Book Review - Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails by David Leslie (2014)

Book Cover - Banged Up: Doing Time in  Britain's Toughest Jails (from Amazon)
Book Cover - Banged Up: Doing Time in
Britain's Toughest Jails (from Amazon)

The Book
Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails. David Leslie. Black & White Publishing, 2014.

According to the publisher's website, David Leslie "was a senior journalist with the News of the World for over forty years, latterly as Scottish Crime Editor. He is the author of several books including Crimelord, the story of underworld supremo Tam ‘The Licensee’ McGraw, and The Happy Dust Gang, telling how businessmen plotted the start of major cocaine smuggling. He has appeared in television documentaries giving unique insights into notorious crimes and criminals and is a regular contributor to radio stations and newspapers, drawing on his extensive and unchallenged knowledge of the Scottish underworld."

The author is clearly well-versed in Britain's crime scene. It is interesting to note his long association with the notorious News of the World newspaper.

Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails tells the history of six of Britain's most notorious jails - Durham, Wandsworth, Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Dartmoor and Holloway. Since several World War 2 spies were held and/or executed at those prisons, the author devotes an entire chapter to their stories.

Chapter 23, strangely named "Trapped by Sausages", begins with the four spies who landed along the coast of Kent in early September 1940. Naturally, the stories are brief in nature but there are also several errors. In regards to Sjoerd Pons, one of the spies captured along the coast of Kent, the author states that "Pons went free after convincing his interrogators that he had been caught smuggling by the Gestapo and only escaped being shot by agreeing to join the other three". Pons did not convince his interrogators of any such thing. Pons was charged under the Treachery Act and placed on civil trial with the other three men. In his case, however, the jury was swayed by his story of Gestapo coercion and acquitted him, much to the frustration of his interrogators.

The author also touches on the story of three spies, Werner Waelti, Karl Druecke and Vera Schalburg who landed along the Banffshire coast in late September, 1940. The author notes that "all three were sent for interrogation to London and charged with treachery, but on the day their trial was due to begin it was revealed Schalburg would not be appearing after giving enough information to ensure her fellow spies would be convicted". Again, this is not accurate - Schalburg was never charged under the Treachery Act, a mystery that has yet to be solved.

During the retelling of the story of Karel Richter, the author indicates that Richter was confronted with the double-cross agent (TATE) with whom he was to have met in London. Nowhere in Richter's MI5 files is there any indication of this supposed encounter.

Then, there is the author's account of Josef Jakobs. The errors in the brief account are numerous. Josef was not a native of Luxembourg, he was a German citizen born of German parents in Luxembourg. Josef was flown to England on 31 January, not 1 February. He did not parachute over Peterborough but over Ramsey.

The most egregious error regarding Josef states:

The night before he was carried to the chair, where he would sit while he waited for the firing squad to take aim, he wrote a last letter to his wife and young family, telling them of his love and of his sadness of being unable to say his goodbyes. The letter was later forwarded to his widow".

The information about Josef's final letter clearly comes from information that I provided to several media sources (Radio Times & National Geographic) in January 2012. Those statements to the media made it clear that Josef's last letter to his family was NEVER delivered to his widow. It was held in the Home Office files until 1993 when it was given to my sister and I. This information is also clearly indicated on my Josef Jakobs website. Josef's case, it turns out was not unique. Many of the World War 2 spies wrote final letters to their loved ones, the majority of which were never delivered and reside in their MI5 files at the National Archives.

Finally, Josef was not carried to the chair on the morning of his execution. All of the WWI spies who were executed in World War I were also seated in a chair - that was simply the procedure for Tower executions by firing squad. Given that the author is telling prison history stories, it is interesting to note that he neglects to mention Josef's time at Wandsworth Prison.

I cannot speak for the remainder of the book, but the chapter on World War 2 spies is filled with errors, some quite disturbing. The author has made an attempt to make history entertaining and it is unfortunate that the factual errors detract from the book as a whole. I emailed the author regarding the section on Josef Jakobs and received no reply.

Review Score
1 out of 5 - the remainder of the book was not reviewed and may be entertaining


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