The most notorious British gangsters

Updated February 21, 2017

Gangsters can find ways into the underbelly of society, no matter where they live, and once they are established they keep hold of their power through inhuman acts of terror and blackmail. Making money from intimidating businessmen, engaging in shady deals, or simply stealing money off a train, British gangsters often end up spending their last years behind bars, with only memories of the indulgences and cruelties of the years past... but a fortunate few get to spend their golden years soaking up the sun on Spain's "Costa del Crime."

Reggie and Ronnie Kray

Once sharing a womb, twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray are infamous gangsters from the East End of London, who controlled their criminal empire in London until they were locked up for murdering other gangland figures, one of whom went by the name Jack "The Hat" McVitie, in 1969. Cruelly charismatic, the twins forged a place in the public consciousness with connections to celebrity figures and a high profile flashy lifestyle.

The Richardson Gang

Active at the same time as the Kray twins, the Richardson gang owned a scrapyard in London and was somewhat of a family gang like the Kray organisation with two brothers in control. The leader, Charlie Richardson, was locked up in 1967 for a quarter of a century after being accused of torture and extortion at the scrapyard.

Ronnie Biggs

The name Ronnie Biggs is inextricably linked with the Great Train Robbery, an audacious robbery of £2.6 million from a train carrying post from Glasgow to London. The gang took control of the train in a quiet country area, and seriously injured the driver. The leader of the gang, Bruce Reynolds, was caught five years later, but Ronnie Biggs earned a place in infamy by escaping his own prison sentence, altering his face with plastic surgery and finding refuge for decades in Brazil before finally coming back to the UK to face jail again.

Jimmy Boyle

A Glasgow native, Jimmy Boyle was a gangster using extortion and intimidation to carve out a comfortable niche for himself in the 1960s, before he was given a life sentence for murder. While in prison he continued being a dangerously vicious character, before turning over a new leaf. The unpredictable twist to Jimmy Boyle's life story is that after he got out of prison, he married a psychiatrist, set up rehab centres and wrote a book about his life, which is now a film.

The Shankill Butchers

In the 1970s, Northern Ireland was suffering from a virtual civil war between people who wanted to stay part of the United Kingdom and those who wanted the North to be part of Ireland. Criminal activity was overshadowed by republican and loyalist paramilitaries, but the Shankill Butchers were a particularly horrific gang of the time. Focusing on innocent Catholic targets, the gang murdered at least ten people with butcher's knives before they were imprisoned for their crimes in 1979.

Dick Turpin

The original gangster, Dick Turpin was a highwayman who terrorised the English countryside through the early 1700s with the help of his trusty and bloodthirsty friends in the Essex Gang. Although often thought of as a gentleman highwayman, Turpin's crimes included breaking into farmhouses and torturing the occupants for information on hidden money or valuables. Despite escaping the authorities several times by the skin of his teeth, Turpin was finally caught and hung in 1739.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jillian O'Keeffe has been a freelance writer since 2009. Her work appears in regional Irish newspapers including "The Connacht Tribune" and the "Sentinel." O'Keeffe has a Master of Arts in journalism from the National University of Ireland, Galway and a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from University College Cork.