Charlie Bronson, the Man Considered Britains Most Violent Prisoner
How could the British Government justify caging a man who has never killed for four decades?
Charles Bronson is one of the most infamous British prisoners ever. Except for a couple of weeks, he has spent most of his life in prison. Yet, Bronson has never killed anyone and was initially convicted of robbery.
However, his crime statistics are staggering. Ninety-five per cent of his crimes have been committed in prison. It is estimated that he has caused over £5 million of damage during this time.
He has spent 45 years at the top of the most dangerous prisoner list as a category A prisoner. The Krays only spent fifteen years there. He has been to every major prison in the United Kingdom with men such as Peter Sutcliffe and Richard Maudsley.
Bronson was born Michael Peterson on 6th December 1952 in Luton Bedfordshire. He was the second of three sons born to Eira and Joe Peterson. Both his parents were hard-working, his father running a conservative club. His Aunt and Uncle were the Mayor of Luton.
When asked, people who knew him described him as a bright, gentle boy with a passion for defending the weak. This is a theme that has followed him throughout his life.
At thirteen, his family moved to Cheshire, where he started getting into trouble. He joined a gang and started taking part in petty crime. This behaviour soon found him in juvenile court.
Bronson's first job was in Tesco, where he was sacked after a couple of weeks for attacking the store manager. He then went on to various labouring jobs. It wasn't long before he was in Risley prison on criminal damage charges.
In 1971, Bronson met Irene Kelsey. They had been going out for eight months when they got married. Kelsey was four months pregnant at the time; she gave birth to their son Michael Jonathan Peterson.
Kelsey states that it wasn't long before Bronson spent more time away from the house, than in it. She thought he was drinking when he was planning a robbery.
In 1974, at twenty-two, he was convicted of armed robbery and received a seven-year sentence. He was transferred to Walton Gaol, where he attacked two prisoners and was placed in segregation.
He was then transferred to Hull prison, where he smashed up the workshop and was segregated for six months. Whilst in segregation, he attacked another prisoner with a jug and was charged with grievous bodily harm. His sentence was extended by nine months.
He was transferred to Armley Gaol, where he received divorce papers from Kelsey. This was to be a familiar pattern for Bronson. Many attacks and many transfers were causing his sentence to be extended and extended.
After a violent altercation in Wandsworth Prison, Bronson was transferred back to Parkhurst, but this time to the psychiatric wing. Once there, he attacked another prisoner and attempted to commit suicide.
The prison authorities were at a loss where to put him because of his violent altercations, so they sectioned him under the Mental Health Act and in December 1978, transferred him to Broadmoor Hospital. Here prisoners were patients and guards were called nurses.
As soon as he arrived at Broadmoor, he was sent to another hospital called Rampton. Here he attempted to strangle child rapist and murderer John Waite; guards stopped him just as Waite started the death rattle.
He was then back to Broadmoor. Bronson has written extensively about his time at Broadmoor and the treatment he felt was unjust in one of his many books. He rebelled continually against the drugs that they pumped into him.
Broadmoor was an old institution which needed a great deal of modernising. Unfortunately, one of the features that it still contained was dormitories for the men. This Bronson objected to as soon as he arrived. He was not a man comfortable with sharing his bedroom with lunatics, in his words.
He started an altercation with the man in the bunk next to him, Gordon Robinson. Bronson states that it became known that Robinson did not like him; it was a competition to see who killed the other first.
Never being one to sit back, as the lights went out Bronson attacked Robinson with a tie attempting to strangle him. He would have succeeded in killing him had the tie not snapped. Bronson states that although he was punished for this, nurses found a knife in Robinson's bed that he was going to use on Bronson the same night.
Up on the roof
Bronson took great issue with the treatment he received in Broadmoor. During the 80s, Broadmoor was well known for its methods; three patients had died in their care.
Largactil, the drug of preference in the 80s, was known as the liquid cosh. It has been known to cause lockjaw, seizures, paralysis and incontinence. To the fitness-crazy Bronson, it was the worse thing that could happen to him.
Bronson said they were forced on you, if you did not take the prescribed drugs. His family said that he was a different man when they visited Broadmoor. He had put on three stones and could barely hold a conversation.
Bronson wanted others to become aware of the Broadmoor regime. So he decided the best way was to stage a rooftop protest. He talks about running at full speed across the exercise yard to reach the drain that took him up on the roof, praying it wouldn't break.
He was the first man to reach the roof in one hundred years.
His first rooftop protest was in 1982. The old hospital roof was covered in expensive, slate tiles. So Bronson set about a one-man mission to tear every roof tile off the building, smashing them below.
While this was happening, he tells a story of seeing Ronnie Kray's mother and brother walking across for visiting hours. He stated he had such respect for the Krays, having met them in Parkhurst, that he stopped throwing the tiles so the visit could go ahead, only starting again as they left.
