Eric Allison, who turned the Guardian’s jail correspondent aged 60 after spending a lot of his life in jail, has died. He had been lately recognized with secondary bone most cancers and was 79.
Allison, who claimed to be the one man to ever escape from Strangeways jail in Manchester, joined the Guardian in 2003 after serving a number of jail phrases for fraud, theft and housebreaking.
He obtained the job after answering an advert within the paper, which mentioned a felony file was no bar to utility.
He impressed the then-editor, Alan Rusbridger, along with his ardour for combating injustice and his trendy manner with phrases. At his interview he promised that he would go straight if given the job – a vow he stored all through his 19-year Guardian tenure, regardless of frequent grumblings that his first job was significantly better paid.
In what he referred to as his second profession, Allison wrote broadly throughout the Guardian, exposing cruelty within the jail system and significantly in younger offenders’ establishments.
He fashioned a protracted working partnership and agency friendship with characteristic author Simon Hattenstone, a fellow Mancunian (although a Manchester Metropolis fan, when Allison was all the time United). Earlier this 12 months the 2 investigated the variety of prisoners dying on remand, and in 2016 they uncovered how the federal government had permitted brutal restraint strategies which may kill kids in jail.
Their work on the abuse of youngsters in Medway safe coaching centre contributed to the safety big G4S being stripped of its contract to run the kids’s jail.
In 2011 the pair’s investigation into sexual abuse at Medomsley detention centre led to Operation Seabrook, one of many largest single abuse inquiries within the UK, with greater than 1,600 former inmates coming ahead to report allegations of abuse. Allison and Hattensone gained an Amnesty media award for his or her work on the story.
A lot cherished within the Guardian’s Manchester workplace, the place he was based mostly all through his journalistic profession, Allison loved reminiscing concerning the outdated days when not raging in opposition to the system. He was significantly pleased with his escape from Strangeways – now HMP Manchester – utilizing a cast bail warrant. Nobody else had ever managed such a feat, he all the time claimed.
He was out of jail when the Strangeways riots passed off in 1990 however egged on the prisoners from the road utilizing a megaphone. He went on to co-author a e book on the protest, which gave him the arrogance to imagine that he could sooner or later receives a commission for writing.
His first conviction got here when he was a heavy-smoking 11-year-old, although he insisted that was merely the primary time the police caught him. By 14, he was in jail, serving 4 months for stealing a chewing gum machine.
He realized early that jail in England doesn’t work – a undeniable fact that nagged at him all through his life as he used his journalism to combat for a system that doesn’t simply punish but additionally rehabilitates.
The youth detention centre he went to had no bettering impact on him, he recalled in an interview to mark the beginning of his Guardian job in 2003: “It was alleged to be a brief sharp shock. By no means labored. All it did was make you fitter. Nearly everyone I noticed in that detention centre in ‘57 I’ve seen on my travels via the system. Each single one.”
Allison arrived on the Guardian unable to make use of a pc, having bypassed the technological advances of the 90s as a result of he was serving his longest stretch – seven years – for breaking right into a financial institution in Manchester and stealing cheques price 1,000,000 kilos.
That closing job additionally concerned the forgery of Giro cheques. He would say that the counterfeits have been so convincing that the federal government was compelled to withdraw the actual ones from circulation, as a result of publish workplace workers couldn’t inform the distinction between “ours” and “theirs”.
He had an atlas-like reminiscence of England’s geography, and would usually declare to have visited each village sufficiently big for 2 publish workplaces (it solely made them price a go to if he may commit cheque fraud in a minimum of two). He adored strolling within the Peak District and was soppy about his canine – latterly two Romanian road mutts, Nellie, named after his mum, and Prince.
He got here from what he all the time referred to as a “very straight household”. His father, after leaving the military, was a jack of all trades and his mom introduced Allison and his three older brothers up of their dwelling in Gorton, east Manchester.
Launched from jail for the ultimate time a couple of days earlier than the brand new millennium dawned, Allison initially considered his freedom as a sabbatical from crime. However as his writing profession progressed he felt obligation certain to remain on the correct aspect of the regulation. Sometimes outdated buddies would attempt to tempt him again to his outdated methods however he was decided to stay a life with out crime.
Rusbridger mentioned he determined the Guardian wanted a jail correspondent as a result of so little was identified about what goes on behind the jail partitions.
“It was a wild thought to rent an ex-con to be the Guardian’s jail correspondent however Eric was the proper alternative. He had immaculate credentials (16 years inside quite a lot of establishments) and a protracted monitor file of inflicting bother. He promised to go straight if he obtained the Guardian position – although he complained that journalism paid poorly in contrast with crime (with extra stress),” mentioned Rusbridger.
“Through the years he campaigned, reported, advocated and investigated on behalf of the underdogs he knew so nicely. He forged a gentle mild on a world successive governments would somewhat have been stored in the dead of night. Prisoners knew that they had a dependable witness on their case.
“My suspicion is that Eric was in all probability not a world-class financial institution robber. However he was a category act as a late-life journalist and it’s so unhappy that his unflinching focus on an under-reported world has been misplaced.”
Allison turned a well-respected authority on prisons and a passionate campaigner in opposition to miscarriages of justice. He believed fervently within the innocence of these whose circumstances he took up, together with that of Jeremy Bamber, who’s serving a life sentence for killing his adoptive dad and mom, sister and her twin boys in 1985.
After leaving jail he managed to hire a council home in Gorton, the place the Channel 4 present Shameless was quickly to be filmed. In a bit for the Guardian in 2005 he wrote of his love of the much-maligned space. Regardless of describing it as a “dump” whose inhabitants racked up extra asbos than wherever else in Manchester, he launched a passionate defence of his neighbours.
All the time combating for the underdog, Allison wrote: “Maybe perversely, the place retains me healthily offended about injustice and the best way society demonises younger folks in disadvantaged areas. There may be additionally little hazard, I fancy, of feeling above my station in Gorton.”
He’s survived by two of his brothers, Walter and Tommy, alongside along with his daughters, Kerry and Caroline, and quite a few grandchildren.