| Bleach: Taking up the pen
London, Feb. 5: Peter Bleach will write a book about his eight years in two Calcutta prisons, his close friend and supporter, Jo Fletcher, told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview in London.
Fletcher spoke to The Telegraph after two telephone conversations with Bleach in Calcutta, a brief one yesterday afternoon shortly after his release and a second lasting 40 minutes last night.
Asked whether she was Bleach’s girlfriend or former girlfriend — she has been described as both — Fletcher replied without a moment’s hesitation: “Former girlfriend.”
Fletcher, who said she was once a reporter with the News of the World, a tabloid newspaper which specialises in sensational sex stories, explained: “We had broken up with each other when this (Bleach’s arrest in India) happened.”
However, whatever the status of her personal relationship with Bleach, she decided she would not abandon him and would continue to campaign for him — which she has done loyally since 1995. “Would you abandon a friend in that situation'” she asked.
Fletcher, who was subsequently crippled in one car accident and further injured in another — she alleges the second was an attempt by an Indian driver to kill her — said she would be able to help Bleach write his memoirs.
Fletcher, who now works for Orion Books, said: “I am now a publisher.”
Last night, she jokingly asked Bleach if his manuscript was ready. He told her: “It’s all in my head. If I had written a manuscript, it would have been taken away.”
However, she had preserved most of his correspondence. “He’s a very funny writer,” she commented.
The prison authorities will hope that Bleach does not choose to give an account of the “New Black Hole of Calcutta”, in which he gets his own back on people who may have dealt unkindly with him. However, according to Fletcher, he was not without friends.
She described Bleach as a man capable of great charm, who had made many friends among fellow prisoners and also lawyers and some officials. Using the novel technique of using printouts from an Internet site that carried jokes and implausible tales, he had taught English to other prisoners.
She summed up her feelings at the prospect of seeing Bleach for the first time in nearly nine years: “I am thrilled and delighted. I have been waiting for this day for a long time.”
Her hopes were raised when the news of his release first came through, and were then dashed when the hitch arose. “Here we go again,” she thought. “Many times in the past we were close to a release.”
After speaking to Bleach yesterday, her spirits rose again. “He’s not changed at all. He’s a very strong-minded man.”
One luxury he had allowed himself, Bleach told her, was to have two baths in rapid succession.
His health, too, had given her concern. “He suffered from TB. Then we thought he had a recurrence of TB but it turned out to be a very bad chest infection.”
Once Bleach returns to Britain, meets his ailing 83-year-old mother who is at a nursing home and has the proverbial pint in an English pub, he will have to establish his credibility.
Fletcher’s explanation is that Bleach did what he did because he was forced to at gunpoint by Kim Peter Davy, the Danish citizen said to be the mastermind of the arms drop.
Bleach, said Fletcher, “was a legitimate arms dealer”. On this deal, once he realised it was illegal, he got in touch with the British government which advised him to “run with it”.
The story gets more bizarre, and involves one of Bleach’s police contacts in the North Yorkshire special branch. Bleach apparently told all to the British government but because of a “mix-up”, there was a 12-day delay in the intelligence getting to the right department.
The British government advised Bleach to pull out from part of his commitment but by then it was too late. The plot involves a flight plan in which the Russian plane with the arms was supposed to fly at 500 metres. Instead, thanks to Bleach, it flew at 500 ft, thereby disrupting the distribution of the weapons.
After the plane was forced to land in Mumbai, Davy apparently walked away and there has been no serious attempt by the Indian authorities to track him down or seek his extradition from Denmark where he might be hiding. “Conspiracy” is the word which Fletcher uses.
As for Bleach, he wrote a 36-page report in which he provided all the details of the arms drop but instead of being treated as the “good guy” who had tried to help the British and the Indian governments, he found himself being prosecuted and then jailed for life.
“It’s a complex tale,” said Fletcher, uttering what must be the understatement of the year.
She admits: “No one has provided the answers. Who were the arms for'”
After the release of the five Latvians who were imprisoned with Bleach, the Indian government realised the Briton’s continued detention was untenable. He has been released in the larger interests of Indo-British relations and also because privately some Indian diplomats acknowledge that Bleach’s tale, however unlikely, may have a grain of truth in it.
“I have held off the celebration until he is on British soil,” said Fletcher.