Gary Hutton is a reformed criminal, born and raised in the East End of London, who now helps young people avoid being entangled with crime. Eleanor Magill went to meet him.
“Think of it like this- like I’m teaching you how to cross the road….and no cars are coming, and we stand there for 5-10 minutes and there are still no cars coming. But then we hear a lorry hurtling down the road and I grab your hand and I drag you across the road- running. And we just about make it across. – You think that’s how you cross the road, you go through life avoiding lorries. I went my whole life thinking that way. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom – waking up in a padded cell in a prison- being pumped full of drugs that I realised there was a different way to cross the road.”
I meet Gary Hutton at his old primary school- St Anne’s Catholic Primary School – in Whitechapel, nestled in the heart of the East End. The school stands a few yards away from where, Gary grew up as one of 11 children, whose mother died when he was seven and whose father was a largely absentee alcoholic who encouraged him into a life of crime.
Gary was split from his siblings and bounced from care home to care home, returning periodically to the family home when it suited his alcoholic father best. Gary recognises the loss of his caring mother – just 41 when she died – as a turning point in his life, “If my mum had still been around, I don’t think I would’ve turned out in the way I did” speaking of his brothers and sisters: “None of us would have…”.
Gary’s charity, Product of a Postcode, was set up to support underprivileged young people through education and help them to overcome any challenge they face. Gary considers himself a ‘Product of a Postcode’- a product of growing up in the East End in the ’70s in the E1 postcode area, which largely covers Whitechapel and the surrounding area, such as Brick Lane.
He doesn’t consider his story unique, just a characteristic of the area.”My story isn’t special” he says. “Prisons are full of kids like me-hundreds of them.”
The charity, along with the book of the same name, published in 2014, was in memory of Gary’s sister Kim, who after a troubled life- died tragically of a brain aneurysm at just 39. Kim, who was a youth worker and devoted much of her life to helping East End kids like herself, left behind a child which Gary has now raised as his own.
While, the charity is taking a backseat for a while – Gary is focussing on his motivational speaking and is in the midst of writing of book two. When asked how he found his way to writing; he said it was first brought about through a passing conversation.
“Someone said to me ‘You should write a book’ and I said ‘what about?’ and he said ‘about your life, you’re a gangster, and I said ‘don’t be stupid’ I said ‘I’m just a poor kid out of the East End of London that had terrible mentors and role models and never took part in education.’ and he said ‘write about that’.”
Gary talked briefly but proudly about the profound effect his book had on people. He describes how a woman got in contact with him after reading his book saying she was able to tell her husband that she was sexually abused for the first time. This starts a ‘ripple’ he explains, a way to get people to talk about these things.
Gary had his first run-in with the law at the tender age of nine. He was arrested for shoplifting £120 worth of food shopping, a lot now and even more back in the ’70s. This was the first in a long line of arrests. His father had encouraged him to steal, and this only being the first time he was caught, Gary was good at it. He was, he said, a ‘street urchin.’
As we talk, he walks me around the Whitechapel estate he grew up in; there are bike frames devoid of any wheels or handles still locked to metal fences, stained mattresses resting against balconies and there are still bullet holes in the wall outside The Carpenters Arms pub that was bought by the Kray twins, for their mother back in 1967.
For him this is his old stomping ground, his eyes cloud over at points – when we walk past where he went to secondary school St Bernard’s Roman Catholic School for Boys and the two bedroom ground floor flat on Spelman Street he spent the first couple years of his life. Gary grew up here, in abject poverty under the colossal shadows and sheer enormous wealth of the skyscrapers of the city.
“I used to walk around with sellotape and cornflake boxes taped in to hold my shoes together, and now… Well, last Christmas I went out and bought 6 pairs of boots- I always want to make sure I’ve got loads of shoes.” Gary’s upbringing has left him with some scars. “We always had to go without… you’ve never seen anyone eat as fast as me, even now.” He laughs.
When I asked what he wanted to be as a child growing up in the east end. Gary was quick to answer: “A millionaire, anyway I could.”
As he acknowledges it; his ‘addiction to money’ came to a head in 1993 when Gary was sentenced, at 24 years of age, to seven and a half years in jail. His crime: selling fake £50 notes in one of the biggest busts of the time. Gary’s crime made front-page news of the News of The World- that day they sold over 4 million copies; he read the story from his cell.
Gary thought at that point he had reached the lowest moment of his life, but that didn’t come until a little later- waking up in a padded cell in prison, pumped full of sedatives and unable to form a sentence. In much ways, that was a beginning for Gary, that bust set him on a course that would change his life. Gary is now a successful motivational speaker- touring schools, speaking to kids who may be about to embark on a similar path to him.
“I hate shit like Top-Boy.” He is referring to the popular tv show about a young man battling with drug gangs on housing estates of East London. “it glamourises gangs, it glamourises kids in gangs, it glamourises violence. There’s nothing glamorous about it.” He adds “We are losing a generation to violence.”
Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of knife crime per head of population of all the Eastlondonlines boroughs, with one offence for every 290 residents. Another alarming statistic from Metropolitan Police shows that a worrying 41 per cent of those being caught for knife crimes across London’s boroughs are now aged between 15 and 19.
“It’s a terrible story,” Gary says describing his book. “There’s everything in there, there is poverty, there is mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental illness, violence and crime but in all that there’s hope.”