Extracts from…

Organized Crime in London: A Comparative Perspective

By Philip Jenkins and Gary Potter

Jenkins, P. Potter, G (1986) published in Corruption and Reform vol 1 no 3. pp 165-187.

(Note this article was written in 1986 and is dated in some respects which should be obvious)


There are two main schools of thought about organized crime in America. One is that America possesses a massive and virtually monopolistic crime syndicate, Cosa Nostra, or 'The Mob' founded as an Italian-Jewish alliance in the early 1930s. This structure is seen as still in existence, though increasingly under threat from a vigorous federal law enforcement campaign. Recently, the Presidential Commission headed by Judge Kaufman has need Mafia power waning in the face of challenges from a variety of new gangs:: Asian and Latin American groups, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle clubs. They have also placed for emphasis that scholars of Cosa Nostra on the great power of independent 'money-movers' and criminal financiers.

The Mafia theory could easily be reconciled with a theory of American uniqueness, in that the 'Mob' arose from historical circumstances peculiar to America. The other school believes that organized crime is an inevitable outgrowth of advanced societies, and that something like the American pattern is likely to be found wherever we have the same conditions of industrialization. Prosperity, and bureaucratization. Corruption in this view is an inevitable consequence of the exercise of bureaucratic discretion and the difficulties of enforcing law against victimless crime.

The debate about American organized crime is therefore one in which comparative material can be very valuable. Do we find something like the American pattern elsewhere? If so, is it universal, or is it confined to industrialized countries? In the past, this sort of work as been hampered by the 'Mafia myth' Scholars look at Western Europe and do not find a monolithic Mafia comparable to that of the USA, with its supposed national 'Commission' and corporate structure. They therefore conclude that America is a unique case. However, it has also been argued that American organized crime is not so monolithic and 'corporate' a structure as was claimed by earlier writers. In Seattle, Chambliss argued that vice and crime were organized at city level by a non-ethnic 'cabal' or network, made up of businessmen, bureaucrats, police officers and labor representatives. If this is indeed the shape of American organized crime, then something comparable is indeed found elsewhere, for instance in Sweden and certainly in Australia.

In this view, American crime is not organized on the basis of ethnicity. Each major ethnic group possesses its own crime network, and these cooperate in illegality just as they would in 'normal' business. In New York or Philadelphia, for example, a roll call of the major syndicates would include Blacks, Italians, Hispanics, Irish, Greeks, Russians, and motorcycle gangs. In California, there has long been vigorous activity by Hispanic and Asian groups. Coalition between the various groups is provided by two factors. One is access to official power - the 'cabal' and its bureaucratic allies. The other is money, the shared need for finance, capital and 'laundering' facilities (Potter and Jenkins, 1985)

We would argue that this view of organized crime finds close parallels in other countries, specifically in Britain. Moreover, the emerging revisions of the traditional view of American organized crime can provide an invaluable conceptual framework to study the long-neglected topic of British criminal networks.

Of course, this is not a one-for-one parallel. If we compare the American and British experiences, we find close resemblances, but also substantial differences in the economic and political strength of the two underworlds. In Britain, organized crime has hardly any role in areas which have traditionally provided their American counterparts with most of their profits (gambling, drugs), and their political power (labor racketeering). The British gangsters have close ties to the law enforcement bureaucracy, but not to politics or government proper - and this despite the widespread corruption of sections of the nation's public life (Doig 1984). Even without invoking Cosa Nostra, American organized crime is much wealthier than its British counterpart, and far better connected to the worlds of politics and big business…


Scholars of organized crime in the USA have remarkably rich resources at their disposal. There are numerous published work on the development of crime in particular cities, based on journalistic or academic investigation. An historical picture can be built up through the re0orts of and testimony to public investigative bodies - local grand juries, state or city crime commissions, and national studies such as the Kefauver or McClellan committees.

A study of London - or any British jurisdiction - presents very different problems. In fact, we must begin with the question of whether any differences we perceive between Britain and the USA arise not from real or substantial contrasts, but rather from the very different nature of available evidence. Briefly put, it is relatively simple to form a detailed picture of organized crime in an American jurisdiction; while English law puts almost insuperable obstacles in the way of publicly identifying even the most powerful criminals before they have either died or been imprisoned.

