Gangs have always played a part in the life of British cities. From the Krays in London in the Swinging Sixties to the mobsters who prowl today’s inner city estates, we take a look at some of the most dangerous and deadly gangs and gangsters ever to exist in the UK. So, in no particular order…
The Noonans are a group of brothers who were based around the Moston and Whalley Range areas of Manchester. The most well known of the 14 was Dessie Noonan, a giant of a man who was a bouncer at the city’s famous Hacienda and was reputedly the hardest man in Manchester.
Starting out in the early 80s, by the late 80s Dessie, along with Dominic and his other brothers controlled 80% of the doors in Manchester, and were at the very centre of Manchester’s underworld. With a host of violent gangs in the city including the Longsight Crew, Moss Side’s Gooch and Doddington gangs and the Salford Crew, the Noonans often acted as intermediaries and sorted disputes out between them.
They were no strangers to violence, and many stories abound about how they dealt with their rivals, including beheading one of their dogs with a machete. They were made famous by a documentary they starred in made by journalist Donal Macintyre, made shortly before the death of Dessie in 2005, who was fatally stabbed near his home. It is believed Dessie was responsible for over 25 murders.
Dominic remains a colourful underworld figure who has now changed his name to Dominic Lattlay-Fottfoy, which refers to his late father’s advice: Look at those that look after you. Fuck off those that fuck off you.
The Thompson Family
If you think that London was violent in the 60s with the Krays and their enemies the Richardson gang, it had nothing on Glasgow, and this came straight from the mouth of the notorious Mad Frankie Fraser.
In an interview, Fraser once said: “Down south, we viewed Glasgow as the Wild West. The violence was on a much, much higher level. So the person in charge would have to have been something very special, and Arthur was certainly that.”
The Arthur he was referring to was the one and only Arthur Thompson, the Godfather of the criminal crime family that held a vice like grip over the city of Glasgow from the 50s onwards. Starting out as a moneylender, he ran protection rackets and other criminal enterprises before going into the drugs trade in the 80s with his son Arthur Jr, aka Fatboy. Fatboy was gunned down in 1991, whilst Arthur died of a heart attack in 1993.
Curtis Warren is the only gangster ever to have featured in the Sunday Times Rich List, and was once Interpol’s most wanted man.
Growing up in the tough district of Toxteth in Liverpool, Curtis ‘Cocky’ Warren had a life of juvenile crime before becoming a bouncer in the city centre of Liverpool. It was here that he learnt about the drugs trade and by the time he was 20, had become a leading dealer and supplier.
By the 90s, Curtis Warren’s drug trafficking and supply business had grown so much it is estimated that he owned over 300 houses in the North West of England, as well as offices, factories and even a football ground. His success for so many years was down to the fact he was very hard to catch, and this was down to his photographic memory, never writing anything down and calling everyone by code words rather than their names.
His luck came to an end, however, when he was arrested in the Netherlands in 1996 with Cocaine, Cannabis, Ecstasy and guns. He remains in prison, and was in 2013 ordered to pay a £198m confiscation order or face another 10 years in prison.
Viv Graham Was the most famous hard man and gangster to come out of the North East of England. A former heavyweight amateur boxer, he became a doorman and went on to protect many of the North East’s late night drinking establishments.
He then moved into extortion and racketeering, and he was a well-known figure throughout the North East region. He is thought to have made millions through these various activities and he had various investments in pubs, nightclubs and bookmakers. However, as good as he was a mobster, he also loved gambling, and much of his money was frittered away this way.
He often prophesied that he would never make 40, and this was to prove true, being gunned down in an attack organised by one of his many enemies. He was aged just 34. Still to this day however, no one has ever come forward about the murder, meaning his killer is still free. Tragedy once again hit the Graham family in 2010, his son Dean being found dead at the wheel of his car in 2010.
The Burger Bar Boys
The Burger Bar Boys were almost unknown outside of their native Birmingham until Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis were murdered in 2003, where they were killed after being caught up in the middle of a drive-by shooting.
The shooting was part of a number of attacks that had escalated to a bloody turf war between the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew, another of the city’s gangs. The gangs had been at war for years with them both being formed during the 1985 Handsworth riots, and were named after their respective hangouts, a burger bar and the Johnsons Cafe, based only a mile apart in Handsworth and Aston respectively.
There have been countless attacks, stabbings and murders between the two gangs, but a peace now seems to remain, after both gangs collaborated on Penny Woodcock’s documentary One Mile Away and crime in the districts has reduced by a staggering 40%.
The Peckham Boys
Did you know that over 200 criminal gangs are thought to be operating in London alone? The Peckham Boys are amongst the most famous and the most well known and have been around for more than 50 years with several generations of the same families often being members.
Well organised and efficient, it has a mafia like command structure that sees gang elders provide knives and guns to younger thugs who steal cash and valuables, as well as deal drugs.
They are perhaps best known for the being the gang that Ricky and Danny Preddie were members of when they killed 10 year old Damilola Taylor, an innocent young boy whose jacket they tried to steal.
The Krays are probably the best-known criminal gang ever to come out of the UK. Headed by twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray, they started out as amateur boxers and petty criminals, moving into protection rackets in the 1950s.
Their older brother Charlie was thought to be the brains behind The Firm, with the twins being the public face of the organisation. Their notoriety coincide perfectly with the Swinging Sixties, and they were often seen pictured with celebrities and pop stars, but it was a newspaper story about a suspected homosexual relationship between Ronnie Kray and Lord Boothby that first brought the twins to public attention.
The Krays ruled the London underworld along with their bitter rivals the Richardsons, who they were in constant war with. Ronnie shot dead the Richardson gangster George Cornell dead in 1966 in the Blind Beggar pub, whilst Reggie Kray stabbed Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie to death in a basement flat in South London. Both were jailed with Ronnie Kray dying in prison in 1995, Reggie being released just 3 months before his death in October 2000. A film about the Krays was released in 1990 starring Martin and Gary Kemp.
Mad Frankie Fraser
Mad Frankie Fraser must surely go down as one of the most colourful gangsters ever to have come out of the UK. Spending 42 years in prison, he lived a life of mayhem and violence, causing panic and concern to many people who met him.
Unlike many gangsters and hard men, Frankie Fraser was not a big man at just 5ft 5, but his reputation as a hard case was legendary. He threw his lot in with the Richardson gang in the 60s, as in his mind they were the much superior gang to the Krays who were more interested in drinking with celebrities than making money.
He was their notorious enforcer and he used to torture his victims in some of the most gruesome ways possible, including pulling out their teeth with pliers. He lived to the age of 90 and almost up to his death was still a regular on TV and radio with his tales of the London underworld, as well as delivering tours of the East End crime hotspots.