As one of the Krays most trusted henchmen, Chris Lambrianou commanded fear and respect in the most brutal and bloodiest of worlds.
Violence and intimidation were a way of life in the East End of London in the 1960s as twins Ronnie and Reggie built their empire of crime.
When it crumbled, Lambrianou was jailed for his part in the murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie and spent 15-years locked up with some of Britain’s most dangerous criminals.
It was those experiences in the murky depths of the underworld which have enabled him to form an unlikely bond with a group of former servicemen battling PTSD.
At the age of 79, he is a committed Christian and a long since reformed character, who has spent 25-years working with ex-cons and recovering drug addicts to turn their lives around.
He is now helping to do the same with some Afghanistan veterans who are struggling to adapt to civilian life having seen the horrors of war.
The former gangster told the MailOnline: ‘I gave a talk at the Emmanuel Church in Bicester last year and all these ex-servicemen came and I got involved with them.
‘They offloaded a lot of stuff, they were frightened to go back into society.
‘These were men in the 40s who avoided going out for a drink because to them it was like being back in Helmand.
‘When they go to a pub it’s a closed environment, there’s things happening and they’re waiting for something to happen, for a bomb to go off.
‘That’s the way they see life, and all I do is let them talk to me. They’ve been through hell and so have I.
‘What we’ve got in common is that we’ve both lost something but also gained something and they respect me because of the amount of time I did in prison.
‘I know what it’s like to come from a world of violence and turn my life around so I find I can communicate with them.’
Lambrianou, along with his younger brother Tony, who died in 2004, were part of ‘The Firm’ – the inner circle of the Krays.
He had been in and out of borstal and prison as a youth and became involved in robberies, including blowing the safe in a post office in Stoke Newington, North-East London.
With a bear-like presence and hands as big as shovels, he had already carved out a menacing reputation around the East End before being noticed by the Krays.
His association with Ronnie and Reggie, however, helped him forge a criminal network all over the country, one that continued even while behind bars.
It was in Maidstone Prison after talking to Kray rival Charlie Richardson that he had a vision which changed his life forever.
He said: ‘I’ve never spoken publically about this before because I’ve always preferred to keep it to myself.
‘But there was one day when I’d been chatting to Charlie and he said ‘you coming in for a cup of tea?’ and I went ‘nah, I want to be on my own’.
‘And I went in my cell and I laid down on my bed and I thought about prison and I thought about all the people in prison, the children of prisoners, the parents, wives and family of prisoners.
Describing his religious conversion for the first time, Lambrianou said he had a vision in his cell: ‘I saw a figure in my cell with two others… I know that person was Jesus.’
Pictured: At the funeral of 1960s south London gangster Charlie Richardson
‘The ripple went out and out and out and then I began to think about my own life, how I’d been given a garden as a child but as I grew older I went through that garden and ripped up all the plants, trees and shrubs and decimated it.
‘That was all the lovely people who had tried to help me, who cared about me. I’d destroyed those relationships with those people like I’d destroyed the garden.
‘Tears began to stream down my face and I saw a figure in my cell with two others. He was dressed in European clothes, raincoat, collar and tie, long dark hair.
‘I said ‘how do I put this right, the tragedy of my life?’ and he said ‘follow me’ and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I know that person was Jesus.
‘He was there in my cell as real as anything and I knew then what I had to do.
Lambrianou went on: ‘I had to put all thoughts of crime behind me and out of my head.’ Once out of prison, he was rung by Charlie Kray but Lambrianou told him he wasn’t interested: ‘I told him ‘look, I’ve got a family, I’ve got my babies, I’ve got a job, I’ve got everything I ever wanted’
‘I had to put all thoughts of crime behind me and out of my head.
‘I got out of prison and Charlie Kray rang me and said ‘We’ve got everything going down here, get yourself back to London.
‘I said ‘Charlie, I’m not interested’ and he went ‘don’t be crazy, it’s here waiting for you’ and I upset a lot of people because I wouldn’t do it.
