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MI5 files expose full story of Lord Boothby’s links to East End gangster Ronnie Kray

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:48 03 July 2020

Ronnie Kray and the infamous snapshot with Lord Boothby that was stopped from being published in 1964. Picture: History Press

Ronnie Kray and the infamous snapshot with Lord Boothby that was stopped from being published in 1964. Picture: History Press

History Press

The cat is finally out of the bag about gangster Ronnie Kray’s links with the flamboyant Lord Boothby who tried to use Parliament to protect the East End gangster and his twin Reggie.

Reggie Kray (left) and twin Ronnie at Cedars Court in 1965 where they were living. Picture: Kray familyReggie Kray (left) and twin Ronnie at Cedars Court in 1965 where they were living. Picture: Kray family

The national press in Fleet Street knew about the links and Boothby’s homosexual activities — but were silenced in 1964 with legal action.

They dare not run the full story even after the Krays were put behind bars for life in 1969 for gangland murders in Whitechapel and Stoke Newington — because a litigious Lord Boothby was still loose in London until he died years later.

But now the full story is out, with author Daniel Smith’s book The Peer and the Gangster published today (June 3).

It follows a BBC film last month about Boothby’s connection to the infamous Krays and five years on from Brian Helgeland’s movie Legend about the Krays filmed in the East End, with Tom Hardy as the twins and John Sessions as Lord Boothby.

Producer Brian Helgeland's camera crew in east London filming the Krays' story outside Cedar Court for the $19m blockbuster Legend. Picture: Working Title filmsProducer Brian Helgeland's camera crew in east London filming the Krays' story outside Cedar Court for the $19m blockbuster Legend. Picture: Working Title films

Dan Smith, however, draws on recently-released MI5 files, government documents, Boothby’s personal papers and fresh interviews with contemporary witnesses such as journalists, politicians and police officers.

“Similarities to today’s political scandals shows how ‘one rule for us, another for them’ is nothing new,” he says.

“Eminent figures saw to it that the scoop was crushed almost as soon as it emerged, from the political firmament, the security service, the Met Police, the legal profession and the media.”

It is five-and-a-half decades since the Sunday Mirror dared to run the front-page headline “Peer and Gangster: Yard inquiry” in July, 1964 — but was forced to withhold the names and to spike an incriminating photograph of the two together.

We didn't know about links to Lord Boothby back then... but here's how the East London Advertiser reported the Krays' downfall in March 1969.We didn't know about links to Lord Boothby back then... but here's how the East London Advertiser reported the Krays' downfall in March 1969.

Boothby denied the story and threatened to sue the paper, which later sacked its editor and paid the peer £40,000 out-of-court settlement.

This led to the rest of the Fleet Street national press becoming less willing to cover the Krays’ criminal activities, Daniel’s research has found.

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But Fleet Street behind closed doors knew what was going on.

The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel where Ronnie Kray shot dead George Cornell in 1966. Picture: Blind BeggarThe Blind Beggar in Whitechapel where Ronnie Kray shot dead George Cornell in 1966. Picture: Blind Beggar

Boothby had a relationship in 1963 with East End cat burglar Leslie Holt who he met in a gambling club. Holt introduced him to Ronnie Kray, a self-confessed homosexual, who later supplied the peer with young men and arranged orgies in Cedar Court in Clapton where he was living at the time.

The Krays got favours from the establishment in return.

Those “favours” backfired when Boothby tried to put pressure on the Met Police through Parliament to drop criminal charges against the Krays, which embarrassed the House of Lords.

Newspapers supporting the Tory government of the day kept a lid on it — until the Labour-backing Mirror got wind of the scandal.

The Peer and the Gangster, by Daniel Smith, published by the History Press July 3, 2020.The Peer and the Gangster, by Daniel Smith, published by the History Press July 3, 2020.

Yet even the Commons Opposition held back, as it involved Boothby’s close friend and Labour MP Tom Driberg.

Boothby had campaigned in the 1950s to decriminalize homosexuality and its stigma which he said put “otherwise law-abiding and useful citizens on the other side of the fence” and into squalor and crime.

But the campaigning also hid a dark secret, covering his own homosexuality with two marriages and a long-running affair with the wife of Harold Macmillan who went on to be prime minister in 1957.

Boothby’s second cousin, writer and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy, claimed he had fathered at least three children by the wives of other men.

This was the “perfect cover” for his then-illegal homosexuality, but drove him into the East End’s underworld where he became best mates with the Krays in Bethnal Green.

Ronnie was jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 1969 for shooting dead rival gangster George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel. Reggie met the same fate at the trial for Jack McVitie’s murder in Stoke Newington.

The fall of the Krays ended Boothby’s notorious East End underworld links — but stayed secret until long after his death in 1986 at the age of 86.

Daniel Smith’s The Peer and the Gangster is published June 3 by History Press.


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