Unsafe convictions, p.11

Unsafe Convictions, page 11


Unsafe Convictions

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  Julie remembered his gravelly voice, his own enjoyment of the linguistic pitfalls which upended everyone’s best efforts, and the small acts of kindness and consideration he offered whenever he saw her out with Kathy. He made the cafe opposite the old dye mill into a patch of home soil, beguiling the local palate with strange concoctions of stewed meat and vegetables, light-as-air pastries, and dark, chewy breads. To Julie, it had never lost that atmosphere, even though Muriel now served sandwiches of white sliced bread, cheese or beans or egg, or all three together, on toast, pots of tea with tea-leaves, instant coffee made with hot milk, jam-sponge or syrup-sponge pudding with runny yellow custard, and the home-made chocolate cake, fruit pie, crumbly scones, and nutmeg-dusted egg custard her four daughters supplied with precise regularity.

  Muriel tolerated custom from the Willows because it stoked up the takings now the dye mill’s regular trade was a thing of the past, but her sharp old eyes were always on the watch. She tolerated Julie, but never welcomed her. Her memory was too long, and as sharp as the eyes in her seamed face, and Julie often thought she probably knew all about the trade in another kind of sustenance that had passed between Kathy and the Hungarian.

  Part Five

  Tuesday, 2nd February


  Chapter One

  McKenna parked in the visitors’ car-park at Longmoor and headed for the gatehouse postern, looking up at the endless length of inwardly curving wall, the inner defence of a great snarl of barbed wire just visible above the top. He was admitted to a small chamber surrounded by bullet-proof glass, where he and his identification were rigorously scrutinised, before being escorted to the deputy governor’s office via clanking keys and automatic steel doors. The doors opened with a sigh and closed behind him with a sucking of air and a sough like the wind, and he relished the thought that even Smith, for all his posturings and his arrogance, must have felt a stabbing, panic-inducing hopelessness as one after another of the impenetrable exits shut behind him, seemingly for many years.

  Shaking hands with Noel Cooper, the deputy governor, he said: ‘Thank you for seeing me at such short notice. Smith’s time here is probably not relevant to my investigation, but I like to be thorough.’

  ‘What happens if you turn up evidence pointing towards that poor woman’s killer?’ Cooper asked.

  ‘We hand it over, and the investigation would be reopened.’

  ‘Pity Smith can’t be tried twice for the same offence, isn’t it?’ Cooper commented. ‘Still, there’ll be another opportunity to put him away, if our experience is any indication.’

  ‘Don’t you think he attracts a rather unreasonable level of condemnation?’ McKenna suggested. ‘Marital violence is a commonplace and, while it’s unacceptable, there are usually reasons why it occurs.’

  ‘And were we prejudiced before he even set foot in his cell?’ asked Cooper. ‘Even if we were, there was no gainsaying his impact. Misfortune followed him like it was his own shadow, but it always affected others, never him. He loves conflict, and he’s exceedingly manipulative. He’s got a bad aura, which is probably why his past is littered with violent deaths and tragedy. And I fully expect his future to be the same, if not worse. His confidence will be impregnable now.’

  ‘Not one of your more popular inmates, then,’ McKenna said, rather taken aback by Cooper’s vehement dislike.

  ‘You and I both know that tension virtually drips from the walls in a lifers’ unit. We have to be constantly on the alert for inmate attacks, attacks on officers, and suicide attempts. Our mix is always volatile, but there was an almost universal sigh of relief when Smith went, and a marked reduction of tension in all quarters.’ Doodling on his blotter, the deputy governor added: ‘The only person who was sorry to see the back of him was one of our lady counsellors.’ He gestured to a stack of files on the side of his desk. ‘I’ve had permission to give you copy documentation relating to his residence, although I expect you’re already awash in a sea of paper. Anyhow, I included her reports, as well as the psychologist’s and a psychiatric evaluation carried out on his recommendation.’

  ‘Anything useful in them?’

  ‘I can give you a run-down of the counselling reports. In many ways they’re just an extension of the rubbish that was in the paper today,’ Cooper said. ‘Same tune on a different violin.’ He took the top file from the stack. ‘I highlighted the relevant bits.’ He handed over the documents, and sat back in his chair, gazing through the window.

