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World War keeps wary Bleach busy

Calcutta, June 22: Behind the bars of Calcutta’s maximum-security Alipore Central jail, Peter Bleach is busy cataloguing the archives in the prison library.

Sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 1995 Purulia armsdrop case, the British public schoolboy who grew up to be a prison superintendent in Zimbabwean jails, has for the past seven years found himself on the wrong side of the cell doors.

But, after comments from deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani suggesting he could soon be released, the one-time intelligence agent-turned-international arms dealer is now considering a new, albeit unlikely, future in the fusty corridors of academia.

In the spartan visitors’ room at Alipore jail on Saturday, Bleach, in a grubby white shirt and trousers, launched an impassioned plea for decisive action on Advani’s part, for the sake of his frail and elderly mother (Oceana Bleach) in northern England. “My mother is 82, and the continued emotional rollercoaster of all this hype is even harder for her to deal with than for me. If they’re going to release me, release me, and if not, then say so. The uncertainty is killing.”

“This is a huge positive advance, and the most dramatic development in years, but I’m determined not to get excited,” he added, struggling to rein in his optimism in the face of tantalising new glimmers of hope.

Confessing to plans to enrol in a university and research a book on Second World War intelligence techniques, Bleach, who was shifted from Presidency jail to Alipore Central late last month, said: “The superintendent has given me a job in the library, and I’m trying to keep busy. I’m optimistic, but don’t want to raise my hopes only to have them dashed and knocked for six. I try not to think about it, but the future is something I have been dwelling on a lot recently.”

Lighting another cigarette, he added: “It’s clear that one day, sooner or later, I will go home. When I’m free, I’d like to disappear into a huge library in some nondescript university, and keep out of trouble. I’m fed up of the life of globetrotting and flogging arms. It’s time I did something useful.”

Bleach, who appears in court tomorrow to face what he calls “trumped-up” assault charges, derided government claims that the complexity of the legal case would take time to resolve. “For the authorities, there has to remain a pretence that this is all very difficult. But in reality, all that needs to happen is the council of ministers present the President with a document for his signature.”

For seven years, Bleach has protested his innocence in the mystery armsdrop. “I think there’s no doubt that I’m the fall guy for a crime of gun-running masterminded by the Danish arms dealer, Kim Davy. But he’s still allowed to sit in his home in Denmark.”

A formal complaint lodged by Bleach accusing North Yorkshire police’s detective sergeant Steve Elcock of several counts of perjury is currently under investigation in the UK.

The complaint claims Elcock acted in liaison with the CBI to deny that Bleach had warned the authorities of Davy’s plans in advance.

But for the moment, as waves of monsoon rain lashed down outside, the prisoner’s thoughts turned to lighter matters. “I’m trying to keep my mind off the possibility I’ll soon be free, but I can’t deny that, after seven years behind bars, I’m looking forward to the prospect of a chilled beer at the British deputy high commission.”

Time’s up, and a prison guard ushers Bleach back to his cell, through a metal door that clanks shut but without the chilling finality of before.

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