Wales

Krays' donation to Aberfan relief fund revealed

The letter thanking the Krays for their contribution to the Aberfan relief fund
Image caption The letter thanking the Krays for their contribution to the Aberfan relief fund is expected to fetch at least £100 at auction

On 21 October 1966, 144 people, including 116 children, lost their lives when a slag heap slipped and engulfed the village of south Wales village of Aberfan.

The subsequent relief fund attracted over £1.6m in donations, (around £20m in 2010 prices), from donors all over the world.

Now previously unexamined documents have revealed that the biggest donation received in Cardiff, and amongst the largest given to the appeal, came from infamous gangland villains, The Kray Twins.

After attending a charity dinner in aid of the Aberfan victims, the pair handed over £100 (the equivalent of around £3,000 today).

The discovery came to light as Krays' biographer, former Sunday Times journalist John Pearson, prepares to auction off a 45 year collection of letters, photos and documents about the East End criminals.

The horde was given to Mr Pearson by the twins' mother following their arrest for the murder of George Cornell and Jack 'The Hat' McVitie.

In the papers is a letter to Reggie Kray, written on 2 January 1967 by Bill Meilen, organising secretary of the Cardiff Committee for Aid to Aberfan.

Social history

In it he writes: "May I, on behalf of the above committee, thank you for all the kind help you gave us during the period of our Aberfan appeal.

"Thank you also for the kind gift of £100 given by you and your brother at the evening show.

"This was the largest single amount given by any individual to our appeal."

Image caption Also being auctioned are the twins' 1956 passports

Mr Pearson admits to overlooking the letter's significance to Wales.

"I'm preparing to publish my fourth book on the Krays, and after over 40 years of obsession with their lives, I'm looking forward to saying goodbye to them forever.

"The charitable donation to Aberfan isn't, in itself, note-worthy.

"The Krays were renowned for their clever manipulation of public opinion and largess in the media spotlight.

"However, it's worth pointing out that this was the biggest cash donation the twins ever made and the only one to a charity outside of London.

"I think that is a significant piece of social history, both in terms of the Krays' UK-wide notoriety at the time, and the way in which the Aberfan disaster was so powerful that it managed to touch the consciousness of even East End gangsters."

However Dr Martin Johnes, an expert in 20th Century history at Swansea University, is sceptical of the importance of the Krays' involvement in the disaster appeal.

"It may have been the largest donation received on that night, but this was just one event, held by one of the hundreds of independent campaigns which fed into the overall Aberfan Appeal, " he said.

"There are numerous documented instances of donations in excess of £100, and many examples of 'celebrity' endorsements for the fund.

"Aberfan was one of the first human tragedies beamed on television in real time into people's living-rooms.

"The response, if you were to transpose it into modern times, could be likened to the death of Princess Diana.

"There was such an international out-pouring of sentiment, that it would have been more unusual if someone of the Krays' profile hadn't have made a very public contribution.

"This may be significant to the study of the Krays, but as far as Aberfan's concerned, it's no more than a footnote in history."

The 'Krays Collection', including the twins' 1956 passports, goes under the hammer on 19 October at Sussex auctioneers Gorringe's, just two days before the 44th anniversary of the disaster.

The thank you letter on its own is estimated to fetch somewhere between £100 and £500, with all 160 lots expected to be sold for up to £100,000.

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