whose affiliation to the Richardsons was described by Mickey Bloom, an associate of the Nash Brothers, as "like China getting the atom bomb."

Fraser summed up the firm's attitude to the Krays: "Using racing terms, there would be no race... The Richardsons were miles in front, brain power, everything." In their dotage Charlie and Eddie expressed contempt for the Kray firm, and although skirmishes and casualties were not unknown while the Krays, in particular Ronnie, fantasised over Chicago-style gang wars, the Richardons diversified into long firms, gaming machines, pornography, scrap metal yards, a perlite mine in South Africa, control over car parking at Heathrow, and more.

Charlie had become increasingly fascinated by South Africa, in particular the opportunities in the country's mineral industry. He became embroiled with the South African security services, who dangled the carrot of mining licences in front of him in exchange for Charlie arranging to have the telephones tapped of Amnesty International and Harold Wilson.

In 1966, in a shooting at Mr Smiths Club in Catford, an associate of the Krays was killed and five men were wounded. Eddie Richardson and Frank Fraser were arrested, Fraser for murder. The following night Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell.

Richardson's penchant for attacking fellow fraudsters who he suspected of stealing from his long firms resulted in the infamous "torture trial" in 1967, which featured allegations of the use of pliers to remove teeth and fingernails, and the attachment of electrodes to genitals. Alleged victims of the Richardsons were granted immunity from prosecution if they "turned Queen's Evidence", and a distinct lack of physical evidence did not deter the judge, Mr Justice Lawton. Eddie was sentenced to 10 years with another five for the Mr Smith incident, and Frank Fraser received five years for affray and 10 years for some deviant dental practices at the Richardsons' Peckham scrapyard. Charlie received 25 years: "I was charged with a bit of long firm fraud and five counts of grievous bodily harm. Nobody was dead, maimed or even bloody scarred."

The sentencing policy was undoubtably savage, and whether this was due to a fear of American-style "organised crime" or was linked to Richardson's relationship with the South African Secret Service remains, over 40 years later, difficult to unpack. Files have been sunk deep into the long grass of British officialdom. Charlie Richardson was arrested on 30 July 1966; in 1980 he escaped from an open prison and remained free for just under a year. In 1984 he was finally released.

Charlie Richardson was the epitome of the tough working class self-made man who cut corners, and while violence was at the core of his success, his relationship with corrupt police officers was probably more significant. He did not play at being a gangster, and in his prime he was the real deal, shrewd and manipulative and quick to dole out violence to fellow underworld residents. But he was also well-read, articulate, extremely funny, and addicted to business. One of his last ventures was a scheme to take some control over the "true crime" genre, and to the end he loved doing deals, with film-makers, writers and a range of disparate individuals. However, along with his wife Veronica and his familyy, mining was his passion.

Nobody could swear quite like Charlie Richardson, and he reserved his most heartfelt oaths for the ex-business associates and members of the Establishment who, he insisted to his death (of complications from peritonitis), had conspired to deprive him of his liberty for 18 years.

Dick Hobbs

Charles Richardson, businessman and criminal: born Camberwell, London 1934; married Veronica (six children); died 19 September 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links