Home Culture The Uncommon Suspect by Ben Machell assessment – a modern-day Robin Hood?

The Uncommon Suspect by Ben Machell assessment – a modern-day Robin Hood?


The homeless man sitting together with his canine on a chilly December evening in Sidmouth should have thought it miraculous when a passing stranger dropped a roll of £20 banknotes in his hat. The stranger didn’t cease or say something, simply walked away. Even odder, each observe had been marked with two letters: RH. The stranger wasn’t performing out of Christmas charity however from a way of righteousness: he noticed himself as a Twenty first-century Robin Hood, duty-bound to rob the wealthy and provides to the poor. To which finish, a number of hours earlier than, he’d held up the Lloyds TSB financial institution department in close by Seaton and made off with practically £5,000.

A tough-up geography scholar on the College of Worcester, Stephen Jackley was the unlikeliest of financial institution robbers. It’s not simply that he wasn’t out for private acquire (although he loved utilizing a few of his winnings to journey). He additionally acted completely alone, albeit after studying from the strategies of illustrious friends such because the American Carl Gugasian, whose instance taught him the significance of meticulous planning, bodily disguise and easy methods to escape and conceal your loot in woodland areas. From his first, botched try and rob a financial institution in Exeter the police had a report of Jackley’s DNA. However as a result of he didn’t graduate to financial institution theft by way of petty thieving, that they had no match for it on their recordsdata and assumed the offender should be a foreigner, maybe a part of a prison gang. Undetected, he continued in the direction of his aim of elevating £100,000 for what he referred to as the Organisation, his one-man mission to avoid wasting the planet from poverty and injustice.

He had grown up pretty poor himself, in a sequence of small Devon cities, latterly Sidmouth, “a cemetery with streetlights” as his greatest, certainly solely childhood buddy Ben Weaver referred to as it. Although, to Jackley there was lots to love about Sidmouth, not simply the encompassing countryside however the Norman Lockyer Observatory, the place he developed a ardour for astronomy. It was a ardour that additionally planted “a seed of doom” – a worry of world catastrophe that had him fantasising about underwater cities and colonised stars. Cramming his journal with science, philosophy and poetry, he was a uncared for and lonely baby, born late to folks who had met whereas sufferers on a psychiatric ward. His mom had additional psychotic episodes all through his childhood and generally the police would come to take away her – the pleasure he later took from outwitting them had a component of revenge for that. His father was domineering and when he died in 2008 Jackley was seemingly unmoved, although it could be no coincidence that his Robin Hood adventures grew to become more and more erratic thereafter.

An even bigger issue than parental neglect – and one of many strengths of Ben Machell’s compelling ebook is its affected person unearthing of the assorted motivations for his topic’s behaviour – was the journey Jackley made to Thailand and Cambodia two years earlier, the place he noticed, for the primary time, what actual poverty appeared like. He realized about Buddhism, too, and later frolicked in a Buddhist retreat in France, the place he questioned a monk concerning the ethics of doing unsuitable for the higher good. It was there that he additionally had his first critical relationship, with an American girl referred to as Rebecca, to whom he divulged his evolving scheme for “unconventional monetary acquire”. When she returned to Colorado, she invited him to affix her. However in his thoughts the mission got here first and the romance slowly petered out. He was on his personal, with no Maid Marian for assist.

One other vindication of his scheme got here from the disaster within the world financial system. The collapse of Lehmann Brothers, the nationalisation of Northern Rock, the baling out of banks whereas the folks they have been meant to serve went underneath: the credit score crunch of late 2007 and early 2008 confirmed how corrupt the system was. The shrinking sources of the planet have been a part of the identical downside, he thought: with eco-apocalypse looming, his mission grew to become all of the extra pressing. {That a} 20-year-old may save the world by robbing banks and betting outlets was absurd. However the absurdity didn’t happen to him. He noticed it as his responsibility.

Most of his robberies have been botched. Maybe essentially the most farcical was when he broke into the workplace above an HSBC department in Worcester: discovering his method down barred by a steel door, he trashed the place in anger, solely to find the workplace belonged to not the financial institution however to the NSPCC. He pledged to repay the charity £25,000 in atonement and did ship them a few envelopes, one containing £650, with the promise of extra to come back. However his heists fell far wanting the goal.

The tip to his spree was banal. He had turn into obsessive about buying a gun – if the folks he’d held up weren’t scared sufficient at hand over their cash, he reasoned, they should have twigged that the pistol he carried was a toy. Scammed whereas attempting to purchase a gun in Birmingham, and arrested whereas smuggling one other by way of customs in Istanbul, he flew to Vermont, allegedly the best state within the US to get your self a firearm. However the ex-cop working on the gun retailer spotted his fake ID. And after driving off in a panic, he was arrested. Even then his crimes again in Devon may by no means have come to mild however for the journal he’d introduced with him within the automotive, which detailed each his grandiose long-term plans and his achievements to this point.

Within the journal he generally spoke of himself as a “we”, a trait (so Machell experiences) that’s widespread to folks with Asperger’s. That Jackley was on the spectrum is one thing readers will rapidly infer however which Machell delays discussing – aptly so, because it wasn’t put ahead as a defence at his trial and was solely recognized midway by way of his 13-year jail sentence. An earlier analysis may need helped his schooling and made him really feel much less of a loner. It could even have spared him the generally brutal therapy he acquired in US correctional services, the place because of that “we” in his journal he was suspected of being a part of a terrorist cell.

Collaborations between journalists and criminals usually finish badly, with the previous both being duped by the latter (as Norman Mailer was by Jack Henry Abbott) or “gaining their belief and betraying them with out regret” (Janet Malcolm’s description of Joe McGinniss’s therapy of the assassin Jeffrey MacDonald in his book Fatal Vision). Machell’s ebook is an honourable exception. He has had appreciable assist from his topic (referred to all through as Stephen) with out surrendering editorial freedom or totally shopping for into his model of occasions. Drawing closely on Jackley’s journals and diligently monitoring down individuals who met him at totally different factors of his life, the ebook explains however doesn’t exonerate. The string of robberies left harmless victims traumatised, one thing Jackley, devoid of empathy, couldn’t see on the time and now deeply regrets.

Launched from jail on probation in 2015, Jackley is a contradictory determine: on the one hand an oddball outlaw who acted foolishly, on the opposite a youthful idealist whose battle in opposition to poverty, injustice and the local weather disaster many others in his technology are combating too. This splendid ebook – much less true crime than biography – does full justice to his complexity.

• The Uncommon Suspect: Easy methods to Rob a Financial institution and (Practically) Get Away With It’s printed by Canongate (RRP £16.99). To order a replica go to guardianbookshop.com. Supply costs could apply.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here