The difference may be illustrated if we seen the ease with which American writers can refer to 'reputed crime figures' or their 'associates. Readily accessible public documents make it possible for other writers, scholarly or journalistic, to include fairly speculative accounts of these 'associates' in books on the 'Mafia' or 'syndicate'…

The British picture could not be more different. Draconian libel laws make it extremely difficult to impute a criminal act to an individual except where he or she has been specifically convicted of that offense. Courts have been very generous to plaintiffs, granting damages where a muckraking journalist has made even an unflattering satirical or insulting reference that fell far short of an implication of extralegal behavior… As a result, some of London's most powerful gangs of the 1960s and 1970s are very well known in popular law, but remain almost unmentioned in books and articles on British crime.

(Also)… Britain has traditionally lacked certain major sources of information about criminal activity of the sort that are readily available in the US, above all the work of investigative commission at local, state, and federal level. Since the 1890s, such committees have been used frequently… such investigations have often succeeded in identifying really powerful criminals - as opposed to the merely notorious, Moreover, identification is a matter of public record, greatly facilitating reporting and research by authors thus greed from a danger of legal reprisals.

The nearest British equivalent to these inquiries would be the work of Royal Commissions or Parliamentary Committees… (but) few have ever touched on organized crime or related matters… Given these problems, how can any attempt be made to describe the London underworld. Three possibilities exist, although all have their flaws

The Kray era

The first resource exists because of the crackdown on London gangs in the late 1960s, as a consequence of the blatant violence of groups like the Kray and Richardson gangs. Once the leading figures of these gangs had been imprisoned, it became possible to write detailed accounts of their operations… (also) the crisis in the underworld expanded to affect other more routine areas of criminal life. Shortly after the fall of the Krays, London's premier armed robbery ring was broken up… Major investigations into police collusion with criminals led to the 'Fall of Scotland Yard.' As a result, our information on the London underworld between about 1960 and 1975 is on a scale unparalleled for any period before or since.


One other source that has become available since the mid-1960s is the wave of investigative and muckraking publications that grew up in the model of London's Private Eye… These journals have endeavored to extend the limits of the libel law, often at heavy cost to themselves. They have served as conduits for official leaks from government or law enforcement agencies, and aim to public material which is 'what everyone knows but nobody can say.' All that can be said is that Private Eye in particular has a long record of excellent coverage on London gangland and police corruption… In the early 1980s for example, a lengthy campaign against improper activities by London casinos seemed justified which a number of the most powerful gambling houses lost their licenses to operate on precisely the grounds charged.

The academics

Finally, what of more respectable scholarship? Here again, the contrast is very striking. In America, popular and journalistic accounts of 'mob' history and myth have been supplemented by scholarly works by academics… In England, the years after 1920 offer no comparison. Criminologists traditionally accepted the optimistic view that British law enforcement was fairly free of corruption, and that the country had little organized crime… More recent scholarship has more often emphasized radical views of crime and deviancy, and little interest has been expressed in organized crime…

Organized Crime in the 1960s

Organized crime is a nebulous concept. It is extremely difficult to define in such a way as to demarcate it from white-collar crime and professional crime, and sometimes from political offenses. Certain criteria can be suggested to define organized crime, as long as these issues of overlap are acknowledged. Specifically, organized crime is distinguished by scale of operations; by hierarchy and division of functions within the group; by continuity over time, by striving for a hegemonic or monopolistic position within the market; and by type of activity (chiefly extortion and the provision of vice and illicit services, rather than property crime)…

By all these standards, London in the late 1960s clearly had organized crime. The question of precisely how organized was raised in the 1960s by the much publicized activities of gangs like the Krays and Richardsons, who seemed to be attempting to 'syndicate' crime in the city. The exaggerated flavor of popular reactions is suggested by a headline at this time in the People newspaper which read 'Smash the Gangs! Set Up a Special Crime Commission Now!' But the activities of these gangs were impressive. By the mid-1960s, the Krays had a widespread extortion ring. 'They were already well into large scale fraud, crooked share deals, organized intimidation and blackmail, and were thinking of extending to drugs, deals with foreign criminal networks, and prostitution' (Pearson 1972:63). In short, they ran a large part of London crime from their East End base.

