Erwin James

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Erwin James Monahan (born 1957) is a convicted murderer and Guardian journalist. James was released in August 2004 having served 20 years of a life sentence.[1][2] While in prison he wrote a regular column, and continues to write as well as do charity work since his release. While in prison he did not receive fees for his articles; instead the fees were paid to the charity, the Prisoners' Advice Service, which had helped him.[3]


James's mother died in a car crash when he was aged 7, he was separated from his sister when she was 2 years old, and his father was a violent alcoholic. He committed his first crime aged 10. When he was imprisoned, he was given a rap-sheet which listed at least 51 criminal convictions, including, other than two murders, burglary, theft, criminal damage, assault and mugging. He spent two years in the French Foreign Legion while on the run, but turned himself in when he learned he was wanted by British police.[4] [5]For the majority of the time during which James wrote for the paper, the circumstances leading to his arrest and conviction were not revealed.

In April 2009 his full name became public.[6] James had been convicted alongside his co-accused William Ross, whom he met in a London squat, of murdering theatrical agent Greville Hallam and solicitor Angus Cochran in 1982. Hallam was found strangled in his home in London. Cochran died in a separate incident (which took place three months later) after being mugged. He attributes his redemption to the care and encouragement of Joan Branton, who worked as a prison psychologist in Wakefield prison.[5]


James and Ross both pleaded not guilty to murder on both charges, each blaming the other for the killings. Another man implicated in the murders, Paul Dunwell, avoided prosecution by agreeing to give evidence for the prosecution against the pair. James and Ross were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. William Ross was released from prison to a hostel in March 2014.

Following the murders, James fled to France and joined the French Foreign Legion, serving in Corsica. After receiving information from Ross, James was traced by Scotland Yard and, in August 1984, handed himself in to the British Consul in Nice.

The Old Bailey judge, Justice Otton, described James as "brutal, vicious and callous" and sentenced him to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 14 years, subsequently increased to 25 years by the Home Secretary.[7]

Writing life[edit]

In January 2006, James wrote an article for G2, the Guardian daily supplement, recalling his time in the Legion.[8] In 2009 he admitted that he had fabricated the paragraph detailing his experiences in Beirut as he had not, in fact, served there.[9]

Of his crimes, Erwin wrote in his April 2009 apologia in the Guardian's G2 section that "my behaviour was unforgivable and I seek no forgiveness now."[6]

Published works[edit]

  • A Life Inside: A prisoner's notebook (2003)
  • The Home Stretch: From prison to parole (2005)
  • The Open University - Guest Speaker, "Does Prison Work?" (2005)
  • Redeemable - A Memoir of Darkness and Hope (2016)


  1. ^ Mayes, Ian (2003-08-02). "The inside story". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  2. ^ James, Erwin (2 October 2007). "Erwin James". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  3. ^ Mayes, Ian (19 May 2001). "Inside story". The Guardian. London. 
  4. ^ With Philip Adams,'Can prison Life Bring Redemption' Late Night Live 16 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b Erwin James,'She made me believe I was redeemable’: A convicted murderer on the woman who turned his life around,' Daily Mail 31 January 2016.
  6. ^ a b "The real me", Erwin James, The Guardian, Friday 24 April 2009
  7. ^ Katz, Ian (2009-04-24). "The Guardian and Erwin James". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  8. ^ The Guardian; Legion of honour; Erwin James; 13 January 2006
  9. ^ "Open door: The readers' editor on... truth and fiction in a writer's life story". The Guardian. 27 April 2009.