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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 18:30 GMT
Bronson: 'Gentle boy' to terror inmate

bronson Bronson: an intelligent boy turned violent thug

No-one knows exactly how it could have happened.

But somehow, a little boy from a well-respected family, who was polite, intelligent and who enjoyed school, turned into a muscle-bound criminal, notorious for his reign of terror during 26 years of jail.

Bronson's jail history
1974 armed robbery and wounding
1978 wounding with intent
1985 wounding
1985 criminal damage
1993 grievous bodily harm
1994 two instances of false imprisonment
1997 blackmail, threatening to kill
2000 false imprisonment
Charles Bronson has accumulated a frightening toll of convictions, including wounding, threatening to kill, damaging prison property and taking hostages while behind bars.

His behaviour has been so disruptive that he has been held at more than 120 jails and spent time at Broadmoor, Rampton and Ashworth special security hospitals.

But, unlike many violent criminals, there was nothing in his childhood to suggest what he would become.

The young Michael Peterson, as he was born, came from a highly respectable family from Wales.

Mayor's nephew

He was well turned-out and popular with schoolfriends.

His parents, Eira and Joe Peterson, ran the Conservative club in Aberystwyth and his uncle and aunt were mayor and mayoress of the resort town in the 1960s and '70s.

His aunt Eileen Parry said: "As a boy he was a lovely lad. He was obviously bright and always good with children.

bronson-actor Bronson named himself after the Hollywood actor
"He was gentle and mild-mannered, never a bully - he would defend the weak."

She says her nephew spiralled into a life of violence and crime when the family moved to Merseyside and he was led astray by a bad crowd.

After changing his name to Charles Bronson, the Hollywood actor, he made his money by bare-knuckle prize-fighting in the back streets of London's East End.


With a black handlebar moustache, Bronson later became a circus strongman.

He married at 19 and had a son, Michael, but he split up with his wife Irene when he began a seven-year year sentence for armed robbery.

Bronson quickly earned a reputation as a quick-tempered inmate and launched a string of attacks on fellow prisoners and prison staff.

circus Bronson joined a circus troupe
In 1988, he was rearrested for robbery only two months after being freed. He was again released in 1992 but rearrested after three weeks for conspiracy to rob.

In total, he has had only three months free after repeated offences and has spent 22 out of 26 years' jail in solitary confinement.

In 1998, seven years were added to his jail sentence after he took two Iraqi hijackers and another inmate hostage at Belmarsh prison in London.

He insisted his hostages call him "General" and told negotiators he would eat one of his victims unless his demands were met.

At one stage, Bronson demanded one of the Iraqis hit him "very hard" over the head with a metal tray. When the hostage refused, the 18-stone strongman slashed his own shoulder six times with a razor blade.

He later told staff: "I'm going to start snapping necks - I'm the number-one hostage taker."

He demanded a getaway helicopter to take him to Cuba, two Uzi sub-machine guns, 5,000 rounds of ammunition and an axe.


In court, he said he was "as guilty as Adolf Hitler".

He said: "I was on a mission of madness, but now I'm on a mission of peace and all I want to do now is get home and have a pint with my son."

In his latest siege, Bronson tied up prison teacher Phil Danielson with a rope and towed him round the jail for 44 hours.

Armed with two knives, he twice tried to harm himself during the siege. He hit himself over the head with a bottle and tore a washing machine filled with water from its socket in an attempt to electrocute himself.

Charity fund-raising

But Bronson's supporters say that alongside his destructive temper, he has a gentle, caring side to his nature.

He has worked on anti-crime projects, designed to stop young people following in his footsteps.

A skilful cartoonist, he has had work published in several newspapers and men's magazines. Profits raised have gone to children's animal charities.

He once wrote to a museum and told them: "Men like me were born to be caged so leave the birds and animals alone or I'll rip your head clean off your shoulders, OK."

His barrister Isabella Forshall describes Bronson as "a warm man who both gives and receives affection", while his girlfriend Joyce Connor said he was "the most supportive and caring individual".

Publisher Stephen Richards, who has helped Bronson write two books, said: "He is not a monster, he is a sick man. He needs to be prepared for release and he deserves better treatment than he is getting.

"He is not ready to come out yet. It will be years before he is. But he should be prepared for that and treated by the prison service, not just locked away on his own."

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See also:
17 Feb 00 |  UK
Inmate Bronson given life for siege
16 Feb 00 |  UK
Charles Bronson tells of prison 'hell'
15 Feb 00 |  UK
Charles Bronson cleared of two charges
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