|Last Tuesday a reign of terror was ended when the notorious Piranha brothers, Doug and Dinsdale, after one of the most extraordinary trials in British legal history, were sentenced to 400 years imprisonment for crimes of violence. We examined the rise to power of the Piranhas, the methods they used to subjugate rival gangs and their subsequent tracking down and capture by the brilliant Superintendent Harry 'Snapper' Organs of Q Division.
Doug and Dinsdale Piranha were born, on probation, in a small house in Kipling Road, Southwark, the eldest sons in a family of sixteen. Their father Arthur Piranha, a scrap metal dealer and TV quizmaster, was well known to the police, and a devout Catholic. In 1928 he had married Kitty Malone, an up-and-coming East End boxer. Doug was born in February 1929 and Dinsdale two weeks later; and again a week after that. Someone who remembers them well was their next door neighbour, Mrs April Simnel.
"Oh yes Kipling Road was a typical East End Street, people were in and out of each other's houses with each other's property all day. They were a cheery lot. Cheerful and violent. Doug was keen on boxing, but when he learned to walk he took up putting the boot in the groin. He was very interested in that. His mother had a terrible job getting him to come in for tea. Putting his little boot in he'd be, bless him. All the kids were like that then, they didn't have their heads stuffed with all this Cartesian dualism."
At the age of fifteen Doug and Dinsdale started attending the Ernest Pythagoras Primary School in Clerkenwell. When the Piranhas left school they were called up but were found by an Army Board to be too unstable even for National Service. Denied the opportunity to use their talents in the service of their country, they began to operate what they called 'The Operation'... They would select a victim and then threaten to beat him up if he paid the so-called protection money. Four months later they started another operation which the called 'The Other Operation'. In this racket they selected another victim and threatened not to beat him up if he didn't pay them. One month later they hit upon 'The Other Other Operation'. In this the victim was threatened that if he didn't pay them, they would beat him up. This for the Piranha brothers was the turning point.
Doug and Dinsdale Piranha now formed a gang, which the called 'The Gang' and used terror to take over night clubs, billiard halls, gaming casinos and race tracks. When they tried to take over the MCC they were, for the only time in their lives, slit up a treat. As their empire spread however, Q Division were keeping tabs on their every move by reading the colour supplements.
One small-time operator who fell foul of Dinsdale Piranha was Vince Snetterton-Lewis.
"Well one day I was at home threatening the kids when I looks out through the hole in the wall and sees this tank pull up and out gets one of Dinsdale's boys, so he comes in nice and friendly and says Dinsdale wants to have a word with me, so he chains me to the back of the tank and takes me for a scrape round to Dinsdale's place and Dinsdale's there in the conversation pit with Doug and Charles Paisley, the baby crusher, and two film producers and a man they called 'Kierkegaard', who just sat there biting the heads of whippets and Dinsdale says 'I hear you've been a naughty boy Clement' and he splits me nostrils open and saws me leg off and pulls me liver out and I tell him my name's not Clement and then... he loses his temper and nails me head to the floor."
Another man who had his head nailed to the floor was Stig O' Tracy.
Rogers: I've been told Dinsdale Piranha nailed your head to the floor.
Stig: No. Never. He was a smashing bloke. He used to buy his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me.
Rogers: But the police have film of Dinsdale actually nailing your head to the floor.
Stig: (pause) Oh yeah, he did that.
Stig: Well he had to, didn't he? I mean there was nothing else he could do, be fair. I had transgressed the unwritten law.
Rogers: What had you done?
Stig: Er... well he didn't tell me that, but he gave me his word that it was the case, and that's good enough for me with old Dinsy. I mean, he didn't
want to nail my head to the floor. I had to insist. He wanted to let me off. He'd do anything for you, Dinsdale would.
Rogers: And you don't bear him a grudge?
Stig: A grudge! Old Dinsy. He was a real darling.
Rogers: I understand he also nailed your wife's head to a coffee table. Isn't that true Mrs O' Tracy?
Mrs O' Tracy: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Stig: Well he did do that, yeah. He was a hard man. Vicious but fair.
Vince Snetterton-Lewis agreed with this judgement.
Yes, definitely he was fair. After he nailed me head to the table, I used to go round every Sunday lunchtime to his flat and apologise, and then we'd shake hands and he'd nail me head to the floor. He was very reasonable. Once, one Sunday I told him my parents were coming round to tea and would he mind very much not nailing my head that week and he agreed and just screwed my pelvis to a cake stand."
