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Organised crime

Greasy spoons did for our gangsters

Bob Hoskins as an East End gangster in The Long Good Friday. Black Lion Films/HandMade Films

I grew up around the gangsters of the East End, criminologist Dick Hobbs tells Vice. They were conservative types who “lived by a kind of samurai code” and had pictures of the Queen on their walls. But most of those I spoke to in the 1980s are dead – not due to violence, but to ill health. “Where are you going to meet to plan a robbery? In a pub. Where are you going to eat? In a greasy spoon.” You’ll be up at 3am “meeting someone in a lay-by with a lorryload of gear”. Doing that for 30 years takes its toll.

The post-war crime scene was based on theft or extortion, but that’s all changed. If you can buy a pair of jeans from Primark for £5, why take the risk of nicking a shipment? Now it’s about drugs: “You’ve got £10k, you go to Amsterdam and come back with a load of pills.” And forget the idea of a criminal “underworld”, with gangsters hanging out in their own clubs – now we have an “overworld” where criminals rebrand themselves as businessmen and blend illegal and legitimate operations. “The only people fighting over territory now are kids.” Everyone making real money is in the Cayman Islands.