The Marked Man

Published in London Review of Books on 21 September 2000

James Millar was born by the sea in 1965. His father ran his own building business and his mother taught children with learning disabilities. His sister Sarah was six years older and always had her head in a book. Three times a year they would go on holiday, once to another part of England, and twice abroad. The Millars liked their English lives. They were well enough off to spoil their son, who has strong memories of being taken sailing when he was three, of having a Chopper bicycle at the height of their fashion, and of loving Gary Glitter at the height of his. James’s favourite toy was the Six Million Dollar Man, which had a bionic right arm that could lift things. When you peered through the back of the doll’s head you suddenly had bionic eyes, too, eyes that could take in a magnified, wide-angle version of the world outside. James is a child again when he talks about the doll, its bright red jumpsuit, the way the bionic eye made things look different.

James is a paedophile who has abused a number of boys, including one aged six and one aged eight, and another who James says was 14 but had a mental age of six. It’s impossible to be certain how many children he has abused because he tells lies, but he has admitted to seven. He has served three prison sentences since he was 18. He was released on licence in July 1998; he says he has not abused any children since then.

He doesn’t look distinctive, you wouldn’t pick him out as having something ‘odd’ about him. He is tall and better-looking than average, with cropped dark hair, brown eyes and a bit of a tan. He dresses like a young boy, wearing shorts, ankle socks, trainers, a T-shirt and sometimes a baseball cap. He wears a Gucci watch, an ostentatious metal one with a square black face. James said it wasn’t a fake, his sister had bought it for him on Bond Street. They hadn’t been in contact for ten years, he said, and it was a present to seal their reconciliation. I asked to see the watch, but it wasn’t heavy enough to be the real thing and the word ‘Gucci’ was set off-centre.

So what is the story of this man? He has been abused, he has been an abuser. He has been involved in paedophile rings. He has a history of refusing to undergo treatment and then changing his mind (sex offenders generally are more likely to comply with treatment and supervision conditions than other offenders); so far he has been on three courses of treatment. The Sex Offenders Treatment Programme encourages offenders to confess to their crimes, and then tries to help them learn how to control their behaviour. This involves teaching them to watch out for and to try to avoid things that might trigger their abusive acts. They are also taught – if this can be learned – to have sexual fantasies that don’t involve children. The intention of this programme is to reduce risk – paedophiles can never be ‘cured’. Only a fifth of released offenders have completed the SOTP, which runs in 25 prisons and treats 670 prisoners a year. Although James has completed the SOTP he is classed as being at a high risk of reoffending. He, on the other hand, declares that he will never do what he used to do again. Whatever he says, he will remain on the Sex Offenders’ Register for the rest of his life.

The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.