Prisoner Bronson tells parole hearing he is an ‘angel’ compared with past self

Notorious prisoner Charles Bronson has described himself as a “retired prison activist” but told his parole hearing he loves a “rumble”.

Making his latest bid for freedom on Monday, one of the UK’s longest-serving prisoners told a panel of Parole Board judges he is now anti-violence, a man of “peace” and “almost an angel now” compared with his old self. It was his 95-year-old mother’s “last dream” to see him released, he said.

But despite insisting he now has ways of managing negative feelings and has turned to art, the 70-year-old – who was once dubbed one of Britain’s most violent offenders – said: “I was born to have a rumble.”

Bronson has spent most of the past 48 years behind bars, apart from two brief periods of freedom during which he reoffended, for a string of thefts, firearms and violent offences, including 11 hostage takings.

Charles Bronson parole hearing
A supporter of Charles Bronson outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Aaron Chown/PA)

Appearing on camera wearing a black suit and dark blue tie, a white shirt, braces and dark glasses, Bronson – whose real name is Michael Peterson – claimed he had been betting for much of the last 50 years while behind bars and won £1,500 last year.

Prisoners are banned from gambling and could face sanctions for doing so. The application of prison rules was a matter for the governor, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and such claims would be expected to be investigated.

Bronson is locked in his cell for 23 hours a day due to staff shortages, and receives letters from 500 people, the hearing was also told.

When questioned about several incidents behind bars a few years ago and why they happened, Bronson said: “I love a rumble. What man doesn’t?”

Describing one incident, in which the parole hearing was told he stripped naked and “greased up”, he said: “I took half a tub of Lurpak with me, stripped off and had the rumble of my life. It was f****** brilliant.”

But he later insisted there would be no more “rumbles” behind bars.

His parole review took place at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes and was watched by members of the press and public on a live stream from the Royal Courts of Justice in central London.

Bronson supporters, who want to see him freed from jail, gathered outside the court building ahead of the hearing.

Charles Bronson parole hearing
Charles Bronson (left) at his public parole hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London via video-link from HMP Woodhill (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Inside, some of Bronson’s comments prompted outbursts of laughter from the public gallery and he could be heard swearing frequently and sighing loudly early on in the proceedings.

Before he began giving evidence, he complained he was “getting bored of this” when his lawyer asked for a short break.

Bronson described himself since he changed his surname to Salvador in 2014 as a man of “peace” and his past persona as a “nasty bastard”.

He said he turned to crime when younger because he enjoyed the “excitement” but that he “lost the plot” in prison, adding: “The only thing I knew was violence.”

Bronson said he felt remorse for taking art teacher Phil Danielson hostage in 1999, but not the governor of Hull prison Adrian Wallace, or three Iraqi inmates he held at Belmarsh.

He also said he was not ashamed of his protests climbing on to prison roofs because he was “fighting the penal system”.

During the hearing Bronson could be heard slurping from what appeared to be a small carton of juice through a straw, before sucking the end of the straw and then sipping the remnants directly from the carton.

Later in the hearing he leaned forward on the desk, resting his chin upon his hands.

The review heard psychologist reports said he changed his surname after artist Salvador Dali but he denied this, telling the hearing that was “crap”.

Speaking of his time at Woodhill, he said: “I’ve had four years here now, I think I’ve outstayed my welcome.”

A prison psychologist told the panel that Bronson would pose a high risk to the public if released, and also a high risk if he were moved to open prison.

His prison offender manager said they are concerned that Bronson would be overwhelmed in open conditions at a lower security prison, but that he has started learning breathing exercises and coping methods such as asking for time out in his cell in preparation for any future move.

They said: “Charlie’s used to a lot of solitary time anyway. He doesn’t enjoy it … but he copes quite well. He has his exercises, he has his routines.”

They added that he “kind of loses himself in his artwork” – something he has become known for while in jail.

Bronson is the second inmate in UK legal history to have his case heard in public after rules changed last year in a bid to remove the secrecy around the process.

The Parole Board will decide whether he should remain behind bars after the hearing, which is taking place over three days this week. A decision is due at a later date.

The hearing resumes on Wednesday.