Great misconceptions

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“Rudolph Hess was the last prisoner kept in the Tower of London”

It’s often surprising to find out that the Tower of London was still performing its age-old role as late as the Second World War but, contrary to popular belief, the last prisoners incarcerated there arrived under very unusual circumstances – and even later.

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It was Churchill who ordered Rudolph Hess to be sent to the Tower after the Reichsminister’s rather surprising arrival in Scotland on 10 May 1941, but he only remained a prisoner there until 20 May. It was actually 11 years later that the Tower opened its doors to its final inmates.

Those last prisoners were the infamous Kray twins, although notoriety was not the reason for them being put in the Tower. Indeed in 1952 Reggie and Ronnie’s crime spree had barely begun, but they were nevertheless on the run – from being drafted into National Service.

Having been called up to serve in the Royal Fusiliers they had frequently deserted their regiment and had recently gone absent without leave. During this most recent jaunt they had been recognised by a policeman who had attempted to arrest them and been beaten up for his trouble.

The Krays were, however, finally overpowered and charged with assaulting a police officer before being handed over to their unit. At the time the Tower happened to be home to the barracks of the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment), so the Kray brothers were duly carted off to their barracks and imprisoned there, making them the last inmates of that celebrated gaol.

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Not that they enjoyed the place for long, being quickly shipped off to Shepton Mallet military prison for a month to await court-martial.