In 1969 two men were jailed for thirty years, two men who had ruled east London in a fashion that has never been seen before.
They were loved by many and feared by most, their name stood out in a crowd and would either open doors or close them.
These two men were legends, Ronnie and Reggie Kray from Vallance Road, Bethnal Green.
Arrested in May 1968 and convicted in 1969, it wasn’t just Ron and Reg that went down that day, but others that were part of the ‘firm’. Others that were branded names and entitled the most ‘notorious’ gangsters the country had ever seen.
Today, so many years later the Havering Daily had an exclusive interview with Chris Lambrianou, a man labelled a former gangster, a man who has spent fifteen years in prison and has paid back to society everything he could. A man who has got on his knees and looked up to the sky.
It’s very easy for us to point the finger at these gangsters and call them despicable names, however we weren’t there or have not walked in their shoes.
Chris Lambrianou grew up with two very loving parents. A Greek father who worked everyday of his life making sure his family had everything they could and a mother he calls a ‘lion’ tamer juggling five children just after the war.
London was then war torn, it had bombsites everywhere and was infested with rats. Things were hard.
Chris spent his early childhood years being moved about because of circumstances. At the age of seven, him and his brother Tony were moved to a work house in South London where they shared a dormitory with adult males, learning life the hard way.
It was here that Chris learnt how to fight, having to defend his younger brother from bullies. ‘I realised that I had to learn how to fight to survive.’
He was then moved again to a half way house in Victoria and was here that he first began to work at the very early age of just twelve years old.
‘I would go to Victoria Coach station and ask people if they needed their bags carried and we would carry them to give us pocket money. ‘
From there, Chris moved to Hackney and dreamt about being a boxer. His schooling had been messed up and his life had not been easy.
At the age of twelve Chris was arrested for stealing lead. He was sent to St Vincent, in Dartford Kent. It was an ‘approved’ school where he said ‘It was here that I took my first steps into the university of crime.’
Chris ran away from St Vincent’s and it was his father’s calming words that made him change his outlook. ‘My dad told me son you can’t ever run away from anything in life. We will always be here to support you. We want you to be a decent citizen.
‘My parents always showed me so much love and kindness’.
Chris then went on to be caught up in the criminal underworld, the ‘university of crime’ as he calls it.
‘I met everyone then, gangs from all across the country from Manchester to Liverpool. ‘
The family were then evacuated to Leicester where Chris’ father got a job working for the RAF.
‘I met local lads that had started robbing trains so I got involved with that until we moved back to London where we lived in Alma Street. ‘
Chris was then arrested again for stealing lead and sent to a borstal and from there he was sent into the army.
‘The army couldn’t handle me, they sent me to see a psychiatrist and he told me that I felt robbed of my youth having always been inside institutions. ‘
When he returned to London, life was hard for Chris he wasn’t able to find a job having been inside and after the war jobs were scarce. So Chris followed his criminal career path and started blowing safes and being involved in fraud.
He recalls how he first met Ronnie and Reggie Kray, ‘I was 28 years old when I met the twins. I had gone to the Blind Beggar pub, in Bethnal Green waiting for a mate of mine who didn’t show.
‘Instead I met Ronnie Bender (the Kray twins chauffeur) who asked me to go and meet the twins but I refused saying no.
‘Later that day Ronnie Bender knocked on my door asking me again if I would go down to Vallance Road to meet Ronnie and Reggie Kray as they had a favour to ask me, so I went.
‘The twins were opening up a gambling club in Leicester and asked me if I would bring along all the people I knew to their club, which I agreed.
‘I bought people along to the twins club and we got on well, I never saw the twins be violent to anyone. They were always polite and respectful people.’
Chris was living in Birmingham at the time where he had his own place. He would travel to London fortnightly.
Poverty was rife and Chris tells us, ‘All I wanted to do was make enough money to go straight. I knew crime wasn’t the answer. ‘
The following weekend Chris received a phone call from a friend of his called Ray Mills who had asked Chris to come down to London to meet his brother Alan and go to a club with them.
‘I had been to London that weekend so I didn’t really want to go back the following weekend, but Ray was keen for me to meet his brother so I didn’t want to disappoint him.
‘I met Ray and Alan Mills and bought my brother Tony along with me, it was a night that was a comedy of errors as well as a complete tragedy of errors.
‘We went for a drink at the Queen’s Arms then Ray and Alan agreed they wanted to go to the Regency Club which I wasn’t keen to go to. From there we were invited to a party at Evering Road Stoke Newington.
‘I remember Jack ‘the hat’ McVitie arriving saying ‘where’s the party?’ and from there everything went wrong. Reggie Kray held a gun to Jack’s head, but the gun got jammed and it didn’t fire.
