A Prison Diary
David Irving wrote in ACTION REPORT in 1994: I have received many letters from well-wishers about my sudden imprisonment in February . I was taken without warning and without trial from my home and family and driven straight to the Victorian prison in Pentonville, north London, to be locked away "for three months."
Ostensibly my offence was contempt of court: but I had received no court papers, no notification of any hearings, and the cause -- a dispute involving the German liberal leftwing publishing house Rowohlt -- was the thinnest of possible pretexts. Publishers owe money to authors: authors owe money to publishers: publishers never, ever, ask for best-selling authors (Rowohlt have published half a dozen of my titles) to be cast without trial into prison.
In the 1980s Rowohlt's director, Michael Naumann [*], had purchased from me the rights to my biography Churchill's War. Naumann was well aware of the left-wing onslaught against my reputation, but he told me when I visited Hamburg: "I wouldn't care if you were the Gauleiter of Vienna, I would still want this magnificent work."
Rowohlt's unionized labour force threatened a walk-out if their firm printed my new book. Two years passed without publication -- volume one had already been delivered to them -- and the firm was in breach of the contract. My lawyer, Dr Michael von Sprenger, one of the finest copyright specialists in Munich, advised me to release the rights to a firm who could, and would, publish the book.
This was the origin of the contretemps.
The murkier machinations could be assessed more clearly on the day a High Court judge ordered my release from Pentonville (my imprisonment had caused an outcry in the British press, with protests even from The Guardian): documents glimpsed on the prosecution side of the court room revealed that the law firms acting for the five Jewish defendants against my libel actions in Australia and for The Times against my High Court action in London were acting in close collaboration with the very lawyers who had called for my committal to prison.
When these lawyers asked the judge to order that my passport be impounded, even my solicitors were astonished. They asked me what was going on. I had to educate them: for three years the traditional enemy have been trying to muzzle me, worldwide.
February 11, 1994:
RRESTED at 3 p.m. by police and taken to Savile Row police station on a warrant from Queens Bench Judge Brooke. From police station made brief phone call to [Barton Taylor, of Russell Jones & Walker, my lawyers] but he had not phoned back before I was taken to Pentonville prison.
My cell mate is fortunately a Classic-FM radio fan.
February 12, 1994: Transferred during the day to cell C408. New cellmate is a Greek Cypriot, Dmitriou, who cannot speak English and chain-smokes. A doleful, dissatisfied prisoner.
February 14, 1994: The officers here are very decent, and so are all but one (so far) of the prisoners. All very interesting. Word soon got around about me, I have never shaken so many hands in three days except on tour, including quite a few of the officers, although they tell me it is not allowed. Political prisoner! Not as long as Rudolf Hess or Nelson Mandela yet -- Perish the thought!
February 15, 1994: I dictated material for an affidavit, from memory. I do not know if the solicitor grasped the essentials.
Slightly more depressed today, although I'll get over it. That's the effect that talking with solicitors has on me. Not sleeping too well here. Insomnia! My torn back muscle gave me hell the first two or three days. Masses of fan letters, including several from crazies. People keep coming into the cell to shake my hand, for the short time the door is open.
The neighbouring cell-mate is a Jew, about twentyfive. Darren Hinden of Chigwell. He's now convinced that the Holocaust is a hoax. Nice enough lad. Somehow he gets off the labour detail. My cellmate for the first night Friday/Saturday was Ken Aylett, twenty-seven, given four weeks or a £950 fine for driving an unsafe lorry. He'll be out in fourteen days, so he says it makes more sense to serve time than to pay the fine.
Last night after we were "banged up" after supper at six P.M. the warder opened the door and gave me a beautiful book.
"A gift from No.14, Sir!"
A biography of Anthony Trollop by Victoria Glendenning. I have rarely had time to read before. Now at last, thanks to His Lordship, unlimited time! Alas, the cell is illuminated only by a weak fluorescent tube that some idiot has painted red; after dark it is like living in some cheap Paris brothel (I assume.)
