Charles Bronson (prisoner)

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Charles Bronson
Michael Gordon Peterson.png
portrait of Charles Bronson
Born Michael Gordon Peterson
(1952-12-06) 6 December 1952 (age 61)
Luton, Bedfordshire, England
Other names Charles Ali Ahmed
Occupation Labourer, bareknuckle boxer
Criminal penalty
Life imprisonment
Criminal status
Incarcerated at Wakefield Prison as of 2014
Spouse(s) Irene
Fatema Saira Rehman
Children Michael Jonathan Peterson
Parents Eira and Joe Peterson
Conviction(s) Armed robbery; wounding (2); wounding with intent; criminal damage; grievous bodily harm; false imprisonment (3); blackmail; threatening to kill[1]

Charles Bronson (born Michael Gordon Peterson; 6 December 1952) is an English criminal who is often referred to in the British press as the "most violent prisoner in Britain".[2]

Born in Luton, Bedfordshire, (although the Daily Mirror reported that he was born in Aberystwyth, Wales)[3] he became a petty criminal before being sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in 1974. While in prison, he began making a name for himself as a loose cannon, often fighting convicts and prison officers. He also embarked on one-man rooftop protests. Regarded as a "problem prisoner", he was moved 120 times throughout Her Majesty's Prison Service and spent most of that time in solitary confinement.[4] What was originally a seven-year term stretched out to a fourteen-year sentence that resulted in his first wife, Irene, with whom he had a son, leaving him. He was released on 30 October 1988, but spent merely sixty-nine days as a free man before he was arrested again.

Upon his release, he began a bare-knuckle boxing career in the East End of London. His promoter was unhappy with his name and suggested he change it to Charles Bronson. He was returned to prison for planning another robbery and continued to be a difficult inmate, instigating numerous hostage situations. While in prison in 2001, he married his second wife, Fatema Saira Rehman, a Bangladeshi-born divorcée who inspired him to convert to Islam and take the name of Charles Ali Ahmed. This second marriage lasted four years before he divorced Rehman and renounced Islam.

Bronson is one of the highest-profile criminals in Britain and has been featured in books, interviews, and studies in prison reform and treatment. He is the subject of the 2008 film Bronson, the story based loosely around his life. Bronson has written many books about his experiences and famous prisoners he has met throughout his internment. A self-declared fitness fanatic who has spent many years in segregation, Bronson dedicated a book to working out in confined spaces. In his own words: "I'm a nice guy, but sometimes I lose all my senses and become nasty. That doesn't make me evil, just confused."[5]

Early life[edit]

Luton, Bedfordshire, which Bronson considers his hometown

Bronson was one of three sons of Eira and Joe Peterson, who would later run the Conservative club in Aberystwyth.[6] His uncle and aunt were mayor and mayoress of the town in the 1960s and 1970s.[6] His aunt, Eileen Parry, is quoted as saying: "As a boy, he was a lovely lad. He was obviously bright and always good with children. He was gentle and mild-mannered, never a bully; he would defend the weak."[6]

He lived in Luton from the age of four, but when he was a teenager, he moved with his family to Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, where he started getting into trouble. By the age of 13, he was part of a gang of four robbers and was reprimanded in juvenile court after he was caught stealing.[7] He enjoyed fighting from an early age, and was often absent from school.[8] Bronson later returned to Luton, which he refers to as his hometown. His first job was at Tesco, which lasted two weeks before he was dismissed for attacking his manager.[9] He passed through a number of jobs, working as a hod carrier and in a number of factories.[10] He faced prison for the first time at Risley, serving time on remand for criminal damage after he smashed some parked cars following an argument with his girlfriend's father; following his trial, he was fined and given probation.[11]

Bronson then worked as a furniture remover, while regularly fighting on his nights out.[12] After getting involved in petty crime, he got into serious trouble for the first time after crashing a stolen lorry into a car.[13] He ran 90 miles (140 km) away from the scene to his parents' home, where he was apprehended.[13] The driver of the car survived the collision so Bronson got off lightly, receiving yet more fines and probation.[13] After his trial, he returned to petty crimes and menial labour.[14] In 1972, he married Irene Kelsey, with whom he had a son, Michael Jonathan, later the same year.[14] At the age of 19, he was convicted for his part in a smash and grab raid, but was given one last chance by the judge, who gave him a suspended sentence.[15]

Life in prison[edit]

Stretch as Michael Peterson[edit]

