William Charles Hill (13 December 1911 – 1 January 1984) was an English criminal, linked to smuggling, protection rackets and extreme violence. He was one of the foremost perpetrators of organised crime in London from the 1920s through to the 1960s. His gang managed cash robberies and, in a clever scam, defrauded London's high society of millions at the card tables of John Aspinall's Clermont Club.
Hill was born in St Pancras, London to Amelia Jane (née Sparling) and Septimus James Hill, who married in 1895. Growing up in an established criminal family, Hill committed his first stabbing at age fourteen. He began as a house burglar in the late 1920s and then specialised in "smash-and-grab" raids targeting furriers and jewellers in the 1930s.
During the Second World War, Hill moved into the black market, specialising in foods and petrol. He also supplied forged documents for deserting servicemen and was involved in West End protection rackets with fellow gangster Jack Spot. In the late 1940s, he was charged with burgling a warehouse and fled to South Africa. Following an arrest there for assault, he was extradited to England, where he was convicted for the warehouse robbery and served time in prison. This was his last jail term. After his release he met Gypsy Riley, better known as "Gyp Hill", who became his common-law wife.
In 1952, he planned the Eastcastle St. postal van robbery netting £287,000 (equivalent to £8.32 million in 2019) and in 1954 he organised a £40,000 bullion heist. No one was ever convicted for these robberies. He also ran smuggling operations from Morocco during this period. In 1955, Hill wrote his memoir Boss of Britain's Underworld. In it he described his use of the shiv,
I was always careful to draw my knife down on the face, never across or upwards. Always down. So that if the knife slips you don't cut an artery. After all, chivving is chivving, but cutting an artery is usually murder. Only mugs do murder.
In late 1956 Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George authorised the tapping of Hill's phone. At the time gang warfare had broken out in London between Hill and erstwhile partner in crime, Jack Spot. In 1956, Spot and wife Rita were attacked by Hill's bodyguard, Frankie Fraser, Bobby Warren and at least half a dozen other men. Fraser and Warren were given seven years for their acts of violence.
The Bar Council approached the police and requested the tapes to provide evidence for an investigation into the professional conduct of Hill's barrister, Patrick Marrinan. Sir Frank Newsam, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, allowed them access. When this use of tapping powers was revealed to Parliament in June 1957, Leader of the Opposition Hugh Gaitskell demanded a full explanation. Rab Butler pledged that it would not be a precedent and that he would consider withdrawing the evidence and asking the Bar council to disregard it.
Marrinan was subsequently disbarred and expelled by Lincoln's Inn but Butler was forced to appoint a committee of Privy Counsellors under Sir Norman Birkett to look into the prerogative power of intercepting telephone communications.
In the 1960s Hill was busy fleecing aristocrats at card tables. In Douglas Thompson's book The Hustlers and the documentary on Channel 4, The Real Casino Royale, the club's former financial director John Burke and Hill's associate Bobby McKew, claimed that John Aspinall worked with Hill to cheat the players at the Clermont Club. Some of the wealthiest people in Britain were swindled out of millions of pounds, thanks to a gambling con known as "the Big Edge".
Marked cards could be discovered too easily; instead the low cards were slightly bent across their width in a small mangle before being repackaged. High cards were slightly bent lengthwise. Hill's card sharks were introduced to the tables by Aspinall; they could read whether a card was high, low or an unbent zero card (10 to king) thus gaining a 60–40 advantage. The final stage involved "skimming" the profits from the table to avoid attention. On the first night of the operation, the tax-free winnings for the house were £14,000 (2007: £280,000). According to McKew, the 18th Earl of Derby lost £40,000 (2014: £590,000) in one night.
The club's former financial director John Burke quit in late 1965, a year into the scam. He had been tipped off about an investigation but Aspinall was determined to carry on. Aspinall no longer had someone to deal with "the dirty end" of the operation. After two years' operation the Big Edge was closed. Hill respected Aspinall's decision, and the partnership dissolved.
In 1963, Mickey Spillane was playing Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters in London where he met Hill and showed him around the set. When the prop department couldn't find Spillane a real M1911 pistol, Hill brought the producers several real pistols to use in the film.
Hill's only child, Justin, republished his father's memoirs in December 2008 with a modern introduction and previously unpublished photographs.
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- The Guardian; 26 January 1995; Final curtain for robber who got away.
- Duncan Campbell, When crime grabbed the limelight, theguardian.co.uk, 30 July 2008; retrieved 29 January 2012.
- Richard Hobbs, "Kray brothers (act. 1926–2000)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004.
- Bench Of The Honourable Society Of Lincoln's Inn Charges Against Barrister In Re Marrinan, The Times, 28 June 1957.
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- Allen of Abbeydale, "Newsam, Sir Frank Aubrey (1893–1964)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn., January 2008; accessed 12 June 2009.
- "Mr. Butler's Promise On Telephone Tapping", The Times, 8 June 1957, p. 6.
- "Mr. Marrinan Disbarred", The Times, 4 July 1957, p. 10.
- "'Tapping' Inquiry By Privy Councillors", The Times, 29 June 1957, p. 6.
- Lyons, Tom. High-society sting to get a Hollywood twist, Sunday Times, 18 May 2008; accessed 9 December 2014.
- "Secrets of the Clermont con". Daily Mail. 2007-07-23. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
- Hiscock, John (24 February 2009). "The Real Casino Royale: gangsters in a class of their own". London, UK: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 May 2009.
- Roberts, Glenys. Bent cards, the Chancellor's granny and the Mayfair hustler, Daily Mail, 8 July 2011; accessed 9 December 2014.
- Campbell, Duncan (9 October 2009). "Billy Hill and Gypsy Hill – my gangland parents". the Guardian.
- Billy Hill profile Archived 2009-04-16 at the Wayback Machine, crimetime.co.uk; accessed 9 December 2014.
- "Boss of Britain's Underworld" Archived December 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Billy Hill Family Ltd., UK; accessed 9 December 2014.