Dennis Nilsen, Gay Porn, Two Bullets & a Book

My thoughts on The man who murdered my father, his possible release and the suppression of the publication of his autobiography.

During Dennis Nilsen’s 1983 trial it is said that my grandmother made the travel from Motherwell down to London with a loaded gun. Her intention was to shoot Nilsen dead in the witness box. So the story goes, she was refused admission to the court as it was packed out and she could not definitively prove her identity. Outside alone, with London biting into her neck, she walked along from the court, down Black Friars to Victoria Embankment and fired two shots into the Thames: one was for Nilsen and the other was for my mother. As she held Nilsen responsible for the murder of her son, so she held my mother guilty of leading him there. As my Grandmother later said in print: "She was [my mother] a southern girl, with southern morals.”

Whether there is any truth in that tale I sincerely doubt. My mother told it to me after a bottle or two of Russian Perrier. She also took enormous gratification in being the intended rest home of bullet No.2 and from the fact that my grandmother's dislike for her was finally out in public and equalled her loathing of Nilsen. The story was never verified by my grandmother, I’ve never met her, but even if it is fiction, it still shows some of the hatred that existed for Nilsen around the country and especially amongst the few family members of victims which were found.

It’s now 27 years since Nilsen was sentenced and had his crimes hammered down into the history books of crime and justice. It is 27 years that have seen my grandmother die, my mother live and me left straddled somewhere in between. But it is two years longer than the 25 year life term that the trial judge set for Nilsen, and in theory that means that at any moment Nilsen could be released from prison.... could be ringing up the receipt as my mother passes tomatoes down the conveyor belt in Sainsburys. Many people have asked me what I think of that? How do I feel about Nilsen, his possible release, his demands for “gay porn” and his autobiography (“The History of a Drowning Boy”) which has been denied permission to be published. In this post I will try and answer those questions.

Before I go any further, and for those of you not so well briefed in this affair, here is a concise and probably inexact history of Nilsen since his arrest in 1983:

February 9th 1983 : Dennis Andrew Nilsen is arrested after human remains are discovered in his North London Flat..

February 11th 1983 : Nilsen admits to killing at least 14 young men and rattles of a startling confession which lasts in excess of 30 hours.

Early 1983 : After an initial hearing he is remanded in custody to Brixton Prison awaiting
trial at London's Old Bailey.

October 24th 1983 :The trial begins. Nilsen pleads "Not Guilty" to each of the charges.

November 3rd 1983 : The jury retires to consider it’s verdict.

November 4th 1983 : With 2 dissenters on each of Nilsen’s charges, the judge announces that he will accept a majority count. At 4:25, the jury returns a verdict of guilty on all counts with a 10-2 majority. The judge sentences Nilsen to life imprisonment and specifies he should not be eligible for parole for 25 years. He is taken to Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London. Nilsen was 37 years old.

1984: Transferred to Wakefield prison in Yorkshire.

1993: Nilsen is moved to Whitemoor Top Security Prison. Gives a televised interview from jail.

2001: Refused permission to receive an art book and male pornography into his possession. His appeal to the court of human rights ends in failure.

2001: The manuscript draft of his autobiography ‘The History of a Drowning Boy’ is seized by prison authorities.

2003: Nilsen brings a judicial review over a decision not to allow him to publish his book. He is still awaiting an appeal on this decision at the European Court of Human Rights

Since his sentence Nilsen has served in eight different prisons and is currently held at HM Full Sutton maximum security prison in Yorkshire... his autobiography still hangs in limbo. He is now 65 years old.

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When I’ve spoken about Nilsen in the past it was rarely ever from my own personal viewpoint. I have always done so with the consideration of my mother’s feelings and saying the things that would least upset her. I did and do not want her having to relive anything of that crime again:  I would not want her to hurt or suffer any more than she already has. But my mother is not online and so here I will give my views... my thinking on the man that strangled, drowned, dismembered and boiled my father. Many of you will not be able to understand these views, even less will share them. Some will think it’s all a front. It’s not, these are my honest feelings and I can only type what I feel -  nothing else is possible.