There are lots of drugs everywhere; the prisoners openly smoke cannabis, smack, crack etc. in their cells ("D'you want any, Dave!?") The prison officers turn a blind eye to avoid trouble. The Irishman is serving one year for possessing cannabis. It all seems very "double-standards." One of the prisoners, the Irishman, who softened after a long talk yesterday, gave me The Times clipping reporting my imprisonment: so at last I know what I am here for!
A few useful phrases for the glossary: "Sugaring" is pouring a mixture of sugar and boiling water over a fellow convict when you can't make a debating point some other way. ADL [Anti-Defamation League] take note! "Burn" is a cigarette. "Banging up" is when you are locked into your cell. . . I shall teach Jessica all these useful words after I have finished with the basic vowels and consonants.
February 16, 1994: 3:30 P.M. phoned Bente to mail me Goebbels chapters 35, 36, 37 to work on. The prison has told her that all visiting times for the rest of the week are booked up.
Two days ago one of the convicts cut his wrists -- the others say he was not trying to kill himself, just get into the hospital where a certain other convict to whom he "owes" something (no doubt something pitiful like two units on a telephone card) can't get at him.
I see more evidence of drug taking around every day. -- A lot of the staff in the other units (the hospital etc.) are women. Most are lesbian and pudgy but one or two attractive enough to merit a second glance from the lads. As one of them said, "Yer gotta remember, Dave, it's over two years since I last had a bunk-up. . ." One of them says to a perky nurse, 25, slight eye make-up, long hair, "fancy a cream horn, then, dahling!?" And she makes a fictitious "date" with him for later that evening.
More fan mail pours in, half of it from real neo-Nazis and other nuts. I'll write and thank them all. Their kindness needs recognition.
A Nigerian, just back today from his court hearing. Very indignant. I ask what he has got his two and a half years for. "That's so unjust, mun! I wuz arrested for causing an affray. I am not going to grass on de mun who was carrying the machete. He dun slip aht of his coat and ah pick it op. 'n that's when de copper nick me!"
An Irish prisoner just dropped by, pleased to have been found Not Guilty on seven counts, but annoyed because they've done him now for conspiracy.
"What kind," ask I, and he sighs, "oh, to cause affray, and to kidnap, and to extort."
He expects five to seven years when he's sentenced, and gives me lurid details of how he is going to take revenge on the fourth man in the gang, who went missing then mysteriously showed up in court on the day of his trial and turned Queen's Evidence.
I say, "You won't survive the five years if you live on Hate. You've got to rebuild your life on Hope." He snorts, "I won't survive? He f---ing won' t survive when I get out!"
He sets out his plan to compromise his former mate in detail -- it involves the man's van, a regular trip to Calais, and two kilos of planted heroin. I say again, "Remember what I said. Hope, not Hate!" And, "What you're saying sounds to me like conspiracy all over again."
So the day in Pentonville passes quite pleasantly. What characters! Hogarth, thou shouldst be here, with canvas and oils and easel, to capture them all for the Tate!
I have discovered the shower room. Like public school all over again, except this time round my embarrassment has ossified with age. Standing naked in the steaming showers with one White and four Negroes.
I am allowed to wear my own clothes, being a contempt-of-court prisoner. But I don't -- I wear prison gear. Self-protection, I suppose. My only concession to luxury, so far unremarked, my Church's shoes. -I asked one of the Blacks here what tribe he comes from. "Wassat then, mate?" He had particularly fine features.
A warder says to me this evening, "When you work here, Sir, you've seen it all. They make up only two percent of the population -- so why do they make up half the inmates? And they say the BNP [British National Party] gets most of its of its support in prison," he exclaimed, and added, "People call me a 'racist' sometimes. But I'm not, Sir, I just don't like niggers!"
I told him I occasionally speak to meetings of Wandsworth prison staff -- the next is on April 23 . The "conspirator" came in again and philosophized "Yunno, we've got it made here -- all paid for, three meals a day, electricity and hot water and no worries for the next years. It's the wife and kids who suffers." I said, "That's why so many men want to join the army -- they get looked after, paid, dump the wife, the bills and the screaming kids and get to pretend they are heroes more often than not."
