The "Razor Gangs" Legacy
In 1942, Sillitoe was knighted. Sir Percy Sillitoe often spoke of Billy as a skilled fighter and an ingenious leader. Perhaps this was intended to boost Sir Percy by showing he hadn’t fought just any old criminal. The effect, however, was to mythologise his adversary. Later generations often confused the fictional Johnnie Stark (from ‘No Mean City’) with the flawed and only occasionally heroic Billy.The man himself died in poverty in 1962 aged 57 years in a single roomed tenement home just north of Bridgeton Cross.He was given a spectacular send off including flute bands as around 1000 marched in his funeral cortege. He was buried in the cemetery at Riddrie in an unmarked grave.COPPING A CARMONTWhen the razor gangs threatened to resurface in the 1950s, Lord Carmont, a city judge started handing down severe sentences. In one series of court sittings in Glasgow he passed sentences of up to 10 years, and in total 52 years, on eight men.For Glasgow knife carriers, being sentenced by him became known as ‘copping a Carmont.’By May 1954 Lord Carmont told the High Court in Glasgow he thought the city’s record of crimes of violence was improving. It was; but not for long.
FRED WEST DID WHAT?Fred West, the serial killer and child sexual predator used to sell ice creams in the Gorbals in the early 1960s. It is not clear if he used the opportunity to prey on children though he did run over and kill one in his van.In 1961, slum clearances and major regeneration, together with a sustained criminal crackdown, helped clear away the environment that had helped the gangs grow. But though the San Toi Boys of the razor gang era are gone, their descendants, the ‘Toi’ gangs are still active in Glasgow.And scars are still worn by some as badges of honour. The most sadistic is the ‘Glasgow smile’. The victim has both sides of his mouth slashed back to the ear leaving the impression they are grinning from ear to ear.AND NOW?In 2002 the World Health Organisation declared Scotland as one of the bloodiest nations in the Western World and Glasgow the murder capital of Europe.In 2007 there were 73 murders in the Strathclyde Police force area, 40 of which involved knives.Knife crime levels in Scotland were 3.5 times higher than in England or Wales.Karyn McLuskey, head of Strathclyde’s Violence Reduction Unit said knife crime was endemic and dated back to the ‘razor gangs’ of the 1920s.Since 2008, however, she spearheaded a Violence Reduction Scheme and nearly 500 gang members from eastern Glasgow engaged with it. Violent offending has fallen by 46%. Gang fighting is down by 73%. And weapon possession, still including still razors sometimes, has dropped by 85%.Glasgow is no longer the murder capital of Western Europe but the ‘booze and blades’ epitaph is hard to shift. Visitors should still be wary in certain parts of Glasgow, a place where there are more scarred faces than anywhere else in Britain.