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Day the gangsters buried the hatchet

By MICHAEL SEAMARK and DAVID WILLIAMS
1st March 2007


Joey Pyle (left) with Dave Courtney. He was a friend of the Krays and also their rivals the Richardsons



Gangsters: The Kray Twins



Had they met on the streets of London in their 1960s heyday, the result would undoubtedly have been violence at its most extreme.

But yesterday a small yet distinctive group of superannuated gangsters and their henchmen put bitter old rivalries behind them and came together to mark the passing of one of their own.

They were among more than 1,000 faces who attended the funeral beneath leaden skies of 69-year-old Joey Pyle, a man who uniquely ran with both the Krays and the Richardsons.



More than 1,000 faces who attended the funeral of 69-year-old Joey Pyle, a man who uniquely ran with both the Krays and the Richardsons



A one-time professional boxer and much in demand as hired muscle, Pyle had straddled both sides of the fence between two of Britain's most notorious and feared gangs. He had moved as easily in the Krays' East End fiefdom as he had in the Richardsons' ugly empire south of the Thames.

He was best man at Ronnie Kray's wedding but also a friend of rival South London mobster Charlie Richardson, and both families were present to pay their respects.

Richardson himself, balding and grey-bearded, mingled amongst the crowds of mourners as did Kate Kray, widow of Ronnie. Two of a sea of mourners who arrived at St Theresa's Church in Sutton, Surrey, for the funeral of a man who, against all odds, died of natural causes.

A fleet of 25 vehicles - plus a huge white Humvee stretch limo - ferried them to the church, where lines of hard-faced individuals maintained order.

One coach disgorged dozens of shaven-headed mourners and roads were jammed as Pyle's coffin, borne on a carriage drawn by blackplumed horses, made its way to the Catholic church watched by bemused passers-by. One lorry trailed behind festooned in floral tributes.

Apart from the Kray and Richardson representatives, also present were Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds, one-time gangland enforcer Freddie Foreman and hardman debt collector Dave Courtney.

Snooker star Jimmy White, former Coronation Street star Chris Quinten, boxer Gary Mason and actor Kenny Lynch also filed into the church.

To many of the survivors - and victims - of the sixties gang warfare, not to mention the police, the sight of so many one-time rivals on the same 'manor' will have caused a wry smile.

For 'Big' Joey Pyle was a canny criminal who for 30 years usually managed to stay one step ahead of the police while building an empire of protection, extortion and drugs across South London.

Shrewd and cautious, he normally gave his occupation as car dealer, street trader or simply businessman but in reality he was a professional criminal and drug dealer.

Born in the East End, he met the notorious Kray twins when they were all young boxers. 'I know Ronnie and Reggie well, but that doesn't make me a criminal,' he said in one rare interview.

When Pyle was 19, the courts won a rare conviction against him when he was jailed for three months for stealing cars.
Five years later he faced the Old Bailey charged with the murder of nightclub owner Selwyn Cooney and, if convicted, could have faced the death penalty.

The first trial was abandoned after jurors were 'approached' and Pyle was acquitted of murder during a second trial but jailed for 18 months after being convicted of assaulting Cooney moments before he was shot.

In the years that followed Pyle was repeatedly arrested - and repeatedly escaped prosecution.

Detectives suspected he was a key figure in organising the escape from prison of Frank Mitchell, the Mad Axeman of Broadmoor, and Jack 'The Hat' McVitie.

Both men were later murdered by, or on the orders of, the Krays.

Pyle's business methods of the 1960s and 1970s centred on gambling, extortion and protection rackets. Violent fights would break out in pubs and Pyle would step in and offer 'protection'.

Publicans brave enough to refuse were made to regret their resistance. In some cases Pyle forced them to sell to him at knockdown prices.

By the 1980s police, frustrated at their inability to convict Pyle, resorted to objecting to his liquor licences but still he survived.

Senior detectives turned up at one licensing application to magistrates and said he was a major international criminal with Mafia links - but admitted they didn't have evidence to charge him.

In 1987 a joint police-customs swoop arrested him after a £ 5million cannabis- smuggling plan was uncovered. The case collapsed when a key witness, a German ship captain, declined to give evidence.

Pyle's criminal reach stretched way beyond Britain and the FBI claimed it had evidence linking him to members of the Genovese and Gambino families.

Justice finally caught up with him in 1992 when he was jailed for 14 years after being convicted of masterminding a multi-millionpound drugs ring.

The first Old Bailey trial had been dramatically halted when three jurors claimed they had been threatened with death unless they returned not guilty verdicts.

For the second trial, costing taxpayers another £1million, the new jury were given a 24-hour police guard.

Pyle - whose sentence was later reduced to nine years - was the top man in an operation to supply-heroin, opium and morphine sulphate in Britain but was trapped by a police informer who introduced the gangster to a 'buyer' for the drugs - an undercover policeman.

He was freed in 1997 and insisted he had 'gone clean' working with his son Joe Jr behind the scenes in the music industry.

Only days before his death Pyle was due to be questioned - as a witness - by police investigating a South London murder.

He promoted an unlicensed boxing event at Caesar's nightclub in Streatham last December, after which one of those attending, Sean Jenkins, was shot five times at a party.


The funeral of former London gangland figure and contemporary of the Krays, Joseph Pyle, attracted a host of faces, from sporting figures to well-known former gangsters
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Former feared gangster Charlie Richardson was among mourners at St Theresa's RC Church in Sutton
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Singer and actor Kenny Lynch was among the well-known faces paying their respects
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Slow-riding, menacing-looking figures rode on powerful motorbikes as part of the procession
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Dave Courtney, with his trademark shaved head, who has made a name in showbusiness recounting his days in the underworld, mixed with mourners
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The men in black - waiting outside St Theresa's for the horse-drawn carriage containing the body of Joseph Pyle
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Snooker player Jimmy White was one of the guests
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Former boxer Gary Mason's tie added a dash of colour to the proceedings
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