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Cracking Crime Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
'I found my niche in prison'
Bob Turney
Bob Turney says he found security in prison

As part of a series of profiles for the BBC's Cracking Crime day, Steve Hawkes speaks to "career prisoner" turned probation officer Bob Turney about whether criminals can really reform.

Bob Turney can kill a conversation.

"There is a bloke in Surrey who has a metal plate in his head because I did him with an iron bar."

There really is no answer to that, so Bob is free to continue.

"There was a tyre lever handy, it was private property - he was in a coma."


A blow to the side of the head was the normal way to deal with someone who did not have the correct answer

Bob Turney
Silence.

"When he came round he would not press charges because he was scared."

More silence - I'm beginning to know how he felt.

"I denied doing it and the Old Bill had to let me go."

I start to speak - but Bob cuts me off.

"If I could find him I would beg him to forgive me."

Oh ... well ... er ... that's all right then - I manage.

Prison - generic
'Prison did not change me'
But is it really? Can someone with a "criminal record that makes the Artful Dodger look like a choirboy" ever really reform?

Some 20 years ago Bob regained consciousness in a public toilet.

His shirt was covered in blood and both of his wrists were slit.

He had been drinking for four days straight.

But since then he has not touched a drop.

"I was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic after finally acknowledging I had a problem.

"The psychiatrist said I was institutionalised and now using hospitals instead of prisons to hide in and unless I changed I would end my life as a long-term inmate somewhere."

So Bob knows a bit about institutions too.

"I found my niche in prison.

Prison 'gave security'

"I became a career prisoner rather than a career criminal.

"It offered me a strong sense of security - boundaries I never had in the outside world.

"And although the attention I got was negative, at least it was attention.

"But prison could not change me because it did not make me take responsibility for my life.

Leslie Grantham
Bob hopes Leslie Grantham will play him in a film of his life
"I learned how to sew mailbags and commit crime.

"We were not given any purposeful activity and talked about drugs and crime all the time."

At the age of 58, Bob still spends most of his time talking about drugs and crime.

He is a probation officer attached to a Young Offenders Team in Reading.

"If I was Home Secretary for a day I would call for a return to family values," he said.

"In the 60s if someone was pregnant and not married they were shunned.

Electric chair

"But these days kids have relationships while they are still children.

"Crime prevention should start in the high chair and then perhaps it would not end in the electric chair.

"You have to nip crime in the bud."

Bob has seven children and a grandson.

But his own childhood was touched by tragedy.

His mother was deaf and when his manic depressive father killed himself, it was Bob who found the body.

He was just 10 years old.

Idiot boy

At school, Bob was dubbed "that idiot boy".

Severely dyslexic, he sat at the back of the class looking at picture books, oblivious to what his teachers were talking about.

"No one ever talked about dyslexia then - everyone just thought I was thick.

"A blow to the side of the head was the normal way to deal with someone who did not have the correct answer."

And, as we have already established, that is something Bob knows a bit about.

Bob's autobiography, I'm Still Standing, is to be made into a film.

It is a tale of retribution and repentance, restitution and redemption.

Bob is hoping the doctor who helped him through rehab will be played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, with whom he has already collaborated on a film for the probation service.

And he hopes to persuade Stephen Fry, whom he interviewed for his second book, Going Straight, to play his sadistic schoolteacher.

But who will play Bob?

He fixes me with a steely stare before cracking a smile.

"I'm in discussions with Leslie Grantham ..."


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