‘He said ‘why not?’ and I told him ‘look, I’ve got a family, I’ve got my babies, I’ve got a job, I’ve got everything I ever wanted. Why do I want to come down there for?’
‘He said ‘you mean it don’t you?’ and I did.’
Lambrianou’s spiritual conversion came during a life sentence, of which he served the minimum term of 15-years, for his role in the 1967 murder of Jack ‘The Hat’.
He and brother Tony, who was also later jailed, had helped dispose of McVitie’s body after he had been stabbed repeatedly by Reggie Kray and left in a basement flat in Stoke Newington.
Lambrianou had gone with McVitie to a party at the property earlier in the evening but left before he was killed.
Lambrianou’s spiritual conversion came during a life sentence, of which he served the minimum term of 15-years, for his role in the 1967 murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ who had been murdered by Reggie Kray (right)
He later returned to the flat, armed with a gun, to get his brother out but instead got embroiled in helping to clear up the mess.
He said: ‘Tony had already left and the Twins had fled, leaving their driver, Ronnie Bender, with the task of dumping the body over a nearby rail bridge.
‘I go downstairs and there’s Jack lying out in the front room by the fireplace.
‘I went in to the kitchen and I got some socks, put them over my hands and went round and wiped everything up.
‘Afterwards I went upstairs to get an eiderdown quilt to wrap up Jack’s body and saw two young children were fast asleep.
‘I got the eiderdown, took it downstairs and Ronnie Bender and me rolled Jack up in it.’
They had to wait until all was clear at an all-night bagel shop across the road before they could carry the body out and put it in the back of McVities’s car.
Tony, who had arrived back at the flat looking for his brother, agreed to drive the car south of the river.
Lambrianou then got into his vehicle and followed closely behind.
He said: ‘As we’re coming down the road, a police car falls in behind Tony. This was not long after three policemen were shot and killed by Harry Roberts.
‘My first thought was that if this was going to go wrong then two policemen were going to get shot.
‘If they had stopped my brother, I would’ve had no other option but to get out and shoot them because I’m going to get him away.
‘He’s bang to rights with a body in the back seat even though he hasn’t done anything.
‘I pulled back a little bit and we got to a bend in the road where there was a police station and they turned off. Thank God for that.
McVitie’s body was eventually dumped in Rotherhithe, South London, for another gangster Freddie Foreman to get rid of.
Unlike other members of The Firm, Lambrianou did not turn Queen’s Evidence and kept his silence during his trial in 1968.
He was released from Winson Green prison in Birmingham in 1983 and after a spell working as a roofer and carpenter in the city was introduced by his probation officer to the Ley Community, a rehabilitation centre in Yarnton, Oxfordshire.
The centre, set amid five acres of countryside is the former home of explorer Dr David Livingstone and currently houses 25 people undergoing a 12-month rehab. Many are referred to from prisons.
Lambrianou gives inspirational talks to the residents and still pops in on a part-time basis to help.
Ironically given his criminal background he has joined forces with former Metropolitan Police detective John Wedger to organise a sponsored canal walk from London to Manchester to raise funds for the charity.
He has now found peace living in the Oxfordshire countryside with his wife Helen having fathered seven children, including twins, and becoming a grandfather of eight.
Sitting on a bench under the glare of the winter sunshine, he reflects on his past life and says he has no regrets quitting crime.
He adds: ‘Were the Krays successful? No they weren’t.
‘Charlie Kray died in prison, Ronnie died in Broadmoor and Reggie died in hospital having only been let out because he had a couple of weeks left to liv
‘Yet they’re supposed to be legends.
‘If you want to know what success is, look into the eyes of your child and if they’re smiling back at you that’s it.
‘It’s not how much money you have in the bail
‘Have I got a roof over my head? Food on the Table? Clothes on my back? Yes I have.
‘Have I got love in my life? Yeah I have. I’m rich1.’