Press Interview : Shane Levene on Dennis Nilsen

Nilsen Through the Eyes of Victim's Son

3 page newspaper article printed today (Saturday 28 December 2013) in the Aberdeenshire Press and Journal. Interview carried out by Cheryl Livinstone.

Where did you live before your father was killed? 

Fulham, London

How old were you?


What do you remember about your father's death?

My mother screaming after being told. She says that wasn't her first reaction, but that's what I remember. I regard that as my birth; the moment I came into existence. Regarding the actual news of his death, it didn't really have any effect on me. At that moment he was only rumoured to be my father, and I waved those rumours away, desperate to share the same father as my brother and sister. I didn't want to be only half-something to them. And also, it wasn't like my father was always at home and then one day was not. Due to his drug addiction he was living in a separate place with my mother, and by the time we learnt of his murder he had already been missing for over a year.

How did you feel when it was discovered he was killed by Dennis Nilsen?

Honestly, more than anything, at that age, I kinda felt special that my father was one of the victims, that our family was somehow mixed up in the hideous events which were front page news the entire length and breadth of the nation. I couldn't wait to tell people.... to kinda distinguish myself. Of course, no one believed me and so eventually I stopped talking about that at all. But all my life I suppose I kinda enjoyed that fact. I mean if your father is going to be murdered who better to murder him than 'Britain's most EVIL killer'? That sounds strange, I know, and it'd be easy to lie and give you the kinda standard responses that everyone expects, but that's not how I felt. At that age, seven, when you're bustling and fighting to stand out, such things are used in a very different way than they would be if happening to you as an adult.

How do you feel about it now?

It's a part of my life and history and I celebrate all that has gone into the making of me (good and bad). The murder is one of the defining events (but not THE defining event) which formed me. Such events take on a kinda neutrality after three decades of living with them. Like other events it's just something which happened and which can't be changed, and though it was a hideous thing , it doesn't mean it has to have hideous repercussions. So I see it in a very forming and essential light: it is a part of the history to who I am today and I can't and wouldn't want it to be any other way.

Has his murder affected your life in any way?

Of course the event has affected my life, but not so much in an emotional way, more in a physical sense, in how it has often been the road on which I have met great people and had more exposure as a writer. The emotional effects, and there were many, did not arise from the murder itself but from the consequences the murder had on my mother: she became a chronic and suicidal alcoholic. Her reaction to the event, her coping mechanism, was where emotional hurt entered my life. And that there is the defining event of my life: my mother's reaction to the murder of the only great love of her life. So I class myself as a secondary victim of the murder, whereby the event didn’t effect me but what that event did to my mother, and her consequent behaviour, did. And although childhood from that point on was horrendous and my youth corrupted, I have no bitterness or regret over that. I saw a world and was dragged into an underclass of living that very few will ever see. It was horrendous and vulgar and perverted but gave me unique eyes and a unique insight into suffering and despair : a masters degree in the filth of life.

How do you feel about Dennis Nilsen trying to publish his autobiography?

As a writer I naturally understand that and find it quite sane. Who wouldn't want their life text published? It would be weirder to me (and a sure sign of insanity) to write a 6,000 page autobiography and NOT want it published. As a victim, if that's what I am, I would also like to see his writing published and would love to read his words, uncensored and honest – honest in the sense that those words were not written with parole in mind. It seems strange to me that when he writes from the heart and is openly blunt and forthcoming about his crimes that people want to suppress his words. But, when he says stuff which he obviously doesn't feel, for ulterior motives, then his words are all splashed around. So if his words are in every paper across the UK, well isn't that also him being published? There's a whole lot of hypocrisy and nonsense logic around this question. It's like the powers-that-be don't want to know his real feelings, they want to take away all the words which they don't want to hear and leave only those which give the impression that the criminal justice system and rehabilitation works. It's like Orwell's Newspeak from his novel 1984 where the only words left are what the government want us to say, and we can say no more.

How do you feel about people reading intimate details about your father’s death?

Oh, people were reading intimate details of my father's life when he was living, so what's the difference? In fact, after my birth my father disappeared out my mother's life for a year and she only got back in contact with him when his name and address cropped up in the local paper after he'd been up in court accused of stealing a clock from the doctor's surgery. So it doesn't bother me... and as I've probably released more intimate details of his life than anyone else, I can only say that.

How do you feel about the fact it [Nilsen's autobiography] has been described as glorifying his crimes?

