The Crime Readers' Association

CWA Author Douglas SkeltonOn the Run – By Douglas Skelton

14th August 2015

I was once on the run from the law, a hunted fugitive, an innocent man jumping at every knock at the door, every footstep on the street…
Okay, I wasn’t exactly Dr Richard Kimble but for a week or two some years ago the police did want to question me and I was being elusive.
I’d better explain…

In 1992 I co-wrote a true crime book called ‘Frightener’ with Lisa Brownlie. It was an investigation into a controversial Scottish murder case which later proved to be a miscarriage of justice.
I won’t go into the whole case – suffice to say that it was a nasty multiple murder which was horrific, tragic and claimed six totally innocent people. One of the two men wrongly convicted was Joseph Steele, who drew attention to the case by showing that Her Majesty’s Prisons really weren’t that secure. We called him the Papillon of the Scottish prison system.
One of his escapes was from Saughton Prison in Edinburgh, when he slipped through a hole in a fence. Unfortunately, another few dozen inmates also made the big bid for freedom, no doubt whistling the tune to ‘The Great Escape.’
They were soon hoovered up, apart from Joe Steele, who had been whisked off in a waiting car. He was at liberty for a few weeks, during which he made a video outlining his plea for justice, said video reaching the hands of a willing press. The police knew he was not a danger and that he was only out to promote his plea of innocence. However, they had to investigate the matter, especially as the whole thing was rather embarrassing to the authorities. On his previous escape, Joe had given himself up by chaining and supergluing himself to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Other publicity stunts included visiting a top tourist attraction in Argyllshire which was once the local prison and sending a photo to the press wearing a T-shirt that said ‘I escaped from Inverary Jail.’ He also travelled round London on an open-topped bus being snapped pointing at tourist hot-spots. These all made their way into the pages of a tabloid.
Following up on information received, the police came to believe that I had been in on the whole escape plot and had helped make the taped interview. For the record, M’Lud, I knew nothing about the escape until I heard about it on the news and didn’t make the tape, although I was in the room when it was handed over to a journalist. Actually, I advised that reporter NOT to take it as I knew it would lead to a visit from the Old Bill. Guess what – I was right. And my name was mentioned. That was why the police wanted to speak to me. But I didn’t want to speak to them. They were merely doing their job, but I just wasn’t in the mood to assist them with their inquiries, so I blanked them. This came at a time when Channel 4’s much-missed Trial and Error programme was on the air and the producers were in Glasgow researching the case. When I met them along with John Carroll, the solicitor for both Joseph Steele and his co-accused Thomas Campbell, they asked if our phones were tapped yet. They insisted that, because we were criticising the authorities, our lines would be unofficially monitored.
This idea did not endear me to the powers-that-be, so I refused to play ball. I don’t know if the lines were tapped, probably not, but my phone did bleep and buzz at this time as if it had been possessed by R2D2.
I was, though, absolutely terrified.

I may have principles, I may be stubborn, I’m definitely gutless. Joe Steele eventually handed himself back in by climbing a comms tower outside Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison. He’d done everything he could in the weeks he was out. Later, he was put on trial for breaking out of jail but was found – wait for it – Not Guilty.  No, seriously. It seems the prosecution forgot to bring the paperwork to court that proved he was being lawfully detained so the judge dismissed the charges. You couldn’t make it up.

Years later, both he and Thomas Campbell saw their convictions quashed by the Scottish Court of Appeal. The victims and their family have still not received real justice for what was an evil and senseless crime. But the years as part of the campaign to have the case re-examined was another learning curve for me as a writer. I came to like many of the people I met, even if they were on the wrong side of the law, and found that some of them had a strong sense of honour and were, in a number of ways, more honest than a few of the law-abiding citizens I knew. It showed me, as I said last time, that not everything is cut and dried when it comes to crime and I hope those nuances are reflected in my Davie McCall books. There – you knew there had to be plug in here somewhere…

DOUGLAS SKELTON began crime writing with true crime but moved into fiction with ‘Blood City’ in 2013. Set in his home town of Glasgow, the series deals with hard man with a heart Davie McCall and the changes in the city’s underworld from 1980 to the new millennium. The third in the quartet, ‘Devil’s Knock’ was published in June.


Twitter: @DouglasSkelton1


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