Books/Films, Halesworth - Films/Festivals

Mary Bell – Cries Unheard

Cries Unheard! The Story of Mary Bell!

By Gitta Sereny

Daily Mail obit – The woman who tried to humanise monsters: Gitta Sereny wrote brilliant books trying to explain the evil of murderers. She also helped create today’s cult of victimhood

• • •

Gitta Sereny tried to claim society was to blame for child murderer Mary Bell’s crimes
Credibility boosted by the fact she was brought up in Vienna and her heavily accented English

Brave woman but denial of Jewish past put question mark over her career


One of the many moments in the book that struck me was when the psychologist corrected Gita (the writer) ‘No not murdered, killed’

!The Daily Mail got it wrong: Gitta’s tenant was that a child should not be tried in an adult court and is not culpable in the same way as an adult is culpable. And yes, that background should be taken into account, mainly for the rehabilitation. I’m not sure the Daily Mail believes in rehabilitation.
I first came across her book when Jack Straw got out of his pram, when public opinion lashed out against Mary Bell receiving funds for the book. It was first published in 1998, which must have been when I first read it.


1968, aged 11, Mary Bell was tried and convicted of the manslaughter of two small boys. Norma Bell (no relation) was acquitted.

The writing project:

The secrecy of the project, respect of victims and Mary Bells own fears of media: M’s contemporary fear of media, and the image they created of her as a monster. Remembered as a liar. For gods sake I was a kid. It means people think i can never be honest

!Throughout the book I was aware that Gitta Sereny is writing about living people, who will read their part with scrutiny.

Media at the time (1968) much more conservative

Different media compared to Bulger. Commentary appeared briefly in broadsheets, the BBC prohibited mention of it during the 6 o clock news in respect of victims, and no tabloid interest. The Sun specifically refusing!

Problems with (UK) Trial process

Trail process: Judicial system based on evidence. Motivation is marginal in British murder trials, neither duty of police nor prosecution to seek reason why. No automatic investigation into family background which would be admissible as evidence.

!For adults right or wrong system justifiable, but for children, for whom there is a wide separation between what they should know or are believed to have known.
‘The only thing that should count is human evidence – the answer to the question – why?

!‘I didn’t understand the concept of death being forever. I had nothing against Martin or him against me. I didn’t mean to kill him for ever’.


Bigger, older, simpler. Cannot go into detail.
Gitta suspected that Norma may end up extremely disturbed by her part in these children’s deaths however passive that part might have been. ‘I thought therefore that her acquittal would not only be wrong towards May but in the final analysis damaging to Norma too.’

!Angry with Norma? yes, but came to understand it was those nasty lawyers
Norma died in 1989 of cancer – no information as to how she was affected by being acquitted.


Red Bank – 5 years

Mr James Dixon, ex navel officer, ship shape,
Carol and Ben teachers, on Mr James Dixon, ‘He thought that loved conquers all, and of course it can do a lot, but not unlock those troubled minds, for that you need skill and training. However the place was structured, precise rules, and many boys benefitted.

!Why haven’t you tried to see any of them since your release?
They’d be too busy. Have to back away to have life. Their own daughter. Thousands of people they helped.
Dixon – keeps reappearing through her life.
He didn’t believe her accusation of teacher’s abuse to her, which shifted her attitude towards Red Bank. Stickler for protocol and names. Explained everything to Mary.

!Always having baths
!File empty of Mary’s past.

Insufficient connection made between crimes and mental emotional conditions. !Letter written by MB’s mother?