South of the Thames, their counterpart was the Richardson 'torture gang'. Charlie and Eddie Richardson originally ran a scrap metal business, which soon developed a chain of legitimate subsidiaries. They were also deeply involved in extortion, protection ('minding') and loansharking, and in the fruit machine business. Through the supply of machines, they established a protection network over some fifty clubs and casinos in London and Northern England. Charlie Richardson was extremely well connected: to the police, who he used to intimidate rivals; to other professional criminals, such as the Great Train Robbers; and to the South African government and secret police, whose London representative he became. The police units attempting to combat the Krays and Richardsons deliberately chose headquarters remote from Scotland Yard, suggesting the perceived dangers of police leaks to the gang leaders.

The crisis for the two gangs came in 1965-6, when the Krays were trying to establish gambling junkets for Americans, in association with US Mafia groups. This necessitated control of Soho and Mayfair, where the Richardsons were strong. A war followed. In 1966 and 1967 there were at least six murders in London by the Kray and Richardson gangs, and there may have been others. At this stage, the police launched a campaign which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of the major gang leaders. Of course, only the best publicized thugs were removed. Other families (in the literal rather than the Mafia sense) remained untouched for several years.

After the notorious gang trials of the 1967-9, the British underworld became established in the popular consciousness through a series of films and television series (such as Gangsters, The Sweeney, or Law and Order ). More important, for the first time, published accounts of London crime were beyond the simple genre of police memoirs. Albeit to a very limited degree, the underworld now became the subject of some attention by academics and investigative journalists.

From this sort of work, we can see that London organized crime does not differ in essentials from that of a major American city. For example a typical 'Mafia' figure in a major US city might be active chiefly in gambling and loansharking, with major interests in fencing and professional crime, and possibly in drugs and pornography. Such individuals are very easy to locate and study through the records of police agencies or investigative commissions. In London too, it was now possible to form rounded pictures of very similar crime figures with an equally broad range of activities - loansharking, extortion, pornography and professional crime. The resemblance between such careers in London and New York or Boston are often very striking…


Of course, we cannot generalize from impressions gained from one to two cases; but the wider structure of crime in London resembles that of American cities in a number of particulars. In both countries vice and professional crime are dominated by a number of gangs, often with a strong ethnic component. In neither are cities rules by a hegemonic group, still less a dominant ethnic element. As new groups appear, they join the existing structure. The may replace older ethnic groups ('ethnic succession') but more commonly the established gangs do not completely retire from illegality.

If we trace the ethnic history of London crime, then it is apparent that the gangsters of the Kray era did not represent a radically new element. They differed only in the scale and public recognition of their activities. In Dickens' London, a largely native crime establishment included some Irish and Jewish members. In the first quarter of this century, this structure expanded to include powerful Jews and Italians. By 1914, one of the dominant figures in East End fencing and gambling was the Jewish fence Edward Emmanuel. There also appeared a strong Sicilian clique, led by 'Darby' Sabini and his family. Although they continued to import relatives direct from Sicily, nobody ever claimed that they constituted a 'family' in the Cosa Nostra sense. The Chinese meanwhile were strong in the drug trade.

From 1945 to 1955. London's gambling was dominated by the 'kings of the underworld' Jack 'Spot' Comer and Billy Hill. However, Maltese, Cypriot, Greek and Italian gangs were readily accommodated in this loose structure dominated by Jews and WASPS (white Anglo-Saxon protestants). In the 1950s Soho vice was the territory of the (Maltese) Messina brothers an slum racketeering was the domain of the Jew, Peter Rachman. After Comer and Hill fell out in 1955, they were replaced by a predominantly Italian syndicate for some years. From about 1960, the gambling underground withered (due to legalization) and there was a new shift to vice activity. Three groups predominated - WASP, Jewish and Maltese. Key figures in prostitution and pornography included Bernie Silver, James Humphreys and the Maltese successors of the Messinas…

But ethnic links do not provide London gangs with elaborate structure or hierarchy. Groups are decentralized, and there are many independents who have little connection to a major mob. They pursue occupations such as loanshark or extortionist without the permission of any 'syndicate'. There are also professional criminals who join together briefly to accomplish a specific raid or robbery. This last was the development of 'project' crime, a trademark of criminal organization in the 1970s. When writers use a term like 'mob' they are usually referring to small local organizations. In the Kings Cross era, for example, the term refers to a group of five or so leading pimps, drug dealers, and extortionists, with little influence outside their immediate locality.

