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Friday, August 06, 2010

Inside Time, Noel Smith and Jailhouselawyer using words as weapons

Inside Time, Noel Smith and Jailhouselawyer using words as weapons

I used to like reading books in prison as it helped to pass time. Sometimes I have read up to six books in a day, which doesn’t help much if the prison library only allowed each inmate six books a week! Therefore, I would tend to go for thick biographies or sagas rather than the 70,000 word Western or Crime thriller. Sometimes the choice was very limited in the Segregation Units; therefore I would have to read the Penny Dreadfuls. In this latter category I would put such as A Rusty Gun by Noel “Razor” Smith. I would even go as far as saying that inflicting it upon other prisoners is like a “cruel and unusual” punishment! Perhaps, that is going a bit too far. However, I do feel that the publishers should put an Alert on the front cover e.g.

I am not alone with my opinions on Noel Smith. Noel Who? You may well ask. I know the name because I have seen it on articles and letters I have read over the years in Inside Time – the National Newspaper for Prisoners. But I do not ever recall his name being mentioned by any other prisoners. This would tend to suggest that he is a non entity in the prison world. A legend in his own mind. Recently, it has come to my notice that plain Noel Smith is selling what he has to say. Andrew Anthony in The Observer accuses Smith of being disingenuous and misleading and glamorising bank robbers.

I have come across gangsters, and those I describe as “plastic gangsters”, “cardboard gangsters” and “tissue gangsters”. I would not describe Noel Smith as a gangster. For me the top ones were such as The Krays and Richardson Gang, then there are those who are lesser known to the general public but nevertheless a face in the Underworld. I have met many of these over my 35 years in prison. Generally speaking, I would describe them as being ‘perfect gentlemen’ towards me. That is not to say that some people would view the Krays or Frankie Fraser differently. If they treated me with respect I was happy. I trod a path between The Krays and Richardson Gang without favouring either side in their personal conflict.

Quite early into my life sentence I went to Long Lartin. I was down the Seg Unit and stood at the window listening to the two gangsters either side of me talking. One says to the other, “Have you heard soandso is in again?” “Yeah”. “This time it’s for kiddies”. “Yeah, I know. But, he’s ‘one of the lads’ isn’t he?”. “Yeah”. I kept my own counsel but did wonder, at the time, ‘What happened to the “Code of Honour”’?

There is a hierarchy in the prison world, and for many prisoners and staff the child sex offender or “nonce” is lowest of the low. However prison being the Topsy-Turvy World that it is, I have seen gangsters having to tolerate sex offenders in Wakefield Prison, where the jail’s population is 80% + sex offenders. And some of them were also hard bastard’s having pumped themselves up in the gym. There is something of a North/South divide in prisons. ‘Up North’ it tends to be very much a question of ‘Put up, or shut up’, where as ‘Dar’n Sarf ’ it is more about putting on a face, and they get worried about losing face. Impressions and grim reality. Self importance and how they wish to be perceived by their peers, against those who don’t give a fuck what others think and say.

There was a time when there was more crime per capita in Leeds than in London. I recall at that time that the Krays sought to extend their empire. They were met at the City Station in Leeds, by the Leeds Mob, and encouraged, in no uncertain terms, to get straight back on the train for the return journey. I am aware that they also met rebuffs in Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. The Leeds Mob and Manchester Firm had very close ties in spite of The Pennines, and War of the Roses. I would sometimes pop over there if George “The Greek” Pantelli was having a problem with his clubs.

I don’t know if the “Razor” between Noel and Smith is self nicknamed or whether it was given to him by someone else. The use of it by Noel Smith did make me think it is a 60s throwback. Anthony Andrews also questions whether it is really necessary in this day and age and whether it is time for Noel Smith to grow up: “Still, it would be nice to think that Smith, as a writer, will eventually escape the imprisonment of his past. It's early days – he's only recently been released – but if he were drop the "Razor" from his name, it would represent a significant step on a long, hard road to freedom”.

