From exam student to an 'inevitable' prison career

LYING IN his bedroom at a south London children's home, 15-year-old John is philosophical about the benefits and drawbacks of nine months without education.

He has not attended school since the financial collapse in January of Peper Harow, a renowned therapeutic community for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. He was referred to the pounds 60,000-a-year residential school near Guildford, Surrey, by his local education authority in a bid to break his criminal behaviour. His school career had been plagued by truancy.

He still misses Peper Harow where he, his social worker and his teachers claim he was making his first real progress.

But he is not bothered about attending another school. No mainstream secondary is prepared to have him and, anyway, he appreciates the extra time to plan his frequent thefts and make subsequent court appearances.

Stocky, dark and marked by love bites, he is disarmingly frank about his exploits. 'If I didn't steal I wouldn't have my CD player or my trainers. You probably had a mum and dad to buy you what you needed. I didn't. Me and my bruv have always had to take what we needed.'

Today he brandishes pounds 60 he and another boy from the home made that afternoon from stealing and selling two kitchen appliances. But car radios are his speciality.

'I sell the radios on then I use the money to buy an old banger for maybe pounds 150. I can drive, you know, but I keep getting nicked for driving without a licence and insurance. Sometimes I use the car to do a job.'

Since his parents separated, when he was a baby, John has been cared for by a succession of foster parents and children's homes. His memory of his early years is sketchy but he and his older 'bruv', Jim, remember being taken into care when they were five and eight after neighbours reported them for stealing milk. 'I don't think the woman who was looking after us could have been doing a good job,' he concludes.

They remember being checked for bruises at school and say their foster father used to beat them.

Jim, 18, has been the one constant in John's life. Already the father of two children by two different ex-girlfriends, and more in prison than out, he is not an ideal role model. Since the closure of Peper Harow, he has once again been the main influence in John's life.

Jim is ambivalent about the way his younger brother's life is mimicking his own. 'While he was at Peper Harow, he became more like a real schoolboy. They had him in for five GCSEs. I don't want him to get into trouble but what can I tell him?

'Fact is, I left home and lived rough when I was 14 and I have managed to look after myself since then. I steal for a living and I can make more in a day than my friends earn in a week. When I was 15 I had my own pick-up truck and ran my own scrap business. I had enough money to club, run two cars, smoke some puff (cannabis) every day and buy the latest gear.'

Prison, he says, is an occupational hazard. 'At least while I am out I live like a king. I don't have any answers but I know prison does not work. The day they release me I am out stealing again.'

His younger brother John still talks fondly of Peper Harow, the staff and 'his GCSE mission' while he was there. He still marvels at how they did not force him to do anything but he gradually came round to attending class.

'We all cried when it closed. I really felt I was making it there for the first time. It was right to get me away from all this and all the bad influences. They just needed four more referrals to keep it open but they couldn't get them,' he said.

He now seems to see future incarceration as inevitable. The photo album which records his time at Peper Harow also displays a newspaper cutting which tells the story of one of the break-ins he committed. His room is full of items stamped HM Prisons, mementos from his frequent visits to see his brother. 'If I had not come into care I don't think I would be in this position. But prison? That's all to come yet.'

The names in this report have been changed.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living