‘Prison is the most comic place in the world’: Former Brixton Prison inmate reflects on time behind bars
I met a 62-year-old man in Wimbledon who was imprisoned for hiring assassins to kill his mother’s lover.
Jonathan Fletcher, my landlord and a retired reverend, met Charles Hills while working in Brixton Prison and offered to put this mysterious man up for a week.
In 2007, Charles was sentenced to six years in prison for soliciting murder and a separate offence of grievous bodily harm.
His sentence was reduced to five years on appeal after he was found to be mentally unstable at the time of his crimes.
His immigrant mother, Maria, retired to Portugal in 1983 and they grew apart as the years passed.
Maria met Flavio Rosa in 1997 and he moved into her villa – by this stage she had Alzheimer’s disease.
Charles visited Al Tura, in the Algarve, that year.
“I had arrived at the house, he was standing outside,” Charles said.
“A slightly sinister looking man, he looked territorial, primitive and criminal. He was a kind of mixture of Heathcliff and Uriah Heap.
“The very first night a huge quarrel developed. I thought he had stolen some money from my room and my mother took his side.”
Later Charles said: “He is widely rumoured to be her son. I think he had been born and abandoned in 1951. I know this almost for certain – that he is my half-brother.
“I came once more in 1998 and I told my mother that while this situation of Flavio living in the house went on, I would not visit.”
She visited him in Clapham later that year and a blazing row developed: “I was trying to get her to lunch and she was ill and very aggressive and told me about what she had done in the bedroom with Flavio. I went absolutely mad and some neighbours called the police. I pushed her and she fell against a chair which hurt her arm badly.”
His mental state deteriorated rapidly in the years leading up to the millennium and then Maria, the only person he had ever loved, died.
Charles felt his mother had been duped by a career criminal – Flavio was written into the will and became sole inheritor of the Al Tura villa while he was left a poky Lisbon flat.
In 2002 he became preoccupied by murder.
“I think it filled me more with fear than anything else, but I was going to do it and that was the beginning of an absolute obsession,” he said.
His plot was not fuelled solely by the humiliation but also in practical terms – he had no savings and his career as a barely employed writer had not kept up with his debts.
Charles’ laughed as he recalled a practice fire lit on Clapham Common in 2005 – he imagined he might burn his mother’s villa to the ground with Flavio inside.
He said he was captivated by the idea of murder and alienated himself from friends and colleagues with his incessant murderous plans.
The next summer he attempted suicide with an overdose of painkillers – fortunately his cousin happened to phone and heard him vomiting back down the line.
This incident did not break his resolve – he asked local drug addicts how to go about his mission and was directed to Tony, who lived at the top of his block.
Tony, a seasoned drug-lord, assured Charles he knew men who could carry out this work for the right price – £10,000.
Charles met Tony’s contacts in a Clapham pub to discuss and was asked to pay a £200 deposit – they would go to Al Tura, photograph the target and then meet him a few weeks later.
His actions the day before his final meeting with the hitmen reflected his spiralling mental state
He had been visiting the Mosaic Club House in Brixton, a support centre for the mentally ill.
That afternoon he argued with a busy Czech volunteer who was pestering him.
He walked outside, down the long garden to escape her – but she would not desist and he attempted to strangle her.
They writhed on the gravel for a couple of minutes and the struggle caused great injury to the woman’s neck.
He spent the evening sweating in his flat, presuming the police would come knocking – but he woke the next day undisturbed.
That evening he met three suited men inside a black BMW in Battersea Park.
The man in the driver’s seat produced a photograph and asked if this was who he wanted killed.
When Charles confirmed this was Flavio Rosa, he was arrested, with an arrest also following for his earlier attack on the volunteer.
He spent December 18 2006 in a cell in Kennington and was transferred to Brixton prison the next day to await trial.
He described his journey: “I remember being in the van and I could see out of the small window – as we were going to Brixton we passed Stockwell which was near where I lived. I felt a strange feeling of pleasure. I felt now I was going to where I had always meant to be.”
His trial began at the Old Bailey in January 2007 and he was found guilty in August of soliciting murder and GBH.
Charles found the Old Bailey awe inspiring and at the time was proud his case carried such gravity.
He spent two and a half years in several prisons and felt particularly at home at Belmarsh – home to notorious felons including Charles Bronson and Ronnie Biggs.
He said: “I enjoyed the austerity of it, the bareness of the experience.
“Prison is the most comic place in the world. I am a masochist, I am interested in men – it wasn’t very frightening.”
Initially fellow inmates believed he was a paedophile, but afterwards he was welcomed.
He said: “The modern British are such a civilised people, and their prisons are gentle. Right from the start I met some very friendly people, both prisoners and screws.”
It was in prison that he regained his faith: “Without Jesus there would be nothing at all – it is Jesus who gives the light.”
However, this did not prevent him absconding when he was released on licence in 2009.
Shortly after his release, Charles boarded trains from Clapham Junction to Dover – walked to the dock and boarded a ferry to Boulogne – he was forbidden to leave the UK for another two and a half years.
“There was a strike that day so the boat left very late and all the customs officials had gone home, I didn’t have to show my passport to anyone.”
The white cliffs disappeared from sight and Charles sang as he looked back in triumph – he was free.
He travelled to his mother’s villa in Al Tura, which by this time was his – a Portuguese judge had intervened in the scandal while Charles was imprisoned and overturned Maria’s will on account of her Alzheimer’s.
Charles was on the run for 1,832 days and at first, exclusively toured the EU’s Schengen Area to avoid customs officials.
However, he grew bolder and would go on to travel through Latin America and to Israel.
On his travels he claimed to meet a German on his deathbed who he believed was his secret biological father and the son of a Nazi, who had defected to England in the late 1930s.
He claimed Israeli special operatives intercepted him in Israel and detained him for days without reason – Charles, of course, believes his Third Reich heritage was to blame.
In 2014, he flew back to London to visit friends – this step proved too bold and he was arrested immediately after landing.
Charles returned to Belmarsh and was welcomed back by old friends – finally, in 2016 he was released for breaching his licence and returned to Portugal.
Since then, Charles said: “I am back in another fix.”
He opened an account in a private Austrian Bank and was in thousands of euros of debt – he fled Portugal in March 2017 after receiving letters which threatened prosecution.
Charles told me: “My main interest is in being beaten and humiliated. I cannot get much from straight forward sex. I am sure if my real father had remained that would never have happened. There is depression in me which is born of the fact that I have never known love.”
Charles has been beaten and humiliated all his life, but said this has often been self-flagellation.
However, his time in jail was an antidote: “Now I feel joyful nearly all the time and I attribute that to these prison years. They made me feel more of a man.”
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