Former gangland boss says UK's economic crisis behind violent crimewave

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Stephen Gillen, 51, was once a cellmate of notorious prisoner Charles Bronson, 69, and now believes Bronson should be released because he is “not the same as he was in his 30s”.

Stephen, who was jailed for armed robbery in the early 90s but now helps others reform from gang life, said the killing of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel was the “worst possible… senseless” crime.

He believes it is part of a rise in violent crime across Britain stemming from the economic fallout of the Covid pandemic.

He told the Sunday Express: “The route of aggression is always fear and insecurity.

“I think that there’s more aggression in society, that’s fair to say.

“Look at what we have just come out of in Covid and all the rest of it…It propelled a lot of people into a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear and confusion.

“It’s made society as a whole weaker and the elements that keep society stable weaker. This has opened up holes and opportunities where more of this stuff is revealing itself and has a chance.”

Stephen was only aged seven when he witnessed a young man bleed to death after being shot on the street. He reformed and turned his life around at the age of 40 and has become an International Peace Prize Nominee, philanthropist and entrepreneur.

He said: “The underlying drivers are poverty, trauma and fear.

“Part of it is there are opportunists, they don’t play by conventional rules, they are driven by greed.”

Stephen, who has teamed up with the former “Prince of the Mafia” Michael Franzese, 71, to turn people away from a life of crime, said he receives a Christmas card from Charles Bronson and speaks to his family.

Stephen, who said a character in an upcoming £30million Hollywood film about his life will be based on Bronson, said: “They’ve got a real nice quiet place by the sea. He wants to do his art and he can make enough of it.

“He is not the same as he was in his 30s or even when he would have been in his 50s.”

Bronson is one of the UK’s longest serving prisoners having been jailed in 1974 for armed robbery of a post office and sentenced to seven years in prison. His violent behaviour saw him remain in jail almost continuously and spent much of his time in solitary confinement.

Last month he became the first inmate to formally ask for his next Parole Board hearing to be heard in public in front of the High Court under new rules to remove the secrecy behind the process.

The Parole Board is considering his request and it is believed the hearing could be later this year or early in 2023.

Bronson, who has become an acclaimed artist and changed his name to Charles Salvador, was first sent to jail in 1968 and held 11 hostages in nine different sieges with victims including prison governors, doctors, staff and, on one occasion, his own solicitor.

Bronson was sentenced in 2000 to a discretionary life term with a minimum of four years for taking a prison teacher at HMP Hull hostage for 44 hours. The Parole Board has since repeatedly refused to direct his release.

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