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Charles Sabini (born Ottavio Handley; 11 July 1888 – 4 October 1950)[1] was an English criminal.

Charles Sabini
Ottavio Handley

(1888-07-11)11 July 1888
Died4 October 1950(1950-10-04) (aged 62)
Other names"Darby"
OccupationMobster, bookmaker, fence
Parent(s)Ottavio Sabini and Eliza Handley
Conviction(s)Enemy alien (1940)
Receiving stolen goods (1943)
Criminal chargeRacketeering, corruption, murder, fencing
Penalty6 years of prison

Early lifeEdit

Sabini was known by many names beside his birth name of Octavius (or Ottavio) Sabini, but was more widely known as Charles Darby Sabini or Darby Sabini, and had other aliases such as Frank Handley.[citation needed]

Sabini was born Ottavio Handley[2] at 4 Little Bath Street, Saffron Hill, Holborn, London, on 11 July 1888.[3] The area was then known as "London’s Little Italy".[2] He was the illegitimate child of Italian immigrant Ottavio Sabini[2] or the son of Charles Handley, a builders labourer.[3] His mother was an English woman known as Eliza Handley[2] or Elizabeth Eliza.[3] He was christened Ottavio Sabini, but frequently called himself Charles or Fred, actually the names of his brothers.[2] His mother later married Ottavio Sabini at St Paul's, Clerkenwell, on 14 December 1898.[3] Ottavio Sabini (1853–1902) was a carman of Italian descent, whom Charles later would describe as a father.[3]

Charles Sabini attended school at Drury Lane Industrial School, a school designed for neglected children that were considered at risk of delinquency up until 1900. After Drury Lane, he started at Laystall Street elementary school in Holborn. Eventually leaving school in July of 1902, at age thirteen he became involved with boxing promoter Dan Sullivan. Sabini was seen as a promising fighter but was unwilling to train hard so instead he became a bouncer at Sullivan's promotions in Hoxton Baths.[3]

He married Annie Emma Potter (1892 - 1978), the daughter of William John Potter, at St Paul's in Clerkenwell, on 21 December 1913. The couple’s known children included at least three daughters and one son.

Sabini would establish a reputation as a hard man during a bar brawl at the Griffin public house in Saffron Hill in 1920. During the brawl, he knocked out a well-known enforcer for a south London gang who had insulted an Italian barmaid. The incident resulted in Sabini being known as a protector for both Italians and women in London.

Gang yearsEdit

As leader of the Sabinis and "king of the racecourse gangs", he dominated the London underworld and racecourses throughout the south of England for much of the early twentieth century. Although his Clerkenwell-based organisation gained the core of its income from racecourse protection rackets operated against bookmakers, it was also involved in a range of criminal activities including extortion, theft, as well as operating several nightclubs. It had an estimated 100 members, and is said to included imported Sicilian gunmen, although the Sabinis originated in central Italy,[citation needed] and was notorious for razor attacks. At its peak, Sabini had extensive police and political connections including judges, politicians and police officials.

With no competition in the south, Sabini took over the protection rackets easily which led the Bookmakers and Backers Racecourse Protection Association to dispense with his services [4]. Despite this, he became the top gangster in southern England. Sabini's men provided a variety of ‘services’ to bookies, which they did not in fact need such as tools they already had like chalk and “dots and dashes”. Darby Sabini controlled five or six of what were considered the best pitches (a place for the bookies to work) at each event and had his men guarding his bookies that worked on a 'ten bob in the pound basis' (keep half a pound for each pound made). The protection rackets proved to be extremely profitable and drew attention from other gangs such as Billy Kimber's Birmingham Boys. Sabini managed to defeat Kimber and outmaneuver another gang leader Edward Emmanuel forcing them to desert their protection rackets at the racecourses. In 1929, the Jockey Club and the Bookmakers' Protection Association took measures to prevent Sabini from controlling the best pitches and his other affairs on the racecourses became under attack by the police. [3]

As he began to make less money, Sabini shifted his business to protection rackets at greyhound tracks as well as at drinking and gambling clubs located in the West End of London. Sabini managed to fend off challenges from rival gangs such as the Cortesi brothers from Saffron Hill and the Hoxton mob. Sabini's power rested on an alliance of Italians and Jewish bookmakers and with the rise of Fascism in Italy, antisemitism became more common in London's Italian community.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Sabini was arrested at Hove Greyhound Stadium in April 1940 and interned as an enemy alien, despite his mixed parentage and inability to speak Italian. His internment on the Isle of Man lost him his position of authority in the racketeering industry in London and southern England. He was released in 1941, but in 1943 found guilty of receiving stolen goods and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Meanwhile, his only son was killed on active service for the RAF in Egypt. After the war, his empire was taken over by the White family led by Alf White and subsequently by the organizations of Jack Spot and Billy Hill. Sabini settled in Hove, Sussex, and became a smallish bookie[citation needed]

Postwar periodEdit

Despite Sabini’s wealth, he was not ostentatious even at his peak. He routinely wore a flat cap, collarless shirt, high-buttoned waistcoat, and dark suit. A gangland boss once stated that Sabini "stood for no liberties", and a bookie recalled that "he was the gentleman of the mob but he feared no one". Many referred to him as “Uncle Bob”, and said that he was courteous and generous to women, children, the needy, and the Catholic church. However, others thought of him as an evil gangster and an extortionist. A policeman stated that he "and his thugs used to stand sideways on to let the bookmakers see the hammers in their pockets". Meanwhile, Sabini was said always to carry a loaded pistol and he did not hesitate to order beatings and razor-slashings of his rivals.

When Sabini died at his home in Old Shoreham Road, Hove, on 4 October 1950, he left little money. However, his clerk was later found to have £36,000 which was believed[by whom?] to have been Sabini's cash. Despite this, his estimated wealth upon death was £3,665 which is equivalent to in purchasing power to £121,974.74 in 2018.[3]

In the BBC television drama Peaky Blinders, Sabini was portrayed by Australian-English actor Noah Taylor.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Gangs of London, 2010, Brian McDonald (has a chapter devoted to the Sabini family).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Chinn, Carl. "Sabini, (Charles) Darby." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 28 May 2015,;jsessionid=00DDEFF4E50B20F22A6F0E6B44257D24.
  4. ^ Criminality and Englishness in the Aftermath: The Racecourse wars of the 1920s, Leeds Beckett University,
  • Devito, Carlo. Encyclopedia of International Organized Crime. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-8160-4848-7
  • Hart, Edward T. Britain's Godfather. London, True Crime Library, 1993. ISBN 1-874358-03-6
  • Ashforth, David. Darby Sabini Emperor of the Racetrack. The Free Library, The Racing Post (London, England), 3 July 2006,
  • Deol, Daan. London's Most Notorious Gangsters. Londonist, Londonist Ltd., 21 Dec. 2016,