If British gangs seem less structured or centralized than those of the USA, then this is at least in part because investigators have never tried to fit available evidence into a Cosa Nostra paradigm. If they did they might choose to depict a 'family' of one ethnic group -say, Cypriot or Maltese - and try to ignore other criminals. In this case, they could readily produce 'families' at least as large as any of the Mafia counterparts in New York or Chicago.

In the United States, ethnic ties are seen as providing a firm basis for the continuity of crime operations over lengthy periods of time, especially when such groups are also associated with a distinct neighborhood. This continuity over time has also been mentioned as a distinguishing feature of organized crime. Undoubtedly, British groups also demonstrate the required degree of continuity and permanence. Sometimes this is ethnically based, as in the case of the Maltese running operations begun in essence by the Messinas over forty years ago; and new generations show no signs of ending the tradition.

There is also a pattern in which new groups or individuals develop under the aegis of older gangs, and inherit their operations. The Krays inherited contacts from both Rachman and Billy Hill, and have in turn left successors today… Syndicates exist here just as in a major American city - and in the same way they endure.


Scholars of American organized crime have often emphasized the role of 'money movers', illicit financiers and bankers. The most celebrated include Meyer Lansky, John Pullman and Allen Dorfman, but each city seems to have its own clique of money men. These have sometimes received less than their due, in part because of the concern with the Cosa Nostra structure. In England too, the financiers have received little public or media attention, but they are nevertheless important. Money is the crucial organizational took: it finances drug operations, capitalizes the investments in real estate necessary for a pornography or prostitution venture, and brings professionals together to carry on a robbery ring. 'Money-movers' are needed to launder illicit profits and to provide fencing services…

In London, the most recent clear evidence we have of such activities come from the career of the Richardson gang in the mid 1960s. (again, the libel laws provide serious obstacles to more contemporary investigation). Charlie Richardson was apparently responsible for laundering a large part of the profits of the Great Train Robbery - £2.5 million. He did this by a major series of investments and mining ventures in South Africa, which involved him in deals with banks in Iran and Miami. One part of his deal with the robbers was allegedly the organization of escapes from prison, including that of Train Robber Ronnie Biggs in 1965.

There are other fleeting indications of the role of London 'money movers' such as Albert Dimes in the Soho of the Kray era… Dimes is otherwise little known in the criminological literature, unlike well publicized figures like the Krays. But… the reason the Krays took so long to move into Soho was because of Charlie Richardson's close ties with this obscure 'banker'. He was also a figure of international importance. In 1966 a Dimes agent held a meeting in London with representatives of the New York Mafia and of the Corsican Francisci brothers, apparently to discuss investments in London Casinos.

Also interesting is Jack Duval, a London based figure whose activities included the fringe 'Bank of Valletta' a bogus London travel agency; major commercial ventures in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Israel; and a European smuggling network. He was clearly a key figure in Richardson operations. When he fled from London, the gang began a major search for him, with extensive use of tortures and beatings for which they had become notorious.

The Krays had their own 'bankers' - first Leslie Payne, later Alan Cooper. The Krays biographer remarks on the excellent international contacts Cooper provided throughout Europe, with gangsters specializing in forged currency, jewelry theft, gold smuggling and gun running and with 'the drug runners and the spies' (Pearson 1972: 179)… This was also the world of 'Tony Grant' (Hyman Clebanoff), who linked the British organized crime of the early 1970s with the international trade in drugs and stolen or forged securities, a complex global network of bogus corporations and money-laundering.

