HE was not only a Bournemouth legend but a national sporting hero, whose death shocked Britain.

Yet a new book claims that prize boxer Freddie Mills was also a serial killer nicknamed Jack the Stripper – and that he arranged his own death with the help of the Kray twins.

Speculation has always surrounded the death of the 46-year-old former world champion. And the theory that he could have been responsible for the crimes dubbed the Hammersmith Nude Murders had been advanced – and dismissed – before.

But former Daily Echo reporter Michael Litchfield says he saw a piece of evidence that might clinch it – a transcript of a confession by the boxer himself.

“He was a brave and fearless fighter but he went bad,” said Mr Litchfield.

The former Sun journalist says he has known about the confession since the 1960s but could not reveal it while his police source was still alive.

“I didn’t think would live long enough to be able to write this,” he said.

“I basically knew the truth but couldn’t write it because of all the legal impediments.”

Freddie Mills was born in 1919 at Terrace Road, Bournemouth, and went to St Michael’s School. At 14, he became an apprentice milkman, and took up boxing the following year.

Mills won the light heavyweight world title by defeating Gus Lesvenitch in 1947, holding it for two years. In an era when boxing was massively popular, he became a big celebrity, appearing in two Carry On films and hosting the BBC pop music show Six-Five Special.

On the evening of July 24, 1965, when the Beatles were on the Morecambe and Wise show, Mills was in good spirits, twisting in the kitchen with his elder daughter, his wife recalled. In the early hours of the following morning, a nightclub doorman found him dead in his car, with a borrowed rifle lying nearby.

Michael Litchfield believes Mills had planned his own death as a way of escaping arrest for seven killings.

A succession of young women had been found dead on London wasteland in 1964 and early 1965. Teeth had been knocked out and several victims had been sexually assaulted.

Mr Litchfield says Mills was well-known for his dark side. His car was spotted several times in the red light districts of West London during the Hammersmith investigating and he had approached policewomen who had been posing as prostitutes. “His requirements were very specific and unnatural, very much in line with how the victims died,” he said.

Chief Superintendent John Du Rose of Scotland Yard took over responsibility for the investigation when the sixth victim, Bridget O’Hara, was found in February 1965.

Mr Litchfield claims that the net was closing in on Mills, who arranged a meeting with Du Rose at the London HQ of the Freemasons.

There, Mills confessed, and the men agreed he would turn himself in, pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds that he did not intend to kill the women, Mr Litchfield says. He asked for a short period to put his affairs in order.

Mills trusted his fellow mason, but the policeman was secretly recording the conversation, says Mr Litchfield – and the author says he was shown a transcript of the confession by his police source, Detective Sgt Bob Berry.

He is convinced the transcript was genuine and “99 per cent” certain that Mills must have been the killer.

“It seemed absolutely natural and it also seemed to fit totally with the crimes and events that followed,” he added.

Du Rose said the prime suspect was Mungo Ireland, a security guard who committed suicide shortly before Mills’s death. But Mr Litchfield it was a ploy to close the case.

“He was a convenient patsy. Bob told me his name was unknown to the murder squad. He had never been a suspect,” he said.

Perhaps even more bizarre is Mr Litchfield’s account of Mills’s death – relayed to him by his police source, who, he says, heard it from notorious gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser.

After his meeting with Du Rose, Mills went straight to the Kray twins – the powerful East End gangsters he had known through his London night club.

He offered them £1,000 to arrange his death – on the understanding that it would be quick and he would not know exactly when it would happen.

He Krays gave the job to hitman Jimmy Moody, while Mills borrowed a rifle and left it in the boot of his car. Moody wasted little time in getting the job done.

An inquest recorded a suicide verdict, although an ambulance man said the rifle was found out of Mills’s reach.

The book may be controversial for besmirching the name of a hero who was known for his amiable public image.

But Mr Litchfield is convinced of its truth – and believes boxing could have been responsible for Mills’s dark side.

“In those days fights wouldn’t have been stopped like they would be today and he took such a heck of a battering in his head,” he said.

“In fairness to him, one has to say that he was mentally knocked off kilter by all the blows that he had taken.”

The Secret Life of Freddie Mills is published tomorrow by John Blake Publishing at £7.99.