An Interview with Ex-offender Frank Portinari: a gun runner for terrorists
Chair: Professor Martin Gill
Panellist: Frank Portinari
Frank did not take what might considered the typical route to prison, i.e. petty juvenile offending, namely shop theft, driving cars without permission, playing truant, more serious theft, drugs, multiple court appearances then a career in and out of custody. He went from being a football fan, to football hooliganism, to political extremism to providing guns for terrorists and then prison.
He likens his criminal journey to being on a treadmill, he was carried by momentum. He gained status from being a football hooligan, he was looked up to by people his own age and respected by elders. When he was eventually taken to court and punished – earning a criminal record at the same time – he saw it as a badge of honour. Moreover, he thought it would impress his partner (who he has been with for 50 years). He avoided going to prison while a hooligan, narrowly, but he was unperturbed, he says that had he been taken into custody it would have enhanced his reputation and that was more important to him.
Some of his fellow hooligans became his comrades when he started to get into political extremism and then later into terrorist activities. There was no question of him being radicalised by others, you will hear Frank discuss how it was he who was leading the radicalisation process. People followed him out of loyalty. So much so that he feels that only once he had given up being militant could others do so too. He was highly motivated, a born leader, an activist rather than an armchair theorist, indeed he feels he had an addiction to taking action.
As offending became more serious the inevitably of prison loomed. He was warned by the Intelligence services that he was being watched closely, that he would eventually be caught and that he had a chance to stop his criminal activities before the inevitability occurred, but he only wanted to continue, he says he was ‘blasé’. The long prison sentence he eventually received was a further badge of honour.
You will hear Frank discussing being grateful he was caught, he feels it stopped matters escalating to a point where someone could have been killed as a direct result of what he was doing. He adapted to prison well, he did not get involved in drugs and was more focussed on helping solve inmate disputes than contribute to them. Throughout his ordeal his family stood by him. He says that in prison there was little attempt to rehabilitate him and he left not feeling that he had been taught a lesson but rather that his militant work must continue. So what would have stopped him?
Eventually Frank gave up because he was able to see another way forward – remedies found in dialogue rather than violence and revenge – more a case of circumstances changing than him changing himself. Until then the treadmill he was on did not have a recognisable stop button. Indeed, you will hear Frank discussing how the only real solution would have been not to have got on the treadmill in the first place. He points to his struggling childhood, his lack of education, his lack of knowing what he wanted to do or how he could fulfil his potential by legitimate routes. Not that he blames others, he takes full responsibility for his actions, and now wants to help others and stop them going the same way that he did.
13th October 2022
Frank’s guided tour of ‘The Dark Side of Camden’