Meet Gary Hutton, reformed East End criminal from Stepney whose book Product of a Postcode talks of the environmental pressures that can lead to a life of crime, a message he now takes to local schools to help prevent young people from making the same mistakes he did.
The first time Hutton was arrested was age nine, caught shoplifting in order to feed the rest of his family. ‘I used to smash car windows in supermarket car parks and grab the food. It was free stuff to me.’ The conversation takes place over the phone, but his charming East End manner shines through as he discusses his early days in Whitechapel.
‘Vicky park was always a good place for a fight,’ he recalls – there’s nearly a whiff of nostalgia in his voice. ‘It was a good place to meet people too.’ By ‘people’, Hutton refers to the network of criminals and gangsters of East London he would eventually find himself entangled with.
Hutton’s youth was grim. His mother died when he was seven, whereafter he and ten other siblings contended with poverty and a drunk, abusive father. This dysfunctional background meant Hutton was exposed to violence and petty crime from an early age, even though he stresses it could have been different if he had been born in another area of London.
‘We’re all a product of our postcode, really. If you grow up with a mentor who instills you with education, you could have a lovely life. You could go to university.’ He continues: ‘I went to a different sort of university, my mentor had a balaclava and a boiler suit.’
Forced to steal to help feed himself and his family, throughout his teenage years Hutton quickly climbed the ranks of East London lawbreakers, as his misdemeanors began to increase in severity. ‘Other criminals would need a bloke for a job and someone would bring my name up. Word gets out.’
By the age of twenty, Hutton had a reputation as ‘a pretty good’ criminal, his Cockney charm proving invaluable; ‘you could drop me in the middle of the desert, and I’d sell you the best sand in the world after five minutes.’ The schooling in violence proved a handy asset, too. ‘I didn’t have any fear. I was getting beaten up by my older brothers all the time – who was I going to be scared of?’
After being sentenced to seven years in prison for counterfeit and forgery worth over £5 million – his crime made the front page of the News of the World – Hutton continued to play the aggressor, beating up other inmates and was subsequently moved from Pentonville, an open prison, to HMP Bullingdon, a high security ‘chokey’.
Around two years into his sentence he reached his lowest point when, after reacting to some dark news about his father from outside, Hutton was ‘sent crazy’ and ‘put in a padded cell, pumped full of drugs to sedate me’. It was at this stage that Hutton had a moment of clarity and an awful realisation dawned on him.
‘If someone had told me aged nine that I would have ended up in a padded cell pumped full of drugs from just shoplifting, I would have told them to fuck off and gone back to school instead. I looked up and said [to God], if you get me out of here in sane mind and health I’ll be good for the rest of my life.’
Up until that point, Hutton’s life had been a self-perpetuating cycle of worsening offences – petty crime slowly evolving into violent ones. This is what he now warns school children of in his talks, as well as being the main takeaway of his book Product of a Postcode. It took a feat of determination to will himself out of the slipstream, but the East Ender was up to the challenge.
In 1999 Hutton was released from prison and ran the London Marathon in order to raise money to become a football coach, which took the place of crime as his income. ‘I wanted to dedicate my life as a tool for learning.’
Years later, Hutton was asked to write a book about his life, after addressing a group of school children. His anti-crime message struck a chord with residents of Mile End and Bow, places struggling with a rise in knife crime and youths slipping into the underworld.
In 2019, Hutton was involved in an award-winning documentary called Knife Crime Is More Than Just A Crime. The short film focused on Barty, a young man who lived on Roman Road and was stabbed to death in 2016. He has also set up the charity Product of Postcode, which is geared to help educate young people in East London avoid falling ill of the same lifestyle he endured. ‘I wish I’d had something like that early on in my life. Education is key.’
People are blown away by Hutton’s story, which resonates deeply with local inhabitants. Perhaps it is useful to have an ex-criminal telling the “real” story to youth with impressionable minds, who are exposed to a glamorised version of lives like his on TV. ‘Crime isn’t as charming as they make it look like in the movies. I hate shit like Top Boy, it dresses the whole thing up as exciting. There’s no such thing as a “gangster” – there might be one bloke on the top of the heap who can refer to himself as one, but the rest are just criminals and prison fodder.’
From his troubled beginnings, Hutton has managed to carve out a life for himself to do good things for himself and the community. ‘I just want to get my message across to these kids, that crime never pays.’
His profile as a speaker and ex-criminal is beginning to gain exposure – he’s just appeared on the well-known True Crime Podcast – much like his skills as a crook became sought after in the late eighties and nineties. His story of violence, crime but also hope is starting to be known by the wider public. Will Hutton become as “successful” in the oratorical sphere as he was in the world of crime? With his strength of will and new-found devotion to teaching, one wouldn’t doubt it.
Gary Hutton’s book Product of a Postcode is available on Amazon, the £3 donation goes to his registered charity
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