Clearly Dinsdale inspired tremendous fear among his business associates. But what was he really like?
Gloria Pules knew him intimately.
"I walked out with Dinsdale on many occasions and found him a charming and erudite companion. He was wont to introduce one to eminent celebrities, celebrated American singers, members of the aristocracy and other gang leaders, who he had met through his work for charities. He took a warm interest in Boys' Clubs, Sailors' Homes, Choristers' Associations and the Grenadier Guards. "Mind you there was nothing unusual about him. I should say not. Except, that Dinsdale was convinced that he was being watched by a giant hedgehog whom he referred to as 'Spiny Norman'. Normally Spiny Norman was wont to be about twelve feet from snout to tail, but when Dinsdale was depressed Norman could be anything up to eight hundred yards long. When Norman was about Dinsdale would go very quiet and start wobbling and his nose would swell up and his teeth would move about and he'd get very violent and claim that he'd laid Stanley Baldwin."
Rogers: "Did it worry you that he, for example, stitched people's legs together?"
Gloria: "Well it's better than bottling it up isn't it. He was a gentleman, Dinsdale, and what's more he knew how to treat a female impersonator."
But what do the criminologists think? We asked The Amazing Kargol and Janet:
"It is easy for us to judge Dinsdale Piranha too harshly. After all he only did what many of us simply dream of doing... I'm sorry. After all we should remember that a murderer is only an extroverted suicide. Dinsdale was a looney, but he was a happy looney. Lucky bugger."
Most of the strange tales concern Dinsdale, but what about Doug? One man who met him was Luigi Vercotti.
"I had been running a successful escort agency -- high class, no really, high class girls -- we didn't have any of that -- that was right out. So I decided to open a high class night club for the gentry at Biggleswade with International cuisine and cooking and top line acts, and not a cheap clip joint for picking up tarts -- that was right out, I deny that completely --, and one evening in walks Dinsdale with a couple of big lads, one of whom was carrying a tactical nuclear missile. They said I had bought one of their fruit machines and would I pay for it? They wanted three quarters of a million pounds. I thought about it and decided not to go to the Police as I had noticed that the lad with the thermonuclear device was the chief constable for the area. So a week later they called again and told me the cheque had bounced and said... I had to see... Doug. Well, I was terrified. Everyone was terrified of Doug. I've seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug. Even Dinsdale was frightened of Doug. He used... sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and... satire. He was vicious."
In this way, by a combination of violence and sarcasm, the Piranha brothers by February 1966 controlled London and the Southeast of England. It was in February, though, that Dinsdale made a big mistake.
Latterly Dinsdale had become increasingly worried about Spiny Norman. He had come to the conclusion that Norman slept in an aeroplane hangar at Luton Airport. And so on Feb 22nd 1966, Dinsdale blew up Luton.
Even the police began to sit up and take notice. The Piranhas realised they had gone too far and that the hunt was on. They went into hiding. But it was too late. Harry 'Snapper' Organs was on the trail.
"I decided on a subtle approach, viz. some form of disguise, as the old helmet and boots are a bit of a giveaway. Luckily my years with Bristol Rep. stood me in good stead, as I assumed a bewildering variety of disguises. I tracked them to Cardiff, posing as the Reverend Smiler Egret. Hearing they'd gone back to London, I assumed the identity of a pork butcher, Brian Stoats. On my arrival in London, I discovered they had returned to Cardiff, I followed as Gloucester from King Lear. Acting on a hunch I spent several months in Buenos Aires as Blind Pew, returning through the Panama Canal as Ratty, in Toad of Toad Hall. Back in Cardiff, I relived my triumph as Sancho Panza in Man of la Mancha which the "Bristol Evening Post" described as 'a glittering performance of rare perception', although the "Bath Chronicle" was less than enthusiastic. In fact it gave me a right panning. I quote: 'as for the performance of Superintendent Harry "Snapper" Organs as Sancho Panza, the audience were bemused by his high-pitched Welsh accent and intimidated by his abusive ad-libs.' The "Western Daily News" said: 'Sancho Panza (Mr Organs) spoilt an otherwise impeccably choreographed rape scene by his unscheduled appearance and persistent cries of "What's all this then?"'" Against this kind of opposition for the Piranha Brothers the end was inevitable.
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