Photo of Totnes Police Station in Devon who left the doors unlocked.

Photo of Totnes Police Station in Devon who left the doors unlocked.

By Rich Shrubb

A homeless man from Totnes is to have a warm bed, food and routines in prison thanks to the incompetence of the local plod.

In the hours of December 21st, caravan dwelling Russell O’Connor, 36, went to Totnes police station in Devon to ask for psychiatric help in the belief he would self-harm. No one was in and on the 24-hour helpline he used from there he was basically told, “tough shit, mate”.

O’Connor then noticed the door was open to the police station so walked in, apparently to look for any police that might actually be in there. Finding no one he helped himself to some pepper spray, the keys to two police cars, radios, a police jacket and handcuffs. Admittedly a very dumb thing to do.

His acquisitions may well have been the recipe for a wild night to remember. What would you do if you had a police car, pepper spray, handcuffs and nothing to lose?!

His state of mind is telling as he didn’t go on the adventure of a lifetime but instead went back to his illegally parked caravan, perhaps had a cry, before returning to the swine station to get more stuff. Only at that point, some hours into this bizarre experience, did any police show up and O’Connor was arrested.

This week the poor guy went up before Exeter Crown Court. Judge David Evans seemed rather bemused by the whole incident and demanded an investigation into why the police station was left unlocked that night.

Prisons as homeless hostels

Photo of Russell O'Connor who let him self into Totnes police station when it was unmanned and unlocked.

Hapless hobo, Russel O’Connor, lands himself into trouble for entering an unlocked unmanned police station and helping himself to a few goodies.

Local reports suggest that O’Connor is known to be a bit of a village idiot and resides in a caravan illegally parked by the main roundabout in Totnes that has several eviction notices pinned to it. He’s a troublemaker, but to my understanding is one of those guys who is continually asking for help from the state – including decent social housing, mental health treatment and benefits he can live on – but is refused everything he asks for. Instead, we have someone who had the opportunity to really go for it in a police car who didn’t and is still being banged up in prison.

Prisons are stuffed with the mentally ill and homeless. A few years ago I interviewed someone for a book I wrote who had done 10 years in Rampton Secure Hospital for randomly killing someone on a bus. He told me in those days he viewed prison as a respite from the shit of living on the streets, and this under the supposedly benign pre-Austerity Blair government.

I have worked with a prison officers’ trade magazine in the past and can assure you prisons aren’t the ‘holiday camps’ Daily Mail journalists imagine. They are far worse than the fake dungeons those journalists go to to get beaten in their spare time. Prison isn’t the right place for most of those who end up there, yet the prison population has exploded as more and more people are so desperate they actually see prison a step up in life.

A victim of austerity

The greater inequality ina society the higher the crime rate as the have-nots steal from the haves. With the shrinking state, the have-nots have nothing and lash out at those with something. It is abundantly clear that given the right mental health treatment, housing and a non-abusive benefits system O’Connor would not have done this. If he had the potential to do that he would have run amok in Torbay and really had some fun. Instead, the answer to his plea for help has been to chuck him in a violent hellhole (that will at least feed him and keep him warm).

Oh, but Theresa May’s billionaire mates pay a few million less in tax every year and we have to make those savings to achieve that somehow. I can see the advantages of screwing this guy now!

Update: Since the publication of this story, Russel O’Connor pleaded guilty to burglary and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Richard Shrubb

Richard is a marijuana, water sports and electric vehicles writer based in Dorchester, Dorset. Living in Prince Charles model housing estate, Poundbury, he is an avowed republican, community and Labour Party activist. Visit his website at for more about what he does.

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