Ashworth Hospital, where Bronson spent some time as a mental health patient

Bronson was imprisoned for seven years in 1974, aged twenty-two, for an armed robbery at a Post Office in Little Sutton, a suburb of Ellesmere Port, during which he stole £26.18.[16] He was imprisoned at Walton Gaol, and soon ended up on the punishment block after attacking two prisoners without provocation.[17] He was transferred to Hull in 1975.[18] After refusing to work, he smashed up a workshop after an altercation with a prison officer, and was sent to the punishment block.[19] He was also injected with the sedative chlorpromazine, which made him violently ill, and six months were added to his sentence.[20] After recovering he continued to prove a highly challenging inmate, and spent many months in isolation.[21] He then attacked fellow prisoner John Henry Gallagher with a glass jug, and was charged with grievous bodily harm (later dropped to unlawful wounding, nine months were added to his sentence) and transferred to Armley Gaol.[22] By now Bronson found that his reputation as a violent and highly dangerous inmate preceded him, as he spent 1975 to 1977 being switched between Armley, Wakefield, Parkhurst, and Walton;[23] he was taken from Yorkshire to London chained to the floor of a prison van. He remained in isolation, and began his fitness programme, though he continued to attack other convicts and damage prison property.[23] While recovering from a beating in solitary given to him for punching two prison officers, Bronson was handed the divorce papers his wife had filed.[24]

At Wandsworth he attempted to poison the prisoner in the cell next to him, and was therefore shipped over to Parkhurst in 1976, where he befriended the Kray twins, whom he described as "the best two guys I've ever met".[25] Reggie Kray wrote that Bronson was "the most frightening visit I had".[26] However Bronson was soon moved back to Wandsworth after threatening to kill a prison officer.[27] He spent four months in isolation after he was caught trying to dig his way out of his cell – after being returned to the prison's general population he caught up with the prisoner that informed on his escape plan and scarred him for life.[28] The governor at Wandsworth wished to move Bronson on, and as only the C Unit (Psycho Wing) at Parkhurst was willing to accept him, Bronson found himself back at the Isle of Wight.[29] There he attacked a prisoner with a jam jar, and was again charged with grievous bodily harm.[30] He attempted suicide and attacked another prison officer, and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.[31]

In December 1978, Bronson arrived at Broadmoor, but was soon transferred to Rampton Secure Hospital.[32] Unable to adapt to forced medication and in the company of the highly disturbed and highly dangerous inmates, Bronson attempted to strangle child sex murderer John White, but was apprehended just as White was giving out his death rattle.[33] He was returned to Broadmoor, and was reunited with Ronnie Kray.[34]

"I witnessed them running into walls, using their heads as rams. I've seen them fall unconscious doing this. They stabbed themselves with pens, needles, scissors. One even blinded himself in one eye and another tore out his own testicle. There was one just kept trying to eat himself, biting his arms, legs and feet."

—Bronson found it impossible to relate with other patients in the mental institutions he attended.[35]

At Broadmoor, Bronson attempted to strangle Gordon Robinson to death but was prevented from doing so when the silk tie he was using to garotte him snapped.[36] Following this failure Bronson again became depressed, but found his spirits lifted when Ronnie Kray arranged a visit from boxer Terry Downes.[37] In 1982, he performed his first rooftop protest after escaping to the top of Broadmoor and tearing off roof tiles.[38] Not long after the first incident, he again reached the roof of Broadmoor. He caused £250,000 worth of damage in a three-day protest before he was talked down by his family.[39] Following further treatment he took up art, and eventually collected more prison awards than any other inmate for his poems, prose and cartoons.[40] He made a third rooftop protest, this time demanding a prison transfer, but was again talked down.[41] He then started an 18-day long hunger strike, and was eventually granted a transfer to Ashworth Hospital (then known as Park Lane Hospital) in June 1984.[42]

"I'd been certified mad because of my violence. I was still violent – and they were now certifying me sane. Where's the sanity in that? Isn't the system just as crazy?"

