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Isle of Wight Prisons

The three former separate prisons on the Isle of Wight - Albany, Camp Hill and Parkhurst were clustered into one prison on April 1st 2009 and now known as HMP Isle of Wight. The sites are located next to each just off the main Newport to Cowes road. Albany and Parkhurst were once among the few Category A prisons in the UK until they were downgraded in the 1990s, the downgrading of Parkhurst being hastened by a major escape. Three prisoners (known to be some of the most dangerous murderers in the prison system) made their way out of the prison on 3 January 1995 to enjoy four days of freedom before being recaptured. Parkhurst especially enjoyed notoriety as one of toughest jails in the UK and ´hosted´ many notable inmates, including the Kray twins and Peter Sutcliffe (´The Yorkshire Ripper´). Now, thankfully there are no such perilous convicts staying at 'Her Majesty´s Pleasure' on the Isle of Wight.

The Kray Twins were probably the most notorious villains to set foot inside any of the prisons on the Isle of Wight. Ronald Kray (24 October 1933 - 17 March 1995) and Reginald Kray (24 October 1933 - 1 October 2000) were identical twin brothers, and the foremost organised crime leaders in North and East London in the 1960s.


Ronald, commonly referred to as Ron or Ronnie, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and had the more dominant personality of the two. His brother is usually just referred to as Reg or Reggie. Their rivals in South London were the Richardson brothers, accompanied by Frankie Fraser.

The Kray twins were born on 24th October 1933 in Hoxton, in the East End of London, to Charlie Kray and Violet Lee. Of the twins, Reggie was the first to be born, while Ronnie appeared ten minutes later. At the time the twins were born, Charlie and Violet had a seven-year old son, also called Charlie. As well as their elder brother Charlie, the twins also had a sister, but, sadly, she died in infancy. During the 1920s and 1930s, the death toll of infants was very high, with pneumonia and tuberculosis claiming the most lives followed by diphtheria and malnutrition.

Up until 1939, having previously lived in Stene Street, Hoxton (now called Shoreditch), the Kray family moved to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green. It was around this time, at the start of the Second World War, that Charlie Kray Senior was called up into the Army, but he deserted and remained on the run for 12 years. During his time on the run, Charlie Senior, who liked to roam the country, buying and selling Silver, Gold and clothing, saw very little of his sons, who grew close to their mother during the father´s absence. The frequent presence of Military Police hardened an already pronounced anti-authoritarian attitude in Ron and Reg, who were both to desert from the army later in life.

The twins first attended Wood Close School and then Daneford Street School. Although not bright pupils, they showed none of their future criminal tendencies. Their principal teacher there reported of them, "Salt of the earth, the twins; never the slightest trouble to anyone who knew how to handle them. If there was anything to be done in school, they´d be utterly co-operative. they´d always be the first to help. Nothing was too much trouble."

The influence of their grandfather, Jimmy ´Cannonball´ Lee, led both boys into amateur boxing, at that time a popular pursuit for working class children in the East End. An element of competition between them spurred them on, and they achieved some success. They are said never to have lost a bout before turning professional at age 28.

The fighting did not stop at the edge of the ring, and the Kray twins quickly became famous for their gang of roughs and the mayhem they caused. They narrowly escaped probation and/or prison several times and in 1951, they were called up for National Service. They deserted several times, each time being recaptured. The army seemed to hold to the hope of turning them around and making good soldiers of them, but it was not to be.

While absent without leave from the army, the twins assaulted a police officer who had spotted them and was trying to arrest them. They were sentenced to a month´s prison, and afterward were sent to a military prison in Somerset awaiting court-martial. Their behaviour in prison was so bad that in the end they were given a dishonourable discharge from the service; for the last few weeks of their imprisonment, when their fate was a certainty anyway, they ruled the holding room they were in. They threw tantrums, upended their latrine bucket over a sergeant, handcuffed a guard to the prison bars with a pair of stolen cuffs, and burnt their bedding. Eventually they were discharged, but not before escaping from the guardhouse and being recaptured by the army one last time.

It was during this period that Ron started to show the first signs of mental illness. He would refuse to eat, shave only one side of his face and suffer wild mood swings, sitting still for hours before erupting into a violent frenzy. It is not clear whether at this stage it was another prank to annoy their guards, or if even now Ron was unbalanced. Three years later he would be certified insane while in prison.

Their criminal record and dishonourable discharge having ended their boxing careers, the boys turned to crime, buying a seedy snooker club in Bethnal Green, and commencing several protection rackets. By the end of the 1950s, the Krays were involved in hijacking, armed robbery and arson, through which means they acquired a small empire of clubs and other properties.

In the 1960s, they were well placed, as prosperous nightclub owners, to be a part of the ´swinging´ London scene. A large part of their fame is due to their non-criminal activities as figures on the celebrity circuit, being photographed by David Bailey on more than one occasion; their associates included the Webster Family and show-business characters such as the actors George Sewell and Barbara Windsor. The Krays came into the public eye, however, when Ron´s homosexual friendship with Lord Boothby, a Conservative peer, was alluded to in a tabloid expose.

The criminal activities of the twins several times came to the attention of the police, but the Kray name had grown to such a reputation for violence that witnesses would not come forward. Their criminal activities continued behind their apparent social success. In 1967, Reg was persuaded by his brother to kill Jack ´The Hat´ McVitie, an unimportant member of the Kray gang who had stepped out of line. This wasn´t the first murder the twins had committed. They were also implicated in the deaths of Frank Mitchell and George Cornell, the latter being shot at the notorious Blind Beggar pub by Ronnie in 1966. Despite a substantial reputation for violence, the twins were convicted of killing only McVitie and Cornell, though they are believed to have continued to hold influence in the underworld up until their deaths.

The Blind Beggar Pub

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