Noel Smith has entered the public arena; will he be able to hack it? Having decided to express his opinions publicly, he is sticking his head above the parapet. There will be those who will take shots at him just for daring to speak out, attacking the player and not the ball. Foul! There again, there is the fair tackle – even if the writer and his supporters don’t like what has been said. Tough shit! I think I have read that Noel Smith does not pull his punches, if this is the case then he at least has this in common with Ben Gunn and myself who have also had this said about us by journalists. However, Ben and I are very much into the Association of Prisoners whereas in one respect Noel Smith has more in common with the Prison Officer’s Association. I refer to “The Prison Officers' Association has called for an investigation into the murder of an inmate at Grendon Prison, claiming that government cuts are jeopardising the Buckinghamshire jail's ability to treat some of the penal system's most difficult prisoners”. Noel Smith has written or said the same thing. Peter Bennett, the Governor of Grendon Underwood, is a very good friend of mine and he disputes the claims made by both the POA and Noel Smith.

I did at one stage of my sentence wonder if I might be able to get into Grendon Underwood to benefit from its therapeutic regime, however, I was informed that with my record I did not stand a cat in hell’s chance of being selected. Mark Leech managed to get selected as did Noel Smith, and both have made use of their time there not to reoffend. Whereas the former is still a despicable character and a conman, at least the latter is no longer robbing banks, and even I, in spite of criticising him, would not put him in the same category as Leech. That has to be a positive. I think his holier than thou attitude stinks. It’s a bit like Jonathan Aitken and his ‘Sword of Truth’. Now Aitken is claiming that he is no longer the nasty Tory, but his connection with Stuart Mitson, the disgraced ex-Director of Rye Hill Prison, stinks to high heaven! I was disappointed Erwin James chose to be associated with the Centre for Social Justice task force. Then there was his being caught out in a lie by someone on the internet. For me, it was his admission in The Fear Factory that he used to assault prisoners on behalf of prison officers that I cannot forgive. Even though I give him the credit for his honesty on this occasion. But, we all have something in our past we would prefer not to talk about. Including me. So, I still have time for Erwin James. I have time for Noel Smith. Still, he cannot expect me to buy his bullshit and take it for gospel.

Each prisoner serves his own time and no two sentences are the same for every individual. “Smith has a habit of referring to his enormous sentence. With "eight life sentences plus 80 years to serve," he writes, "I had nothing but time." In fact, once parole was taken into account, he served less than seven years before he was released. That's still a long time to be incarcerated, but it's Smith's job to capture that passage of time rather than trade on the absurdity of sentencing language”. I am reminded of my first encounter with Paddy Hill of Birmingham 6 fame when I went to Long Lartin. He was complaining about the level of volume on my record player on a Saturday or Sunday morning. I didn’t think it was too loud, but he took exception to it. He confronted me with, “I’m Paddy Hill, and I’m doing 21 lifes. Turn the fucking thing down!” I replied, “I’m John Hirst, I’m only doing one life. You can only die once. Fuck off!”. And he did, I made a mental note, as he walked off tail between his legs, ‘He isn’t IRA!’. It also reminds me of the character in Frankland, nicknamed “Wild Bill Hickock” (because he looked like him) whom his trial judge had described as highly dangerous. He made the mistake of believing this, and made it known he intended putting Frankland on the map. This made some characters nervous and one such paranoid character decided to take him out of the game by wrapping a PP9 in a sock over his head! There is a danger in over blowing one’s reputation out of all proportions to what it really is.