—Psychiatrists discussed psychopathy and schizophrenia, but never agreed on what mental illnesses, if any, from which Bronson was suffering.[43]

Though Bronson was more settled in the more modern facilities and regime at Ashworth, he soon got into trouble after using a sauce bottle to stab Mervin Horley, a patient who made advances towards him.[44] He was returned to the general prison population at Risley Remand Centre in 1985, but was put into isolation after punching a fellow inmate.[45] In May 1985 he pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm for the attack on Horley, and three years were added to his sentence.[46] Later in the year he was returned to Walton, where he made another three-day rooftop protest, causing £100,000 worth of damage, and another year was added to his sentence.[47] He was moved on to Albany, and punched another convict on his first day in general prison population.[48] He was quickly moved on to Wormwood Scrubs, and two weeks later was back at Wandsworth.[49] In 1986 he was transferred eight times, the only new location being Winchester, and once strangled the governor of Wormwood Scrubs during one particularly violent episode.[50] On 3 January 1987 he was transferred to Gartree, where he served the rest of his sentence in isolation, other than ten days spent in nearby Leicester Prison.[51]

Brief taste of freedom and change of name[edit]

Upon his release from Gartree he was met by his family, and stayed with his parents for a few days in Aberystwyth.[52] He then took a train to London, bought a water pistol, modified it, and used it to intimidate a stranger into driving him to Luton.[53] Bronson then embarked on a short-lived career in illegal bare-knuckle boxing in the East End of London on the advice of long-time friend Reggie Kray.[54] He changed his name from Michael Peterson to Charles Bronson in 1987 on the advice of his fight promoter, Paul Edmonds,[55] despite never having seen a film starring the actor Charles Bronson.[56] He offered to fight Lenny McLean, but was refused.[57] He also claimed to have killed a rottweiler with his bare hands in a £10,000 underground fight, though later said this was "not something I'm proud of because I love animals".[58]

To surprise his girlfriend Alison for New Year's Day 1988 he robbed a jewellery shop, kept a ring for her, and sold the rest of the loot.[58] On 7 January 1988, his 69th day of freedom, he was apprehended and arrested on his morning jog.[58] The arresting officers charged him under his fighting name, Charles Bronson, and he decided at that moment to give up the name Michael Peterson.[59] He was returned to Leicester Prison as Bedford Prison refused to house him on account of his uncontrollable behaviour during his first stretch in prison.[60] His defence had looked strong as eyewitnesses refused to testify due to fear of reprisals, when Alison retracted her testimony and became the prosecution's main witness; this not only removed Bronson's alibi but also gave the prosecution all the evidence needed to win the case.[61] He made a failed bid to reach the prison's roof, and was transferred to Brixton.[62] Bronson was placed in a top-secure unit of 16 prisoners at Brixton, and in June 1988 pleaded guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to seven years.[63]

Prison life as Charles Bronson[edit]

Bronson was taken to Wandsworth, before being transferred to Full Sutton.[64] There he spent time in isolation for punching a prisoner and a prison officer and throwing water on the governor.[65] He also spent a month at Durham, where he bonded with a family of rodents that crept into his cage.[66] In 1989 he was moved to Long Lartin, and settled in well at the prison until he "went over the edge" and ran riot in the nude, clutching onto a spear he fashioned out of a broken bottle and a broom handle.[67] After another incident where Bronson started a one man riot he was put into isolation.[68] He then spent two months at Bristol, before moving on to Birmingham and then Winchester and back to Wandsworth in September 1989.[69] He was regularly moved and regularly in trouble, particularly so when he punched two prison officers at Gartree and took the Deputy Governor hostage at Frankland.[70] However at Parkhurst he was on the receiving end of an attack, when at least two prisoners stabbed him in the back several times – Bronson refused to speak to the police.[71] He could not get into any trouble while recovering from the attack, and was released from prison in November 1992.[72]

Bronson spent fifty-three days as a free man before being arrested again, this time for conspiracy to rob.[6] He was remanded at the newly opened Woodhill Prison, but insisted that his girlfriend Kelly-Anne, her friend Carol and her lover were lying to the police in order to get him locked away.[73] On 9 February 1993 the charges of robbery were dismissed, and he was given a £600 fine for breaking the nose of Kelly-Anne's lover.[74] Sixteen days later he was again arrested for conspiracy to rob and for possession of a sawn-off shotgun.[75] On remand in Woodhill he took a civilian librarian hostage, and demanded an inflatable doll, a helicopter and a cup of tea from police negotiators.[76] He released the hostage after being disgusted when he broke wind in front of him.[77] He was taken from Belmarsh to Bullingdon Prison for his trial.[78] For the trial he pleaded Guilty to possessing the shotgun but Not Guilty for the conspiracy charges, and told the jury he had intended to use the shotgun to blow his head off.[79] On 14 September 1993, he was found Guilty of 'intent to rob' and Not Guilty of conspiracy to rob, while his co-defendant was found innocent of all charges.[80] He was given an eight-year sentence.[81]