The first thing I will say is that I do not hate Dennis Nilsen. More than that I hold no ill will towards him. I neither blame him nor the murder for my mother's alcoholism nor for the broken childhood I endured, and I certainly don’t hold him guilty for my ongoing addiction to heroin. Yes, these things are all interlinked, but in that sense the world is connected to the world... blame never really resolves anything. But although I do not hate the man, I certainly cannot say I like him. I do not know him. Yet in a bizarre way I admire Nilsen as I admire artists and poets.When you read what he has to say of the killings it is clear that they were certainly not acts stemming from hatred. He expresses a sadness (not regret) in the actions he had to take to fulfil his desires and needs. I understand that... to have a deep need of companionship yet unable to find it in a conventional way. It's not the murders I can sympathise with (I cannot), it is the emotions that led to them.

Over the years there has been much debate concerning the murders and the real motive/s behind them. After Brian Masters' book it is generally touted that Nilsen killed primarily “for company” but I do not completely agree. I think that is a very sympathetic and self-comforting idea to try to project. It certainly had a role to play, but I think above all else they were sexual killings, and I think Nilsen got a bigger sexual kick from them than he has ever admitted.

Sexual impulse is one of the few psychological states that really take us out of ourselves and make the perverse and grotesque exciting and realisable. And as with many sexual fetishes after they have been fulfilled one feels disgusted, horrified and saddened by them... That is until the next time,of course. Also, for many of us our deepest sexual fantasies are extremely intimate and often embarrassing. Sometimes so much so that we cannot disclose them to anyone. I very often think that sex is a kind of base therapy.We are very, very vulnerable within it, and to disclose and/or admit our innermost desires reveals all the things about ourselves that we wish to hide. It gives away our histories, our complexes and our traumas. Sex reveals the soul.

But I am not here to unravel Nilsen... it holds no interest for me what was the real agenda behind his crimes. All I know is that 16 young men were killed and the murderer now languishes in prison being denied pornography, book deals and occasionally being on the wrong end of a beating.

Languishes???... So you think Nilsen should be released???

I cannot answer that...I do not have the authority. If he is any kind of a danger to anyone anymore no, I don’t think he should. Does his crimes entitle him to die in prison, possibly, but I would not like to see that. So oneday hopefully he will be released and will be free to breathe fresh air and own another dog. That prospect does not frighten, anger nor sadden me. I’d probably even visit Sainsbury’s a little more often if I knew he’d be there. But I do not believe that will ever happen.... I think he will die wearing prison slacks. I do not see a home secretary or parole board with the balls big enough to release him.


In 1993 Nilsen was famously denied access to “Gay Pornongraphy”. He took his case to the European court of Human Rights and lost (contrary to what the British tabloids reported). I’ve often been asked what I think about that.

Well, I’m not going to babble on about human rights but I would like to clear something up. Gay Porn??? Nilsen was officially denied access to “an art book” and a “‘top shelf’ men's magazine”. An art book... if the Prison Service describe it as that then that’s what they concede it is. Of course he should be allowed access to it. As for the ‘Top Shelf’ men's magazine.... well, it’s the junk on the bottom shelf that we must be more concerned about.... those tabloids that are spread out like cards on milk crates in every Newsagents across Britain. Nilsen protested against this decision asking: “Why is ‘gay porn’ forbidden when heterosexual porn is freely admitted and available around prisons?” Of course, he’s correct... we’d all make the same challenge. In a country where gay sex and porn are legal then what possible justification can exist in prohibiting it in prison? No, the only thing that is damaging here is the sexual repression.The Prison Service must know that by the number of prison rapes that occur each year. So yes, of course Nilsen should be allowed pornography as long as it satisfies the law of the land.