Noel Smith refers to John McVicar as being “an old friend” of his. I recall walking around the exercise yard in Gartree Seg Unit with Jimmy Stevens, a big-time London gangster, when an inmate approached us and said to Jimmy “John McVicar sends his regards”. Jimmy replied “John Who? I don’t know him, and from what I’ve heard I don’t want to know him”. I don’t know McVicar, either, but I have also heard he escaped out of someone else’s tunnel when he was in Duram Prison. That’s out of order! I take issue with Noel Smith’s piece in the Times Books 31 July 2010. I don’t know him personally, however, there are parts of his story that I don’t believe are true. Hence my accusation that he is a Walter Mitty character. I am reminded about our table at Kirklevington Garnge Prison, four lifers, and it was out of the question to try and bullshit each other as we would just exchange glances and burst into laughter. I would stick my leg out (as in pull the other one) and go “Ding-a-ling”. When I didn’t want to admit a point I might get annoyed or embarrassed. Sometimes the comments and humour could be quite cutting. But they were not out of order. Part and parcel of the politics of life. In the same way that Tory Tosser is used on the internet, I think nothing of using it when I think it deserves it. By the same token, my calling Noel Smith a tosser, in my view, is justified. It is being dismissive of him in the same way he dismisses others.

Noel Smith emailed me to let me know of his displeasure at what I had written about him on my blog. This was followed by an email from John Roberts defending his new employee. I was amused by John Roberts stating that he thought what I had written was out of order as well. How can what I write on my own blog be out of order? Who’s order? I don’t work for John Roberts or Inside Time. I write and publish what I like. It’s called freedom of speech. At least I do not have to take into account the wishes of the POA when publishing, whereas I recall Inside Time censoring itself from cartoons featuring prison officers. And, not long ago it censored a cartoon because it was thought it might upset Muslim prisoners. My policy is only apologising when it is clearly shown that what I have written is factually incorrect. For example, I refused to withdraw my accusations that Iain Dale is both a hypocrite and a liar because I knew for a fact the accusations are true. The truth hurt him, but it was not out of order. What is out of order is John Roberts trying to dictate what is acceptable on a section of the media he has no editorial control over! It reminds me when I used to hear Cockney Gangsters saying “That’s bang out of order, that is”, ‘under who’s rules?’ I would wonder. It was usually some unwritten rule. There’s the saying “rules are meant to be broken”, and a rule is only any good if it can be enforced. Whatever rules there are at Inside Time do not apply on my blog.

What is amusing is that when I used to go from Dispersal to Dispersal Prison, my reputation would go before me. Some of it was true and some of it wasn’t. There was an expectation that one had to live up to the reputation, and there was an element of the Old Wild West about it all. Those trying to take my reputation off me, like gunslingers, and the Sheriff moving me on as if in “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”, and the 8 Dispersals being like Wild West towns and me going around and around in circles. But, then I decided to break this cycle. And, eventually I got out. Some prisoners manage to land on their feet, with the support of others and get a job. I am still unemployed after 5 years, and this pisses me off. It may be what frightens them is that I am considered a loose cannon or Maverick. Certainly not a rusty gun, when I hung up mine they were still shiny. I just decided I didn’t want to play that game any more. But, it was not until I almost killed an Acting Senior Officer that I decided I would get out of the Dispersal System and enter Hull Prison’s Special Unit with the “Mad and the Bad, the Difficult and Dangerous”. These were supposed to be the “Worst of the Worst”. There was somebody who thought he was a gangster, when I went into his cell to talk to him he said I was more intimidating than the Krays and Richardson’s put together. A double-killer told me that he couldn’t work me out; I simply replied “Good”. It was, at times, a pressure cooker environment, and although there were 20 cells on the Unit, the staff refused to allow any more than 6 inmates at any one time. Long before the Big Brother on Ch4 there was the little brother of the goldfish bowl and the inmates the guinea pigs in an experiment. Behaviour modification was the name of the game. I saw it as a bit like the Six Million Dollar Man – we can rebuild him. I was transformed from a law breaker to a law-maker. Now, I spend some of my time helping students with their Masters or PhD’s. Peter Bennett has said I used to run rings around him when he was Governor 5 i/c of the Special Unit.