Richardson, Grant and Duval certainly have their successors in the late 1980s. Heroin magnate Alexander Sinclair ran a massive drug operation between Britain and Australia up to 1982, laundering money through restaurants in Sydney, a plantation in Fiji, silver mines in Indonesia, all united through the use of Swiss bank accounts. It is also likely that someone must be financing project crime, and laundering the profits. For example, in 1975, John Le Bosch's 'team' burgled a London branch of the Bank of America, and netted between £8 and 12 million from safe-deposit boxes. Who was going to fence it? How would it be laundered or recycled? In 1983 the same questions occurred when two of the largest robberies in history occurred in London: the Security Express raid and the Brinks-Mat robbery. American organized criminals would have little to teach their London counterparts about 'money-moving'

Official Corruption

Apart from the key role of money, both American and British networks also find it imperative to preserve friendships with law enforcement and official bodies, and this constitutes a second form of organized. It is the police and bureaucracy who exercise their discretion sufficiently to permit the continuation if vice activity -who choose to ignore the existence of streetwalkers or an illegal gambling parlor. In the United States, repeated investigations since Prohibition days have suggested that such benevolent discretion is exercised at a price, and that operators of vice only exist if they remain in official favor. In this sense, the police are the managers of vice rather than its opponents. The syndication of crime is therefore promoted by the need to centralize and coordinate payoffs; and the enemies of such a monopoly are rapidly driven out of business.

In the 1960s, many would have argued that this was a fundamental difference between Britain and America. Today, this seems one of the closest points of resemblance… Earlier believers in the incorruptibility of the London police had little objective evidence for their view. From the early years of the century, the detective force and the Flying Squad had a long record of intimate friendship with prominent criminals like Edward Emmanuel. One early head of the Flying Squad retired to become a bookmaker, while the undercover 'Ghost Squad' of the 1940s was dissolved after the exposure of its close alliance with London crime. In the 1920s the trial of a certain sergeant Goddard suggested that the West End Force was running an extensive network of payoffs and corruption over the area's night clubs and bookmakers… In the 1950s and 1960s, corruption scandals were minimized by using the theory of the 'one rotten apple', the 'traitor to his badge' - as in Brighton in the late 1950s, or in the Challenor scandal of 1963.

Matters began to change fundamentally in the late 1960s, when a major crisis developed. It began with a 1969 Times expose of police framing small-time criminals, and offering not to press charges in exchange for money or information. A series of other trials and exposes revealed a general picture of police-criminal links. Drugs and pornography were circulated by tolerated allies, in exchange for payoffs, while it appeared that Scotland Yard was the biggest distribution center for both commodities in the metropolis. Particularly favored were Soho bosses Bernie Silver and James Humphreys. By 1977 there had been hundreds of dismissals, forced retirements and convictions in 'The Fall of Scotland Yard' (Cox et al. 1977) But in the heyday of the syndicate (1967-72), the gangs had been close to some of the senior officers in London. Those involved included men of the rank of Chief Superintendent and Commander, who were in charge of units like C1 division, the Flying Squad and the anti-pornography 'Dirty Squad'.

By the mid 1970s, there was a widespread sense that the purge of Scotland Yard had been traumatic, but effective. But worse was to come. London corruption and crime alliances were so severe a problem that a provincial squad ('Operation Countryman') had to be established to purge London policing. By the 1980s, after experiencing massive obstruction, it began to secure its first convictions-for payoffs, framing, or for actually setting up robberies and sharing in profits.

The new allegations were directed at the City of London force, and Metropolitan Police units like the Robbery Squad, Regional Crimes Squad, and C11, Criminal Intelligence. A frequent charge was that corrupt detectives were linked to criminals through common membership in certain Masonic lodges. They improperly warned their fellow-masons of impending police actions, and even plotted robberies with them…

London police in the 1970s therefore seem little different from the New York force analyzed in the Knapp Commission, or the corrupt city police described in the Kefauver Commission. This suggests London criminals existed in very much the same environment as their American counterparts… Even where the police were not palpably corrupt, there were close social ties with vice, and these influenced the development of the local 'syndicate'. 'Vice-King' Bernie Silver is an interesting example, whose relationship with local detectives can only be described as outstanding… Finally, it should be noted that British intelligence agencies have on occasion used native organized crime in much the same way that their American counterparts have been accused of employing the Mafia. In both cases too, drug-dealers have proved particularly valuable because of their international contacts.

