His name came up in a telephone call with an old school friend. Trying to recall those from Somerset who had attended the small school in Devon to which we had been sent, I remembered the boy had come from the village of Curry Rivel. It was a surprise to learn that he had been sent to prison for wasting police time, then, on reflection, it was not such a surprise.
Curry Rivel was only five miles or so from our village, so it meant that were people in his community whom I knew. He would be rude about people in the village whom I held in high regard, without ever being able to offer any reason for his opinions, and he seemed to live an isolated life.
At school, it quickly became apparent that he was someone to avoid. He would always have something bad to say about someone and would eavesdrop conversations and carry stories to the staff many of whom were fundamentalist Christians who were already inclined to think the worst of the boys in their care.
Once, I remember my father gave him a lift from Taunton station. We were returning home at the end of term, or perhaps had both chosen the same time for a weekend at home. It was not an experience that was repeated, as the terms passed we stood at a silent distance from each other. We did not speak at school and even when standing on the platform waiting to catch the train, we left each other unacknowledged.
In retrospect, I had always believed my treatment of a strange boy to have been harsh. Perhaps his malicious opinions and his tale-telling had arisen from a deep unhappiness, perhaps there was a different person inside.
Encountering his name online some fifteen or twenty years ago, I became suspicious that he might not have been completely truthful in describing his profession as “company chairman,” but the online world is full of exaggeration, so I had given it no further thought.
It was my old friend’s suggestion that I Google the name of the boy I had disliked that brought stories I could not have imagined of him.
On one occasion he was going to buy 9,000 houses from Somerset County Council for £95 million, on another he was going to invest £100 million in the Scottish town of Kilmarnock. In 1995, he was convicted for a bomb hoax, in 1998, he was convicted for claiming milk products were contaminated, in 2006 he wasted many hours of police time by presenting himself as a witness in the Ipswich murders. The judge passing sentence in 2007 told the man who had been the strange boy, “you are forlorn. You are pathetic . . . It seems to me that it is necessary to pass a deterrent sentence so people of your ilk do not come forward and do not waste a good deal of police time. An immediate sentence of imprisonment is unavoidable.”
The custodial sentence does not seem to have persuaded the man to abandon his fantasies. A few seconds online revealed that fourteen years on from his conviction, the strange boy is unchanged. “As Cheif (sic) Executive of Braeside35 we don’t propose to know everything about property development . . .”