Ronnie and Reggie Kray, Britain’s most infamous gangsters, should and could be posthumously cleared of murder. New evidence found by examining files in the basement of the Old Bailey means that the twins’ convictions in1969 for the killings of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie and George Cornell are “unfair and potentially unsafe”.
Lawyers in 2002 uncovered documents which show that Sir John Leonard, the prosecuting barrister at the brothers’ Old Bailey trial, altered statements from key prosecution witnesses before presenting them to the defence. The twins were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The discovery of a 30-page memo written by Leonard on the eve of the trial casts doubt on the integrity of the prosecution’s case.
The document, released from the Old Bailey archives, shows how Leonard ordered the removal of whole pages of signed testimony by senior detectives. Elsewhere he liberally “edited”paragraphs and sentences, removing and inserting apparently at will. On one occasion Leonard ordered a change in the name of someone referred to in the statements. Leonard later became infamous as the judge in the Ealing vicarage rape case. He was forced to apologise after an outcry over the lenient sentences he gave to the two rapists.
He died in 2002, shortly after Giovanni Di Stefano, nicknamed the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ was, without precedent, granted permission by the Recorder of London to review the Kray files some of which were marked “Not to be opened before 2025”. In 1996, while on holiday in Cyprus, Leonard and his wife were hit by pieces of rock shattered by a bolt of lightning. They were both knocked unconscious and Lady Leonard died in East Surrey hospital, three days after flying back.
Sir John Leonard died on August 10, 2002 just eight days after Di Stefano uncovered and published the damning evidence in The Sunday Times. The circumstances surrounding his death just a few days after damning documents were discovered by Di Stefano leaves much to speculate. The correspondence and documents clearly show the manner upon which Sir John Leonard manipulated the trial in a manner that is deemed to be wholly unfair. It was common practice in the 1960s for prosecuting barristers to ensure that known ‘faces’ were convicted. The Richardson gang suffered similar legal techniques. The case of Charles Richardson is back for review with the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines miscarriages of justice and a recent documentary by Sky C7I channel demonstrated the political motivation of the so called ‘Torture Gang’ trial.
Peter Kelson QC
Leonard’s memo was subsequently reviewed by Peter Kelson QC, now a judge of the Crown Court, and another barrister. They wrote:
“It is obvious that counsel for the Crown was conducting an exercise in the editing of witness statements, not simply removing extraneous matters of no importance but deliberately removing passages that ran contrary to the case as the prosecutor wished to present it. Counsel for the Crown obviously had the full file whilst the Defence were working from the edited highlights. This flies in the face of not only the right to a fair trial but the right to equality of arms… The law has never allowed the prosecution to pick and choose in such a way as to secure a dishonest advantage. The question of material disclosed to the Defence is a very live issue, the idea of unused material and the attitude that now prevails was an alien concept in the late 1960’s when the Crown (in reality the police) would simply withhold material for no valid reason and particularly if it damaged the case… And the result? Unfair and potentially unsafe convictions which ought to be reviewed.”As mentioned by Peter Kelson QC, convictions obtained adopting the manners above have been overturned by the Court of Appeal in a number of cases as the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, and Judith Ward. The Kray’ case shares the same features of building a prosecution upon circumstantial evidence where the ‘public interest’ required a conviction and accordingly the normal rules of evidence were ‘selectively applied’ by the Crown, to their own best interests. On the 4th March 1969 the Kray twins, Ronald and Reginald were found guilty of murder at the Central Criminal Court. The court was told how Ronald Kray shot dead George Cornell in front of customers at the Blind Beggar pub in the East End in 1966 for calling him a “fat poof”. It also heard how Jack “The Hat” McVitie was repeatedly stabbed by Reginald Kray in a north London flat while his brother held him down. Their elder brother, Charles, was convicted to helping to dispose of the body. After the verdicts, the judge turned to the jury and thanked them for the “devoted and selfless attention” they had given to the evidence.
He added: “You set a standard with which I shall judge all juries in the future.”
The jury had deliberated for six hours and 55 minutes before returning the unanimous guilty verdict for the murder of Jack McVitie.
Christopher and Anthony Lambrianou and Ronald Bender were also found guilty of murder. Ronald Kray and John Barrie were also convicted of murdering George Cornell. Anthony Barry was found not guilty of murder and discharged. Albert Donaghue who pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder earlier in the trial will be sentenced tomorrow. The Kray’s elder brother, Charles, Frederick Foreman and Cornelius Whitehead were all found guilty of being accessories to the murder of Mr McVitie. They were both sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation they should be detained for a minimum of 30 years – the longest sentences ever passed at the Old Bailey for murder.
Charles Kray was jailed for 10 years. John Barrie, Christopher and Anthony Lambrianou and Ronald Bender were all given life. Frederick Foreman was jailed for 10 years. Cornelius Whitehead was sentenced to seven years. Albert Donaghue was jailed for two years.Also, uncovered by Di Stefano was compelling evidence that the trial judge, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson, had written out the sentences of life imprisonment some three months before conviction. A document dated 7th January 1969 names Ronald Kray and two counts of murder and states “Life in respect of each offence-concurrent sentences (Recommendation of a minimum period to be served thirty—-years)———–”
Mr Justice Melford Stevenson was the presiding judge in Court No. 2 of the Old Bailey when the Kray twins’ trial came before him in early 1969. Melford Stevenson, was 67-years-old at the time, was no stranger to high-profile trials involving alleged murderers. He had unsuccessfully defended serial killer John Adams and, in 1955, aided by junior counsel, he defended Ruth Ellis. His conduct during the trial was criticised for giving the “prosecution an easy time, subjecting prosecution witnesses to a minimum of cross-examination”. His opening remarks in the Ellis trial were, “Let me make this abundantly plain. There is no question here but this woman shot this man. You will not hear one word from me – or from the lady herself – questioning that.” After 23 minutes deliberation, Ruth Ellis was found guilty. She was hanged.
As Judge in the Kray trial, Melford Stevenson passed the longest ever sentences handed down at Central Criminal Court – the twins were to be detained for the same minimum of 30 years, which he had written some three months previous. Both Kray twins died in prison. Ronnie, who was convicted of shooting Cornell, died in 1995. Reggie, who was convicted for stabbing McVitie, died five years later.
The Kray’s conviction could now be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission but whether the Government would allow it is another matter. There is also the uncertainty of which ‘Kray’ close family member would, or could, advance any appeal or be recognised by the court as having ‘an interest’ in overturning the convictions posthumously. David Brittin, a commission spokesman in 2002, said: “For us to review a case there has to be new evidence or argument and it would appear on the face of it that there is.No final decision on the appeal was ever made but with all the evidence of manipulation of the trial with its edited evidence and the trial judge having typed out a sentence prior to conviction leaves much to be desired and brings disrepute to the English criminal justice system.”
The documents are there for all to see and whilst men can lie documents tell the story as it is and was. The story here is one of a trial judge having decided three months before trial that the Kray’s would get life minimum 30 years and a prosecutor violated the code of conduct and when I found the documents at the Old Bailey within days Sir John Leonard mysteriously dies,” said Di Stefano. The Kray’s certainly did not receive a fair trial but whether the criminal justice system is now willing to review the evidence it tried itself to suppress until 2025 is yet to be seen. As yet unexplained the mysterious sudden death of Sir John Leonard just a few days after The Sunday Times published the original story and the documents uncovered by the ‘Devil’s Advocate.’
By Giovanni Di Stefano
NB: Some images retrieved from Google, will remove at owner’s request.
First Published 21 June 2012 and republished 9 November 2012 and 6 February 2015 and republished onto new site 9 August 2017