  His attention directed only to the blocks of words stressed in fluorescent yellow, McKenna leafed through the many pages of reports on

  Piers Stanton Smith, Category B Life Prisoner (no minimum specified period)

  Initially — extremely withdrawn — breakthrough interview — four months into sentence — probably — first opportunity to talk about himself — deepest fears — feelings

  His childhood — dreadful — impact of being reared by — mother where — no counterbalancing influences — cannot be overstated — near revelation when — realised — person does not need to be conscious of emotion to experience its effects — discussed — grief — terror — shame —chronic anxiety

  He said — felt like person with terminal illness — ‘illness’ himself — evidence of disturbingly negative self-image — the possibility of self-harm must be considered

  He has — avid desire to learn — make up for inadequate general education — realise person within himself — motivation vacillates — prone to bouts of depression — I suggested anti-depressant therapy — very resistant — mother took pills

  To say — obsessed with childhood — not —overstatement — children who live with fear, violence depravity absorb — even replicate behaviour in later life. It is not their fault — but must — grow towards acceptable levels of functioning

  Initial settling-in period — extraordinarily difficult for life prisoners — moods appeared stabilise — periods of extreme despondency —wife’s efforts to secure appeal — inclined to self-doubt — depressed emotions after her visits

  He has spoken at length of first wife — horrified recognition — near clone of mother — possibility unconsciously drawn to similar women on ‘devil you know’ basis — despite admitting — became —terrorised by first wife’s conduct — fantasised about her death — his liberation — adamant innocent of murder — maintains hope — evidence to clear

  Of second wife — wholly uncritical sufficiently mature to meet his emotional needs — aware personalities involved in relationships hold potential — create harmony — discord — violence —calm — referred to philosophical ‘third entity’ —Beryl brings out best — Trisha brought out worst — violence offered Trisha — rooted in deep feelings of inadequacy — she — very immature personality — easily waylaid by transient emotions — his fear provoked panic attacks containing violence


  1 Work prison library — continue — additional responsibilities

  2 A programme teaching literacy skills — other prisoners

  3 Support Open University degree course

  4 Formal psychological counselling —including Transactional Analysis —Cognitive Therapy

  5 Continued oversight — recognition of circumstances where self-harm might occur. Self-harm — way — expressing externalising inner anguish — much still troubles this man — I see generalised suffering — morbid social phobia embracing most social contacts inhibiting, generalised anxiety state characterised by disproportionate apprehension

  ‘Her offerings are all pretty much the same,’ Cooper said, when McKenna closed the file. ‘But you should read the psychologist’s reports, especially the one for annual review. He took against Smith with a vengeance, but only after Smith threatened him. Our anti-hero reverted to type when the psychologist challenged him about yet another death-by-fire he’d discovered. That little outburst cost Smith twenty-eight days’ loss of privileges, and me an ear-bashing about “draconian and inap
propriate sanctions” from the counsellor.’

  ‘Did you have any contact with Beryl? I see she visited at every opportunity.’

  ‘I had a lot of contact with Mrs Stanton Smith the second,’ replied Cooper. ‘And I also received letters of complaint from her on a regular basis. She wanted his sensitive and artistic soul shielded from the rough and tumble of prison life. So did the priest.’ Frowning at his visitor, he added: ‘Father Fauvel made nine visits here: I checked with the visitors’ log before you came; so it beats me why he never mentioned the other priest’s letter, at least once.’

  ‘He didn’t mention it at the trial, either. We intend to ask him to explain his lapses.’

  ‘Well, I doubt if you’ll get very far. He’s too smooth; one of those Teflon-coated individuals.’

  ‘You mentioned a psychiatric evaluation,’ McKenna reminded him. ‘What was the opinion?’

  ‘No specific or treatable mental illness. In other words, Smith’s a sociopath. Have you met him yet?’

  McKenna shook his head. ‘And unless he features in our inquiries, I don’t intend to do so.’

  ‘You’re a wise man.’ Cooper smiled. ‘By the way, d’you know when his mother died? The psychologist got a bee in his bonnet about the late Mrs Smith. He contacted the Registrar’s office in Sheffield, but they had no record of her demise.’

