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*

I asked Reggie Kray a dodgy question in jail but luckily for me
he cocked a deaf’un

FRIENDS: Maureen Flanagan and Charlie Kray

By ROBIN McGIBBON

I probably would never have met the Kray twins had it not been for a bubbly blonde model, named Maureen Flanagan, one of the early Page Three Girls. It was the mid-seventies and I’d left my job as a news sub on the Daily Sketch to start Everest Books, a company publishing celebrity-led titles with newspaper serialisation potential.


One of the company’s early books was Me and My Brothers, the autobiography of the Kray twins’ older brother, Charlie, and at the launch party he introduced me to Maureen, known to one and all as Flan, who, he was proud to tell me, cut his mother’s hair.


Sadly, for me and many others who believed in Everest, the company ran into serious financial problems and, after nine exciting years, I had no choice but to liquidate it and look for other ways to earn a living.


Thanks to Jon Zackon, a dear friend from the Sketch, then Assistant Chief Sub on the Express, I was offered some casual shifts on Features, then a staff job on News, One night, in the Spring of 1985, Flan rang and asked if I would ghost her autobiography. I was happy being back in Fleet Street, and not keen to get back into the unpredictable world of publishing, so I declined, but accepted Flan’s offer to meet for a drink.


Not surprisingly, we started talking about Charlie. I was curious to know if he and the twins shared any similarities and she said, none at all. “Mind you,” she added, quickly, “ there’s not much similarity between them now.”


Reg was intense and businesslike, always arriving with a bundle of papers and a list of jobs for her, whereas Ron would stroll into Broadmoor’s visiting hall, immaculate in a £500 suit, and settle down for a leisurely chat over a cup of tea. He was always calm, his twin always on edge.


I could see the potential in a first-person piece with either of them, so when Flan offered to set up a visit with Reg — in Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight — on one of my days off, I accepted immediately.


Which is how Flan and came to be sitting opposite each other on the mid-morning train from Waterloo to Portsmouth, where we would take the ferry to the island, then a cab to the prison, in Newport.


Obviously, I looked tense, because after twenty minutes or so, Flan said: “You’re getting nervous, aren’t you?”


“Not nervous,” I said, shaking my head. “Maybe apprehensive. Two hundred miles is a long way to go if I don’t get anything.”


“I’m sure you’ll get something, Rob,” Flan said. “Reg’ll be fired up. He won’t stop talking.”


“But about what?”


“He won’t want to talk about the old days, for sure,” Flan said. “He looks to the future, not backwards.”


“But that’s what’s interesting, Flan,” I said. “The murders. The mayhem. How they got where they did. Why they got nicked.”


Flan shook her head. “You’re not going to get him talking about all that in a couple of hours. Anyway, most of it’s covered in The Profession of Violence” - the 1969 bestseller written by a Sunday Times reporter, John Pearson


“There’s much more to be said, Flan, For a start, Reg has never talked about Jack the Hat McVitie. Has never admitted killing him.”


Flan laughed. “I don’t think he’ll confess that to you. Not when you’ve never met before.”


I had to agree — although I didn’t want to sit in a prison talking about stuff that wouldn’t interest editors. If the visit was going to be a one-off, I felt I had to make it count with a headline-making exclusive.


Looking back, and in view of what happened in the ensuing years, that was a mistake: I should have been concerned only with making a good impression on Reg and winning his trust.


Flan and I sat in silence again, then I took a writing pad from my briefcase and wrote a question in a blue felt-tip pen: it was just nine words, but I was sure that, if it provoked a truthful answer, I’d have the scoop I wanted.


Flan was intrigued and asked to see what I’d written. I handed her the pad and she stared at it. Then she threw back her head and guffawed. “Jesus Christ, Rob, are you mad? You can’t ask him that.”


“Why not? It’s the great unsolved Kray mystery.”


“It could kill the visit before it’s started.” 


“That’s a chance I have to take, Flan.” I said. And I meant it. There were no guarantees Reg would want to see me again, so I had to make the most of our meeting. And if I got an answer to the question I’d be able to name my price with the tabloids.


I wrote down more questions and by the time we boarded the ferry at Portsmouth I had another eleven. I wondered what Reggie Kray would think of them.


I was shocked by the visiting conditions. Never having been to a prison, I expected a large hall, like I’d seen in Cagney movies, with patrolling prison officers watching every move, listening to every word.


But the venue for my face to face with Britain’s notorious killer was small – no more than 50 feet square, with just ten rectangular tables, each seating four. And although I wasn’t conscious of counting them there were no more than three prison officers.


