Friday, 16 May 2014

On Ian Brady

Ian Brady, the surviving Moors Murderer, has been in prison since 1966 and is reported to be showing signs of dementia. Intense media interest surrounded last year's public tribunal to assess his request to be transferred from a high security hospital to an ordinary prison. Brady is always the object of scrutiny and speculation because he was, and remains, unknowable - not least, one suspects, to himself.

It was the first appearance in public since his trial almost half a century ago for the murder of five children aged between 10 and 17 - Pauline Reade, John Kilbride, Keith Bennett, Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans. There are almost certainly other victims - perhaps as many as ten in all. Anyone who has read Beyond Belief , Emlyn Williams' harrowing 1967 account of the crimes, will know what it was that Brady and his accomplice Myra Hindley did. Although Williams spares us the grislier details (of which there are many, many), there's still more than enough to give any reader sleepless nights. Those of us who have read the book will find it hard to disagree with the trial judge, Mr Justice Atkinson, who described the accused as "two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity" and Brady as "wicked beyond belief". Whatever the outcome of the recent tribunal Brady will never be released from prison. Hindley died, aged 60, in 2002. Brady, at 75, seems to enjoy good health.

Is Brady mentally ill? Since expert opinion is divided on the subject I feel entitled to weigh in with a wholly unprofessional view. What Brady wants, and desperately, is a context within which his narcissistic dreams of omnipotence can be fully, or even partially realised. He craves recognition and endorsement. To this end he wants to be transferred to an ordinary prison where he reportedly plans to starve himself to death.

I believe that any future tribunal should determine what precisely it is that Brady most wants, and then flatly refuse to let him have it. Or alternatively agree to his demands to the letter and then, at the very last moment, when his hopes are high, withdraw the arrangement. The attraction of such an approach is that it keeps him alive (and let's assume that he is telling the truth when he claims he will starve himself to death). This is both a superficially humane thing to do and the thing he least wants. When he asks why he is being subject to such humiliating 'ill treatment' the official explanation should echo that of Marlowe's Mephistopheles, who blandly tells the damned Faustus when asked much the same question: 'To bring you to despair'.

Brady says he cannot bear the company of what he calls "stupid robotic" people and prefers "eclectic, intelligent conversation". Don't we all? He should, I think, as part of his treatment, be forced to spend long periods in the company of the most boring, fatuous, trivial, robotic and loquacious convicts currently serving time, and ideally at the end of each day so that he can't get it over with first thing. Chris Huhn M.P. has now been released from prison, but there's no shortage of other potential companions.

Brady has shown absolutely no remorse for the murders and is supposedly beyond rehabilitation. Or perhaps it's closer to the truth to say that the methods of rehabilitation available to to us depend for their effect on his full co-operation. And since for the past half century he hasn't co-operated at all his narcissistic personality disorder, if that's what it is, has remained unexamined and unchallenged. Perhaps despair (through boredom, or irritation, or frustration, or mockery) would lead him to co-operate with the psychiatrists he so condescendingly loathes. 

He spent twenty years of his incarceration (and I find this very hard to believe) creating books in Braille for blind children. I don't want to have to think about that, and only hope it was the kind of repetitive, mind-numbing and soul-draining task that picking okum or sewing mailbags used to be for nineteenth century convicts. He has reportedly studied German (although I expect this is prompted by his admiration for all things Hitlerian) and psychology, and has access to books, television and radio. He is a diligent letter-writer and has occasional visitors. The high security arrangements surrounding him do seem, to a remarkable degree, designed to accommodate his own self-regulation, his own nihilistic whims.

He has been on hunger strike since 1999 and force fed daily. In fact (as the tribunal  established to considerable public indignation), this 'force-feeding' is self-administered as he controls the machine that delivers liquid nutrition through a nose-tube. He also has toast for breakfast and makes himself instant soups in his cell, using hot water supplied by warders. It's hardly a balanced diet and it's not the most attractive of lifestyles. But it's also not  a hunger strike.

Apart from exposure to boredom and a constant thwarting of his wishes, something else I'd like to imagine happening to Brady is a continuous stream of minor, humiliating irritations that make him an object of ridicule to his fellow inmates. Nobody should take him seriously. He should never have a really good day, and every day should, so to speak, be better than the next. In that direction, conceivably, lies redemption. 

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