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cockney gangster Convicted UDA chief a big hit with crowd as guide on London gangster bus tour

Frank Portinari is coining it in talking about his time as a Cockney gangster

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Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari

Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari

Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari

A convicted UDA boss is winning rave reviews as a tour guide on a gangster bus tour of London, the Sunday World can reveal.

Frank Portinari - the notorious UDA 'Brigadier' of the English capital - is coining it in talking about his time as a Cockney gangster.

And with his extensive links to loyalists in Ulster, people from Northern Ireland are making a beeline for his tours on the so-called 'Naughty Bus'.

The open-top tour drives round London's 'infamous' East End and tells the stories of the once-feared gangsters who frequented the pubs and clubs, including the notorious Kray twins.

Part of the tour - which costs £25 per person - takes place over a pint in the Blind Beggar pub where Ronnie Kray famously shot George Cornell, and it finishes at The Clink prison museum in Southwark.

Portinari is also making a living from writing books about his time as a gangster and loyalist and he also podcasts about his life of crime. But ironically - given it's a tour about gangsters - Frank's reputation seems to be too notorious as the official Gangster Tours website doesn't mention him, despite his regular talks on the bus.

"There are no pictures of Frank on the official website and his picture is not in the gallery," said a source.

"The website mentions Micky Goldtooth and Ian McKenzie as taking the tours but you'd think given Frank's history that he'd be up front and centre.

"The only pictures of Frank appear on his own Twitter feed where he regularly advertises his appearances on the bus tour.

"Maybe being a convicted terrorist is just too 'gangster' for the people behind the tour."

Portinari recently tweeted a picture of himself with a group from Ballymoney, Co Antrim, who had taken one of his Underworld Tours.

He said: "Outside the Blind Beggar with good friends from Ballymoney Northern Ireland. http://gangstertours.co.uk."

The tour is currently ranked at 28 out of 1,627 tours across London. Of the 389 reviews left on the site 379 of them top-rate the tour as "excellent".

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A source told the Sunday World: "Frank has plenty of friends in loyalist areas, particularly in Co Antrim, and when he is over here he's always telling people to come and take his gangster tour.

"It's the same as the terror tours in Belfast - people just love hearing about criminals and violence, they're obsessed with it.

"The gangsters in London like the Krays have been romanticised but at the end of the day many of them were vicious killers."

Portinari used to visit the Rathcoole area regularly and became close friends with John 'Grugg' Gregg who was gunned down in February 2003 after arriving in Belfast after attending a Rangers FC match.

Portinari was convicted and jailed in 1994 for running guns and ammunition to the UDA.

In the early 1990s, he became a leader of the UDA in London. He joined the Apprentice Boys of Derry and he got a new job as a school caretaker.

But Portinari was soon using the school premises to run fundraising events for loyalist 'Prisoners of War'.

In 1993, a World in Action TV documentary exposed close links between the UDA and Combat 18 in London.

But Portinari also used the school to store weapons he acquired through gangster contacts. The guns were to be smuggled back to his UDA contacts in Northern Ireland.

The London-based UDA was also involved in several bomb attacks on Irish pubs in London. And they were behind two plots to kill the 'troops out'-supporting Mayor of London Ken Livingston.

Only a high-profile police operation prevented the former Labour MP being shot as he spoke at a Bloody Sunday rally.

But Portinari's gunrunning activities came a cropper in 1994 when he and Belfast loyalist James McCrudden were scooped in a car park in Birmingham as they were about to hand over a bag full of guns.

When he appeared at Birmingham Crown Court, Portinari, who was 36 at the time, was sentenced to five years in prison and 33-year-old McCrudden was sent down for 30 months.

Portinari told the Sunday World earlier this year he got involved with the UDA while living in north London.

He added: "I gradually became interested in Northern Ireland. And living in north London, I witnessed the Bloody Sunday marches and the anti-internment demos.

"I worked in the building industry and obviously I heard a lot of Irish politics being debated. But I soon realised loyalists were way behind republicans when it came to propaganda. I began voicing my own pro-union views and gradually - because I could speak - other people began pushing me forward.

"And when the horse of being the leader of the organisation in England came along, I decided to get on."

steven.moore@sundayworld.com

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