The essential structures and dynamics of London organized crime resemble very closely those of any major US city. Of course, there are differences. British gangsters are more heavily involved in 'professional' crime activities such as armed robbery, and prostitution is still a major source of income. There is a broad consensus that American syndicates long ago gave up the control of prostitution as it offered too poor a financial return.

It might therefore seem as if organized crime is indeed an inevitable offshoot of an advanced economy, and it will take a similar form in Britain or America. However, there are important exceptions to this picture. British criminals are unable to take advantage of some forms of illegality long available in the United States, and this has had some far reaching effects on their development. This can be seen most clearly in three major areas: gambling, drugs and labor racketeering.


Gambling has always been the largest single source of illicit profit in the United States, with major cities producing an annual turnover of up to $50 or $100 million. Gambling in turn leads to profitable loansharking enterprises and supplies a cornucopia to pay bribes. It also necessitates a vast financial structure to launder and recirculate the money. In short, it necessitated criminal capitalists like Meyer Lansky, to turn this money into business, real estate, stocks and shares.

British operations have always been on a much smaller scale. Of course, there has always been gambling, and organized criminals were active in this type of enterprise. The most powerful criminals in the first half of the century were those who managed to extort money from the bookmakers at leading racetracks like Epsom or Brighton… off the racetracks, bookmaking was a recognized illegal profession, and was protected by the police -at a price. The Sabinis, for example, owed their control of the East End gambling to their special relationship with the Flying Squad… sports betting coexisted with a discreet world of casino gambling for the upper classes. In the Mayfair or Belgravia of the 1950s, it was usually possible to find a game of blackjack or baccarat.

However the British gaming world had diverged markedly from its American counterpart, by 1930 at the latest… British gangsters never gained either the profits or the organizational experience provided by Prohibition. By the 1950s, the British gaming world was fairly sedate, apart form the occasional razor fight for a bookie's stand at a racetrack, or struggle for protection of a gaming house (or spieler). In 1960, the divergence between the two countries began to grow even wider. Gaming was legalized, and betting shops became a common part of the street scene in virtually every town. Casino's also developed, under the 'player protection' model. One part of this was a strongly enforced prohibition against granting credit to players. Between 1978 and 1982, several of the leading casino owners lost their licenses for offenses such as permitting players to settle at a discount, or providing credit to them. These troubled owners included such powerful names as Playboy, Mecca, Ladbrokes, and Joe Coral…

This vigorous determination to keep gambling clean had earlier resulted in the fairly successful elimination of Mafia interests. In the mid-1960s, American organized crime had seen London as a very promising venue for gambling junkets and skim operations. Meyer Lansky and associates like the Cellini brothers had tried to move in with the Colony Club of 1966, and Mafiosi like Bruno and Tony Corallo had also visited. In 1968, a representative of London's Victoria Sporting Club was arrested with Angelo Bruno in Philadelphia, while discussing junkets and the collection of bad debts. Bruno had fenced stolen securities in London and was allegedly connected to figures like the Krays and Albert Dimes. At this point the British government stepped in with a series of expulsions. The most that can be said of the American 'Mafia' or syndicate involvement in London gambling after 1969 is that some groups may have maintained a surreptitious interest and kept a small skim operation operating somewhere. But… the Gaming Board and the local Licensing Justices were normally prepared to crush vigorously the slightest sign of malfeasance.

In American terms, the illegal gambling industry does not exist in Britain… Without gambling, loansharking in Britain has been of lesser proportions. Most of this activity is not run by the underworld per se but by dubious 'second mortgage' companies. It is the realm of the white-collar criminal, and it does not therefore provide an income for mainstream organized crime… Finally, it is interesting to speculate whether the lack of gambling profits in Britain pushed local criminals towards the highly intensive exploitation of professional crime. Operations like the Great Train Robbery of 1963 or the Bank of America raid of 1975 require very sophisticated planning and execution, but offer profits comparable to those of the biggest American gambling operations…


Besides gambling, Britain has traditionally offered profits in the area of drugs, though this is now changing rapidly. In the USA, there is some evidence that the syndicates which emerged during Prohibition were already developing in embryonic form from about 1914, as a result of the Harrison Act. This ban on opiates-and indeed the eventual classification of all addicts as criminals per se-constituted a 'first Prohibition' which promoted drug distribution networks.

