Charterhouse Chronicle Frank Longford
TODAY A BOOK of mine is published called Lord Longford's Prison Diary and is based on four years of prison visiting, 1996-2000. It has already received a flattering amount of attention.
There was a long, generous article about me in The Sunday Telegraph by that brilliant writer and speaker Gyles Brandreth. He was President of the Union at Oxford; he served on my Pornography Committee and accompanied me to Denmark in 1970. He has since been a Conservative MP but his individual genius
may have found a truer outlet in journalism.
And as I write this, part of my book is to be serialised elsewhere. With all this attention I might have become swollenheaded by now if it were not for the hip injury referred to already in this column — from which I am slowly recovering.
I first visited prisoners in 1936. I was soon introduced to the uncertainties of the life. A solicitor who had been accused of altering the markings on eggs won my sympathy by saying; "Twenty-four hours ago I was a respected professional man — and now this." I learnt later that he had eight previous convictions so I have always been careful before accepting the truth of what I am told in prisons. By and large, however, in the last 60 years I have very seldom been misled.
There was a gap during the war and later during my time as a Minister in the Attlee government. But from 1951 I resumed regular weekly visits to prisons and, except for three-and-a-quarter years as a Cabinet Minister in the Wilson government, I have kept it up ever since. There's been a bit of a
pause during the hip injury, but I hope
to be soon back on the trail.
I am often asked what good 1 do.
One may ask the same question of those who visit patients in hospital. Jesus Christ said: "I was in prison and you came to me." But he also said: "I was sick and you visited me." I would say in both cases that an act of kindness to those in trouble is always laudable. But in the case of prisoners there is a further point. They are inclined to feel that the whole world is against
them and to be well aware of the stigma that may attach to them when they come out. I persuade myself that when I, or anybody else for that matter, visits them out of sheer goodwill, they can begin to feel that they belong once again to the human family.
On the whole my visits have been welcomed. They are nearly always undertaken at the request of the prisoner or the family and over the years I have received much deeply appreciated gratitude.
But, every now and then, a prisoner wishes to see no more of me. A good many years ago a prisoner wanted to undergo a sex change and was dissatisfied when I failed to help him. More recently. two gifted prisoners responsible for terrible happenings, who I shall always think of as friends, have expressed no desire for future visits. Ian Brady I have visited often over the years. He is in a secure hospital
diagnosed as suffering from severe mental trouble. He has recently expressed a desire to take his own life but I have refused to support his request. Meanwhile, Dennis Nilsen insists that he was a homosexual from the age of seven. He refuses to
accept my assurance that I regard all human beings as equal in the sight of God. For the moment, although I hope it is not permanent, he wishes to see me no more.
THESE, I AM CLAD to think, are rather exceptional cases. I would, however, find it difficult to point to prisoners whom I had assisted either in a visible worldly sense apart from the moral encouragement and the friendship always offered. Forty years ago I took up vehemently the cause of Michael Davies, convicted, wrongly I was sure, of the so-called Clapham Common murder. He was released after seven years. I am sure I helped there.
A few weeks ago I had my hand on the shoulder of Roger and he was received into the Catholic Church. But normally I do not try to point to dramatic results.
seem inevitable. It is inconceivable that society would continue to exist unless those who breached the criminal law were punished in some way. Forty years ago I wrote a small book called The Idea of Punishment and reiterated there the basic elements which should be involved in a just punishment. So in extreme cases we are left with imprisonment. In my eyes it is used much too freely but in some cases there is simply nothing else. But
when a human being is stuck in prison, deprived of his liberty and helpless in the face of his captors, we have got to ask ourselves again and again whether we can do anything to make his treatment something of which Jesus would approve.
IWILL CRUDELY summarise my conclusions of half a century. One, we must create an atmosphere in which far fewer people are sent to prison; two, the Government should take a new initiative in bringing the Prison Officers' Association into a more creative partnership; three, to borrow a phrase, there should be more education, education, education.
That will cost more money, but you cannot revolutionise the prison system in a Christian direction on the cheap. Serial killer Dennis Nilsen (far right) Is led away by detectives after a court appearance in 1983. Men (and women) like Nilsen do not always appreciate a visit. Picture: PA