`They told me I'd never be cured' The knife in his own hands

Is castration an effective means of preventing sex offenders from reoffending? Esther Oxford meets a man who believes that, for him, it offered the only solution

In a top-floor flat in Chatham, Kent, there lives a man. He is a quiet, slightly built pensioner whose eyes roll like drunken goldfish through his spectacles. At first glance, the only strange thing about this man is that he powders his nose. The "panty line" is hidden beneath the bridge of his glasses, but still the powder looks odd: too thick, too pale.

Step inside. Look a little closer. On top of the television, there is a home-made Valentine card from an anonymous child. It is covered in glitter and hearts. Hanging on the wall are three mugs, each with the same photograph printed across them: George with two young boys.

Most eye-catching is a framed scrap of paper hanging above the storage heater. "George, you are my best friend. I'll always be just round the bend. I love you mountains more than water fountains." In the bottom corner, it says: "Remember our favourite spot in Capstone Park."

"That's from the boy, Chris," says George. He coughs, hackingly, then sits down in a saggy armchair and rolls a cigarette. Then he talks in a low, humble voice about how much he loves Chris - how much he loves all children, how he is still a boy himself. Then he talks about how he has made "the ultimate sacrifice" and how he is now "so good and so clean". The ultimate sacrifice? "Surgical castration," says George. "I wanted to be sure I would never have an erection again."

George (not his real name) is the first and only sex offender in Britain to volunteer to be surgically castrated. The £1,800 operation took place in October 1993 after six years of wrangling. The short operation, which left George bruised and bleeding, was carried out in a small clinic in Hove, Sussex. It was kept out of the public eye; the surgeon did not want media attention. George, too, was sensitive about what people thought. He discharged himself the same day.

Fifteen months on, George proudly claims he is "cured". He still has erections, but only when he wants to pass water. He cannot ejaculate. He knows, he says, because 10 days after the operation, he spent an hour and a half, locked in a dingy bed and breakfast, masturbating. "I tried and tried. I fantasised about all the things that used to turn me on. But nothing happened! I felt so happy!"

Michael Royle, the surgeon who castrated George, is not so thrilled. Ever since the operation, he has been pestered by calls from the press and other interested parties. Now he claims not to have heard of George. When prompted, his reply is simple: "I don't think I wish to speak on this subject."

"Everyone is frightened to enter the arena," says Dr John Porter, a prison doctor who was instrumental in encouraging George to have the operation. "Aside from the ethical problems, they are terrified of possible side- effects. And they are worried that if the sex offender re-offends, they will get the blame." Consequently, most prison doctors advise offenders to wait until their release before starting hormone treatment.

Each year, about 800 of Britain's 3,000 convicted sex offenders are released into the community to start afresh. Most are admitted to one of the 42 treatment programmes run by probation services around the country. While the public can take some comfort from the fact that money is being diverted into "neutralising" sex offenders, results of the treatment programmes are not so encouraging. The average success rate when treating "highly deviant" child molesters (those who've had more than 10 victims) is a mere 25 per cent, according to a recent Home Office report.

While some offenders benefit from treatment programmes, the report found a significant proportion re-enter society even more contemptuous of their victims (25 per cent), more emotionally immature (25 per cent) and still in a state of denial. Many are likely to re-offend: 61 per cent of the "highly deviant" molesters sampled in the study had already been convicted of a previous sexual offence. Their average number of victims was 24.

According to Ray Buckingham, a long-serving officer at Maidstone prison, where George made his decision, the success rates of most prison programmes are not much better. Prisoners are encouraged to talk about their offences and to understand the hurt and damage they have inflicted. But how great an impact it has on the offenders is debatable, he says. "If you ask me, once you're a paedophile, you're always a paedophile."

George gets angry when he hears this. "They always told me I'd never be cured," he said. "I believed them. But then I thought: George, you don't have to be an offender. They're poisoning your mind. I threw everything they told me out of the window. I knew I could get rid of my sex."

George's battle to be surgically castrated lasted for six years. "I wanted a permanent solution," he said. "For me, chemical castration would have been like growing a beard to hide a spot." But the prison authorities were reluctant. Injecting testosterone-suppressing drugs (chemical castration) was reversible, they argued. Surgical castration isn't.

George went on a 42-day hunger strike, attempted suicide twice and tried to castrate himself in his prison cell. He wrote to every MP he could think of (John Smith was one of the few to write back), appeared before consultancy boards, spent four months being psychologically assessed to test he was making the right decision, and when that failed, he applied for legal aid so he could take the matter to the High Court. Legal aid was refused.

