He lied, cheated and ended up in prison for fraud, but on release Lord Brocket will start on pounds 170,000 a year
Lord Brocket hates prisons. And he has tried a few, so he should know. In Wellingborough, he was badly beaten up. In Littlehay, he was stabbed. Now, at Ford open prison, he is bored to death. Ever since February last year, when he was given a five-year sentence for organising a fake robbery of his antique Ferraris and trying to claim pounds 4.5m from his insurers, Lord Brocket has been fighting to be freed. On Friday, he very nearly succeeded.

In the morning, he put on the soft blue shirt with the white collar that he'd worn the day he was sentenced, and knotted his blue and red Hermes tie. For nearly 20 months, his grey suit hung unused in his solicitor's office. But it was the right thing to be wearing at the Court of Appeal.

The vice-president himself, Lord Justice Rose, heard Brocket's appeal against his sentence. Court Five of the Royal Courts of Justice is panelled in wood. Around the bench, on three walls, right up to the ceiling, are shelf upon shelf of leather-bound books, the legal authorities on which British justice depends. At Lord Rose's shoulder hangs the anonymous motto of the Order of the Garter - Honi soit qui mal y pense - that hangs in every courtroom. Even those who don't know what the words mean ("Evil be to him who evil thinks") recognise that they mean business. Lord Rose was the judge in the trial of Darius Guppy, another fraudster, and he has little patience with men who meddle with the law.

That did not stop him listening carefully to the arguments presented by Brocket's counsel, John Causer. A soft-spoken man, whose greatest love is his rose garden, Causer had prepared Brocket's case with care. He raked over the ground, and dug out all the details that might help. Causer pointed out that the wording of the Criminal Appeal Act of 1907 had been changed in a significant way when it was revised in 1968, to give the Court of Appeal wider powers in amending prison sentences.

He began by arguing that Brocket's five-year sentence was too long. Guppy, who unlike Brocket had succeeded in getting his insurers to pay up when he faked a theft of gemstones in a New York hotel, had been given the same sentence. Why should Brocket, who was paid nothing, suffer the same fate?

Causer argued that the judge who sentenced Brocket could not have known the violence he would suffer in jail. That, Causer said, should be enough to allow the Court of Appeal to reduce the sentence. Brocket's prison experience was, he pleaded, "wholly exceptional". That might have clinched it. But Lord Rose was not convinced. Gently, he dismissed the appeal, and sent Brocket back to Ford.

An Hereditary peer with an Eton and Guards background, Lord Brocket, now 45, turned Brocket Hall, a Georgian mansion in Hertfordshire, into his business by letting it out for international conferences. And he could indulge his passion for classic cars. Lord Brocket would often tell the chauffeur of his beloved Bentley, "Don't tell me about the law. I make the law."

But Lord Brocket underestimated how much the authorities wanted to get him. The police were suspicious from the start. Called out to Brocket Hall one Tuesday morning in May 1991, when it was discovered that the showroom where Lord Brocket kept a part of his magnificent collection of cars had been broken into over the Bank Holiday weekend, they couldn't understand how a lorry could breach the security of Brocket Hall, load up three Ferraris dating from the 1950s, a 1960 Maserati, and four engines, and drive out without being seen by a single person. This was what Lord Brocket insisted had happened. He even told the press the cars had been stolen to order. By foreigners, he added.

The loss adjuster, David Cook, was even more sceptical. Classic cars like Brocket's just don't get nicked, he told himself. The insurers, who were reluctant to pay out, were delighted when they found that Brocket had been lax in reporting previous losses. That gave them a technical reason for not paying up. But Lord Brocket sued the insurers, hoping to force their hand. He lied to his lawyers, and forced his car dealer, Richard Purtado, to do the same.

When his Cuban-American wife became worried that she might be called as a witness, she told his mother and his uncle, the senior family trustee, that Lord Brocket was behind the theft. His lordship denied the accusation. Lady Brocket, he insisted, was a drug addict and had a fertile imagination. "You have to believe me," he told his family. "I had nothing to do with it."

