In re: american writers UK prison diary

So I am attempting to study for the last exam I’ll ever take in law school (Mergers and Acquisitions if your curious), possibly in any school ever? (I do still have the bar exam looming this summer, what fun!) Nonetheless with my concentration waining, and waiting for my UDF coffee to kick in and wake me back up I did some web surfing and came across a very strange article, a diary of an American writer who spent a good while imprisoned in the UK subjected to rape and pretty horrible circumstances.

Peter Kurth the man in question was arrested after his flight for his drunken behavior (apparently from a few scotches which were amplified by his HIV medication) and air rage, from the details of the article it sounds like he did and said some pretty horrible things during the flight (and I felt he kinda brushed them aside). Anyway, the story turns strange and horrible with a diary of his time awaiting hearings, his inability to be put out on bond.

I have to admit one half of me at first did not feel as sad for him as I should have (there are many opinionated responses posted on the messages connected to the story that go both ways, however some appear demented saying that this was exactly what he deserved..) someone who was a complete jerk on board was arrested and I am assuming at the time the plane cheered, but then of course the resulting time in prison (this is pre-conviction) where he was repeatedly raped was something no one should be subjected too. Clearly Britain has problems with their prison system, but which country doesn’t (probably somewhere in Scandinavia?) but how is it that someone being held on pretrial is holed up with the ‘hard timers’?  Those that sign up to be guards I would think are more likely to have a few screws lose, allow things that shouldn’t, happen and the like. That said, the story should remind everyone that when you travel you cannot expect American laws to protect you and that other countries have their own systems – so when we complain about the way things are here (as I so often do) we should remember how well comparatively some aspects of our country function.

See the strange story “At her majesty’s pleasure” at


4 Responses

  1. Well … I just wanted to say that I appreciate this take on my experiences. The diary as Salon put it up was, of course, much cut — the original is about 10 times as long — & so it had to be edited for space and also for focus, as I was (still am) unable to separate one aspect of the thing from another …

    At the risk of sounding terribly defensive, I do want to point out (and the full diary, which I will be posting on my own site), that there was only one “pretty horrible” remark I made on the plane, and that I have owned to. The rest was the kind of thing you would hear from any complainant trying to get through to a completely unresponsive staff. I will add that they not only lost my computer, but all of my luggage, and I have not seen it again (BA has the worst record in the “developed” world when it comes to missing items — this is official, by the way, not something I invented).

    I was at first rather amazed at the heated response this story has generated (everywhere, not just on Salon) — now I think it’s just as it should. I *did* “behave badly,” but I didn’t disrupt the comfort and safety of anyone but the crew and those few people in the back rows who heard my “exchanges” — nobody else was inconvenienced in any way. In fact, when the issue finally came to court, the judges actually asked the Crown prosecutors, “Why on earth have you been holding this man?” The slap on the wrist and the fine I fully deserved — the rest I did not. But my point in publishing even these selective portions of the diary was to try to get it across to people that any one of us, at the blink of an eye, can be arrested and abused at the whim of the state. I grant everyone who reads the thing to react any way they want — but I know what I went through was, at the least, excessive punishment for something that does and always did happen on airplanes every day.

    C’est tout. pk

  2. Peter –
    I’ve got to admit its pretty shocking to me that you were in prison for what you did, it would seem like a rather simple case of, fine him, get him back to the states situation.

    The thing though that I was a bit confused on was that considering prison was terrible, given the opportunity to pay and leave, you went back? Back to the same place you had been. I guess I figure if your traveling internationally you could have found someway to get the $2000 and not put yourself back in the prison.

  3. You know — I want to get this “drunken” thing out of the way. It seems to be what everyone who’s read this story focuses on. I wrote in my “Introduction” — which was written under orders from Salon’s editors — that I had not, by any means, had “too much alcohol” when I got on that plane — and after I did, the BA staff kept coming round handing me bottles of wine. Yes, I know it was my responsibility to “No,” or at least “Enough” — but please do not further insult me by saying that *I* was the one who gave BA a hard time. They don’t let you on to airplanes anymore, you know, if they think you’ve had too much to drink (which I had not) — but this is all everyone who’s read this (much edited) account seems to focus on: “Well, he was a drunken asshole, and he got what he deserved.” I was NOT drunk — and Salon even cut at the last minute the lines from the judges, when they asked the Crown prosecutors, “Why on earth have you been holding this man?” There was no reason for it — it was simply a measure of the “terror” paranoia the Bush, Blair & Co. have foisted on us all.

    The proof of this: no tests were ever taken to determine the level of alcohol in my blood. No forensic evidence at all. They do not stop to bother with these things — they just bang you up as they see fit, because you’ve had the audacity to fight back. That is my story and I’m sticking to it. They knew better than to turn it into a case that actually had evidence, because if they had they’d have had an EU “human rights” suit on their hands before they could say “There’ll always be an England!” And they still may get one — we’re negotiating about that.

    Sheesh! I am stunned at the hatefulness of some of the commentary I’ve read in regard to this piece. If I’d been allowed to publish the full, unedited diary on Salon, maybe this would be clearer. As it is, it will have to be turned into a “memoir” or something — but I repeat: neither in court nor in fact was any evidence presented that I was “drunk” on that plane. pk

  4. Ed (is it?) — I’m sorry I didn’t read what you asked before I shot off my last response. I had no choice but to go back to the prison, as I do not have $2000 to toss around — I do not have $2000 at all — and after a month at the Scrubs, 9 more days didn’t seem to me like much of a big deal. As it was (and I think I got this through despite Salon’s editing), the moment I got back they began to make preparations for my leaving … it wasn’t 9 days at all, but only 3 — they kicked me out of the prison as soon as the judges declared I was “innocent.” It had nothing to do with a “crime,” and nothing to do with a “conviction,” and nothing to do with a fine that was owed — they don’t give a damn about the fine — they made sure I was gone as soon as they saw me hanging my head in court, saying, “Yes, M’lud.” They booted me out of that prison the minute they could get away with it without egg on their faces …

    Our embassy, by the way, was of no help — less than no help. They are not allowed (by law or treaty, who knows which?) to “intervene” in what was initially a criminal case, but which got dropped down, as we all knew it would, to nothing more than “insulting” words to a stewardess …


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