Monday, 2 July 2012 INDEX

John Massey

John Massey picture taken from BBC web site,, 29 June 2012.
I was John the video maker, then there was John the author and John the murderer. Of the three of us, I thought John the murderer was by far the nicest.

I wasn't quite sure what John the murderer was doing there. Once he cleaned my car for me and did a very good job. John the murderer likes clean cars.

Many people say driving with me is exciting (code for terrifying). John the murderer was kind enough to say he thought I could be quite a good get away driver.

He didn't tell me his second name and I didn't ask. It was none of my business and I'm rotten at remembering names anyway. I'd probably have forgotten even if he had told me.

It was only some time later when I discovered John was really John Massey, an escaped convict, Britain's longest serving prisoner. By that time he'd been captured and was back in prison.

John Massey is an amazingly talented craftsman and fixer. He can fix anything even his escape from almost any prison.

He created a widgit for my tripod that made it work in an emergency. As well as the practical he has an artistic side: he showed me amazing, intricate art works he had produced.

At the time he was on the run having walked out of Ford open prison. It was not the first time he'd absconded from jail.

Escape is a serious crime (from the perspective of the jailers who don't like prisoners who slip the leash). So when he was recaptured instead of returning to an open prison he was sent to Pentonville.

I've never been to prison but I have tried to video the outside walls of Pentonville and that scared me. But John worked out a way of making a rope and then used it to scale the frighteningly high walls.

The crime that first sent John Massey to prison was unforgivable. He used a sawn off shotgun to kill Hackney bouncer Charlie Higgins. If there is any justice in this world this will still haunt his conscience when he goes to his grave.

But the legal system in this country has laid down that a life sentence for murder usually means 14 years in prison. If John Massey had been a model prisoner he'd have been out by 1990 (22 years ago).

How is it possible that a man convicted in 1976 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment is still in prison in 2012, more than 35 years later?

John Massey's downfall is a strange combination of heroic virtues. He is intensely loyal to his friends and his family. When he's escaped it's always been a last ditch attempt to see a close member of his family who was dying or seriously ill. Most people wouldn't be able to climb the walls of Pentonville (something like 20 feet high). But 64-year-old John Massey is incredibly fit for someone of any age. Then, few fit men would have the ability to construct a rope capable of taking their weight from bits of rubbish lying about a prison.

He was the wrong person, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When he escaped from Pentonville, police warned the public that he was dangerous. This was so absurd that it did not damage John's reputation but just made the police look like a lot of shifty, lying bastards. Let's be kind to them and say they simply didn't know, after all John was in the prison authorities care.

In reality John Massey is a very kind, gentle, talented, warm and friendly old man. He shouldn't be in jail. If the prison authorities had any sense they'd offer him a job helping to make British prisons less leaky, making escape more difficult.

I'm not the only one who thinks John Massey should not be in prison. He has some powerful allies as Eric Allison reported in the Guardian. But my guess is that John's going to be in prison for several more years until everyone forgets the fuss. He will be in prison not because he needs to be but because the authorities have egg on their face and want to pretend that justice is on their side.

They are wrong.

Posted by Jonathan Brind
Monday, 2 July 2012 INDEX