The news last month that a 15-year-old Liverpool boy received a 40-month sentence for a bank robbery followed hard on the heels of the death of celebrity ex-criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read in Australia. What possible connection can they have? The answer, in a bit of an oblique way, is ‘mothers’.
First, Read. He must be one of the few people in the English speaking world who has tried to kidnap a judge from his own court. Australian prisons in the 1980s were not that comfortable and certain blocks were particularly brutal. ‘H’ block in Pentridge was one and ‘J’ in Ararat was another. It was from the latter that Read decided to rescue his then friend Jimmy Loughnan by holding county court judge Martin hostage.
His enterprise was not well thought through. Martin’s court was on the 6th floor and when Read walked over to the bench and threatened Martin with a firearm he was tackled and disarmed by court staff. Despite the plea by his barrister, who hopefully but unrealistically described Read as ‘a comic character Charlie Chaplin would have portrayed sympathetically’, he received 13 years.
Now for the mother.
Later that year the armed robber Amos Atkinson held diners hostage in the Italian Waiters’ Club in central Melbourne saying he would begin to kill them if his friend Read was not released within 24 hours. The siege ended ingloriously. The police arranged for Atkinson’s mother to come to talk to him. She arrived in her dressing gown and promptly hit her errant son over the head with her handbag. In turn, he received a modest five years.
Back in Liverpool. After the mother found her son with £2,200 and an imitation firearm in his bedroom, at what must be enormous personal cost she reported him to the police for a raid on a bank two days earlier.
Prison did Read not one iota of good. Shortly before his death he admitted to killing four men, one in Pentridge. However, following his final release in the late 1990s he began a new career as a celebrity criminal touring returned servicemen’s clubs with an ex-Australian Rules player and a disgraced NSW policeman.
We must wait to see if the 15-year-old will benefit from his experience inside or whether, like Read, he will go on to longer and longer sentences. Sadly the odds are in favour of the latter.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor