filling the power vaccum
filling the power vaccum
With the Brummagems away in jail, the Sabini’s stepped up their control with a clever power play. In August 1921, Walter Beresford became the first President of the Racecourse Bookmakers and Backers Protection Association. One of the alleged motivations for setting up the association was that a bookmaker had been forced at gunpoint to pay protection. Until then, the gangs had threatened the bookies livelihoods. Now, they were threatening their lives. With the racing authorities and police unable to guarantee safety and only occasionally able to ensure convictions, the Association turned to the Sabini gang to provide protection. The association’s vice president was a noted criminal, ‘the Jewish Al Capone’. And one of the salaried stewards employed was none other than Darby Sabini.
When many of the Brummagems were released from jail, the racetracks again descended into violence. During 1922, there was a series of razor attacks and slashings. Then the shootings started.
It’s said that Sabini imported some Sicilian mafia to finish the gang war. Eventually, bloodied and beaten, the Brummagems largely withdrew from the South.
Darby Sabini wasn’t able to enjoy his victory for long. His own gang members started turning on each other, desperate for a bigger share of the takings. Even Darby’s gold teeth were broken at one point.
In 1925 the Home Secretary declared that something had to be done to break the gangs hold on the racetracks. Under Chief Inspector Frederick ‘Nutty’ Sharpe the Flying Squad began to target more and more race meetings. But the original Squad had just 12 detectives. Each had to be almost recklessly brave to do their job. On one occasion, about forty of some of the worse thugs from the Sabini gang surged onto a racetrack. Detective Fred Sharp walked on to the course and simply said ‘Clear off’. When one gang member resisted, Sharp hit him. The rest fled. But the Flying Squad couldn’t be everywhere.
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO
When in 1927, a racecourse related riot broke out outside Duke of Wellington, eight people were killed. The government focused even more on the gangs. With so much attention on the racecourses, the gangs started to diversify into night clubs and casinos.
The next year, Kimber shot into a Sabini club and then left. Sources are unclear but it seems he fled, along with his old London ally, ‘Wag’ McDonald to America.
Once in the US, Wag McDonald is said to have found work as a bodyguard to a fellow Londoner, the silent film star and comedian, Charlie Chaplin.
In 1932 The National Bookmaker’s Protection Association was set up to make pitch allocation fairer and to eradicate the intimidation of bookmakers. Only a bookmaker approved by the BPA locally and the Jockey Club could now have a pitch. That pitch could not be sold or passed on. A key profit stream of the racecourse gangs had been stopped.
The now ageing Brummagems were now without their leader and their usual funding. They weren’t even involved in the last great racecourse war at Lewes racecourse on 8 June 1936. It was this bloody battle that inspired Graham Greene to write ‘Brighton Rock’.
In the end, the so called racecourse wars were finally finished off by the global conflict of the Second World War. Darby Sarbini, despite being unable to speak Italian, was placed into an internment camp.
As to the fate of Billy Kimber, no one is certain.