“I miss prison in a way”

Duncan Campbell reported for The Guardian of 23 Jan 2016:

“…they are in the French press, “le gang du papys” (the grandads’ gang). The men accused of taking part in the most spectacular British crime of this decade, the theft of an estimated £14m worth of diamonds, gold, jewellery and cash from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company over the Easter weekend of 2015. Some of them are hard of hearing and strain to catch what the judge is saying…

The trial lasts longer than predicted. The evidence is mainly circumstantial: CCTV footage of a meeting in a pub car park in Enfield, ambiguous telephone conversations after the burglary. There are moments of levity: when Bill Lincoln is giving evidence about his alibi (buying fish at Billingsgate market on Good Friday), it transpires that he is known by friends as “Billy the Fish”; James Creighton, the mate he meets when he has his regular Turkish bath, and who gives evidence on his behalf, is known as “Jimmy Two Baths”. Both men, we learn, like “schmeissing”, a robust form of massage.

Carl Wood explains his association with Danny Jones by saying that they liked to go on walks where they would talk about “man things: boxing, keep fit, animals, hobbies”. Jones, we learn, liked wearing a fez and talking to his dog, Rocket. Doyle talks of his friendship with Kenny Collins and how in the past he had drunk with him, Perkins and Brian Reader in a pub called the Harlequin behind Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in London. Wood, Lincoln, Harbinson and Doyle deny any involvement, and are backed by their wives and partners in the witness box.

It’s hard to tell which way the jury will vote. On 14 January, we find out. Harbinson is found not guilty; the other three are convicted and will be sentenced on 7 March. Doyle was back at work fixing boilers this week, and when I spoke to him was as puzzled as many who watched the trial as to why he was convicted. As for Basil, one of the flying squad officers told me in court that they genuinely don’t know who or where he is.

The Hatton Garden burglars will swell the number of pensioners in prison; last year, the numbers of over-60s inside passed 4,000 for the first time, twice the number a decade ago. A few years back, I spoke to the former armed robber Patsy Feeley, who had suffered a stroke and was in a care home. “I miss prison in a way,” he said. “You know where you stand there. In care homes, it’s different.” At night in jail, he recalled, you could say goodnight to your friends and know that you would see them again the next morning. In care homes, there was a much smaller pool of people to get to know. The food was better in jail, too.

There will be books. In those bugged conversations, Jones remarks to Perkins, “What a book you could write!” In The League Of Gentlemen, the 1960 film starring Jack Hawkins, about a team of disgruntled ex-servicemen who carry out a robbery, there is a scene in which, as arrests become inevitable, one robber tells another, “Give them their money’s worth at the trial and then flog your memoirs to the Sunday papers.” In those days, you could do that. Under the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act, criminals are now officially forbidden from profiting from their crimes by writing about them. But if you can find your way through a 50cm-thick wall, you can probably find your way through a loophole. Meanwhile the underworld rumour mill busies itself about what past crimes the gang might have committed, which “moll” grassed them up, and how Basil’s identity was kept secret.”

And, of course, there will be a movie. Carl Wood’s barrister, Nicholas Corsellis, in his closing address to the jury, suggested it might be called Bad Grandpas; this week British distributors Metrodome told Screen International that they were planning to make it. Meanwhile, Dad’s Army is being released as a feature film next month, with some of our finest senior actors involved. Perhaps, when they are decommissioned, they could slip into the roles of Perkins, Jones, Collins, Reader et al. And possibly John Cleese as Basil? There will be a fez, an episode in a Turkish baths, lots of drilling – and I’m willing to bet the first scene involves a graveyard and plenty of diamonds.”

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