He was taken from Belmarsh to Wakefield, where he spent 40 days naked in isolation.[82] He was transferred to Hull in November, where he spent a number of months without incident before he took deputy governor Adrian Wallace hostage on Easter Monday 1994.[83] He was overpowered following a moment of lapsed concentration, and was moved on to Leicester.[84] He was then returned to Wakefield, where he was put in the infamous "Hannibal Cage" previously occupied by Robert Maudsley.[85] While there, Prison Officer Mick O'Hagan encouraged him to take up art, and Bronson focused on cartooning.[86] His father died in September 1994, during a difficult period for Bronson where he endured constant solitary confinement and almost weekly moves.[87] He attacked the Governor at High Down, who had felt safe enough to visit Bronson on his own, telling his prison officers that "he's okay with me".[88] At Lincoln he was allowed to spend time with down syndrome children, and was taken out of solitary and placed back on the prison wings after getting along well with the children, but was soon put back into isolation after returning from 30-minute's exercise 30 minutes late.[89]

Belmarsh Prison, where Bronson took two Iraqi hijackers hostage

In April 1996 he was sent back to Belmarsh after taking a doctor hostage at Birmingham.[90] Five months later an Iraqi hijacker bumped into him in the canteen and did not apologise.[91] After a long period of brooding he then took two Iraqi hijackers, along with another inmate named Jason Greasley, hostage in a cell.[92] By his own admission he was "losing it badly" and ranted about his dead father, saying that any "funny business" would result in him "snapping necks".[93] He sang and laughed and forced the Iraqis to tickle his feet and call him 'General'.[93] He demanded a plane to take him to Libya, two Uzi sub-machine guns, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and an axe.[93] He released Greasley, but began chanting "I want ice cream".[94] He felt guilty after hitting one of the hostages with a metal tray and therefore insisted the same hostage hit him over the head four times so as to call it 'quits'.[94] He slashed himself four times with a safety razor, but agreed to release the hostages and walk back to the segregation unit.[95] Another seven years were added to his sentence, though this was reduced to five on appeal.[95]

"My eyes are bad due to the years of unnatural light I have had. My vision is terrible; I have to wear shaded glasses even to read. Years of solitary have left me unable to face the light for more than a few minutes. It gives me terrible headaches if I do ... Years of loneliness in small cells have left me paranoid about people invading my space. I now can't stand people getting too close, crowding me. I hate people breathing on me and I hate smelly bodies coming near me. Mouths to me are simply for eating – never for kissing ... A man needs a routine to cope with such an extreme situation. For me it is my push-ups and sit-ups. I also pace the room and count each step. Some I know lie down on their beds for three hours on their left side, three hours on their right, and three on their back."

—Humans are social animals, and though he remained in top physical shape, years of solitary created health and psychological problems that made interaction difficult for Bronson."[96]

In October 1996 Bronson was unsettled as he had an unexpected visit from Robert Taylor, instead of his regular lawyer.[97] He took Taylor hostage, but released him 30 minutes later after coming to his senses; Taylor refused to press charges.[98]

In January 1999, he took Phil Danielson, a civilian education worker, hostage.[99] He targeted Danielson as he criticised one of Bronson's drawings.[100] Bronson tore up the prison, throwing refrigeration units and furniture around, and was shocked and knocked unconscious for a few minutes when wrenching a washing machine out of the wall.[101] The siege lasted for 44 hours before he released Danielson, and he was transferred to Whitemoor.[102] Bronson received a discretionary life sentence with a three-year tariff for the incident.[103] Later in 1999 a special prison unit was set up at Woodhill for Bronson, Robert Maudsley and Reginald Wilson, to reduce the risk they posed to staff and other prisoners.[104]

In 2007, two prison staff members at Full Sutton high security dispersal prison in the East Riding of Yorkshire were involved in a "control and restraint incident", in an attempt to prevent another hostage situation, during which Bronson had his glasses broken. Bronson received £200 compensation for his broken glasses.[105]

Bronson remained a Category A prisoner when he was moved to Wakefield High-Security Prison.[105] He was due for a parole hearing in September 2008, but this was postponed when his lawyer objected to a one-hour parole interview, requesting a full day to deal with Bronson's case.[106] The parole hearing took place on 11 March 2009 and parole was refused shortly afterwards.[107] The Parole Board said that Bronson had not proved he was a reformed character.[108]

In 2013, he was moved to Woodhill prison.[109] However, shortly after being accused of assaulting a governor he was moved back to HMP Wakefield, in March 2014.[110] On 17 May 2014, he attacked prison officers at HM Prison Full Sutton after hearing about the result of the 2014 FA Cup Final. In the process of restraining him, Bronson suffered some broken ribs. However, this was refuted by Bronsons legal team and branded as a 'non-incident'.[111]

