Legendary and widely feared British gangster Charlie Richardson had died at the age of 78, reportedly from blood poisoning.

Richardson died at Pembury Hospital near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, with his wife Ronnie, sister Elaine and five of children by his bedside.

During the peak of his violent criminal career in the 1950s and 1960s, Richardson employed gruesome torture tactics on his rivals as he fought with the equally notorious Kray Brothers for control of London’s rackets.

Richardson and his brother Eddie controlled a South London criminal empire that included gambling, protection and fraud rackets. Reportedly, the Richardson gang also owned stakes in South African mines.

However, it was the use of torture that truly distinguished the Richardson gang from other criminal brotherhoods.

Among other horrific acts, Richardson’s many victims were reportedly pinned to the floor of their hideout in Camberwell and had their toes removed with bolt cutters and their teeth manually ripped out with pliers. Victims were also shocked by electrical wires, whipped and burned with lit cigarettes. Some even had their toes and fingers cut off.

Such violent episodes were known as “trials.” Victims (if they survived the torture sessions) were frequently made to clean up their own blood afterwards.

Richardson’s criminal career came to a crashing thud with his arrest on July 30, 1966 (ironically, the same day as Britain’s historic soccer World Cup Final victory)

After denying charges against him at an Old Bailey trial, he was sentenced to 25 years in jail the following year, convicted of fraud, extortion and assault.

In 1980, Richardson escaped from prison and spent a year as a fugitive in France. He was re-captured and eventually released in 1984.

After gaining his freedom, he repeatedly asserted that the torture accusations against him were false. He also worked as a campaigner for young prison offenders.

In 2004, a film of his life story, simply called “Charlie” was released, starting Luke Goss.

Upon learning of his brother’s death, Eddie told British media: “I haven’t spoken to him in years so I am not the best person to speak to about his death. I can’t say he was a good father, but he was a father. He leaves a big family behind him.”

Bobby Cummines, one of Charlie’s best friends and a former bank robber, spoke well of the deceased.

"A lot of the stuff written about Charlie was embellished,” he told.

"He was in South Africa when all that [torture] was going on.”

Cummine’s reference to South Africa related to a bizarre admission by Charlie that he tried to spy on then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's phone for a South African intelligence agency.

Cummines added: "Charlie was a small pawn in a big political game…. Charlie was no angel - but he was also not the devil they tried to portray him as. In his later life Charlie was a good father and a loving husband. The only people who got on the wrong side of Charlie were other people trying to rob him. Charlie was very old school - he respected the elderly and if someone was in jail he would help out their families with groceries and so on… He was my best friend -- I loved him."