  ‘Sheffield police tried to find her before the trial, but found another old woman living at the last known address. She was called Sheridan, if I remember correctly. She showed them her pension book.’

  ‘Didn’t she know where Bunty Smith had gone?’

  ‘Said she’d never heard of her. Mrs Smith could have moved elsewhere, of course, or even followed her son’s example, and changed her name.’

  ‘A dead end, then,’ Cooper said.

  ‘Not necessarily. The National Insurance Register in Newcastle should have a record of her death.’


  On the road from Longmoor to the motorway, McKenna passed an ancient-looking wayside inn, and decided to treat himself to a hot pie and a tot or two of warming spirits. Feet up on the brass fender around the log fire in the pub snug, he took out the psychology report Cooper had recommended.

  1 Following conviction and allocation, Smith was assessed on arrival and judged fit for non-segregation and work

  2 Following referral for counselling, concerns were voiced about the possibility of self-harm: in my opinion, based on Smith’s presentation and the absence of precedent, a serious suicide attempt is remote. Although the usual supervision must obtain, I believe such behaviour would be purely attention-seeking, or, more probably, designed to escape the consequences of some mischief. Additionally, Smith is too self-centred and vain to wreak any significant damage upon his person

  3 Prior to completion of this report, I have conducted seven separate interviews with Smith, observed him during recreation, association and work periods, and discussed his functioning with unit staff

  4 Since his admission, there have been several unexplained incidents where other prisoners suffered injury, or appeared very fearful. No reasonable explanation has emerged, and unit staff are worried by the increase in random and unpleasant accidents, and the overall tightening of tension. Smith progressed through the internal hierarchy very swiftly and with considerable ease, and now occupies a position of power, which bespeaks a personality very different from the passive, damaged, timid, and often humble individual presented to officers and professional staff. In observing Smith with other prisoners, I note that even the most notoriously violent and confident studiously avoid irritating him: others defer to him, but in the manner of those hoping to appease a dangerous animal

  5 During the first course of interviews, Smith was intent on discussing what he presented as a dreadful childhood and adolescence at the hands of an horrendous mother, sneering teachers, wicked neighbours and their evil offspring, expertly weaving references to his allegedly savage past into every sentence. He presented himself as a victim of the world, and I had the distinct impression he expected me to be seduced into unquestioning and uncritical sympathy. That is not my role, and I explained to him that he was unlikely to make any psychological or personal progress without first examining his own input into these interpersonal relationships. He responded by becoming very angry very quickly, and this was not feigned: I reached a tentative conclusion at that point, which was only reinforced by subsequent contact, that if the self-image Smith wishes to present is criticised or threatened, he will fast resort to aggression

  6 Attempts to provoke Smith to discuss the feelings and anxieties of others were invariably fruitless. He is profoundly self-absorbed, self-regarding and narcissistic, and has almost perfected the art of self-satisfaction, at whatever cost to others, clothing it with sickly, hypocritical affectations of humility when necessary. He is prone to abuse those weaker or less ruthless than himself, as is evident from the history of assaults on his first wife, and I suggest that obvious weakness in others is likely to make him even more vicious and exploitative. He is power-hungry and tyrannical and, like all tyrants, driven to extremes of outrageous behaviour if thwarted or challenged. Experience has taught him that people can be bullied and terrorised into meeting his needs and adapting to his ways of thinking. Some even conveniently die to appease or please him. Belief in that level of power is the victim of its own success

  7 Discussions about his mother and his first wife never advanced from first base, which was the basis Smith insisted on adopting, telling me he must be unconsciously drawn to such women through conditioning. The monstrous aspects of both women were embellished with each telling, and thus their responsibility for what happened to them at his hands grew apace. He suggested that the abuse of his first wife was a hangover of unsatisfied feelings towards his mother: in plain language, he would have been justified in punishing his mother, but battered his wife instead. He also claimed that having been reared with violence, it was inevitably absorbed into his own functioning, and went on to say that his change of name and ‘rewritten’ early biography were a means of escaping the depravity of his childhood, before that too became psychologically intrinsic. He admitted to periods of emotional disturbance, when the chains of the past threatened to pull him back, and said he felt terribly guilty about things he may have done during such times when he was not in control of himself. However, each admission of violence or cruelty was attached to blame for the victim, and all his conduct was thus projected. I lost count of the times he stated: ‘it wasn’t my fault’, ‘I couldn’t help it’, ‘she made me do it’: every person within his orbit, particularly the women, was unbelievably wanting, and provocative of their own misery

