The kings of crime escape jail – but only to bury their mother

The Guardian, August 12 1982

The Kray twins said farewell to their mother yesterday with a short poem, two hymns, more than 300 wreaths, 1,000 spectators and a lot of large men in dark suits. Then they went back to prison.

The first public appearance of the former gang leaders since their trial in 1969 brought out the old Kray combination of celebrities and high-calibre criminals. A police helicopter circled over the church.

Diana Dors and the boxer Terry Downes stood by the grave with the twins’ Aunt May, who cried a lot, and their father, Charles. Two of the Nash brothers, the most prestigious club-owners in the East End, stood quietly in the crowd.

Most of the mourners declined to give their names. They were all “old friends of the family” or “former associates of the firm.” Some of them said they were in business. What business? “Just business,” they replied.

The crowds started to collect outside Violet Kray’s flat in Shoreditch at 8 a.m. The first wreaths and bouquets were laid out on the pavement in front of the council flats where she died last Thursday, the day before her 73rd birthday. The wreaths told the story.

There was a floral cross from each of the twins. Ronnie, who is in Broadmoor being helped with his paranoid schizophrenia, wrote a simple message on his: “Mum, the most beautiful woman in the world, love Ron.”

Reggie, who has been in Parkhurst since his attempted suicide in February, wrote a short poem on his: “Remembering so many things that you have said and done; remembering the times we shared — the laughter and the fun.”

The Great Train Robber Buster Edwards sent a wreath. So did Frankie Fraser, whose father, “Mad Frankie,” was gaoled with the Richardson brothers. There was a mound of chrysanthemums and lilies from “all the boys in Parkhurst Prison ” and another from “all your friends at Parkhurst Hospital.”

Some of the old friends could not be there. Harry Roberts, who is still serving a life sentence for killing three policemen, is in Leicester; his mother sent flowers. Mick Morris is still in Maidstone Prison, trying to prove his innocence. His mother joined the mourners.

Just before 10 a.m. with the crowd swollen to 500, the undertakers started loading the wreaths on to the limousines. It took them 50 minutes. They had to leave some behind. The floral model of the gates of Heaven from Violet’s husband Charles, aged 78, took pride of place with the heart-shaped bouquet from the twins’ elder brother, Charlie.

The mourners and their minders came down from Violet’s flat on the ninth floor and took their seats in the cortege of eight black limousines. With office workers peering down from their windows, the cortege twisted through the traffic jams into Kray country.

They drove through Bethnal Green, where Violet’s father, “Cannonball” Lee, the boxer, used to lick a white hot poker to get money from the market crowds; past Vallance Road, where their home at number 178 was known as Fort Vallance; and on up Mare Street, where Violet met her husband in a dance hall 56 years ago. They passed Hoxton, where the twins were born over a shop in 1934, and Cazenove Road, where they killed Jack “the Hat” McVitie in 1967 because he called Ronnie “a fat poof.” They headed north, leaving behind the Regency and the Kentucky and the Double R and all the other clubs they used to run and protect.

It took the cortege 50 minutes to reach Chingford old church, where the twins were waiting. They had arrived with a police escort, handcuffed to prison officers – Reggie in a yellow armoured van, Ronnie in a blue rover.

Both wore suits and sat quietly in their pews at the front of the church. The organist played “The king of Love my Shepherd is.” Ronnie and Reggie and the prison officers stood up and sang with one voice. When they sat down again Ronnie slumped forward in his seat, his head pressed down.

Prebendary Richard Hetherington, who knew the twins as boys and encouraged them to help with church bazaars, told the mourners to consider two lines from a prayer:”Are your minds set upon righteousness, ye congregation? Do ye judge the thing that is right, ye sons of man?”

He said he had real regard, respect, and affection for Mrs Kray. “She was a very remarkable woman,” he told the congregation. “Among her qualities was loyalty, a loyalty to that which she held to be right, a loyalty to her family whom she loved.”

The mourners sang Abide With Me. They prayed once more for Mrs Kray. As the service ended the twins turned to walk up the aisle to the back of the church. The congregation swamped them: “All right Ron… Good luck, Reg… How you keeping?… Good to see you.”

The commotion clogged the aisle, stranding Prebendary Hetherington and the coffin. “Please don’t block the path,” he pleaded. “You have been told not to.” The way was cleared.

The twins were hurried into a back room and sent straight back to custody before burial. The coffin, the mourners, and a throng of hundreds of spectators moved across the road to the cemetery.