By who? The press? No-one but Nilsen's lawyer and one or two close confidantes have read it (it's not published don't forget) so who the hell can say whether it "glorifies his crimes" or not? And even if it does, and that's honestly how he feels towards his actions, isn't that extremely interesting? Shouldn't the public and psychiatrists and forensic psychologists and criminal profilers be grateful for such a first-hand account and unashamed glorying of such a crime? To me such a book would be extremely useful and insightful to many people. So whether it glorifies the crimes or tries to explain them I think the book has every right to be published, and I think it's in the public interest to do so. For the argument that "it’s not in the victims' interest to do so” well, I don't believe that's true, but even if it were, I don't think a handful of bitter people (bitter for very good reason) should decide the fate of the nation. If the books published the victims have every right not to read it and the public has every right to boycott it, but it MUST be available. As my mother recently said: Why the fuck should he have his book published! Though yeah, if it were published I'd probably read it.

Dennis was recently quoted as saying:

In the relative twinkling of an eye I will have to face my own death just like any other victim. I deserve to experience the same degree of pain suffered by my victims. Nothing less will suffice.
Only my own death will eventually even the score and only at that point will I know that I am forgiven and am finally free of that burden of debt. In the intervening period in what remains of my life I will try to be worthy of it.”

How would you feel about what he is saying?

Dennis is old now and the death process has truly set to work on him. He doesn't have long left and like anyone, I suppose, he wants his freedom. He knows he'll never be released but he's human and he hopes against hope. Those words above came from Nilsen but are not from his heart. They are the words that society and justice force him to say if he's to have any chance of being released. It's clearly stated: You will not even be considered for parole without feeling remorse. Not whether you've served your time or are no longer a danger, etc. but you must feel remorse. So criminals have their arms twisted up behind their backs to be and act remorseful. And if by pretending to be remorseful halves your prison time or leads to freedom then of course they'll say or act it. I'd do the same. Truthfully, who ever feels remorse for their actions? Remorse seems to me to be an idealistic state, something that harps back to ancient times and has more to do with the sinner still getting a ticket into heaven than anything else. We are bullied and harassed to feel remorse as humans for all things judged immoral. But I think remorse rarely exists as a natural emotion, an unselfish emotion. Normally it takes punishment to feel remorse and when one feels remorseful under punishment and torture then it's a selfish emotion to save oneself, relieve oneself of suffering. So the words above of Nilsen I don't see as his. As we've already seen, his true words are suppressed and all that's left that he can have published are words of remorse.

If you could speak to Dennis Nilsen or ask him anything, what would it be?

How are you? Health, well-being? Do you need anything? Can I help you in any way?

- - -

A new Memoires post proper will follow very shortly.... ... ...


Anonymous said...

Where is everyone??? Christmas is over! No?

Ok then, I'll start... This idea of remorse and how you'd define it led me to look it up in the dictionary (even though I know what it means). Is remorse the same as regret or guilt? Maybe not, maybe it's something that encompasses those values but is done on a public platform to reinforce others ideals and demands a little sprinkling of humiliation to make everyone completely satisfied by its 'authenticity'.

Stacy said...

Thank you for posting this insightful interview! Hope you are well. XXX


JoeM said...

I think there is such a thing as remorse. People change. You can be remorseful about your behaviour when you were younger. Whether or not Nilsen really feels it - apart from the fact that he wouldn't be in jail but for his actions - we'll probably never know. But as Shane has said - he's never going to be released any way.

I'm more FOR the book being published than not. It's always interesting to see how people justify their lives. I don't think he's going to turn anyone into a serial killer or anything. Going by the extracts in the recent biography I don't think he has any real self-awareness. I mean he gets angry when the writer says he used to eat takeaways while boiling the victims' heads. 'No!' he objected.'I was eating toast!' It's comical.

He comes up with all these completely unconvincing 'nurture' excuses. But he had a very ordinary upbringing. In the end I just think he had, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, too many serial killer genes.

_Black_Acrylic said...

Well, I never thought I'd read such sensible views expressed in a British newspaper. Seriously though, this is brilliant.

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Kelly... Oh, such posts never get much feedback. I think in many ways there's not too much to say and a lot of people won't know where to begin when they first come across my views. The journalist and paper had a similar reaction (but for that read my reply to Ben as I'll cover the drama post-interview in that reply.)

I think remorse is an abstract emotion, easy to identify with mentally but very difficult to explain in words. I still think it's mostly a selfish emotion, that mostly arises only becaue we eventually suffer ourselves from our actions. So the remorse is not really a 'remorse' towards someone else, but a remorse which arises out of a desire not to now be suffering for our crimes/behaviours. So I think it is mostly borne from the negative effects our behaviour eventually has upon ourself... it's our own suffering that has brought it about and not the suffering of the receiver of our behaviour.

