DOING the right thing always came naturally to Leonard “Nipper” Read. Instrumental in taking down the Kray twins and a huge factor in the survival of the British Boxing Board of Control, Read last week waved goodbye to the world at the age of 95. Admitted to hospital with an infected foot, it was later confirmed that Coronavirus was the cause of his death.
In 1967, the Krays no longer cared about the thick trail of blood and corruption that followed them everywhere. With guns tucked into their belts and a team of mobsters hanging off their every word, the infamous duo flagrantly broke the laws they thought they were above.
But the gangland heavyweights met their match in the shape of the 5ft 8ins Nipper. A member of Scotland Yard’s murder squad and tasked with heading up the investigation against the brothers, Read’s acute sense of justice was wildly underestimated by Ronnie and Reggie, by then so drunk on power they were grotesquely out of control.
Speaking to The Guardian, Reed’s brother-in-law, Dave Allen, who was also a former law enforcer, said: “He’s up there with the best of them. At a time when there was so much corruption he had nothing to do with that and stood up against it.”
A quiet but determined man, Read – when posted to Leman Street in 1964 and already suspicious that police officers were working with the Krays – was furious when asked by his bosses if there was any reason why he should not manage the investigation against the twins. The inference was that he too may have been on the Krays’ payroll. Five years later, Read’s relentless pursuit of the duo paid off when they were each sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1967 murders of Jack “The Hat” McVitie and George Cornell.
Bringing down the brothers’ criminal empire was fraught with danger. Read took steps to move his office out of Scotland Yard at Tintagel House to Vauxhall on the southern side of the Thames. Those concerns that the Krays had been tipped off about Read’s investigations proved worthwhile when a contract gun man, armed with bullet designed for Nipper’s head, was apprehended at Shannon airport.
When the Krays were in custody, Read’s natural ability to draw the truth came to the fore. He persuaded three witnesses to give evidence against the Krays in three separate murder cases, no mean feat at a time when the brothers’ formidable prowess – even while behind bars – made spines shiver and tears fall.
Read, who was involved in solving the Great Train Robbery of 1963, was always calm and loyal to himself. He resisted invitations to join the Flying Squad, preferring not to mix with uppity hard-drinking colleagues whose inflated sense of self-worth went against all he stood for. Keen to distance himself from what he believed was rife police corruption in London at the time, and therefore overlooked for promotion, he returned to Nottingham in 1970, his place of birth, before retiring from police work seven years later.
It was in Nottingham where Read’s lifelong love affair with boxing began. As a boy he boxed regularly, earning his nickname due to his diminutive stature, and later joined Grundy Boxing Club. Though he excelled at school he was forced to leave aged just 14 because his father could not afford the fees of books and uniforms for Nottingham High School; having his academic life cut short was something that always bothered him. His desire to join the local police force was rejected because he was too short – though he managed to get into the Metropolitan police after insisting he was still growing. His size would turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as he was deployed by the CID as an undercover officer because nobody would believe a man of his height could possibly be in the police.
In 1976 he joined the British Boxing Board of Control where he worked on the Southern Area and as a steward before becoming Chairman in 1996 and President the following year. Alongside then-General Secretary, Simon Block, Read worked tirelessly to rebuild the Board after Michael Watson’s case went against them and they descended into administration.
“Nipper was an excellent and supportive Chairman and for the relatively short time we worked together in those capacities we worked extremely well in what was one of the worst periods for the Board in its history,” Block said last week when paying tribute a “remarkable man”.
“I am extremely grateful to him for the example and education he gave me, enabling me to do my job perhaps better than I otherwise might have done.”
The current General Secretary Robert Smith added, “Nipper was very supportive of me when I was assistant to Simon. He was a great man, and a great servant to the sport of boxing.”
Boxing News send their condolences to Nipper’s wife, Pat, and family during this difficult time.