The siege lasted until Bronson became so ill, he knew he had to come down. The final decision was when his dad came to talk him down. After that, he was put in solitary for six months.
No sooner had he been removed from solitary than he went to the exercise yard to find the scaffolding from fixing the roof was still up. Not believing his luck, he ran at full speed and again reached the roof.
This second protest in 1983 would last three days and cost the prison £250 000 in damages.
By this point, you would have thought the governor would have learned from previous mistakes. However, in 1984 Bronson again managed to gain access to the roof. In his book, Bronson talks about how he was as surprised as anyone that he was able to get a hattrick.
This time Bronson demanded a transfer out of Broadmoor. He was told that this was possible and he states tricked into coming down off the roof. When it was clear the governor had not kept his word about a transfer, Bronson went on hunger strike. He was finally transferred to Ashworth in June 1984.
In 1987, Bronson had finally served a fourteen years sentence, which was meant to be three, he was released from prison. His parents state that he was a man who was institutionalised; he did not know the world he went back into. He had no idea of money, traffic or anything to do with the outside world.
He went to London, where he started a boxing career. It was here that he finally got the name he is famous for, Charles Bronson, after the American actor. It was this name his boxing promoter suggested. But, like many other times, Bronson could not control his anger; he soon found himself broke again.
On New Year’s Eve 1988, Bronson robbed a jewellery store for a ring for his girlfriend. He was arrested on his sixty-ninth day of freedom and placed in Brixton prison. In June, he pleaded guilty and was given a seven-year sentence. Again the pattern of violence and solitary started.
Bronson was again free in November 1992. After fifty-three days of freedom, he was arrested on conspiracy to rob charges and received an eight-year sentence. The country's most violent prisoner also appeared to be the country's most unsuccessful robber.
Violence and Sieges
Bronson, once again back in the system, posed the same threats he had always presented. He was violent and spent most of his time in solitary.
In January 1999, Bronson took a civilian art teacher prisoner. He stated he had criticised his drawing. The siege lasted for forty-four hours. Once charged, the judge sentenced Bronson to a life sentence, effectively ending his hope of ever being released.
Since then, he has been married twice to women who started writing to him in prison. One of these, a British actress died in 2017; after photos were leaked of her with another man on holiday, the circumstances were not suspicious.
Throughout his time in prison, Bronson has taken eleven hostages in nine sieges. These hostages have been prison governors, doctors, civilian staff, prisoners and even his own solicitor. He has moved one hundred and twenty times over forty-three years.
He has stayed at each high-security psychiatric hospital: Broadmoor, Rampton and Ashworth.
He has been observed bending cell doors with his bare hands and can do a thousand press-ups a day. Bronson has spent a staggering twenty-two years in solitary. The trademark glasses he wears are because his eyes are so damaged by the constant light in solitary.
In 1998, Bronson asked his friend to try and find his son from his first marriage, Michael. When Michael visited his father after twenty-three years, it went well. However, Michael was shocked that the man he met was not the one reported in the papers.
Bronson promised his son that he would stay out of trouble for him; mainly, he has kept his word. The pair communicate through visits and letters.
Then in 2017, Bronson and his fellow inmates watched a television program called 'Confessions of the Paparazzi.' One of the photographers highlighted was George Bamby. Fellow prisoners remarked how much he looked like Bronson.
When Bronson contacted Bamby, he agreed to visit him in prison. He, too, was shocked by the mild, funny man that stood in front of him. As he left, Bronson gave him a napkin with two moustache hairs and told him to find out the truth.
Results showed that Bronson was the father that Bamby never knew he had.
Bronson now states that he is a peaceful man who spends his time in his cell concentrating on his art. To celebrate this change in temperament, he has changed his name to Charlie Salvador after his hero, Salvador Dali.
His art has received many awards and has been publically exhibited. He is one of the most notorious criminals in history, with various books and films being made of his life—the last starring Tom Hardy.
His pictures have sold for thousands; with this money, he has set up the Charles Salvador Art Foundation to help others, especially young men from following his path. His goal is to give them something to concentrate on that is not crime.
The only incident he has been involved in recently was in 2014 when it was reported that he attacked a Wakefield governor for tampering with his mail. Bronson was found not guilty of this crime by a jury of his peers and the prison admitted liability.
Bronson has stated that this has given him renewed hope that he will eventually be released from prison. He has launched many appeals and petitions, which have not been successful. This year he was granted the right to a public appeal hearing.
Guards describe him as an intelligent, respectful man who gives back what he gets from others. Charles Bronson is a mythical character that some want to befriend and others want to beat as a mark of their power.
The courts will hear his appeal case, later this year or early next. Many hope that he will be released to live out his final years away from the bars.
As he is now known, Charles Arthur Salvador is a man who went to prison in 1974 for robbery. He says that his one hope in life is to be able to paint using oils and canvas one day.