A REFORMED ex-con who spent 32 years in prison and was one of the key figures in the Strangeways riots has opened a gym to help youngsters make sure they do not follow the same path.
Alan Lord, aged 53, was jailed for 15 years after being convicted of murder during a botched robbery.
But it was while he was inside Manchester’s notorious prison that he hit the headlines as one of the main negotiators between the authorities and prisoners during the 1990 Strangeways riots.
Mr Lord was eventually released in December, 2012, his sentence extended because of several prison escapes, including one in 1993 and one from an Astley Bridge police cell in 1990.
But the ex-con has now turned his life around and dedicated himself to his gym in Church Street East, Radcliffe, which offers people of all ages a place to get fit.
Mr Lord has written a book with the help of his partner, Anita Wilson, before the 25th anniversary of the riot next April.
He admits his past still weighs on his mind, but that he has drawn a line under it and is focused on turning his life around.
Mr Lord, of Stand Lane, said: “It is about making the best of a bad situation, you have got to move forward and get over it.
“I feel like a new born baby, everything is new and it is like making a fresh start.”
Mr Lord was aged just 18 in 1981, when he was part of a gang who robbed a jewellers in Cheetham Hill.
But the robbery went badly wrong.
Mr Lord insists he was carrying a knife for self-protection because at the time Cheetham Hill was blighted by gangs.
However, in a scuffle during the robbery Mr Lord used his knife as a weapon, the jeweller was injured and later died. He insists he never had any intention of killing anyone.
Mr Lord said: “That was a tragedy, I was young and immature at the time. I am not trying to avoid blame, I take full responsibility for my actions.”
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and was given an extra 10 years for his part in the riot at Strangeways prison in 1990.
On reflection, some say the riot — which lasted 25 days and involved prisoners gaining control — was a protest against appalling conditions, while others point out it left two men dead, and 194 injured.
Mr Lord has been portrayed as one of the “ringleaders” of the riot, as he negotiated with police on behalf of the prisoners, but this is a tag he is keen to avoid.
He said: “I don’t classify myself as a ringleader, I was just another prisoner taking part in a demonstration, but unfortunately a stigma has seemed to attach itself.”
Mr Lord says it was just a “matter of time” before there was a movement against conditions in the prison, but that he doesn’t seek any glory or recognition for his part in the protest.
The incident led to the Woolf report, which brought in sweeping changes to the prison system, including the abolishment of “slopping out”, where prisoners had to use buckets in their cell to go to the toilet, and the introduction of telephones on landings for prisoners to keep in touch with their families.
However, he sometimes wonders what would have happened if he had not played such a prominent role in the riot.
Mr Lord said: “I still think about it, sometimes I think I could have been out a lot earlier if it wasn’t for that.”
Following the riot, Mr Lord successfully escaped from prison twice, and was eventually released from Sudbury prison in Derby on December 3, 2012.
Since his release, he has spent his time writing his book, and working on the gym.
He also appeared on BBC show The One Show with Brendan O’Friel, the governor of the prison at the time, to discuss the legacy of the riot.
Mr Lord now gets up at 5am and trains for two hours, before going back home for breakfast and then going in the gym to help out anybody who comes in.
The idea for the gym was forged with the help of the probation service, who warned Mr Lord that it would be difficult to get a job, as employers would not look kindly on his past.
The ground floor is kitted out with a range of equipment thanks to a £9,000 government grant, and a boxing gym is set to be completed on the first floor.
Mr Lord also works with Groundwork in Radcliffe, and allows youngsters from the group to volunteer in the gym to gain experience.
He said: “I have trained all my life, but I never considered opening a gym. But training at my friend’s gym, it started to come into my mind. It’s about giving something back to the community.
“When I was young we had playgrounds and youth clubs, but now there is nothing, they just end up on the streets hanging around.”
Since the gym opened six weeks ago, Mr Lord says people have started to take notice, and he has taken a group of youngsters who regularly attend under his wing.
He has ambitious plans to expand the gym in the future, and hopes that people will accept him for the person he is now, rather than a former offender.
Mr Lord added: “A lot of people think, ‘oh, that’s that Lord’, but you shouldn’t judge somebody until you have met them.”