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The funeral of the Kray Twins sidekick Tony Lambrianou in February 2004 brought back memories of the Krays bloody reign in the East End underworld, a brutal chapter in the history of London, and of the horrific crime that was to bring their time to an end. Lambrianou was still only 61 when he died suddenly at the beginning of March. He and his brother Chris had been in their early twenties when they were sent down for 15 years in 1969, for their part in the murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie two years before.
By the time of the killing, the Krays’ ‘Firm’ was looking distinctly shaky at the top. One problem was Ronnie Kray’s increasingly erratic and violent behaviour. He had escaped the year before, when witnesses on an identity parade were ‘unable’ to recognise Ron as the man who had killed George Cornell in Whitechapel’s Blind Beggar pub. Ronnie now became curiously obsessed with the fact that he had killed but that brother Reggie always stopped short of administering the ultimate sanction to the Firm’s enemies.
Another problem was Reggie himself. His troubled marriage to Frances Kray was less than a year old, but already his bride, exhausted by the strain of Reggie’s lifestyle, had attempted suicide on two occasions. On 6 June 1967, the pair had booked a holiday in Spain in an attempt to make a fresh start. But the following day, her brother found Frances dead. She had swallowed a massive overdose of barbiturates. Reggie now took solace in drink and his behaviour deteriorated, to the alarm of the Firm. He shot a man he thought had insulted Frances (fortunately he was so drunk he merely wounded him), and shot another man in a Highbury club in a drunken argument.
Worried members began to drift away from the Firm and the increasingly paranoid Ronnie began to see challenges to his authority, many of them undoubtedly real. Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie was an East End hardman, an enforcer who would sort out troublemakers for the Krays. But by 1967, McVitie, who earned his nickname for never removing the trilby that concealed a bald patch, was also heading out of control. Usually drunk, and often speeding on the amphetamines that he dealt and increasingly consumed, he had taken £100 from Ronnie to kill a man (the remaining £400 when the job was done), and refused to do the job or repay the money.
McVitie had pulled out a shotgun at the Regency Club, owned by friends of the Krays. On another occasion he had stabbed a man in the club. Yet another East End villain was spiraling out of control. On 28 October 1967 the twins and cohorts including Chris and Tony Lambrianou were drinking at the Carpenters Arms in Bethnal Green. Suggestions were made that the group decamp to a party up the road in Stoke Newington.
Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie arrived at the same basement flat a little later. The suspicion was that the rendezvous wasn’t as coincidental as all that, and that Tony Lambrianou had been detailed by Ronnie to get McVitie to where the twins were waiting for him. McVitie walked into an atmosphere waiting to explode. Ronnie started abusing him, and Reggie put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. Reggie then picked up a waiting knife and repeatedly plunged it into Jack’s body, eventually impaling him to the floor with the blade. The body was bundled into a quilt and driven south of the river by Tony Lambrianou, with brother Chris following. They dumped the corpse outside St Mary’s Church by the Rotherhithe Tunnel. The Krays were furious, as this was on the very doorstep of their friend, south London gang boss Freddie Foreman.
What had happened in that Stoke Newington room was never entirely clear. Even the Lambrianou brothers had different versions of events. The pair served 15 years each for their part in the crime. Unlike many former members of the Firm, the Lambrianous refused to give evidence against the Krays when the case came to court in 1969. Tony Lambrianou’s funeral, at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green, was just a stone’s throw from where he, his brother and the twins grew up. And 350 showed up to mourn one man, and a romanticised way of life and of crime that’s now slipping into folklore and the violent history of London.