‘I wasn’t happy to be there so I started talking to Ronnie Bender and Ronnie Kray came over and said ‘What’s wrong with him?’ and Ronnie answered ‘he doesn’t want to be here’, which Ronnie Kray responded ‘take him home’.
‘Myself, Ray and Alan Mills all went home. I sobered up and realised my brother Tony was still there, so I got a shooter and got into my car and went back for my brother.’
It was at this point that things changed in Chris’ life.
‘When I got back and knocked on the door Ronnie Bender answered saying to me ‘Chris don’t leave me, they’ve killed him’ and left him to clear it up.
‘The twins had just walked out, one was in shock and grief following the tragic death of his wife and the other needed regular medication and hadn’t taken it.
‘So I went downstairs and there was Jack’s body in front of the fire place, I really expected him to get up, I couldn’t believe he was dead.
‘I got some socks from the laundry for me and Ronnie to put on and we wrapped Jack’s body in an eiderdown and put it in the back seat of the car. Jack was over six foot so he could not fit in the boot.
‘The twins had left instructions to throw his body over the bridge onto the train line but I don’t know how they expected us to throw him off a bridge. ‘
The three men were then left to dispose Jack’s body the best they could.
‘Ronnie Bender was too scared to drive the body so Tony had to, we followed behind in the car and along the journey a police car started to follow us so I got my shooter ready in case they stopped Tony. He’s my brother I wasn’t going to let anything happen to him. He was my responsibility.
‘Luckily the police car turned into the police station and we made it through the Rotherhide tunnel, south London. But the car broke down outside a church in south London, so we left it there and the twins dealt with it the day after.
‘Ronnie and Reggie were very charming people when you met them, they never trusted anyone and they were fearsome. People respected them everywhere they went. Things were different in those days, we never had social workers or anything like that. Everyone had an aunt Mabel who sat at the end of her sofa and knew everything going on. The local copper was intergrated into the community, he knew everyone in your family. ‘
In 1968, Ronnie and Reggie were arrested by Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read.
‘Nipper Read tried every deal possible to get me on his side. They arrested me in Birmingham and bought me down to London where Nipper Read told me he had nothing on me.
‘When I got out I went to see Mrs Kray to let her know that the police knew more than the boys thought. She pleaded with me to please go and let her boys know as everyone else had turned their back on them. It was a mother’s plea from the heart so I went.
‘I saw Ron and Reg and let them know the police had more on them that they thought, which they were very grateful for. Four to five days later I was arrested again.
‘Nipper Read got me into his office and said he had given me every chance and that I had pissed him off. He hit me on the back of the head with a shooter but I still didn’t crack and then he had me arrested for murder. I got taught from an early age to never speak to the police. ‘
This is the moment Chris’ life changed forever. Sentenced to fifteen years inside for murder, the murder of Jack McVitie, that he wasn’t there for.
The trial was the longest the country had ever seen and saw Ronnie and Reggie Kray sentenced to thirty years behind bars. Ronnie died in prison and never saw freedom and the peaceful life he had so longed for and Reggie was released just a few days before he died of cancer. Both men spent more years behind bars than outside of them.
It was in prison that Chris’ life changed. It was here that Chris met Jesus and began his new life.
‘I went into a Category A prison where I met the train robbers and Charlie Richardson, we were all in there together. Charlie and I became the cooks there.
‘It was hard when we got to prison because we had a name and the prison wardens wanted to make sure we knew that inside they were the ones in charge.
‘I began to read and to learn, I attended classes, I read Shakespeare and poetry books, books on Easter religions. I began to look at everything around me, the people I had hurt in my life.
‘I was in Maidstone prison sitting on my bed when I saw a vision, I had been given a beautiful garden as a child and I had decimated everything in it. the tears began to roll down my face.
‘I had lost my wife, my daughter, my father had five boys and three had fallen ill to the sickness of crime. I reached a place where I couldn’t go on anymore. I paced up and down my cell with the blood raging until I came across the bible.
‘I put it under my pillow, I knew people had built their lives on this book. I then lay with it over my heart and I made it through the night. Jesus saved me, He never let me down.’
‘The real heroes in this story were all the wives and mothers that were left to pick up the pieces. They suffered more than anyone.’
Chris has since dedicated his life to helping others, helping offenders who have come out of prison to find a better way of life. He has been there to support many, to offer his words of wisdom to stop others from re-offending.
He dedicates his time helping his community and doing as much charity work he can. He has paid back to society everything he can and often struggles with the world we live in today.
‘Sometimes I miss my prison cell, I miss the solitude and quietness. Life is so fast now, no one has time for Jesus, He is just an after thought for most people. We spend our time with our noses on our phones or other technology, no one has time for each other anymore.’
Chris Lambrianou has been on his knees and faced some very challenging situations, he has paid back to society everything he could and now spends his life looking up and giving his heart to Jesus. Those challenges have made him the man he is today and now he can find peace in his dedication to helping others.