  8 In later interviews, after Smith realised I would not enter into his games, he became surly and monosyllabic, and could present as exceedingly insolent. Violence occurred during the last interview, since when he has refused to see me. On that occasion I had obtained child psychological and school reports, and particularly those from the period following the death of his teacher, when the school felt he was in need of trauma counselling. Starting with the teacher’s death, I tried to get Smith to discuss the startling catalogue of deaths by fire in his history, and he refused. I then tried to discuss some comment made at the time by the educational psychologist, who had expressed fears about the implications of his seeming divorce from reality. This issue arose when it became clear that Smith’s presentation of his home circumstances was untrue. The psychologist visited Mrs Smith, and found the home, although sparsely furnished, to be clean and tidy, as was Mrs Smith. She worked hard, and was herself on friendly terms with several neighbours, one of whom had previously looked after Smith in the period between his return from school and Mrs Smith’s return from work. That arrangement ceased after the family’s pet dog, a small mongrel, went missing one afternoon, to be found later that night impaled on a piece of railing stuck in the ground. While still alive, the dog had been doused in petrol and set alight. Two children from
a tenement block which overlooked the area identified Smith as the culprit, but although the matter was reported to the police, no action ensued. Other children in the area disclosed their own fears to the police, stating that Smith bullied and hit them, and was always playing with matches. The issue of Smith’s personal cleanliness was explored with his mother, who reluctantly disclosed that the child was wilfully dirty. He wet his bed, but would not wash himself, and refused to wash his hair or clean his teeth. If she tried to force him, he attacked her, biting and kicking and, on one occasion, thumped her so hard on the side of the head she passed out. Mrs Smith put forward the view that his behaviour had deteriorated even more since he spent several weeks in a children’s home while she was in hospital, and she was of the opinion that he was hoping to engineer another admission. He had received toys and new clothes from the home, and since his return, demanded luxuries she could not afford. It was when I broached these matters with him that the violence erupted. His face suffused with rage, and he jumped to his feet and began to smash whatever was within reach. He then leaned over my desk, issued various threats, and stormed out of the room

  9 At his trial, the issue of Smith’s sexual orientation was raised, but I do not recall more than doubt and innuendo. In early interviews he was more than willing to discuss the extremely unsatisfactory sexual relationship which allegedly existed in his first marriage, citing his wife’s traumatised response to childhood sexual abuse as the reason. Again, there appears to he no evidence that his wife was abused, and no other source to the claim apart from Smith. From another viewpoint, if the attack on his wife which apparently triggered her action for divorce was typical, it is hardly surprising she should reject a sexual relationship. Smith admitted to that attack (he had no option), but again resorted to rationalisation, presenting me with a textbook Freudian response, to the effect that he lashed out despite himself out of a deep-rooted fear of her capacity to emasculate him. He also suggested that when she collapsed in front of him, he was terrified she might die and therefore abandon him, and again lashed out in fear, to rouse her. At this point he said he thought Transactional Analysis might well enable him to unravel his confusions. My suggestion that he kicked her in the genitals because it was the most humiliating and painful mode of attack he could devise upon a woman was met with outrage, then floods of tears. He even began to hit himself about the head, and to thump his chest, but there were no marks on his flesh. He is guileful in the extreme: he admits to these outrageous acts, then invites sympathy and compassion because he has been forced to suffer their pain. During this first year, he appears to have gleaned a quite considerable knowledge of psychology, and it is my view that it would be a serious error of judgement for the professionals involved with him to provide any more ammunition, or to pander to his preferred view of himself as world victim: he seems to have a remarkable ability to turn anything and everything to his own advantage. In that, he shows the unvarying characteristics of the true sociopath, for whom egotism and immediate self-gratification are the mainsprings of all action, and who persistently expects the world to adjust to his wants

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