EXTRACT FROM THE FOLLOW UP TO “THE LOOKED AFTER KID”
By Paolo Hewitt.
In this as yet untitled book, due to be published in Spring of 2010, I tracked down four of the guys I was in a children’s home with. The home was called Burbank. This is an extract from my meeting with a guy called David Westbrook. Basically, at the home David felt neglected, felt that no one listened to him. In an effort to gain much needed attention, he started owning up to petty crimes he did not commit. The result was that the authorities felt he was uncontrollable and placed him in a borstal where he learnt more about crime in a year than you and I would do in a lifetime. After absconding from the borstal, David ended up in Liverpool where he became a full time criminal. The story starts here.
I WRITE THE SONGS
Fuck you. As a child, you deny me love, you deny me attention, you deny me security. Therefore, you must think me the lowest of the low. Fine. I’ll show you how low I can go. I’ll go to places you haven’t even dreamt about to prove how unhappy I am.
No one had listened to the child, so the man took over and he said, fuck you. David Westbrook became a full time criminal. He and his friend went into credit fraud.
How did that work? I asked him.
‘Easy, you open up accounts in 32 different banks under 32 different names. You put in a hundred pounds in the first account and keep moving the money around,’ he explains. ‘Keep that up for a couple of months and then you say to the bank I need a cheque guarantee card. They then send you one. So now you’ve got thirty two cheque books and thirty two cards. Every day we would go to bank and draw out money. That was our job. Going to the bank every day, opening up accounts, and drawing out money.
Nice work if you can get it, I remark.
‘It is until you get caught,’ he shoots back, laughing.
‘I went into the bank one day and I was collared. At the police station, I had never seen so many cheques in all my life. But I only owed up to two. I just went that one is mine, that one is mine, the rest I don’t know about. The police were so primitive in those days, they didn’t have a clue. These days if you wrote something out, they would send it to an expert and have you. In those days, it was quick arrest, quick conviction. I got a three month suspended sentence. I never gave them the guy I was doing it with. I told them I didn’t know his name.’
David and his partner in crime celebrated with champagne and women. Yet there was something else going on at this time, something very specific to orphans. David didn’t trust a living soul. He didn’t trust his partner, any of his lovers, any of his friends. As far as he was concerned, everyone was under suspicion.
‘If I met someone and had known him for years, I still wouldn’t trust the clothes on his back,’ he says. ‘That’s the way I was. Even the guy I was doing cheques with I didn’t trust him one bit. I used to sit down with him and we would have a laugh saying, this time next year we will be millionaires. But I never trusted him, never trusted anyone.’
In other words, fuck you. I knew that shout well. It took me years to trust anyone, be it friend or lover or caring adult. When I went into care aged ten, a block of ice rose up inside of me, there to keep everyone at bay. No way were you getting inside of me. No one was. I had trusted people all my life and everyone – everyone - had let me down.
I had held out my arms but was kicked in the chest.
David had experienced the same rejection except he now had a much bigger problem. The police had his name and number; they were on his trail
He had bought a motorbike with some of the proceeds of his cheque scam and one day had a bad crash. When he got out of hospital, he hi-tailed it back to Woking but the Liverpool police charged him with reckless driving anyway. To get to his Liverpool court appearance, David stole a car. Bad move. Worse, he parked it directly outside of the court.
At the trial, a miracle. Instead of imprisonment, the judge found David not guilty. He said the police had been harassing him and the case against him was unsound. David came out of court a free man and in a state of absolute bliss. Only to find two policemen standing by his stolen car.
’Is this your vehicle?’ one of them asked.
He was handcuffed and led away.
David pauses. 'I suppose there’s a moral in there somewhere,’ he says.
Yes, there is a moral, I told David, and it’s this - don’t go to court in a stolen motor car.
Both of us laugh and it feels good to be here with this man. Truth be told, I had worried about meeting David, worried the interview would go flat or horribly wrong. Just the opposite had occurred. I was really enjoying my time with David Westbrook.
For the stolen car, David was remanded to Walton Prison, Liverpool. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. Prison scares me to my soul. In fact, my nightmares of late have all been about the threat of prison hanging over me. Yet I admire those who survive incarceration. It speaks of a strength I envy.
David despised prison, hated it in fact. But it would prove to be the turning point.
‘It was degrading,’ he says. ‘You’re nothing. It made me feel that if I ever got out of there, I would never get caught again.
‘I also felt that because of my past and because no one had ever given a shit about me, what I was doing was my way of getting back at society.’
David was released. With no job prospects in view and no one to guide him, David returned to crime and cheque frauds. Yet the criminal’s ability to know exactly when time is running out on you, now kicked into play. David faked a passport, went to St Tropez. There he sold doughnuts on the beach and at night found himself in casual amorous adventures. He loved the day-to-day nature of this life, the freedom of waking up with just the day to think about.
I too loved those kinds of days, I told him, that feeling of being free from worry, free from the past. I loved sunny days in the park or on a beach, with money in the bank, work on the table, love in my heart.
But there was a shadow hanging over David and that shadow was the police. The constant worry of capture, he explained, was in itself a prison sentence. There was only one way to set himself free.
‘I decided to give myself up, ‘he recalls. ‘I got back from France and I phoned my probation officer. He said, come round and have a cup of tea. Ten minutes later two CID blokes who I knew arrived. One of them said to me, we wondered where you had got to. I told him I had been in France but that enough was enough. I got remanded in custody.
A change had taken place. Prison had initiated it, forced David to see, as that great poet Graham Parker once noted, nobody hurts you harder than yourself. All of us who survive have this same realisation. I certainly did. I awoke one day and knew it was time to stop running away and face up to the past so as to gain a future. It’s a long hard process but it is worth every step.
David’s solicitor did not mince words. He told David he would be imprisoned for a very long time. David shrugged his shoulders. ‘I said, I know that,’ he recalled, ‘but at least I will have learnt my lesson.’
The court case came. Before sentencing, the magistrate asked David if he had anything to say.
‘I stood up and I said, yes,’ David recalls. ‘I said, I have had a shit life. I have had people taking the piss out of me since I can remember, from the council to welfare to the police, but it is now time to go straight. I know you are going to send me away but I am telling you the truth, you won’t see me again. I’m throwing the towel in.’
The magistrate retired to his room. When he returned he told David to stand. David stood. And then another miracle. The magistrate gave David a chance, a last chance but a chance all the same. He sentenced David to just twenty-eight days in prison. To David it was the most precious lifeline ever given him.
‘As we were leaving court,’ David recalls, ‘this CID bloke said to me, you step in shit and you come out smelling of roses. Perhaps, I said the right things, I told him. He said, You’ll be back again. I said, I won’t. You will never ever see me again.’
And they didn’t.
PAOLO HEWITT, JULY 2009