May 11, 2013

Our Murdered Son’s Legacy of Hope

Margaret and Barry Mizen were generous enough to sit with me for an hour last week and talk about how their family’s life has been affected by the murder of their son Jimmy. Jimmy was killed five years ago on 10th May 2008, the day after his 16th birthday. A book about Jimmy and the aftermath of his murder is available now – it should be read by anyone who cares about the safety of our young people. The book can be purchased here: Jimmy: A Legacy of Peace



May 10, 2013

Jimmy: Five Years Today

Jimmy: Never Forgotten


Jimmy Mizen was murdered five years ago today. Since then his family have campaigned tirelessly to help young people avoid getting involved in violent confrontations. Margaret Mizen’s book, written with the playright Justin Butcher, tells the story of Jimmy’s killing and its aftermath, the impact on the family and the community and what they hope will come from this tragic, senseless waste of life. The book is called Jimmy: A Legacy of Peace, in writing it Margaret has ensured the Mizen family have created a legacy of hope.

May 9, 2013



Jimmy Mizen: His Name Lives on in Hope and Peace

PLEASE BUY THIS BOOK Had he lived, today would have been Jimmy Mizen’s 21st birthday. Jimmy was a young man of great promise, a good hearted boy, when just a day after his 16th birthday he was cut down pointlessly by 19 year old Jake Fahri. Jake had worked himself up into a blind rage because Jimmy had asked him to be a bit more polite in his “request” for Jimmy to move out of his way when they were both in The Three Cooks bakery in Lee, London. Jake’s violence towards Jimmy was out of all proportion of what should have been no more than a minor altercation between two teenagers. Jake picked up a glass dish from the bakery counter and hurled it at full force into Jimmy’s face. The dish shattered firing deadly shards of glass into Jimmy’s neck, severing his carotid artery and his jugular vein. Seeking shelter from the attack Jimmy crawled to a cupboard at the back of the bakery when he was found by one of his older brothers. A short while later Jimmy died in his brother’s arms.

Jake got life.

Two lives and two families destroyed.

But there is still hope…

Jimmy: A Legacy of Peace by Margaret Mizen with Justin Butcher is one of the most compelling and hopeful books about the impact of violent crime that I have ever read. Read it and weep, with shared grief for the loss of one so beautiful – but also with shared anticipation of a better and safer world for our young people – and above all hope…

March 1, 2013

Cheap Lazy Journalism

This article in the Metro which is a rehash of bits of my Guardian piece from Monday’s G2 has to be one of the laziest pieces of “reporting” I’ve seen for a long time. Not only is it lazy, the “reporter” couldn’t even nick the info accurately – the prisoners on Bastoy Island get a food allowance of roughly the equivalent of £70 per month – not per week as the Metro man stated (innocent error or cynical ploy to enrage readers? I think the latter given his juvenile sensationalising tone.) And after lifting the information from my piece he didn’t even have the courtesy to credit The Guardian from where he got it. Instead he quoted from an old Daily Mail piece – what an arse….

February 25, 2013

Bastoy: Where Prison Works

Bastoy Prison Admin

The picture in the Guardian of the prisoner sunbathing at the head my piece on Bastoy Prison Island today is misleading and bordering on the disingenuous. It implies that life on Bastoy for the prisoners is indeed, contrary to what I discovered, little more than a holiday camp for convicts. In fact similar pictures could be taken in almost any prison in the UK during the summer months – if only the MOJ press office would let a photographer in to the take the pictures.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, prisoners are humans – and like most humans they like the sun – especially when they have been banged up for god knows how long in overcrowded wings, landings and cell with little else to do but watch day time television on sets that cost £20 each but for which they pay £50 a year to rent. A few moments catching a few rays can keep a little personal morale intact and maybe add a shade or two to the pasty prison pallor so that if and when they get a visit they might not look so odd.

January 21, 2013


His name was Brian Whately and he was a probation officer. He was one of the first people to welcome me on to the wing shortly after I arrived at “Monster Mansion.” I was still quite numb after a year of 23 hour bang-up in “Wanno.” Not a good introduction to prison life for a newly sentenced lifer – don’t worry I’m not complaining – I deserved all that was coming to me. I never expected any consideration – I certainly did not deserve any kindness.

Brian Whately had a kind face. It was the first thing I noticed the day I came back to the wing from the workshop and he was waiting by the gate. “Hello,” he said smiling confidently. “Can I have a word.” He was a slightly built, dapper man dressed in canvas trousers, sand boots and a corduroy jacket. I nodded and followed him to his little office, a converted cell on the “twos” landing.

We chatted for a while about this and that – nothing heavy – while he rolled himself a cigarette. I liked his style. Here I was at the beginning of a life sentence and here was this tousle-haired gentleman talking to me as if I was just another fellow human being.

I met and chatted with him probably a couple of dozen times over the following three years. I never told him, but I liked him a lot. Brian’s job was to assess my dangerousness. He had a way of gaining trust that had nothing to do with mind games or psychological traps. He knew I liked music and one day he brought in a tape recording of a violin concerto by Max Bruch. “When your cell door is closed tonight,” he said, “have a listen to this.”

