By Peter Griffiths
LONDON (Reuters) - British gangster Charlie Richardson, one of the most feared underworld figures of 1960s London who fought a vicious turf war with the more famous Kray brothers, has died, his family said on Thursday. He was 78.
A scrap metal dealer, he built a criminal empire based on fraud, protection rackets and gambling that earned a reputation for extreme violence and brutality.
Known as the "Torture Gang", his associates were said to nail victims to the floor, cut off their toes with bolt cutters and give them electric shocks in a bath full of water.
His 1967 trial for fraud, assault and robbery made Richardson a household name and exposed the gruesome tactics of those who worked for him. Jailing Richardson for 25 years, judge Frederick Lawton said: "One is ashamed to live in a society that contains men like you."
Richardson, who was reported to be suffering from emphysema and inflammation of the abdomen, died at a hospital in Kent, southern England, family members and friends told UK newspapers.
"He was as hard as nails and a tough old cookie," his friend Bobby Cummines told the Daily Mirror. "Whatever anyone says, he paid for his crimes and his family will miss him."
With his swept-back hair and immaculate suits, he became a symbol of gangland London and was the subject of a 2004 feature film, "Charlie".
Born in south London in 1934, Richardson created a lucrative business spanning slot machines, scrapyards and nightclubs. Police accused him of using legitimate businesses as a front for a range of criminal activities.
The Richardson gang were fierce rivals of the Krays, twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie who ran another infamous 1960s gang on the north side of London's River Thames. Members of the two gangs were involved in brawls and shootings in the capital.
Newspapers reveled in retelling shocking gangland stories involving Richardson, although it was often hard to sift the facts from criminal folklore.
His gang was reputed to make victims mop up their blood before being handed a fresh shirt, supposedly leading to the beatings becoming known as "taking a shirt from Charlie".
Richardson escaped from an open prison in 1980 and fled to Europe before being re-arrested and sent back to jail. He was released in 1984.
He later dedicated his memoirs, "My Manor", to the trial judge and accused the police of making up lurid evidence to help secure a conviction.
"If you can find anyone who says they got nailed to the floor by us or got their toes cut off, I will give you 10,000 pounds ($16,200) for each one," he was quoted as saying. "We were fitted up. I did 18 years for nothing."