Mr Royle, of the Avenue Clinic in Hove, heard of George's plight. If George could find two consultant psychiatrists to support his wishes, he would do the operation, he said. George did. The surgery took 40 minutes. And in those 40 minutes, says George, a lifetime of "unclean practices" was swept away. Swept away for good? "Yes," says George fervently. Then he takes out a wooden cross (which, incidentally, he had smeared with his own blood and then varnished) and reads from a prepared piece of paper. "I have no erections, no sexual feelings. I have no interest in sex with man, woman or child... or even the village lamp-post."

In Germany, surgical castration is seen as nothing out of the ordinary. Sex offenders have been offered surgical castration since the 1970s; 400 sex offenders were treated this way in the first decade, although the number has fallen to five a year. Results are persuasive - a study of 104 voluntary patients found that while 46 per cent of uncastrated sex offenders re-offend, only 3 per cent of those who have had the operation do so.

As yet, the British establishment is still very much opposed to surgical castration on the grounds that it is brutal and barbaric. There is also some evidence that it doesn't always work. A different study of 35 castrated men in Germany found that 11 were still able to engage in sexual intercourse. As Professor John Gunn, of the Institute of Psychiatry, says, sex hormones are produced in the adrenal glands as well as the testicles.

Carol Jennings, psychiatrist at Maidstone prison for three years, is worried by the side-effects: "There have been cases where men have grown breasts and have had to undergo a mastectomy," she says. "They are left with a distorted image of themselves." The patient may also become frustrated by the loss of libido and turn to more violent ways of asserting his dominance. "There are other forms of child abuse apart from sexual gratification," she says. "The mental causes of offending must be addressed."

George acknowledges that some sex offenders are driven by the desire to humiliate rather than by their libidos, but says his urge to abuse was purely physical. For offenders like himself, compulsory chemical castration has a part to play: "It is more important to protect women and children from attack than it is to protect the right of a man to have a few seconds thrill while he ejaculates," he says.

George says his "libido" came in cycles. "Every six weeks, I would get a 10-day period of being obsessed with sex." For 23 years, in between sentences, he spent the days stalking prepubescent children by approaching their mothers to build trust before inviting the school children (mainly girls) to his house. "I would sit them on my knee. Sometimes, one of the lasses would sit back on the sofa, lift her frock and show me her panties... they were always willing."

Then, the "games" would start. George would lick the girls' genitals and rub his penis against them. When he was close to ejaculation, he would ask them to leave. Then he would strip off his clothes and masturbate in his living room. "I could never ejaculate in front of them. I was too ashamed."

Afterwards, says George, the remorse was often too hard to bear. "I would think of the terrible harm I was doing," he says. "It would upset me... it was this hatred of myself and concern about children which made me have the operation."

Most of the 30 or more children were abused over two to three-year periods. Nearly all suffered silently: "They were as frightened as I was of their parents finding out." When the girls reached puberty, George wanted nothing more to do with them. They reminded him of women - "all noise, smells and wriggling". But one or two confided in an adult and a police officer would be sent round to ask George if the accusation were true. "I always pleaded guilty," George says. "I didn't want the children to have to give evidence."

While George insists he is now harmless, there are some people in the medical and prison establishment who do not believe him. To prove them wrong, George decided to "test" himself last year by building a relationship with two young brothers (including Chris - not his real name), both of whom were staying with foster parents in his area. The experiment went tragically wrong.

For five "blissful" months, George swam in the nude with them, went bird- nesting and fishing with them. "It was the happiest time in my life. I never grew up, you see. I never wanted to be an adult."

But then last October, social services found out the boys had formed a relationship with a known child molester and put them into care - separately.

The decision has thrown George into a depression. "I could understand it if I hadn't had the operation. But I have, and I'm willing to put my body under hypnosis and see any number of psychiatrists to prove that I won't harm these two boys."

Mr Buckingham says the social services were right to separate George from the two children. "I'll put a year's wages that George will re-offend if he hasn't done so already." Instead of castrating himself, George would have been better off cutting out his tongue or fingers, he says. "Why bother with castration? He never used his penis, anyway."

Next month, George is to lose his flat. His neighbours have found out about his "past" and every now and then, one starts shouting abuse. George plans to set up home in a local park. He has no friends or family willing to speak to him, let alone help. It will be difficult, he agrees, but nothing compares to the hurt that his separation from the boys has inflicted. "Nobody wants to monitor the success of the operation, they will label me a child molester for the rest of my life," he says tearfully.

Humiliated, and fearful of being confronted, George lives the life of a hermit. His only contact with people comes when he walks down the hill to his local caf for a mug of tea and a menthol cigarette. Children run in and out of the caf, especially when the television is showing Neighbours. "Hi George!" they shout and climb up on plastic chairs, legs awry. "Hello," he smiles back gently.

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