Personal life[edit]

First marriage[edit]

Bronson met his first wife, Irene, in 1971, when he was still called Michael Peterson. Irene remembers that he "was so different from any other boys I knew. He always wore tailored suits, had perfectly-groomed sideburns and a Cockney accent."[112] Eight months later, when Irene was four months pregnant, they married at Chester Register Office in 1972. Five years later they divorced and Irene later remarried.[112]

Second marriage and second name change[edit]

In 2001, Bronson married again, this time in HMP Woodhill to Fatema Saira Rehman, a Bangladeshi-born divorcee[113] who had seen his picture in a newspaper and begun writing to him. Rehman had visited Bronson ten times before their wedding.[114][115] She had worked at a women's shelter before their meeting, but lost her job when her employer found out about the relationship.[116] For a short time, Bronson converted to his wife's faith of Islam, and wished to be known as Charles Ali Ahmed. After four years he and Rehman divorced.[112] Rehman has since given many interviews regarding her short marriage to Bronson, portraying him in a negative light. In one interview she was quoted as saying, "He fooled me – he is nothing but an abusive, racist thug."[99]

Occupations and projects[edit]

While in prison, Bronson has developed an extreme fitness regime and claims he can still do 172 press-ups in 60 seconds and 94 press-ups in 30 seconds.[117] In 2002, he published the book Solitary Fitness, detailing an individual training process with minimal resources and space.[118]

I'm the king of the press-ups and the sit-ups. I've already said I once did 25 press-ups with two men on my back, and I've squatted with three men on my shoulders! I've been making prison fitness records for as long as I can remember. Show me another man – a man half my age – who can pick up a full-size snooker table. I can. Show me another guy who can rip out 1,727 press-ups in an hour. I can ... I once went eight years without using weights, then I went into a gym and bench pressed 300lb ten times. I'm 5ft 11in, I weigh 220lb and I feel as strong as did when I was 21 ... There's something deep inside me that pushes me on. I'm a solitary fitness survivor."

—Writing in 2000, Bronson describes the outcome of years of training in the confined spaces in prison.[119]

For the past ten years, Bronson has occupied himself by writing poetry and producing pieces of art; he has had eleven books published, including in 2008 his only self-penned book Loonyology: In My Own Words. He has won 11 Koestler Trust Awards for his poetry and art.[120]

On 28 April 2010, BBC News reported that artwork by Bronson was displayed on the London Underground at Angel tube station from 26 April 2010 for two weeks. The display was organised by Art Below, which is unrelated to the official Transport For London art program, and there is controversy over whether it should have been shown.[121] His work has since been removed by an unknown party.[122]

Film of Bronson's life[edit]

Bronson, which loosely follows Bronson's life, was released in Britain on 13 March 2009. It stars Tom Hardy in the eponymous role, and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.[123] Controversy was caused at the première when a recording of Bronson's voice was played with no prior permission granted by officers at HM Prison Service, who called for an inquiry into how the recording had been made.[124] Before 2011, Bronson had initially been refused access to the film, but on 15 November, he was granted permission to view it. Describing it as "theatrical, creative and brilliance", Bronson heaped praise upon his portrayer, Hardy, but disagreed on the implied distance between himself and his father and the portrayal of Paul Edmunds as "a bit of a ponce". Nevertheless, he challenged his own family's reaction to the portrayal of his Uncle Jack, stating that he "loved" it, as would have Jack himself.[125]

Release campaign[edit]

In 2009, the new landlord of a pub a mile from HMP Wakefield where Bronson was held at the time, renamed it the Free Bronson Bar as part of the campaign to release him.[126]

In August 2013 a petition with 10,000 signatures was presented to 10 Downing Street calling for his release.[127]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

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  122. ^ "Charles Bronson artwork removed from London Underground". London: BBC. 28 April 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  123. ^ "Bronson (2009)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  124. ^ "Bronson heard at movie premiere". BBC News. 10 March 2009. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  125. ^ http://thecharliebronsonappealfund.co.uk/#/charlies-reaction-to-bronson/4557668873
  126. ^ "Pub tribute for Bronson". Sunday People. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  127. ^ The Independent Campaigners urge Downing Street to move to release 'Britain's most violent prisoner' Charles Bronson 31 August 2013

N.B. The above quotes "Bronson 2000" are taken from:

External links[edit]