Thomas Smithson was a gangster born in Liverpool in 1920, the sixth of eight children, his family moved to the East End of London two years later. Tommy served time for theft in a reform school where he learned self defence and boxing. During the War he joined the merchant navy as a stoker and served on ammunition ships to Australia. He returned to Shoreditch in 1950 and was soon sentenced to 18 months for a robbery. In prison he got to know people who ran the Soho gambling clubs. By 1954 he had his own gang which included the young Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, who looked up to Smithson as a hero.
The Maltese gang members had taken advantage of subsidised passages to England for as little as three pounds to establish a network of gambling and drinking clubs, servicing a string of prostitutes. Smithson decided to target the Maltese. He began by working as a croupier for George Caruana in one of his clubs in Batty Street, Stepney. Caruana and his Maltese colleagues were keen to avoid trouble and when Smithson set up a protection racket he was soon taking a regular share of the takings in all their ‘spielers’. The club owners paid him a shilling in the pound, it doesn’t sound much but Tommy was making up to £500 a night.
He was shot in the neck on the 25 June 1956, and was found dying in a Kilburn gutter. The rundown Number 88 Carlton Vale near the junction with Cambridge Road, was a brothel or ‘boarding house’ owned by Caruana. Smithson thought he’d been sent there to collect protection money. He was in the room of ‘Blonde Mary’ Bates when Philip Ellul, Vic Spampinato and Joe Zammit came in. Ellul shot him in the arm and the neck but the .38 revolver jammed. Smithson crawled down the stairs into the street. Bizarrely, his last words to the people who found him were said to be; ‘Good morning, I’m dying.’ He was taken to Paddington Hospital but died shortly after he arrived.
The hit men, who fled to Manchester, were reassured they’d only be charged with manslaughter if they turned themselves in. But it was bad advice, they had been stitched up and they were tried for murder. Spampinato told the court he was only defending himself when Smithson attacked him with a pair of scissors. ‘Blonde Mary’ confirmed the story and he was acquitted. But it later emerged that Blonde Mary was Spampinato’s girlfriend. Ellul was sentenced to death for murder. Then 48 hours before his execution, the sentence was commuted to life, of which he served eleven years in prison. The twins attended his funeral when they were around twenty years old, in 1956. The funeral was filmed on camera.