THE PUBLICATION today of Frankie Fraser's autobiography suggests this paper's report of his death in a shooting outside a London club over two years ago was a little premature. In a pub in Islington, 'Mad' Frankie, 70 and very much alive, says he hopes his book, Mad Frank, will correct 'all the rubbish written about me over the years'.
Fraser has spent 40 years in prison, including seven for slashing Jack 'Spot' Comer, a 1950s gang leader, 10 years for his role as the 'dentist' in the so-called Richardson Torture Gang and five for leading the Parkhurst prison riots in 1970.
Along the way he served time at Cane Hill mental hospital and Broadmoor, from where he acquired the nickname. An affinity for 'doing screws' meant he was also probably one of the few prisoners to spend his last 20 years in prison without remission. His proudest boast is that he beat up the executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, in Wandsworth prison the day he hanged Derek Bentley - 'the best thing I ever done'. As for the much bandied title 'Britain's most violent man', he says: 'Whether I merited that honour, I don't know. Sure I was violent, but only to people like myself . . . I suppose I ranked high. I'm quite proud of that.'
First 'nicked' for stealing cigarettes at 13, Fraser became a minder to the gang leader Billy Hill during the 1950s. When, in the Sixties, control of Soho and the West End passed to the Kray twins and the Richardson brothers, Charles and Eddie, Fraser acted as the Richardsons' enforcer. The word was that he carried a pair of pliers in his top pocket as a reminder to the loose mouthed.
The gang's activities brought Fraser and Charlie Richardson to the Old Bailey in 1967 for the 'Torture Trial'. Fraser was sent down for 10 years, Richardson for 25. 'There wasn't any torture, honest. Wouldn't I have liked to say in all the time I was sitting in my cell, at least I hurt them? At least then there might have been some satisfaction.'
But no. The black box produced by the prosecution which electrocuted victims through electrodes attached to the genitals was 'rubbish'. Allegations that the gang nailed one man's foot to the floor and removed another's teeth with pliers were 'all false . . . Today, we wouldn't have even been charged, let alone gone to prison.
'In those days untold innocent people were convicted. Evidence was really piled on by coppers to make it sound much worse than it was.' Fraser believes the cases of the Guildford Four and Tottenham Three exposed a racket of 'fabricated evidence' and 'villainy' in which the police had been engaged for decades.
For all the brutality perpetrated, a kind of mock heroic romanticism has grown up around London's gang leaders. In films and autobiographies, we are told they loved their mothers and gave to charity. Even the police have fed the myth: when Sir Stanley Bailey retired as chief constable of Northumbria, he reflected on the 'good times' when Messrs Kray, Richardson and Fraser controlled the East End.
Fraser, needless to say, agrees: 'Old ladies would walk anytime without being interfered with, children too. Yes, we were violent, but only between ourselves. Honest hard-working people were safe, women and children untouchable. There's no place in London now where it's safe to walk.'
Fraser should know. Stepping out of Turnmills club in Clerkenwell, in August 1991, he was shot in the head. The police suspected a gangland hit. Fraser claims it was undercover police. Since coming out of his last stretch in 1985, he has gone straight - thanks, he says, to the gentle persuasion of his girlfriend, Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of the Great Train Robber, Tommy. 'It was logical. I am not nippy enough to smash windows and jump into cars anymore.'
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