By Tom Wall
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Justice on Ice

This article is over 18 years, 11 months old
The Wilderness Years'. TC Campbell and R McKay, Canongate £9.99
Issue 271

TC Campbell and Joe Steele were jailed for life, in the mid-1980s, for the notorious mass murder of the Doyle family.

It was alleged that the pair had firebombed the Doyles’ Glasgow home in a bid to gain control of the city’s lucrative ice cream runs–which were a cover for the distribution of drugs and money laundering. However, what was intended as a ‘frightener’, suggested the prosecution, turned into something else entirely.

The fire claimed the lives of six members of the Doyle family, including a young child. It was a vile and cowardly act, but not one perpetrated by Campbell and Steele. The two men steadfastly maintained their innocence throughout the trial, but they were convicted on the evidence of one witness, William Love, who supposedly overheard the two men planning the crime. The judge advised the jury that the whole case depended upon the testimony of Love, as there was no other evidence linking the accused to the scene. Later it emerged that this star witness was a serial perverter of justice, who now admits to lying at the trial in exchange for immunity from other unrelated charges. A defence campaign sprang up which attracted the support of Tommy Sheridan, the Scottish Socialist Party MSP, and the BBC screened an ‘Ice Cream Wars’ programme.

‘The Wilderness Years’, the follow-up to Campbell’s last book ‘Indictment: Trial by Fire’ (also co-written by Reg McKay), traces his struggle for justice through various different prisons, solitary confinement, hunger strikes, violent beatings and his eventual release last year, pending an appeal.

His experiences at the isolated Peterloo prison or, as he dubs it, ‘Peterhell’, are particularly shocking. Campbell’s refusal to submit to brutal authority, to knuckle down and do his time, provokes countless violent confrontations.

The abiding impression left by the book is the way the prison system reduces prisoners and screws to animals. It also shows the way in which prisoners collectively resist the inhumanity of it all. Campbell explains, for instance, that riots are a demand for the prisoners to be treated like ‘people. Not fucking lab rats’.

Unfortunately for such promising material ‘The Wilderness Years’ is in many respects a disappointing read. It is littered with hackneyed phrases and lazy commonplaces. Campbell and collaborator Reg McKay repeatedly fall back on such cliches as ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, and pepper their prose with references to the Bible, Pink Floyd and Campbell’s own not very good poetry. But Campbell’s determination, courage and sheer guts save the book from dull unoriginality.

Campbell and Steele are not saints but neither are they murderers. The case against them, as this book makes clear, is a tissue of lies. After 17 years of imprisonment they are now free–all that remains is for their names to be cleared.

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