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Britain’s Longest Serving Prisoner: Robert Maudsley

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The vigilante-style killer spends 23 hours a day in a glass box and has done so since 1983

In the vaults of the Wakefield Prison basement, Robert Maudsley waits to die. The 68 year old prisoner is deemed too violent to mix with other inmates and guards. Despite being dubbed ‘Britian’s most dangerous prisoner’, Maudsley remains a figure unknown or forgotten by many. His confinement is unique, with no other prisoner receiving the treatment he has been given- not even the notorious Ian Brady, who, until his recent death in 2017, held the title of longest serving prisoner, or his accomplice Myra Hindley.

The judicial system has arguably failed Maudsley, and his current 23 hours a day confinement is a breach of the killers human rights.

Maudsley is housed in a bullet proof glass box, specially built for his confinement in 1983, measuring 5.5 metres by 4.5 metres. His dwelling consists of a concrete slab to sleep on, a table and chair made of compressed cardboard, and a toilet and sink bolted to the floor. 

His confinement has been discussed by human rights advocates for decades now, arguing that his treatment only repeats the abuse Maudsley has suffered in his life that led to his crimes.

Maudsley suffered from a prolonged and sustained catalogue of abuse at the hands of his parents, primarily his father. Maudsley stated, ‘All I remember of my childhood is the beatings. Once I was locked in a room for six months and my father only opened the door to come in to beat me, four or six times a day. He used to hit me with sticks or rods and once he bust a .22 air rifle over my back.’

He was eventually taken away by social services and placed in a series of foster homes. His father told the rest of the family he had died.

Maudsley headed to London where he would commit his first and only murder outside of prison. After arriving in London, he spent a few years bouncing from one psychiatric hospital to another, one suicide attempt to another. While working as a prostitute, Maudsley garrotted one of his clients, John Farrell, in a rage after he produced graphic pictures of children he had abused. Farrell was his first victim.

Maudsley surrendered himself to the police for psychiatric care after this incident. While in prison, he murdered 3 fellow prisoners- child abusers and murderers respectively. This was the beginning of Maudsley’s confinement and isolation, as he was a risk to prisoner safety.

In the mid-1990’s, psychologist Dr Robert Johnson became the first person to interview Maudsley since he had been locked in solitary confinement.

Dr Johnson explained: “It was my duty as a doctor to discover why he had become a serial killer.”

These meetings were stopped without explanation or warning, and Maudsley has had no contact with psychological professionals or doctors since.

Robert Maudsley in the early 80’s. Image credit: BBC NEWS

The current paradigm of criminal rehabilitation seems not to apply to Maudsley, who is denied even a television or music in his tiny space for 23 hours a day, watched constantly.

Considering the Conservative proposal to ensure a whole life order actually means life, Maudsley will never be released from prison. Arguably he should never be. However, to deny a prisoner of Maudsley’s background basic comforts when arguably more notorious prisoners are not restricted from them must force us to re-examine his situation. The lack of psychological assistance to process not only his heinous crimes, but his heinous past is inhumane.

In March 2000, Maudsley unsuccessfully pleaded for the terms of his solitary confinement be relaxed, or to be allowed to take his own life via a cyanide capsule. He also asked for a pet budgerigar, which was also denied.

He is now 68 years old.

In the media, the killer is often referred to as “Hannibal” in an allusion to the famous fictional killer of Thomas Harris.

However, Maudsley’s nickname and the way he has been depicted in the media comes from a false story given by a Broadmoor guard. The guard alleged that one of his paedophile victims had a spoon in his skull, with brain missing. This was simply sensationalism and was proven to be erroneous.

However, look up Robert Maudsley and you’ll find the same salacious sensational tales at the forefront of his image, with headlines still referring to the prisoner as a cannibal. Society hungers for gruesome detail and often gleefully consumes the most horrific and unsubstantiated lore around a killer, notwithstanding if the information is actually true or not.

Maudsley’s reputation preceeds him, painted as only an evil, remorseless, cannibalistic serial killer. Articles seeking to shed more light on his circumstances still insist on using the clickbait headlines involving brains and spoons. Then they proceed to have a few sentences much further down that illustrate reality.

Maudsley is a killer, a criminal, and a violent offender- but he deserves true representation in the media. His continued confinement is a breach of human rights.

In 2000 Maudsley said, “What purpose is served by keeping me locked up 23 hours a day? Why even bother to feed me and to give me one hour’s exercise a day?”

“Who actually am I a risk to? As a consequence of my current treatment and confinement, I feel that all I have to look forward to is indeed psychological breakdown, mental illness and probable suicide.”

Former police detective Paul Harrison has interviewed Maudsley and says he’s a “clever guy”.

He said: “They’ve done bad things, and 99.9% deserve to be where they are, but there are those that make you think.

“You’ve got the image of a monster.

“A horrible, evil man. He’s got this reputation that’s been perpetuated by the service. I’d got all these preconceived ideas.

“But when we were communicating, I could understand why he did what he did.

“If you didn’t know him and what he’d done, and you saw him in the bar…he’s a really intelligent, clever guy, who made you smile.

“He’d talk about everyday things. A lot of [serial killers] are really intense and narcissistic and talk about themselves, and I didn’t find him like that at all.

“He’s the only one where I actually thought: ‘Wow – this is something different to any serial killer. Maudsley is different.”

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Aspiring writer, loves visual art.

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