He was feted by the film studio as a misunderstood prisoner locked up for 35 years because he dared to fight the system. But a year after the biopic of Charles Bronson won rave reviews at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and helped frame calls for his release, prisoner BT1314 is back in trouble.
Bronson, famed for his penchant for violence, says he has been involved in a physical contretemps with 20 prison officers at his new prison in Long Lartin,Warwickshire.
In a letter written to The Independent, Bronson – who during his time in jail has taken 11 hostages, fought with 20 warders and savaged many more fellow inmates – claims he "crashed in 20 riot mob" after disobeying an order to come in from his private exercise yard. He readily admits: "Sadly I lost my cool ... I've no excuses. No regrets. I enjoyed it. It's one way to release the madness."
The incident could be a major setback in the campaign for his release. For 10 years, Bronson has kept his nose clean and avoided trouble, often turning the other cheek in the face of provocation. But the former bare-knuckle fighter believes he is being punished for his notoriety, which grew after the release in April of the film Bronson, starring Hollywood actor Tom Hardy, who featured with Tom Hanks in the Second World War series Band of Brothers.
Bronson complains that his move from Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire to Long Lartin this year, his 125th prison transfer in 35 years, was a direct response to the publicity. "I was told that it's a progressive move and I left [Wakefield] happy and positive," he wrote.
But soon after his arrival, he said he was stripped of his privileges, including the confiscation of his art pens which he relies upon to draw pictures which sell for up £1,500 on eBay. Bronson adds: "My cell is a drain in the floor (so it's a sewer). Nothing less. There's a cat-flap in [the] cell door to feed me! And cardboard furniture. I'm paid £2.50 a week from £12.50. I'm kept in total isolation. My visits are worse as it's behind a plastic screen. In three months I am here I have yet to see a fellow con. This is progress? And I'm on Mars!" He says eventually reacted by "crashing" into the prison officers. Bronson was jailed for armed robbery in 1975 but has not been released because of his repeated violent attacks on inmates and prison staff. For those who have always questioned his ability to turn his back on violence, the latest incident is vindication of their scepticism.
But Bronson's solicitor, Harriett Mather, says that "Charlie", as he likes to be called, is the victim of the system. "It's a completely unique situation which I have never come across before in all my time representing prisoners. He can't even hold his mother's hand during visits, something he treasured when she visited him in Wakefield. It's absurd because the prison system seems to have punished him before he has done anything wrong and now he's given them justification."
Bronson, 56, complains: "It all seems very vindictive and sudden! It's not progress putting a man in a sewer. I've lost everything I earnt ... All I do now is press-ups! 3,500 a day. Fuck the system. You have to see what it's doing with Ronnie Biggs. All those years of good behaviour and it got me nowhere."
But all may not be as hopeless as Bronson believes. Ms Mather, who runs her own firm, Criminal Defence Milton Keynes, says that no charges have been made against her client and the prison authorities have not raised an official complaint over the "crash". A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice played down the incident: "No one was injured, no one was hurt and no blood was spilt."
Prison officers demanded an inquiry after a recording of Bronson's voice was played at the premiere of the film earlier in the year. Bronson told the audience at a cinema in London's Haymarket: "See you at the Oscars." But the Prison Officers' Association was outraged at the address, claiming that it could have been recorded only secretly during a prison visit.
Charles Bronson: A life of crime
*Charles Bronson, real name Michael Peterson, was only 19 when he was sentenced to seven years in 1974 for a bungled armed robbery at a Post Office in Little Sutton, Merseyside.
He used a home-made sawn-off shotgun and stole just £26.18. His sentence has been repeatedly extended for crimes committed within prison, which include wounding with intent, grievous bodily harm, blackmail and threatening to kill. All but four of his years in prison have been spent in solitary confinement due to him taking hostage, staging rooftop protests, and mounting repeated attacks on prison staff and on other inmates.
In 2000, Bronson was given a life sentence for taking prisoner an art teacher whom he led around the cell on a lead. Bronson has spent a total of just four months and nine days out of custody since 1974. In 1999, a special prison unit was set up for Bronson and two other violent prisoners from Woodhill to reduce the risk they posed to staff and other prisoners. Bronson remained a Category A prisoner when he was moved to Wakefield High Security Prison. He was finally refused parole in March 2009 when it was decided that he had not proved he was a reformed character. He was moved to Long Lartin on 23 April.