How I fell in love with Myra

Myra Hindley's partner tells their story exclusively to Steve Boggan
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's ten past one and I put on my coat, check the pockets for my visiting order and set off for Durham jail where I know Myra, my partner, will be waiting.

The routine is always the same; the man at the gate sees me, nods in recognition and picks up the phone. While waiting, the other visitors come in, mainly women pushing prams. Sometimes, a visitor recognises me and swears, others start to laugh but I turn my back and try to ignore them.

I am taken through the gate and escorted by a prison officer through security - where, each time, my photo is taken - and on to the visiting area, a windowless room painted pale pink and peppered with tables and chairs. And there she is.

There are strict rules governing visits, and, like everyone else, we're allowed no more than to hold hands or embrace when we say hello and goodbye. We sit next to each other and, while we talk, there are about five other visits going on at the same time. We are supervised constantly by two prison officers. Sometimes, when we laugh, all the heads shoot round to look at us. On other occasions, when we're "alone", with just the prison officers for company, you could hear a pin drop on the brown-carpeted floor.

The first time I met Myra Hindley was at Cookham Wood prison in Kent in November 1993, where I was engaged in research. I am 36, was born in Holland and am a criminologist. I vaguely remembered reading an article in a Dutch newspaper about Myra Hindley, but when the governor later told me that she had been in prison for almost 30 years I thought there must have been some mistake. Sentences of this length are unknown in Holland (except for war criminals, and even these people have by now been released).

When I visited Cookham Wood for the first time, I was a little apprehensive about meeting this very scary person but I couldn't find anybody to fit the description. In the administration area, the governor and I nearly bumped into the cleaning lady as she was dragging the vacuum cleaner up the stairs. Later, in the governor's office somebody knocked on the door and came in to give us a cup of tea. The governor introduced us: "Myra, this is Nina..." It was the cleaning lady.

She was small, with dark hair and she was wearing a pink T-shirt. I remember being surprised that this was the person who was supposed to be so frightening. I was set to work and had to use the administration kitchen as an office. Myra would potter around, making tea and coffee for staff and visitors, washing up and vacuuming, and bit by bit we began to talk - about philosophy, religion, French and English literature.

She has a very sharp mind and great wit. She is sensible and sensitive and very good company. She always gets on well with everybody. I felt immediately at ease with her.

Within the prison, a group of officers was opposed to any form of change, and they were suspicious that I spent time with Myra. I began to understand then that everybody felt that they had to make Myra their business; they all had an opinion about her and her every move. She seems to be public property.

I soon noticed that she made weekly tabloid headlines, without the Home Office taking any positive action to try and counteract this relentless flow of articles. The tabloids can be very upsetting. The most vicious article claimed that prison officers had found us together in Myra's cell with "floral knickers" round her ankles.

This was completely untrue and I have letters and testimonials from the Prison Service that prove it. I was horrified by the story because it could have wrecked my career. But it's not the only one. They are constantly on the lookout for stories about "Evil Myra and her weird girlfriend".

Last Thursday, I opened my bedroom curtains and there were two men in a car looking into my windows. Then the camera with the long lens came out and I spent the day crawling along the floor so they couldn't see me. It wasn't the first time it had happened and it won't be the last.

I share a house with five other people and, when things like this happen, they help to hide me and smuggle me in and out. They're from all walks of life and are always kind and friendly - so are all the people who know me in the area I live in in Durham. They don't find my relationship at all as strange as the tabloids would like them to. Even my parents are fine about it - the only thing they find strange is that Myra is still locked up.

Some of the things the tabloids write can be laughable - like the time they described me as a trainee nun or when they claimed we had been married in prison. But others can be hurtful.

Home Secretaries' decisions on releasing prisoners with a life sentence are obviously influenced by what the tabloids have to say. This makes a mockery of the blindfolded statue of Justice. Even Home Office officials have acknowledged to me that Myra has become a political prisoner; but she has become a necessity for the tabloids in a pecuniary sense, for the public in an emotional sense and for Home Secretaries to show that they are tough on crime.

Every crime leaves a scar. How deep and how big this scar is depends mainly on the crime. Every crime is a violation and touches the emotions profoundly and should therefore be dealt with by an independent and

rational body without political interference. Otherwise we will get a justice system "society yearns for" (in the words of Michael Howard) which will be a justice system based on revenge where, rather than the judiciary, it is the tabloid readers who determine sentences.

And the same applies to somebody's possible release; the opinion (the famous polls) of tabloid readers weighs more heavily for the Home Secretary than the lengthy reports made by governors, psychiatrists, probation officers, chaplains, personal officers and psychologists, who have known the offender for years, and who have repeatedly said she presents no threat to the public.

We have talked about what happened. It was difficult at first, but Myra has always been completely frank with me and, as she told me more, I found it harder and harder to reconcile those dark, staring eyes of the past with the person I knew. I came to understand how she got involved with Brady and how she came to be his accomplice. But the person I see now is a different person from the one Brady knew.

She deeply regrets what happened but it is impossible for her to show enough remorse. She is still portrayed as the monster creation of the tabloids when, in fact, she is a 54-year-old woman with a degree in humanities who suffers from angina, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and a fractured thigh that hasn't healed properly after two years.

We are both hopeful that one day she will be released but, as long as it remains a political decision, it is difficult to see how she can. The average life sentence is 14 years; she has been inside for 32 but there are no votes to be won by letting Myra Hindley go.

Some of the tabloids have said we would make a life abroad. Of course, that would make things easier, but it isn't true and it wouldn't be possible. If Myra were ever released it would be on a life licence, and that means you can't leave the country. Freedom and normality seem just a distant dream.

My mind goes back to a time at Cookham Wood when, if possible, we would go to the gym during lunch break to play tennis as part of Myra's medical regimen. Instead of going through the prison we walked through the grounds to the gym. One day the fence was being repaired. This fence normally has wooden planks about half way up to prevent people from looking in or out. But, because of the repairs, a section had been taken down and it was possible to see beyond the fence.

Myra said to me that, for once, she preferred to sit outside the gym. And for the next half hour she just sat gazing at that bit of green and trees that was visible.

It is something I often think of as visiting time ends when she goes back inside and I leave that windowless room and step out into the daylight.

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