Another very satisfactory meal for supper, but Ken Aylett, who works in the kitchen detail, says with eyes stark with horror, "Dave, you wouldn't want to know what goes on in that kitchen!" I don't think I do! -- If I get kept here, I shall sign up for weight lifting classes. Got to get an over-35s clearance from the doc. first. Wednesday night -- around 9.30 P.M. or ten. I have no idea of the time except that it is dark outside. I have this evening finished reading a 500 pp. book of ghost stories. I am polishing up my vocabulary and enriching it. Man lernt nie aus. Hobbledehoys, -- a lovely word. I shall use it to the press when I get out.
February 17, 1994: Phoned Benté. Thanked her obliquely for the two ten-pound notes she had smuggled through to me. She should send me however blank cheques, paper, and envelopes. Had any more publishers accepted the Apocalypse [Apocalypse 1945: the Destruction of Dresden] project? One or two. I tell her that the morning visits here are not all fully booked.
Got a phone card. Benté says the bank manager told her he "could read the newspapers too."
The prisoner a couple of doors down, in here for driving while banned, says he has learned more things of use to a criminal since he came here than he ever learned outside.
"I now know where to get fake passports, false driving licenses, and drugs; where to get vehicle log books altered for stolen motor cars; where to launder money; how to get fake cheque books and credit cards. You know, there's not a person here as doesn't say he's innocent," he continues in the same breath. "It was always somebody else as done the job they got nicked for. Me? -- I told the traffic cops straight away who pulled me over for a bald tyre, 'I ain't got no license!'" The injustice was, he was just taking the car to the MoT centre so he could sell it, he says.
His worry is, he says, that he will be put in a cell with a drug-user. He can't grass on him -- that's the code -- and then if the cell is searched he is guilty of possession too. A delicate point. -- Fortunately my view about drug-takers, drug-dealers and drug-pushers is well known: the best solution is as practised by the late Ayatolla Khomeini (it involves a firing-squad.)
My cell-mate Dmitriou was up for three or four hours before dawn, stumbling around the cell, moaning ("f---ing this and that" and "Jesus Christ") and worse, going to the lavatory twelve inches from my pillow and lighting cigarette after cigarette. I feel very sorry for him. He hates it here, especially the food. He's very nervous and gets stomach and back pains. He's about sixty with a long thin face and straggly hair, a Greek Cypriot.
Lunch today was minced fish! Aaargh!
Managed to phone Bente twice. What she sent with the stamps [one of the two ten-pound notes] went the rounds for an hour after it left my hands multiplying in value as it changed into drugs, then tobacco, then smack, then other scarce items until it finally came back to me in the form of three phone cards (worth their weight in gold) and an ounce of tobacco (worth its weight in platinum).
Foolish, as I was subjected to a stream of visitors as soon as rumour got out that "Dave" (pronounced Dive -- know wot I mean?) had a "burn" to spare. How to make friends. . .
Most of them have hearts of gold, but they've fallen on hard times. Little calamities -- victims of Thatcherite monetarism, of officious traffic wardens, and of their own follies too.
Needless to say the Jew made more profit between the purchase of the smack and it's final conversion into the "For Use in Her Majesty's Prisons Only" telephone cards which finally reached me. But how this wing's entire economy was briefly stimulated by the influx of the cash! A lesson there for that fat lump Kenneth Clarke [Her Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer].
I wonder if Alan Clark knows where I am. He's about the only one who hasn't written -- or come into my cell yet.
February 18, 1994: Another morning and Dmitriou has spent the night again hacking, moaning, coughing, sighing, and smoking. A note goes to the doctor.
I? I got up at 8.30 or 8.45 am, bright and cheerful as ever. Beggars can't be choosers. It could be worse, I reflect. Dmitriou could be a bugger, which would be incommodious. Today the solicitor came again. How slowly the wheels move, and how fast time glides by!
February 19, 1994: This cell is a blank steel-doored cage-within-a-cage within a cage, all of steel. No carpets. Steel stairways, steel catwalks, steel suicide-netting. C Block is freshly painted about two years ago with a lot of imagination, in restful pastel colours. (There's a lot of time for resting here.) The cell is fourteen feet by seven feet and has a vaulted ceiling 8 or 9 feet high. Tin mirror, not glass. Steel windowless door with a flapped Judas slit an inch wide and no doorknobs. High grilled window at other end three feet wide, four feet tall with plastic "glass". Two hot water pipes for heating. Wash basin with very hot water and lavatory. I keep them clean. (Greek Cypriot throws his cigarette butts at them and usually misses).