I’d never taken any time before to listen to “posh people’s music.” Brian said, “It’s not just for posh people silly – this music is for everyone.” He had that way of his of making you believe, that even though you were at the very bottom of the pile, wallowing in an ocean of self-generated mire, you still counted. He even sent a postcard from his fishing holiday in Tenby – “To the lads on A Wing. I’m on holiday, but you’re not forgotten. Best wishes, Brian.” We, the “lads on A Wing” were some of the most damaged and damaging people in the prison system. Half of us were Cat A prisoners with barely a spoon of hope between us.

When the time came for me to move on to another high security jail I made sure I went to see Brian before I left, just to say my goodbyes. He was smiling when we shook hands. I really wanted to hug him – god knows what would have happened if I had. I wanted to say I’d miss him – and to tell him how much I had appreciated his manner and his attitude. But there was no special friendship between us. He was the same with everybody. Instead I just said a brief thank you for introducing me to Bruch. As I turned to walk back to my cell I could feel a lump growing in my throat and the beginnings of a tear or two at the edge of my eyes. After just a few steps I heard Brian’s voice call out. “Hey,” he said. I turned around. “You’ll be okay,” he said – and winked. I nodded and took a deep breath. Wherever I was going I knew I would take a good measure of Brian’s humanity with me.

Eighteen years later I met one of Brian’s colleagues. I was still in jail but had made what the authorities call “significant progress.” I can’t remember how exactly but Brian’s name came up in our conversation. “You know him?” I said. “Oh yes,” she said, we were young probation officers together.”

I told her quickly about Brian’s kindness and his real human concern for those for whom he had responsibility. I explained about Bruch – and mentioned the postcards he’d send from his fishing trips. “Could you give him a message for me,” I said. I wanted to thank him properly – to let him know how much the chats we’d had all those years ago had meant to me. I wanted him to know that he’d had a huge impact on my thinking and on the path my prison journey took. I wanted him to know that without me realising it he had been a champion to me. Something I’d never had before. “Will you say…” I said – but the look in her eyes suddenly stopped me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I won’t be able to pass on any message. Brian has had a huge stroke and isn’t going to recover.”

I so regret not having thanked him properly. But Brian is just one of the people in probation I’ve met over a lifetime of having lived on the other side of society. Without him and people like him I would never have made it back. That’s why I’m so against the government’s proposals to privatise huge sections of the Probation Service. I know it’s different now to how it was in Brian’s day – but the people who join are still pretty much motivated to help and support troubled and troublesome people. Nobody should be making financial profit out of that.

If you haven’t already, please sign this e-petition now:


January 20, 2013

The Proposed Privatisation of the Probation Service is Morally Repugnant

Frederick Rainer - the Great Grandfather of the Probation Service


Now I’m no expert – or maybe I am – but either way I can’t see how a “probation officer” employed by a private contractor is going to be any more effective than a real probation officer contracted to the state. The primary motivation for the operation of a private company is profit, profit, profit. There was never any notion of Probation for Profit in the hearts of those who built the foundations of the modern probation service.

If you care about a professional Probation Service that serves the community with dedication and integrity please sign this e-petition now:

A Brief History of Probation (Courtesy of the Probation Association –

1870s Frederick Rainer makes a five shilling donation to the Church of England Temperance Society to help break the cycle of offence after offence and sentence after sentence. The Society appoints a ‘missionary’ to Southwark court and the London Police Court Mission is born.
1880s The mission opens homes and shelters – but the Probation of First Offenders Act 1887 contains no element of offender supervision.
1900s The Probation Service is formally established in 1907. Between 1910 and 1930 the prison population halves, probation has played a major part.
1920s The 1925 Criminal Justice Act establishes probation committees and the appointment of probation officers becomes a requirement of the courts.
1940s The 1948 Criminal Justice Act introduces prison after-care and provides for funding of Probation Homes and Hostels.
1950s The Central Council of Probation – the forerunner of the Probation Association – is formed to speak with one voice for all employee probation committees. Home Secretary Rab Butler attends and says: “I think that your service is perhaps the most devoted in the country.”
1960s Work in prisons has become an integral part of the Probation Service’s task. In 1966 the number of probation areas is reduced from 104 to 84 and a year later the Criminal Justice Act introduces parole supervision.
1970sCommunity Service Orders are introduced in 1972, designed to be punitive in depriving the offender of leisure time, but constructive in benefiting the community and changing the offender’s outlook.

1980s The Carlisle Review of Parole proposes a coherent system for supervised early release from prison and an Audit Commission Review produces a framework for probation intervention.