In Britain, by contrast, the authorities pursued a medical model to combat opiate addiction Drugs were supplied as maintenance, and medical facilities were provided for withdrawal. The American experience was regarded as a tragic blunder. By the 1960s addiction was on the rise in Britain, but on a tiny scale… Of course, there were other types of drug activity which have attracted illegal enterprise, but never enough to float an empire on the scale of Lansky's… In the London of the early 1970s… most drug trafficking was the preserve of the individual entrepreneur…

All this has now changed fundamentally, in only a few years. Even in the late 1970s, the drug trade was still regarded as a peripheral post-'hippy' phenomenon chiefly confined to marihuana and the hallucinogens. This began to change from 1981. Hard drugs, heroin and cocaine, became freely available at very low prices, created a wave of addiction among the young unemployed of impoverished cities like Liverpool and Edinburgh… A social revolution seemed to be under way…

The new influx of drugs must have dramatic effects on the structure of British organized crime… In the 1970s the main dealers were foreign-Pakistanis, Singaporeans, Hong Kong Chinese, and the legendary New Zealand magnate Alexander James Sinclair. But matters were already changing. By 1980, it was alleged that British professional criminals were using robberies to fund drug rackets, and there have since been several narcotics cases involving very traditional British criminals, in alliance with police officers.

Labor Racketeering

A thorough contrast between British and American underworlds can be noted in the area of labor racketeering. The contrast can be simply put: several American labor unions have along record of organized crime activity, to the point of thorough penetration in sections of the Teamsters and Longshoremen (truck drivers and dock workers -JL). However extensive charges have also been made in recent years against sections of unions like the Roofers, Carpenters, Laborers International Union, and the Hotel Restaurant Employees and Bartenders. There is no labor racketeering in Britain-a categorical statement that can be justified with amazing ease. In their 150 years of existence, British unions have been accused of many things, plausible or implausible; but to our knowledge they have never been accused of being allied with crime…

The importance of this national difference is immense. In America… the 'labor-crime' coalition has provided organized criminals with disproportionate political influence. The wealth of certain union pensions funds has also been a source of power-for instance Teamster money did much to develop Miami and Las Vegas. In England, there is no equivalent to this diversion of union power or wealth to the cause of crime… American labor racketeering is a tradition at least as old as this century but it seems to have been increased by several main factors. First was the relative weakness of the unions in the first third of this century, so that they were struggling for legal recognition and support some fifty years after their European counterparts. Associated with this was the extreme industrial violence of 1890-1920, and the need to employ thugs to defend union officials and members. In the 1930s, the end of Prohibition found an army of organized gangsters in search of new activity and casting hungry eyes on union dues and pension funds. Finally, at this precise time, the New Deal established the legal position of unions. Employers would have to deal with unions, either radical or conservative; and mob-controlled unions offered political peace in exchange for payoffs. In summary, the unhappy traditions of American labor seem to derive from its long period of relative weakness, followed by specific events of the 1930s.


Organized crime in America is far richer than its British counterpart, mainly because of its hold on gambling and drugs; and its labor ties give it a political foothold. The differences may be reflected in the apparent political insignificance of the British underworld. That country has had numerous political scandals in the last two decades, some far reaching, but none of these involve any suspicion of organized crime ties… In contrast, political scandals in the United States frequently involve allegations of organized crime involvement…

Despite strong resemblances, racketeering and vice in Britain and America differ significantly in both nature and scale. No doubt these differences must be explained chiefly in terms of underlying patterns of historical development in the two countries, the nature of social conflict, and the role of ideology. But they also resulted from specific social policies. The relative strength of American organized crime owes much to the failure of repressive policies like the prohibition of opiates and alcohol; while Britain can claim success for its policy of legalizing gambling, and not criminalizing the status of addict. Liberal social policies can therefore claim some credit for Britain's 'failure' to produce organized crime on the American scale.

In summary, we suggest that American organized crime is not as wholly distinctive as it sometimes appears; but that both politics and official policies have tended to make it more powerful than in a similarly advanced country.