Two-bed cot. Listen to Greek music on North London Radio NCR all day, then Classic FM very softly for an hour after Dmitriou goes to bed at eight P.M. I turn in at nine p.m. Consequently much insomnia. Walls at present bare.
I ask a convict why he is on crutches.
"I jumped aht of me girlfriend's back window when the coppers come to nick me, din't I! I dun a runner, din't I! It was forty feet. Smashed all the bones in both my feet and ankles, and bloody near bit my tongue orf as well, din't I."
I ask more, curious about such episodes, with the height of my own apartment to Duke Street's pavement in mind. "They wuz transferring me in a prison bus with ten others and only two screws to another prison and I asked the driver to pull into a service station 'cos otherwise I was going to do it there and then all over his bus and then I dun a runner, din't I. Know wot I mean? Then I went and holed up with my girlfriend in Baaarnet," -- and he draws out the Baaar- like Alfred Garnett, know what I mean --"and blow me if I don't run slap into my probation officer wot's beat is twelve miles away. Blow me! She just gapes, and I smiles at her and says I dun a runner, like, and at eleven-thirty that night the coppers are banging on my girl's door."
I ask if he was given more bird for doing the runner. A crafty grin steals over his face as he shifts his crutches.
"Nah, they could'n do nuffin'. They gotta chaaarge you" (more Alf Garnett) "within forty-eight hours and I was still under the morphine. Know wot I mean?"
At 1:50 p.m. a rather pleasing episode. A Señor E. who had seen me in action asked for a visit and thus I got to see the prison Visiting Room at last -- a happy festival of families, each crowded around a table arranged like a love-seat with a low demure partition between the seats of the convict and his lady, so that on arrival and departure and at times between that depending on the blindness of the warders' eye, they could kiss and caress to their hearts' content.
All parties had been subjected of course to a rather less loving body search by Pentonville's finest before this human little jousting began.
Señor E. asked if I was lacking in anything and I had to confess that I was not; but that Benté is down to her last few coins as the police had seized me before I could get any money for her.
E. gave an eloquent wave of his hand and, speaking Spanish, promised to leave a discreet £100 donation in her letter box this very evening; which will be a load off my mind, I must confess.
A long talk with half a dozen goggling, warders afterwards. An Asian officer said, "I voted for the BNP's man at Tower Hamlets," -- a startling disclosure. I promised to send all of them a book when I get out.
February 20, 1994: Midday phoned Benté. Told her my phone card was stolen, hence the silence the last day or two. There's a lot of crooks about. Transferred in the afternoon to Cell 28 of E Wing prior to removal; starkly Victorian, a very grim, bare cell with one bed, one bucket, one water tap (cold). Just had time to telephone the media at 4:30 P.M. before I was locked in.
February 21, 1994: Six A.M., a meagre breakfast, then shipped to High Court in the Strand around 7:30 A.M. handcuffed to a Negro prison officer in plain clothes. He was quite happy until I told him that everybody watching assumed that he was my prisoner (he found a uniform for the midday break); a long day in court, with the Judge getting quite impatient . . . Finally ordered my release around 5:30 P.M. despite appeal from plaintiff that I be re-committed to prison.
Wrote a letter I've been burning to write throughout the prison time:
Dear Mr D.,
I am on a short fuze. The phone rang at 11:15 P.M. A blank call.
February 22, 1994: My release from prison is in the newspapers from London to Melbourne, from Cape Town to Jerusalem (there complete with photo). The traditional enemy moves with the speed of light.
At nine P.M. I remembered I had to report to police station every day; cycled through icy pouring rain to do so at ten P.M. They had not the foggiest idea of what to do. I rigged a suitable report card for them.
Police officer: "Mr Irving. Are yes, that's Duke Street isn't it." Turns out he's stood guard many a time on the barricades below.