1990s The Criminal Justice Act 1991 gives the Probation Service the lead on all manner of new community sentences. In 1998 a new administration introduces legislative changes, including drug testing orders and new youth justice provision. Electronic tagging arrives.
2000s The Carter Report proposes an entirely different approach for offender management, with a unified prison and probation service.
2001 The 54 probation areas are reduced to 42 to achieve co-terminosity with other criminal justice agencies. The service operates under a National Directorate, directly accountable to the Home Secretary.
2002 Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) come into force, placing a responsibility upon probation staff, in partnership with the police, prison service and others, to protect the public from sexual and violent offenders.
2003 All case work and all reports to include an assessment of risk of dangerousness of offenders.
2004 An amalgamation of prison and probation services with the forming of a National Offender Management Service (NOMS).
2005 The Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill is introduced in the House of Lords.
2006 The results of the Home Office consultation on its proposals for probation are published.
2007 The service celebrates its centenary. Statistics show that probation met its six-year target to reduce re-offending by 5%. The creation of probation trusts is enshrined in the Offender Management Act.
2008 Moves continue towards a more competitive environment for probation through the creation of public sector trusts.

2009 The Probation Association is 50 years old.

2010 From April 1, the 34 probation areas and eight trusts that existed through 2009 become 35 self-governing probation trusts accountable to the Secretary of State for Justice through 10 regional Directors of Offender Management.

2013 Wholesale Sellout of the Probation Service


December 11, 2012

Lincoln Prison Has Changed – Incredibly It Has Got Worse

Lincoln Prison: A Disgrace in a Civilised Society

Why wasn’t I surprised at the news that Lincoln prison has been condemned by the Prisons Inspector as “Unsafe and filthy.”? I spent a short period there in 1991 when I was being transferred from one long term prison to another. I wrote about that little detour for the Guardian in 2002 after Jeffrey Archer had been sent there following the controversy over his apparent shenanigans whilst serving his time in an open prison. The fact is people have been enduring the miserable conditions in Lincoln prison and other Victorian era prisons for years. Who cares, you might say. If “they” don’t like it “they” shouldn’t go around committing crimes. But the vast majority of people in our prisons will be released one day. They could end up being your neighbour, or my neighbour. If any of them end up on my street I’d prefer it if they were good neighbours. That’s why I care about how we treat people in our prisons. Keeping human beings in animal pens like Lincoln prison insults and harms us all.

December 8, 2012

Hospital Should Have Seen the Funny side

Nurse Jacintha Saldanha, left, was found dead days after she was the victim of a prank call from Mel Greig and Michael Christian

It was only a joke. Even Prince Charles thought it was funny. It’s hard to believe that Prince William and Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge did not have a snigger too – for all their wealth and privilege they are modern young people and give the impression that they can take a jape or two at their expense. The problem was that poor Jacintha Saldanha became the patsy for the joke. This ultra respectful lady, the mother of two children, must have been mortified in the extreme having the whole world know it was she who put the pranksters through to the Duchess’s room. But the hospital should never have gone over the top expressing its “embarrassment.” All that must have done was to exacerbate Jacintha’s sense of shame. An angry statement condemning the “prank” would have been enough. It was a childish lark, amateurish in its execution. Nothing overly sensitive was revealed by the duped nurse in the Duchess’s room. The hospital should have been more low key in its response. Nobody was harmed, except Jacintha Saldanha and her family.

December 7, 2012

Dear Fiona – A Wonderful Book for Friends (and Not Just for Christmas)



Friendship: “A commodity to be regarded with the utmost trust and respect…”



Dear Fiona, is one of the most powerful books about friendship I have ever read. It chronicles the correspondence and subsequent bond that developed between the actor/businesswoman Fiona Fullerton and life-sentenced prisoner Alex Alexandrovich. In 1976, five years into the life sentence he received when he was just 18 years old, Alex sent Fiona a fan letter from his prison cell – she was starring in a BBC series, Angels and fast becoming a household name.

At a lonely point in her life she was touched by his humour and decided to write back. They corresponded for the next 12 years. Their letters depict two parallel worlds a universe apart – his, fighting his case and trying to stay alive in some of the UK’s bleakest prisons – hers sent from New York, Milan, Sydney etc as her acting career went stellar. The irony of their relationship deepened when she won a role as a “Bond Girl” playing a Russian spy opposite Roger Moor in View to A Kill – There is a mountain of evidence suggesting that Alex was “fitted up” by Special Branch as a suspected Soviet Spy.

From the dark lonliness of his prison cell Alex wrote Fiona the most incredibly sublime poetry – worth a book in itself. Fiona came to rely on Alex to bolster her confidence and embraced him as a mentor. After 12 years their correspondence fizzled out. Alex was exhausted and subdued, Fiona’s life was moving on. But she never forgot her friend.

Twenty two years after receiving his last letter, now living in domestic bliss in the Cotswolds, Fiona searches in a cupboard for a document in her archives at home when she comes across batches of Alex’s letters. She is overcome with guilt and grief for the loss of her friend. Much to the consternation of her family she spends the next 24 hours reading and re-reading his letters until her mind is made up. She must find him…

Dear Fiona is a record of one of the great platonic friendships of modern times. A must read for anyone who believes in the preciousness of friends.

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