Being paid to talk about your crimes. Right or Wrong?

The poster we used for the Cass Pennant talk at Leeds University.

It’s fair to say that during University I got ‘involved’. Having more or less eight hours a week of classes for my three years of study made me realise there was plenty of time to get involved with societies, which would allow me and the committees I worked with to do something I always enjoyed – organise events.

Club nights for over 1,100 Jewish students, setting up a weekly five a side tournament, talks from David Cameron, the Chief Rabbi of the UK Lord Jonathan Sacks, Ray Hill (a famous mole against the British far right in the 1980s), David Weiss (screenwriter for Shrek 2) are just a few of the many good memories I have.

However, there’s one event I ran that on reflection I was not sure if I was right to do, or more precisely if I was right to pay for.

Cass Pennant was a football hooligan in the 1970s and 1980s. Leader of the Inter City Firm, West Ham United’s well known trouble makers, Cass would go on to be sentenced to four years in prison, the first person to be imprisoned for football related offences.

After a second stint in prison, Cass in a bid to turn his life around started running a night club security firm in London. One night he was shot three times after refusing someone entry, but surprisingly survived the attack. His story was made into a film – ‘Cass’ in 2008.

I was President of the Criminal Justice Society at Leeds during the time I did my undergraduate in Criminology and Criminal Justice. We’d decided as a committee that a talk on football hooliganism would have widespread appeal and I made contact with a few people, one of which was Cass.

He was delightful to deal with by email and indeed would be by person. What I look back on with uncertainty was spending £350 on bringing him up to Leeds to speak. My new found ‘journalistic morals’ would probably dictate paying a convicted criminal a fee as immoral yet at the time I didn’t think too hard about it. We were keen to have a big event, which it would indeed be and it seemed a justifiable expense.

Cass Pennant and I, November 2008 at Leeds University.

On the one hand, the man has served his sentences and in fact has seemingly turned his life around. On the other he’s only able to write an autobiography, have a film written about his life and ultimately come and talk at Leeds University because of all his criminal activity. This is of course true about many books one can find in any bookstore.

Does someone deserve to be paid to talk about their crimes? I wonder this, irrespective of whether they would ‘glorify’ what they did – the most regurgitated argument against any former criminals films or books.

I now think not. Of course it shouldn’t cost him money to speak, but I’m not sure if I’d want a former criminal to benefit as a result of discussing their criminal activity. Having flicked through our email exchanges from a couple of years back, he wrote, “I am a member of the Society of Authors and have agreed to similar invitations at their recommended minimum fee.” I suspect this is possibly simply trying to justify charging – it’s not exactly compulsory.

Ray Hill, a man who was a high profile mole against the far right in the UK, would never accept anything apart from travel costs on both occasions I invited him, like so many people who would come and talk on campus I must add  – most are keen to spread a message, money is thankfully fairly irrelevant.

Maybe I shouldn’t judge Cass too harshly, I can’t praise him enough in terms of how he dealt with any of us and whilst perhaps not the most articulate man you’ll ever listen to, his content was extremely interesting – I could happily spend several hours hearing him discuss his experiences.

However, there seems to be an unofficial journalistic code that criminals don’t get paid to talk about their crimes. I’d happily sign up, I don’t want crime to pay.

3 Responses to “Being paid to talk about your crimes. Right or Wrong?”
  1. NJT says:

    Interesting moral dilemma. I think the fee could perhaps be justified if it could be judged that his talk would not just be about his previous misdemeanours, but would actively discourage people from pursuing that criminal path. You’re right in that he only is making money, via book deals etc, on the back of his criminal activity but he is entitled to discuss his past, particularly if it is likely to have a (socially) positive effect on the listeners. Whether that’s the case or not, though, you’ll know better than I do.

    • joshlandy says:

      Certainly from what I recall of the talk it was based around his ‘misdemeanours’. I don’t think from what I remember it was an apology, more an explanation of how he came to the situation he found himself in, why he believed he was made an example out of, in terms of his prison sentence and then about his current life as an advisor to hooligan films etc.

      I’m not sure if it had a ‘socially positive effect’ – I don’t think anyone in that lecture theatre would have suddenly been dissuaded from criminal behaviour as a result.

      I don’t know if that all balances up for me. If I were to commit fraud for years and make millions, go to jail, have it all taken away from me, do my 5 years and then demand a few hundred quid to discuss it… not sure you’d be happy if people were falling over themselves over to pay me?

      Yet even things as silly as the film ‘catch me if you can’ (I like it) show there’s a market… but maybe that boils down to a difference between buying a book/ watching a film which is very much ‘it’s there if you want it’ against ‘give me some £ if you want me to speak’.

  2. Sean McHale says:

    You pays your money you take your choice. I remember seeing this event advertised when I first started at Leeds and with not having a great interest in someone I believe glorifies hooliganism, and what I believe to be on the whole, inanity (any idiot can start fights), I didn’t attend. However, I knew several people who did, and I think if there is a market for it then go ahead.

    If he isn’t particularly entertaining or you can tell he is seeking to profit from his questionable past then perhaps advertise the fact – write a blog or review.

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