There is, of course, the Prisoners Votes Case and in that I ran rings around the Government’s best lawyers. The political battle is still going on. And given the tabloids coverage of it, I find it laughable that both Noel Smith and John Roberts accuse me of sinking to tabloid level with my criticisms of what Noel Smith has written. I don’t have an axe to grind with Noel Smith. I also happen to think Mark Leech’s biography Child of Circumstances is full of bullshit. I know that John McVicar pulled the wool over some academics eyes, and the film McVicar was entertaining but factually inaccurate. Noel Smith’s account is being seriously questioned by a serious critic and I am a believer in the critical school of Criminology. It takes assumptions and knocks them down. The devil is in the details. In Noel Smith’s account it doesn’t stack up. Perhaps, he is using artistic licence? Whatever, my objection is that he is attempting to insult my intelligence in the same way that the Sun and Daily Mail does with its readers. The problem is that most of their readers appear to be thick if the comments pages are anything to go by. If I had come across his books in prison I would have read them because I am interested in the subject matter. On what I have read so far, I would have tossed the books down on the locker top exclaiming “What a load of bollocks!”. Noel Smith has written what can be best described as time killers. There were some of us inside who preferred the Times, Guardian or Telegraph crossword as a means of killing time.

I would hazard a guess that a problem with Inside Time is like the Prison Service with criticisms, that is, too inward looking. There is a shift in the balance of power, the new media, and the Prisoners Voice and Prisoners Families Voices and there is scope for an alternative newspaper to Inside Time not counting Leech’s ConVerse as being a newspaper in this context. I suppose it is a bit like screws working down the Seg Units who are like a closed shop and feed off each other in the belief that only their way of doing things is the right way. By not selling out I retain my integrity. Certain people who think they are better and more in a position to judge others by their own poor standards ought to think again. I claimed the moral high ground for prisoners and it is the Government’s surrender I am more concerned with than over inflated egos at Inside Time. The posturing reminds me of Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but it is plainly obvious in my view that Inside Time have their blue eyed boys. That's just the impression I get and that of course is my opinion also. I won't slate Andy Thackwrays articles for example, but his 'release' experiences will and do not apply to every con that has been inside. Every ex con has their own circumstances and their own experiences of struggling with release. I think sometimes that the paper is massively biased!

Nicky Pollitt said...

I do enjoy reading Inside Time but if I am honest, there is not enough content for prisoners families in there. It does after all state it's a paper for prisoners and their families? I would like to see more articles in there as families are the most important part of a prisoners life inside. There's no getting away from that........

Essex Bird said...

I agree with Anonymous.. I know lots of people who have written to Inside Time and if anyone writes something controversial, especially about one of the 'Chosen few' it simply doesnt get published. All releases are different for the individual. I wonder how long Mr Smiths' release will last. He's only been out for 8 months in the last 11 years, and the world is a much different place.

Charles Cowling said...

All very interesting and revealing about both Smith and Inside Time. I guess Smith is pressured by his agent/publisher to use the Razor epithet but if his past is really behind him then it's high time to drop it - the more so if it's self-awarded. Smith is interesting and even important, I think, because he writes very well and is therefore plausible and persuasive and seemingly informative. He reaches a big audience. Someone like me could read him and believe. Indeed, the record shows that I did! But I (and lots of others like me) am still unable to differentiate between fact and bullshit. So if you ever feel like coming back to this subject, you won't (in my humble) be wasting your time.

Anonymous said...

