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Drug dealing, human trafficking, racketeering, casino fixing, extortion, theft, arson and murder: the list goes on, but these are just a few of the crimes which have been committed by some of England’s most notorious underworld figures.
A few of England’s infamous criminals, such as the Kray twins and their gang The Firm, have achieved notoriety and even celebrity status in their lifetimes. Other gangs, such as the Yiddishers, have remained more hidden from the public eye, though that’s not to say they haven’t cultivated infamous reputations for themselves and their sordid crimes.
England’s gangs have been immortalised, fictionalised and even glorified in TV shows like Peaky Blinders. But real-life gangs in England have committed crimes that put their fictional counterparts to shame. From decapitating dogs to nailing people to the floor, reports of the dodgy dealings within England’s criminal underworld are stomach-churning.
Here are 8 of England’s most notorious gangs.
1. Cortesi Brothers (1910s – 1922)
Originally from Italy, brothers Augustus ‘Gus’, Enrico ‘Frenchie’, Paolo ‘Paul’ and George Cortesi were involved in protection racketeering of gamblers and bookmakers in the West End of London. They were close with fellow Italian gang the Sabini Family, but later became rivals when they believed they were being denied a fair share of proceeds from gambling clubs and bookmakers.
This conflict came to a head in 1922, when various members from both sides were injured and shot during a (supposed) peace-making meeting at a club. Gus and Frenchie were tried and jailed in England, while Paul and George were ultimately acquitted. Their notorious reign of terror then dwindled.
2. The Yiddishers (1920s – 1930s)
Based in Whitechapel, The Yiddishers were named for their Jewish faith. They strongly opposed the growing fascist movement during the interwar period and participated in the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in 1936, which was a defence of London’s streets against the infamous march of Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. At the march, The Yiddishers attacked the police protecting the Union of Fascists, as well as the fascists themselves.
The gang was later particularly known for its infamous member Jack Spot, who was known for his control of East End rackets and for funding the 43 Group, a Jewish post-World War Two street gang that clashed with the equally violent supporters of the Union Movement and other more minor far-right groups.
3. Sabini Gang (1920s – late 1940s)
Charles Sabini was born in Saffron Hill in the Italian Quarter of London. Known for being a slum, the area provided the inspiration for Fagin’s Den in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
After a delinquent childhood, Sabini founded a gang which dominated the London racecourse underworld for most of the early 20th century via protection rackets. At its peak, it had an estimated 100 members, imported Sicilian gunmen and was notorious for razor attacks. It was also involved in activities such as extortion, theft and hiring out hitmen. The gang had powerful connections including judges, politicians and police officials.
Sabini’s downfall came with Italy declaring war against Britain in 1940. He was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man and was later imprisoned for 3 years on a different charge. He retired quietly in Brighton and reportedly became a bookmaker.
4. Hoxton Mob (1930s – 1940s)
Based in Soho, the Hoxton Mob (also known as the Hoxton Gang) were one of several gangs who fought against the Sabini Gang and the ‘Italian Mob’ during the interwar years. They were one of many gangs who struggled for control of racetracks and protection rackets, and in 1936, around 30 gang members attacked a bookmaker and his clerk with hammers and knuckle-dusters.
In popular culture, Steven Berkoff’s play West features a character called Curly who is a leader of the Hoxton Gang.
5. The Firm (late 1950s – 1967)
Perhaps the most infamous gangsters in British history, the Kray Twins terrorised London in the 50s and 60s with their gang, The Firm. Known for murder, armed robbery, arson, protection rackets and assaults, the twins also achieved a celebrity-like status owing to their rubbing shoulders with Lords, MPs and celebrities, as well as being photographed by David Bailey and appearing on television. As nightclub owners, they were considered key and influential figures within the nightlife scene of the swinging sixties.
The twins were eventually both convicted of murder and imprisoned. Ronnie was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was held in Broadmoor Psychiatric Unit until his death there, while Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds 8 weeks before he died of bladder cancer in 2000. Upon their deaths, the brothers combined had spent more than half a century behind bars.
6. The Richardson Gang (1950s – 1967)
Infamously referred to as The Torture Gang, brothers Eddie and Charlie Richardson, along with accomplice Frankie Fraser, were known as some of London’s most sadistic gangsters. Most prominent in the 1960s, they were known to pull teeth out with pliers, cut off toes with bolt cutters, nail victims to the floor using 6-inch nails and whip, burn and shock their victims unconscious.
The gang were involved in a violent turf war with The Firm in the 1960s. George Cornell of the Richardson Gang was shot and killed by Ronnie Kray. Eddie and the rest of the gang were eventually arrested on the day of the 1966 World Cup final and were jailed for a total of 50 years.
7. Noonan Brothers (1980s – 2005)
Born into a poverty-stricken family of 14 children, brothers Desmond, Damien and Dominic Noonan made money by controlling the doors and selling drugs in many of Manchester’s nightclubs. It is estimated that in their prime they were making up to £50,000 a night from the Hacienda club alone. A threat from a rival gang to take over the club allegedly saw Dominic Noonan visit the rival club, decapitate the owner’s dog, then put its head on a pool table.
The police suspected Desmond and Dominic Noonan of being responsible for at least 25 unsolved murders during their 20-year grip over Manchester’s underworld. Desmond was stabbed to death in 2005, and Damien died in a motorcycle crash in 2003. Though he has never been convicted of murder, Dominic is currently in prison for arson, blackmail, perverting the course of justice and for sexual offences against underage boys.
8. The Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate (1980s – present)
Brothers Terrence ‘Terry’, Thomas ‘Tommy’, Sean and Patrick ‘Patsy’ Adams founded the Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate, based in Clerkenwell, London, in the 1980s.
Still in existence today and credited with having a wealth of up to £200 million, The Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate is believed to be one of the most powerful criminal organisations in the UK. Also known as the Adams Family or A-Team, the group is known for being heavily involved in drug trafficking, extortion, hijacking of gold bullion shipments, security fraud and blackmail, and are thought to frequently murder informants and rival criminals.
Tommy and Terry Adams were finally convicted in 1998 and 2007, while the gang’s leader Terry Adams has been serving a prison sentence since 2007.