Thursday, 13 December 2012, 9:00PM – 10:00PM
Made by Wild Pictures, who produced the high-rating and highly acclaimed ITV1 documentaries Strangeways, Wormwood Scrubs and Holloway, Pensioners Behind Bars shows how rather than enjoying a peaceful retirement, this fast-expanding group is committing more crime and being given longer sentences.
This colourful film includes the stories of men and women who have turned to crime only in later years after a lifetime as law-abiding citizens. It features a septuagenarian heroin dealer, a former driving instructor turned brothel keeper and a retired builder convicted of possession of blackmarket cigarettes and cannabis. They explain what drew them into crime, what it’s like to be locked up for the first time at their age, and how they are dealing with the consequences.
It also shows how career criminals such as former Krays associate Freddie Foreman are coping in retirement and asks if they still retain the urge to commit crime.
The number of over-60s in prison has trebled in the last 20 years and the programme begins with Anthony McErlean, 67, serving a five-year sentence at HMP Elmley for an audacious fraud. After faking his own death while abroad, in order to swindle his insurance company out of £500,000, he realised the potential pitfalls of spending his old age overseas.
“I thought if I get sick I can’t go back to the UK as a dead person and get healthcare. I’m up s*** creek without a paddle. I thought how do you un-kill yourself?”
Anthony was caught when police found his fingerprints on his own death certificate. He pleaded guilty to fraud and theft.
He says: “I regret being in here, but I don’t feel that I shouldn’t be in here. I knew what I was doing and I knew the risks.”
But the programme features others who were shocked at being sent to prison.
Grandmother Adele Lubin, 66, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for conspiracy to control prostitution at the age of 62 and began her term in Holloway. She started a legitimate massage therapy business but discovered that it was difficult to make money without offering extra services – and as her business expanded she became a brothel madam.
“The phone used to ring and they would say, ‘What kind of massage is it?’ And I would say, ‘Well it’s very therapeutic, and relaxing and sensual.’ And then some people would say, ‘Well do you do a happy ending?’ And I’d have to say, ‘Yeah, no problem.’
“I never thought if I ever got caught I’d end up in jail… I just didn’t think I was doing anything too terrible.”
Her elder brother Spencer Rolfe, who was also involved, was arrested in a café and given the same sentence. He recalls the moment a police officer caught him.
“He says to me, ‘Now do I need to put the handcuffs on you, or are you going to do a runner?’ I said, ‘I can’t even walk, let alone run.’”
HMP Norwich is one of the few prisons in the country with a specialist wing set up to deal with the increasing numbers of pensioners being given custodial sentences. Footage filmed inside the wing offers an insight into prison life for older inmates and Governor Will Styles explains the changing nature of its population and his work.
“As the prisoner population ages, our job slowly shifts away from how do we deal with rowdy 19-year-olds, to issues like how do we care for people with dementia, healthcare and mobility issues. It’s more about social care and less about order and control.”
Father of five Trevor Cairns, 62, a retired builder, is in prison for the first time in his life, serving a year for possessing thousands of pounds’ worth of cannabis and black market cigarettes. He explains the impact of getting a custodial sentence.
“It was a shock to the system. To be told what to do and locked up and you just can’t go out for a walk around – it was horrendous.”
“I like a little drink now and again and I like to be able to just get in my car and go out for a ride they’re the sort of things I miss now and being with my family and having a laugh and a joke at home. It’s definitely a sentence being here. I think I’ve learned my lesson now.”
Pensioner John Douglas, 77, has served no less than three jail terms after turning to crime in his twilight years. After marrying his home help Rose, he discovered she had a heroin habit. Aiming to wean her off the drug, the former church-goer became her supplier but developed into a drug dealer in his local town of Banff, Scotland. He enjoyed the buzz of dealing and became so successful that he put other local dealers out of business. Yet despite believing he could outsmart the police, he was caught and spent nine months in prison. He now regrets his actions and has resolved never to repeat them.
“People my age don’t do the things I want to do, they want to play bowls and stuff like that.
“I thought I was the smartest of the smart and I still got caught.”
Grandfather John Maurice, 71, was released from prison on licence after serving two years of a four-year sentence. After a lifetime working in his family jewellery business and as an international estate agent, the outwardly respectable semi-retired businessman was working as a professional courier. He was paid to smuggle ‘dirty’ money abroad, where it would surface as ‘clean’ cash. Eventually he was caught and jailed for three counts of money laundering. He reveals the adrenaline rush he felt committing his crimes, his shock at being arrested and explains the significance of a jail sentence at his age.
“The older you get the larger the percentage of the life that you’ve got left is spent, so to me at my age a two-year sentence is probably the same as a five- or six-year sentence.”
Freddie Foreman, a notorious bank robber and gangster in the 1960s last released from prison 17 years ago, says he has been straight ever since. He is seen celebrating his 80th birthday in the film.
“Of course I’m retired. I’m entitled to be retired aren’t I? I can’t even run for the bus anymore, let alone anything else.”
Actress Barbara Windsor, a friend of Freddie’s from her previous marriage to bank robber Ronnie Knight, reflects on criminals who have passed their prime.
“Working class, naughty, naughty men, who aren’t naughty no more, they can’t be. Too old, they are.”
Yet prison remains an occupational hazard if the hunger for a big score is still there, says ageing career criminal Gerry Dennis. Between them, he and brother Roy have served a total of seven prison sentences for offences including burglary, handling stolen goods and grievous bodily harm.
Gerry says: “It [prison] don’t hold no terror for me. That’s a fact. I don’t think it would for him either.”
Yet Roy says: “I would cry into my pillow every night. And I mean it.”