I can not believe that someone like razor smith is now on the firm with inside time as when I knew him in whitemoor he was a no body who was never one of the chaps in fact no one took him seriously and all he wrote was bollocks.
He never had a pop at the screws and always got a job in the library like when he was in Highdown. He had no bottle for things like rows or suing them.
My last bit was in the 80s but I know the family of 2 young fellas aidan and chris cahill who are out of Streatham and knew razor and drank with him in Clapham years ago and they say its all in his head and all he ever did was run in and out of a few silly banks nicking a few quid here and a few quid there never across the pavement or security vans and ended up with a bundle of life sentences for mug jobs for which he makes a big deal out of. He had to go to work all the time to get a couple of grand. What does he think he is some kind of gangster. Big deal and what a mug. The Tonbridge job and 53 million quid which got them one life sentence a piece makes my point.
He got lucky and knocked out one or two books and good luck to him making a few quid but if hes so all about nd a face whats he doing running about after a cons paper I think its to do with keeping hiself in the limelight.
I see on the internet that hes now going on about slopping out. He should have tried it in the 50s when bird was bird not the 70s when he was a kid in some kind of kids place and when nicks became a joke. That aint bird any more than what today is any thing like the old days. Who is he trying to impress more silly kids. He must be all of 45 and that makes him look old to a 17 year old. I am now turned 70 and did CT but he wouldn’t know what that is and that was bird.
He should grow up and behave hiself acting the big shot for no one I know has ever heard of him.
My grandson is now doing a lump in full sutton for something a bit nearer the mark than razor smith could only dream about when he was at it and when I was at it as well come to that.
My grandson comes out in just over 3 years time but he wont be writing a book and he has a lot more to say about the things he did and his life and its all true not fanny and I could also put a few things together about the old days not silly make believe teddy boys in 1980s. I had a spell as a real teddy boy but I was a kid and the ones razor goes on about were not the genuine article and like razor just fakes.
How do I know all this. Its cause I see things on the internet and what my grandson tells me that lads in full sutton and long lartin where he was before thinks that razors a joke and taking the piss.
Never mind we live in hard times and may be you have to take what you can get even a fucking dreamer who has made a few quid telling fantasy stories and porkies and on that good luck to him for having an earner.
But it don’t do any good when people find out that you have a fucking dreamer on your hands and i make the voting rights prisoner John Hirst right right what he had to say about smith on the internet that smith is a ledgend in his own head.
Go back to sad boys nick grendon smithy for a bit more therapy.

Anonymous said...

I met razor many years ago and think he is completely right to earn a few pounds of telling his story.His story is all fact from what i remember and he is well respected in prisons in and around london.I think you who are bashing him for writing about it are feeling a bit of the green eyes monster because he has now made a success out of his life.while i understand everyone is entitled to their opinion,claiming that his work is not fact or that he is a no body is untrue,so some of you might not have heard of him,so what,thats just a handfull of people i dont ever remember reading him say that hes some sort of celebrity or that everyone knows him personally.

Anonymous said...

i see this fucking idiot is in the news again. This bloke was alegend in his own cell, i know him personally and can't believe he is still giving out the same old bullshit and getting away with it.Totally agree with the bloke who says it's all in his head, he is a scumbag who has got lucky earning a few quid writing cock and bull stories about himself-lets see how long he lasts in the real world.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Smith... you have really turned your life around... so tell me.. how many times have you been to Southend nick lately?? All this crap about staying straight.. You have already been arrested once since you got out and yet people are still singing your praise, if only they knew what you are really like and how many lives you have ruined and continue to ruin.

Anonymous said...

To the person who wrote the last 2 comments>
You yourself are almost legendary now for you'r internet stalking on noels reviews!a scornfull woman,out for some sort of childish revenge.
There is nothing more commendable then a woman who has had her heart broken and can take some sort of life lesson away from it and hold her head high.on the same hand,there is nothing more self afflicting then a woman who can not see past the vile hurt and anger she still holds towards a man who quite simply did not return her love.move on,for you'r own good!

Anonymous said...

Great writer smith and his story's are true
If you can't say anything good about this man don't say comment nothing
Well done razor you done well for yourself mate
Joseph stephen smith

And anonymous I belive your just a jealous mug who can't even state his name lol

And my names Crabtree -Aarron.j.crabtree