Month: August 2017

Two funerals and a wedding: Notes from the underground

27 March 2015

A wedding is taken place.  The couple kiss and swear to be soulmates. Rings are exchanged.  Family and guests surround the couple.  Marc is marrying Mikhail.  Well all right.  Gay marriage has been legal since 2014.

The couple kiss passionately and the cake is cut with a plastic knife.  A plastic knife? We are in …..  Full Sutton high security prison.  Mikhail Gallatinov’s mother says she his proud that her son had changed history.  Well…

The authorities says the couple would not share a cell.  A prisoner tells papers that they had sex in the library.

This is the first gay wedding in a British Prison.  An newspaper in the US comments that: “Britain (is) leading the way in depravity.”  Good to hear we lead the way in something…

And the happy couple?  Well they could each tell a story and one of them could tell a surprising story involving Blackpool.

Mikhail Gallatinov.  At the time of his marriage he had been in prison for 18 years.  In 1997 he had strangled a man he had met through a gay dating site.  He had barely finished an earlier sentence involving predatory paedophilia.  He told an undercover police officer that he intended to kill somebody.  He was under surveillance when he murdered Adrian Kominski aged 28.   The next day the surveillance team realised that something was wrong.  He was stopped in a service station and the body of Adrian Kominski body was found in the car boot.

The trial judges said  “This was a cold-blooded, well-planned, callous, chilling and apparently motiveless killing.”  He was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years, he was 23 years old.

 

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Mikhail Gallatinov

In the early hours of January 2007 a man Malcolm Benfold a chef was brutally killed on the Middle Promenade near the Imperial Hotel.  This is the  best known outdoors  gay meeting spot in Blackpool.  (A former Conservative activist claims that he met rent boys there to bring to sex and cocaine parties at the Imperial Hotel… much as I long to believe this I don’t).   The attack  was brutal and sustained and involved kicking and a bottle. Two other men had been threatened and robbed and it did not take long to identify three suspects.  They had been drinking all day and their leader, Marc Goodwin, had talked about “gay bashing.”

 

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Marc Goodwin

At the trial at Preston Crown Court Marc Goodwin  changed his plea.  His representative argued that the crime had involved robbery rather than homophobia.  Marc Goodwin looking the traditional “ashen faced” was sentenced to a minimum of eighteen years.  At the risk of rendering Daily Mail readers orgasmic  I have to say that Marc had three children with his fiancee and that he was living in a hostel for homeless people.

WENDY BRIDGE

Crime does not offer many examples of noble people but Wendy Bridge, Malcolm Benfold’s younger sister, is one.  Under a restorative justice scheme she talked to Marc in prison.  During the trial he was aggressive but when she met him in prison he was pale and shaking.  He said he was sorry and that he wished there was a death penalty so that he would die.  She was angry at this and said it was pointless and that Marc should take advantage of the chances offered in prison and come out a better person.  Marc said he had done courses in anger management and numeracy and literacy.  Marc also said that he had long thought he was gay and had sought counselling and had “come out.” Marc’s swaggering macho persona at the time of the attack was an attempt to deny his sexual orientation.    Marc said that he could not remember the incident because of his drinking but that there might be a connection between his sexual identity and his frenzied attack on a bisexual man.  Wendy spoke to warders who said that he was doing well in prison.

Wendy’s reaction to the marriage was measured.  She is not against prisoners getting married but she thinks that murderers are different and that marriage should be something that people work towards…  a goal to be achieved.  Wendy says that she does not hate Marc and hopes he leaves prison a better person.  She thinks that he is being manipulated by Mikhail who is nearing the end of his mandatory sentence and might seek to improve his eligibility for release. Wendy’s ability to put aside anger is instructive to me.  Tony Benfold,  Malcolm’s older brother takes a less tolerant view.  He says he hopes they strangle each other.

THE LOWER DEPTHS

Take Marc Goodwin at the time of the crime.  He has a fiancee and three children but he is living in a hostel for homeless people.  At some level it must be clear to him that he is not greatly valued by society.  One understandable reaction is to reject society … to rebel.  Marc is more likely to become an astronaut than get a job.  He is, not unlike a lot of people in Blackpool, within spitting distance of despair.  George Orwell was once somewhere impoverished god awful place  (Bolton??) in the 30’s and he asked the barman what was the quickest way out of here.  “Bottle of gin.”

This is why Blackpool has the highest rates of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, suicide, depression….   Could it be that in different circumstances Marc Goodwin could be writing letters in spidery writing  to government ministers demanding the retention of homeopathic medicine the the NHS?  With  persistent failure and poverty would we be Marc? I don’t know.  And Marc’s journey from homophobic killer to Gay Wedding?   It is an inevitable part of the career of US tele-evangelists who denounce sodomy to be discovered in motels with young friends.   Does homophobia mean repressed homosexuality?  My guess: sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

If I were not a half-hearted atheist I would say pray for Malcolm Benfold harmless victim and his sister Wendy whose nobility lightens a dark story.

malcolm benfold

Malcolm Benfold

 

thanks to the Local and Family History Centre for their help and patience.

 

 

 

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