Crime and Punishment

I read in a British newspaper yesterday about the arrest of several people associated with a crime family in London.  The police swooped on addresses in different locations in a very well co-ordinated operation which netted the ring leaders, brothers in crime, and their cohorts who had been swindling money out of people for years using extortion, carrying out threats of torture, mutilation and murder.

Not much has changed then since I was a child in the 1950’s!  London, at least the East End, was riddled with crime families, the most notorious ruled by the Kray Brothers.  We didn’t live anywhere near them as we lived in a county bordering London to the west (which has since become part of Greater London).  But we had neighbours who were rumoured to be connected to the Kray Brothers’ crime network.  This family’s house was adjacent to ours at a 90 degree angle.  Our front doors and gates were not next to each other thankfully otherwise we would have been far too intimidated to come or go.  An elder son of the family used to get visits from a ‘big Yankee car’ in red driven by a huge bald fellow who was a villain in real life apparently.  We heard that he played the occasional bit part in movies too – hence the flashy car.  He certainly looked the part!

The family’s back garden was a real mess.  I could see if from my bedroom window, but I was careful not to be noticed looking out!  They were the family you really dread moving into the community.  Mother didn’t work, a wild array of kids who rarely went to school, and the older sons bringing unsavoury characters home for afternoon tea.  The younger kids were very noisy and used to yell to each other from the upstairs bedroom windows to their siblings playing in the back garden.  My sister and I weren’t allowed to yell to each other while outside, ever!  A quick clip round the ear from our mum put that to rights.

My mum thought Dot, the mother of the unsavoury family, was hard done by and not as bad as people said.  Not sure what she based that assessment on but Dot did manage to get money out of my mum occasionally; probably for cigarettes as she was never seen without a ciggy hanging from the corner of her mouth.  The police were pretty regular visitors to next door, hauling off one or other of the elders sons from time to time.  As the younger kids grew they got into trouble on their own and one or two were hauled off to Borstal (a reform school for wayward youngsters, now called Young Offenders Institutions).

I can only imagine that the families living next to the crime family members arrested with great fanfare yesterday might feel relieved that justice is being served.  Or they could be surprised and shocked.  The house that the ring leaders (a brother of the family and his wife) lived in looked posh and was not the county-funded housing that I grew up in.  I can’t remember what finally happened to my neighbours but their existence made a fairly strong impression on me which I am remembering now 50 years later.  I wonder what the children living around London’s latest crime family will remember years from now.

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