In the end, it was another minor participant, Barry Flynn, who never got fully paid for his part in the scam, who finally gave the game away. But even then Brocket thought they'd never really get him. In February 1995, he was arrested. Two of his co-conspirators told the police the full story. But Brocket, when charged, pleaded not guilty. He never believed the police could mount a case against him.

To put pressure on him to change his plea, the police collected evidence of a second fraud. Brocket, they said, had sold a replica of a Ferrari 250 SWB as if it were the original thing. The purchaser was Jon Shirley, one of Bill Gates's partners and the former president of Micro- soft. Four days before Brocket was due to plead again in court on the first charge, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police had him arrested and charged him a second time, for obtaining money by deception.

They arranged to arrive at his house in mid-afternoon, on a Friday, so that he would be arrested in front of his children who had just come back from school. On the day of his plea hearing, Brocket admitted to arranging the robbery. But that was not the end of the pressure. The judge told him there was no way he could escape going to prison. But the authorities believed he was planning to escape by private aircraft to Scandinavia, so the weekend before he was sentenced he was put under police surveillance.

Once in prison, Brocket was an obvious target. Within two months, he was attacked by a gang of inmates who stole his diary and beat up another prisoner who came to his aid. Brocket gave a statement to the police and three men were sent for trial.

He was continually threatened and told his family would be assaulted. He was moved to another prison, Littlehay near Huntingdon. He was threatened again. This time the prison authorities moved him to Maidstone. But Maidstone didn't want him. Again he was moved, back to Littlehay. There were more threats. "I run up and down the passages with my stuffed laundry bag to ward off that knife thrust when it comes," he wrote to me in November 1996. "And come it will because I get told this almost every day."

The prison authorities admitted to Brocket that they could not protect him. Nor would he be moved as long as he faced a second charge. "It is clear I have a choice," he wrote. "Stay here for another year and risk getting killed, or plead guilty and move now. I'm on borrowed time. I'd rather have a guilty plea than be done in by this lot." Pleading guilty, he was given another sentence, this time for two years.

The Court of Appeal represented Brocket's last hope of being released early. He won't come out now until at least next August. Life will be different when he does. His wife has divorced him, and taken their three children to live with her parents in Puerto Rico. His business has gone, and so has his reputation. Brocket Hall has been sold, to a foreigner.

Meanwhile, boredom rules. Every morning, Brocket gets up at seven. For breakfast, he has porridge and toast. Lunch, at 11.30, is a slice of bully beef, spaghetti hoops and chips. The evening meal is at 4.30. The timetable is skewed to suit the wardens, not the inmates. During the week, he empties dustbins. He dresses in prison-issue Day-glo green trousers and a new pair of deck shoes sent to him by his brother. He is allowed three visitors a month, between the hours of 2-4pm. No knives, scissors or belted bathrobes can be brought into the prison.

His reputation is in tatters. He is not, as the tabloids insist, a friend of Prince Charles. And the famous tryst he is supposed to have enjoyed with a physiotherapist he consulted for a dicky knee never happened. It's not all bleak. Brocket is a regular in the prison gym, and has reduced his waistline from 36 inches to 32. His other vital statistics are even more encouraging; when he does get out, he will have a private income of pounds 170,000, rising to pounds 650,000 after 15 years.

Meanwhile, it probably won't help for him to know that there is always someone worse off. Someone like Jean Doyle, a 63-year-old diabetic from London's East End. Mrs Doyle sat in Brocket's seat in the Court of Appeal just before him on Friday. She has seven children, four of whom are drug addicts. The police caught her with pounds 132 worth of heroin. Now, heroin is expensive and pounds 132 doesn't buy you very much. But it was enough to get her three years in Holloway. When Mrs Doyle gets out, she will be virtually destitute. She won't be able to imagine living on an income of pounds 170,000. She won't even be able to see the particulars that the West End estate agents, Chesterfield & Co, sends Brocket with unfailing regularity in anticipation of the day his lordship wants to re-enter the property market. Lord Brocket is bored, but that will pass. Mrs Doyle is blind. She will never see again.