Uh Oh... I can see a cats cradle of replies forming, as where I directed you down to my (as yet unwritten) reply to Ben I'll then be directing Joe M up here as this response is relevant to his comment. X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Stacy... and great to see you still around and that you're not a fair-weather friend as some of the people who come here.

You'll also be directed to my reply to Ben (_Black _Acrylic).

Hope All's Well, Stacy... Love and Thoughts as Ever, Shane. X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Joe... I love the Warhol quote and love your new choice of avatar too! It suits you.

Remorse: see reply to Kelly. But I certainly agree it exists, I'm just very cynical of where it arrives from and see it more as a selfish emotion. I think regret is something different, but true, honest remorse is very rare. I could write an essay on it as the more I'm typing the more complicated my initial idea is becoming and the more I feel I could expand more on what I want to say. I won't, but it's interesting.


I don't think he has any real self-awareness. I mean he gets angry when the writer says he used to eat takeaways while boiling the victims' heads. 'No!' he objected.'I was eating toast!' It's comical.

You've really hit on my point: it's EXACTLY such things as above which are interesting and give a true insight into the man... and every line is kinda like that: full of unintentional insight and actually working counter to what Nilsen himself believes the book will serve. Yes, it is comical, but just that little correction tells us so much more about him than 6,000 pages of his own text will never reveal. So no matter what he has written, or how clever and convincing he believes he is being, it is in his manner of arguing, the way he disputes expert opinion, the way the book is almost written as a response to all the psychiatrists and psychologists who have passed through his head (and according to him got it completely wrong) which is interesting. And, as you know, the moment anyone writes they unintentionally give their soul away (not in the meaning of the text, but in the way in which it is written and what is emphasised or given importance by the writer and what enrages him and pulls out angry tirades, etc.)

Cats cradle (under loop): see reply to Ben too... X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Ben....

Sensible views in a British paper...

You nearly didn't get to read them! If the Press and Journal had their way they'd have used a few 'select' quotes, giving their readers the stereotypical victim in a few quotes taken out of all context. This was after I had only agreed to do the interview if she could assure me that my replies would be printed unedited and not taken out of context (an assurance she did her best to evade giving.) So when after the interview, after I'd put a lot of time into my replies, when the journalist mentioned using only certain lines (not stating which ones) I told her that was not on, that that WAS taking my words out of context and was unacceptable and that in that case she didn't have permission to publish my words. From there we got into a whole days email exchange where she wanted my permission to use just scraps of my replies, saying that regardless of anything else they just didn't have the space to print the entire interview....

Actually Ben, it'd be much easier and clearer if I just edit together and forward you the email exchanges we shared that day. They make pretty interesting reading and finally involved the editor OKaying the publishing of the entire interview. But it was hard work getting it into print and no thanks to the paper.

Tomorrow I'll edit together and forward to you the email exchanges I shared with Cheryl (the journalist) and you'll see for yourself the drama which unfolded immediately post-interview and how close it came to never finally being published. In fact I'll send a copy of that exchange to all four of you above. X

JoeM said...

'just didn't have the space'

Yeah like there's SO much happening in Aberdeen...

Remorse/Regret - I suppose the Real Thing is when you truly feel sorry for the person wronged as opposed to yourself.

Be interesting to see those emails.

Anonymous said...

A pleasure to see your words in print, even in news-form. Hope all is well

Absolut Ruiness said...

I do agree that remorse is an idealistic feeling. Remorse, if there is any, comes only because of the realization that you have hurt a loved one. Seeing somebody close to you in pain, brings out remorse if you are human. This remorse cannot be confused for honest regret for doing something wrong. Its just that you feel responsible for pain.

eyelick said...

Your stepping stone to fame... Something to "piggyback" off of (son of victim) and turn into something much better... How did she find you? Is it related to the Martin Bladh show that you were a part of? Regret vs remorse seem to be two different things - regret more related to actions that affect you, remorse related to choices that affected other people. Remorse can probably be "truly" felt, not necessarily a manipulation tool. Far as it being the result of someone's own suffering or perceived detriments to his or her life, even if it's the loss of a relationship - for a lot of people, the selfish motivations behind it are probably not even on a conscious level. Your feelings toward Nilsen, the way that you would even help him if you could - demonstrates a level of maturity most people will never reach, a forgiveness so complete. Most people would harbor some level of resentment, or at least be glad for him to be in prison for life, and certainly would not ever be willing to extend a hand if given the opportunity.