What is the Greenbelt festival? According to its organisers:
Greenbelt is an arts, faith and justice festival with a long and rich history. We’ll be 40 years old in 2013. That’s 40 consecutive festivals. Without a break.
“Erwin James” is a name familiar to many Guardian readers, having written for the paper since 2000. His is the nom de plume of the murderer James Monahan.
Greenbelt is boasting “Erwin James” on its 2012 lineup, for a week of events scheduled to take place later this month in Britain. James Monahan will appear as a speaker at Greenbelt, under his pen name.
The Daily Mail reported in 2009, that The Guardian had allowed Monahan to lie about details, through his “Erwin James” pseudonym. We learn:
In 1985 he was sentenced to life with a minimum of 14 years for the brutal murders of theatrical agent Greville Hallam and 29-year-old solicitor Angus Cochrane, both committed three years earlier.
Monahan had been 28 and living as a squatter when, with accomplice William Ross, 25, whom the court would later hear he ‘dominated’, he murdered Greville Hallam. The 48-year-old’s body was found, bound and naked, in the bedroom of his Hampstead maisonette. A television, stereo and video equipment had been stolen. [...] Mr Hallam met Monahan at the Golden Lion pub in Soho, where the latter was selling videos, and invited him and Ross back to his home. Monahan, 6ft 2in and powerfully built, strangled the older man with an arm lock before plundering his home.
Three months later, Angus Cochrane, a solicitor for the Coal Board based in Doncaster and in London for a conference, was set upon while walking down The Mall. He was dragged from the pavement into the rose gardens of St James’s Park. He was punched, kicked and beaten with a brick, before being left for dead while his killers made off with what little money he had in his wallet. He died of his head injuries four days later. His parents were faced with the agonising decision of switching off the life-support machine.
“Erwin James” published lies about his time in the French Foreign Legion. In reality, James Monahan had fled England following the murders he had committed in 1982, in order to join the French Foreign Legion. Yet The Guardian had allowed “Erwin James” to claim that he was working in this role, before and during the time when Monahan had murdered Hallam and Cochrane.
In one article, he stated that he enlisted in 1981. In another he wrote graphically of a tour of Beirut undertaken by his regiment in the summer of 1982. That is why The Guardian had to note:
The article below, in which Erwin James recounted his experiences in the Foreign Legion, contains information which is untrue. James was in the Foreign Legion for a time but his claim to have served with one of its regiments in Beirut in the summer of 1982 was false and a paragraph, which purported to describe his experiences there, was fiction. He did not join the Foreign Legion until the end of 1982, by which time his regiment had returned from Beirut. The article also suggested that James accompanied his regiment on missions to Djibouti and the Central African Republic. While these were regular regiment duties, James did not go there.The episode has also exposed the fact that, despite having full details of Monahan’s crimes and the extent of the violence involved, The Guardian chose not to pass on this information to its readers when introducing its columnist in February 2000.
After this exposure, “Erwin James” “apologised“:
It was a frame of mind that was exacerbated shortly after I began working for the charity, when I came across speculation on the internet as to my “true” identityand what I had done to get life imprisonment. The bloggers had started their speculation in 2002. When I first saw the questions posed on web message boards my reaction was one of mild bemusement. But as I progressed further towards possible freedom the speculation began to affect my thinking. I tried not to let it bother me, but in spite of my efforts to dismiss it, it did. I began to feel as if I was being stalked.
The fallout from my identification on that message board, and the lies I told, has led to this piece; to me feeling that I now have to be completely honest about both my time in the legion and to stop hiding from who I really am. I am aware that these revelations may prove painful for people to whom my past actions have caused immeasurable pain and distress. For that I am truly, truly sorry.
Now I hope to carry on living in the same vein as I have for the past five years, working as a writer, but of course with no further deceits.
Monahan appeared to be distancing himself from the fact that he perpetrated the crimes, by using scare quotes for the word “true”, as if it were not really him truly. He also – inappropriately -compares people wondering which criminal is writing in a national newspaper, with stalking.
The Greenbelt festival has chosen to overlook this scandal. The Greenbelt profile of “Erwin James” relies on The Guardian’s assessment of the writer. Greenbelt writes (failing to provide a link):
Ian Katz, deputy editor of the The Guardian, explains the paper’s position on its relationship with Erwin James here.
Yet no mention is made of the controversial role of the Guardian, as exposed by the Daily Mail.
Greenbelt also writes:
He left the care home at 15 and spent the rest of his teenage and early adult years drifting, living with extended family members, and again often sleeping rough. During that time he worked in various labouring jobs, but also committedrelatively petty, mostly acquisitive, but occasionally violent crimes(criminal damage, common assault.) His directionless way of life, which included a period as a fugitive in the French Foreign Legion continued, until August 1984 when he began his life sentence for murder.
Greenbelt notes that the crimes ”Erwin James” committed were “acquisitive”, yet does not mention that his crimes included murder. No mention by Greenbelt, of the homophobic nature of one of the murders. Rather, we learn that he began a life sentence for murder in 1984.
Yet the whole persona of “Erwin James” ought to be discredited, given the lies that Monahan told via this character, about the details of Monahan’s crimes and activities.
You will note how Monahan’s time as a fugitive in the French Foreign Legion is mentioned, without reference to the lies Monahan published about this time as “Erwin James”.
I do believe that there is a time and a place to hear from repentant sinners, so long as they are aware that their repentance means they should still face justice, according to the law, and that they are aware that forgiveness does not equate to legal lenience.
Given the way Monahan has conducted himself,
Given the way Monahan has conducted himself, he is clearly unrepentant – in both a general sense, and a spiritual or religious sense.
Writing about his favourite novels, Monahan compares himself to a victim of Stalin:
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel tells the story of a single day in the life of an ordinary prisoner in the gulags. This book appealed to me because I could relate to the characters in Denisovich’s labour squad
Monahan also appears to compare himself with Alfred Dreyfus:
The story of what happened to Alfred Dreyfus, a brilliant young officer in the French army falsely accused of treason and sentenced to life on Devil’s Island [..] had a huge impact on me and made me aware of the fallibility of governments and how small groups of the most powerful people in a society can usurp the integrity of a country. What I will never forget, however, is the magnitude of Dreyfus’s courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
A murderer overtly identifying with Dreyfus and Soviet victims in his imprisonment, does not seem a repentant one. Less so, when he is not even appearing as himself.
Significantly, the murderer James Monahan will address Greenbelt 2012, not as himself, but as the discredited media persona that he has created “Erwin James”: the media persona that James Monahan used to tell lies about his own past violent murders – including the murder of a gay victim whom he lured home from a bar – and time as a fugitive.
For a supposedly Christian festival with a professed interest in justice, this is giving an awful impression of Christian justice.