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Andy McSmith: The enduring legacy – and the stain – of Rachman


The Sixties were not all swinging. Thousands were trapped in appalling, overcrowded accommodation because there were not enough homes for a growing population and almost no legislation to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords.

The most notorious was Peter Rachman, who owned slum properties in London, particularly around Notting Hill, which had a growing population of immigrants recently arrived from the Caribbean, in an era when there was no law to prevent landlords from operating a colour bar.

Mr Rachman saw their arrival as a business opportunity. He bought up properties and used hired thugs to force the tenants to move, then rented rooms to immigrants who were forced to pay extortionate rates to live in overcrowded squalor.

His tenants paid because they had nowhere else to go. The rules that restricted how much rent a new tenant could be charged had been abolished by the Conservative government in 1957 and if they did not pay, they received a visit from Mr Rachman's heavies.

But what is possibly the worst aspect of the story is Mr Rachman was never exposed during his life and became famous after his death only because very late in life he met a young prostitute called Christine Keeler. She was the woman who had a brief affair with the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo.

In going through every aspect of Keeler's life the tabloids discovered what Rachman had been up to. The details scandalised the nation, but it was too late to call him to account He had died in 1962, unnamed, unshamed, and very rich. No one knows how many other unscrupulous landlords were operating at the same time who did not make the newspapers.