Whilst doing his 27 year tour of Her Majesty’s Prisons Dennis Nilsen has written the first draft of an autobiography entitled ‘The History of a Drowning Boy’. This book is the focus of much controversy and legal wranglings. In 2001, on it’s way back to Nilsen from his Lawyers, the then Governor of Whitemoor prison seized it, believing it breached certain prison regulations. It was returned to Nilsen's solicitors thus preventing him from preparing it for publication. Nilsen made a legal appeal against its seizure. The presiding judge had this to say:

"We do not believe that any penal system could readily contemplate a regime in which a rapist or murderer would be permitted to publish an article glorifying in the pleasure that his crime had caused him."

In addition,  the Home Secretary decided Nilsen's work did not consist of serious comment about crime, justice or the penal system, but was "a platform for Mr Nilsen to seek to justify his conduct and denigrate people he dislikes"

To this day the manuscript is still unfinished and still unpublished.

Concerning the book there are 3 main arguments against it’s publication:

1) Is the book in the public interest?
2) Does it shed any relevant light on the crimes that nilsen committed?
3) Profit from any sales. In the UK convicted prisoners are not allowed to profit from their crimes. (Nilsen says all money will go to charity.)

I am not going to brilliantly argue for or against each point here, that would take us into realms very far from this site and post. I will give just a few brief words on each point.

1) Public Interest. Well what is that? With all the shit that clogs up our bookshops and libraries, I think it is more in the public interest than the majority of that pulp. I also think anything so controversial IS in the public interest. Maybe the real question is this:Is it in the public SECTOR interest?. Almost certainly not. From what I understand the book also serves as an indictment of the UK penal and prison system.

2) Does the book shed light on the crimes Nilsen has committed? That has been judged as “NO”, but it is only the first draft that has been read, and anyone who writes or knows anything at all of the writing process will understand that a draft very often has very little to do with the final work. It is in the redrafting where vague ideas are clarified and proper retrospection occurs. If writers sent their first drafts off to publishers it would incur the same result:“no”. So forgetting publication for a moment, I think Nilsen must first be allowed to finish the work before ANY judgement is made. My thoughts will not change matter what he produces it should be allowed to be put into print. If consumers then want to boycott it, then let them do so.

3) Profits from sales. As the law is that convicted offenders CANNOT profit from sales, I don’t see what the argument is. If Nilsen cannot receive money from any sales of his work then he cannot. The revenue must be handled and controlled by a third party who decides what to do with it. Ultimately someone or some organisation will gain from Nilsen’s crimes... as already happens. Again, my view is I really couldn’t care less where the revenue goes or if Nilsen profits from it. If it allows him to buy an extra toothbrush or pouch of tobacco, so what. He’s still in prison... he’s still in a 12 x 12 cell... he’s still 65 and dying... and even if he buys a Rolex who’s he going to flash it off to? So I’m also passionately for the publication of his book.

There is one final and important point that is always considered in these cases and that is the sensibility of the family of the victims. Well you’ve heard my view, but I really doubt that will reflect the view of (m)any others.My mother would certainly be against the books publication. It would anger her tremendously. But I also know that if I bought and wrapped her a copy for Christmas she’d bloody well read it. That also says something about its worth. It’s also important to remember that because of the category of men that nilsen accosted and murdered, there are not very many close family members about . So at the most, we’d be letting 20 bitter (with good reason) people decide the fate of the nation. No, it’s not correct and even if it may hurt someone I dearly love,I cannot sacrifice my principles... not this time. PRINT IT.

So there you have it, MY thoughts on Nilsen, his crimes, possible release and book. I know some of you will leave this post bewildered, thinking how can I hold such views towards “Britains most twisted killer” and the man who done such barbarous things to my own father. Well I can answer that in many ways, but I will leave you with this: I do not believe in monsters and I do not believe in demonizing people... underneath all our savagery and behind all our perversity's there is always a human being. We all feel, hurt, love and bleed... Nilsen is no exception. When I look at him, like myself, I see just another lonely man.

My Best Wishes To All...

Shane. x