I was unsettled by the noise: I hadn’t thought for a moment the visit would be bedlam; that I’d find it hard to hear Reg speak above the raucous babble of wives and girlfriends, and excited children. I wondered how we’d have a conversation about anything — let alone something significant that would provide copy for a newspaper.


At five past 2 p.m, Reg almost bounded into the room, the first of about a dozen Category A prisoners, wearing blue jeans, casual top and trainers and sat a table near the door.


I wasn’t surprised at how short he was because I’d seen photos of him and Ron escorted by prison officers at their mother’s funeral three years before. Nor was I surprised at his fitness because Flan had stressed that he was slim, well-muscled and looked younger than his fifty-one years.


But I was astonished by his voice, which was quiet, thin and reedy, with it seemed, the hint of an impediment.


“Hello, Robin,” he said, holding out a hand. “It’s very nice to meet you; it’s good of you to come.”


“Good to meet you, too, Reg,” I said, trying to hide the pain of a crushing handshake. “Thanks for arranging the visit.”


Reg was clearly used to the noise, and children running around, but I found it hard to concentrate, and kept leaning forwards towards him trying to pick up what was a barely audible mutter.


I was in “selling” mode – looking directly into his eyes, smiling a lot, trying to be interesting, and going all out to convince him that I was someone he could trust to deal with matters on the outside that were important to him and his twin.


Knowing that Ron had been transferred from Parkhurst to Broadmoor, the hospital for the criminally insane, in Berkshire, six years before, I asked how Reg felt about being separated from him.


“I welcomed the move,” he said. “Actually, I encouraged it.”


“Oh, really,” I said, surprised: “Why”


“You get a lot of young guys coming through, who want to make a name for themselves by fighting a Kray,” he said. “I could turn a blind eye, but Ron was unwell and wouldn’t have been able to control himself. He’d have got in loads of fights and been seriously hurt if he was attacked mob-handed. Far better for him to be in Broadmoor where he’ll be monitored and cared for.”


I wanted to explore the subject, but Reg was keen about me, and my job, and, more particularly, how I might able to help him. It gave me the opening I’d been waiting for and I reached into my jacket pocket. “I have some questions, Reg,” I said. “Is it okay?”


“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Go ahead.”


I took out the sheet of paper I’d ripped from my notebook and looked at the first of my questions. I glanced round the room, made sure none of the visitors, nor prison officers, were eavesdropping, then leaned even closer to Reg.


In no more than a whisper, I said: “Can you reveal where Frank Mitchell’s body was taken?”


Frank “Mad Axeman” Mitchell was a mentally unstable criminal the Krays had sprung from Dartmoor in 1966, and arranged to have murdered when he became impossible to control. His body had never been found.


Reg stared at me, looking puzzled, as if he wasn’t sure he understood the question. Then he cocked an ear. “Eh?”


I glanced round the room again, embarrassed, but everyone was chatting among themselves, oblivious to what I’d said. I leaned towards Reg again and asked, a little louder: “Can you reveal where Frank Mitchell’s body was taken?”


Reg’s ear cocked again. “Eh?”


I took a deep breath. “CAN YOU REVEAL WHERE FRANK MITCHELL’S BODY WAS TAKEN?”


A deathly hush fell on the room. I didn’t dare look around, but I sensed all eyes on our table. I stared at Reg, waiting for an answer, but he just looked at me, saying nothing. Finally, he shook his head and said: “I don’t want to talk about that, Robin. Next question.”


I looked at my list. The next question was: “And Jack McVitie’s?” But I didn’t have the bottle to ask it. I waffled something and somehow we got or the awkwardness of the situation.


Reg didn’t seem bothered and for the next hour and a half we had a pleasant, friendly chat, with him making it clear he was up for any idea I felt could make money. The visit went so well that he was disappointed, 20 minutes before the visit was scheduled to end, when Flan signalled to a prison officer that we had to leave to catch the 4pm ferry.


Outside, I asked Flan if Reg was really deaf. She said he was, in the right ear, from all his boxing.


“So, do you think he heard my question about Mitchell?”


“Of course he bloody heard it,” she said. “He just didn’t want to answer. Until you bellowed it!”


I was quiet most the way to London, concerned that I’d got nothing out of Reg that would pay for our trip, but Flan told me not worry: she was sure Reg would want to see me again and I should think long term as he was going to be inside for many years.”


What would be interesting now, she said, was for me to meet Ronnie. The following month, I did — and asked him something that an ITN reporter said few sane people would have dared ask. 


If his Lordship so wishes, I’ll reveal what it was another time.


25 October 2023