!End of Red Bank
‘I’ve never wrapped up anything except Christmas presents. You’re leaving tomorrow to prison. Damn’ ‘Be an ambassador for Red Bank’



Mills and Boon, Barbara Cartland not Shakespeare Drugs and sex
But Girls
Youngest there

Governor ‘Don’t bother to sweep the floor with your eye lashes’ Private war sustained her Bleak, the light bulb


It was an old woman being dragged by her hair that set her off. (not surprising when you heard later on what had happened to MB)

!‘She was curiously naive, hadn’t been on the streets like the others, maternal instinct to her among other prisoners
‘Polite more like a boarding school girl than prisoner

!Death of Mr Dixon, felt. After this her life crystallised

!Chammy – Prof Norman Chamarette, child psychiatrist, but only in group. Said MB intelligent, articulate, markedly superior to female officers, could argue peoples cases when they got into trouble. Told her her father was not her father, inadvertently
Letter p 260 so articulate, and kind to others.
Her friend said of her ‘If there was one thing in this world I would want for you, I’d give you back your childhood, Mae’

!No hope.
Parole, review committees absurd, do you know the price of bread? !


Escape – media
!Miss Morgan influential on her release.

!OUT – A try at Life
New name, another identity
Abortion – Martin and Brian, another killing

!Birth of her daughter. Martin and Brian !


Excellent structure to the book to bring this in now towards the end, after she’d had her own child. Unwanted, tried to give away / Smarties / Sexual abuse blindfold / pennies for watching men masterbate

Various versions of the story. !


After so many moves and attempts at work, she was given a break studying at university then told she would never be able to have such a profession. Hopelessness
Any child murder, press on the case. Bulger case in particular
Wanted to tell Chammy – Martin and Brian on mind all time, seeing Gillette razor,

!Christmas with Betty (mother) then she died !


Bell was released from custody in 1980, having served 12 years, and was granted anonymity to start a new life (under a new name) with her daughter, who was born in 1984. For a time, Bell lived in Cumberlow in South Norwood (a house built by Victorian inventor William Stanley).[2] This daughter did not know of her mother’s past until Bell’s location was discovered by reporters and she and her mother had to leave their house with bed sheets over their heads.

!Norma Bell died in 1989 after struggling with cancer for a while. Norma was the daughter to Norma Taylor, born on the 6th of December in 1931. Norma worked as a waitress for the last years of her life while raising her family.

!In 1998, she was paid a reported £50,000 for collaborating with author Gitta Sereny’s book, Cries Unheard, which detailed her life. She was tracked down amid calls for her right to anonymity to end. But in 2003 the double child killer and her 18-year-old daughter were granted the right to live anonymously for the rest of their lives after a High Court ruling that outraged her victims’ families. Mrs Richardson said: ‘It’s all about her and how she has to be protected. As victims we are not given the same rights as killers.’ (Daily Mail)

! G!itta

Born in Vienna 1921. Aged 13 attended Nuremberg rally. 1938 moved to France, then fled after connection to French Resistance. !
After war worked for UN Rehabilitation Administration, reuniting biological families children who had been kidnapped by Nazis. Attended Nuremberg Trials 1945, first saw Albert Speer, about whom she would later write the book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. The book even won the admiration of David Irving, “Minor flaws aside (I sent her eight pages of errors from prison), her biography of Albert Speer was brilliant. It was sent to me in that Austrian prison, and I could not put it down.”!

1948 moved to London marrying Don Honeyman (poster of Che Guevara famous). !
As a journalist for Daily Telegraph, she covered trial of Mary Bell. !
David Irving initiated a libel case against Sereny and the Guardian Media Group for two reviews in The Observer where she asserted he deliberately falsified the historical record in an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazis. Irving maintained a personal animosity for Sereny, whom he calls “that shriveled Nazi hunter”, for successfully refuting his claims since the publication of his book Hitler’s War. When, in 1977, Sereny cross-checked the source he cited for his assertion that Hitler knew nothing about the Final Solution and therefore could not have ordered it, she found he had excised a caveat which would have contradicted his claim. “I know many of the same people as he does who were of Hitler’s circle,” Sereny said. “That is scary for him. He says we jostle at the same trough. The difference is that he loves that trough, and I don’t… There is, I think, [for him] despair in all of this.” Although the case did not go to court, the cost to the Guardian Media Group of preparing its legal defence amounted to £800,000. David Irving wrote an obituary for her on his website the day after her death in 2012.!

Gitta Sereny died on 14 June 2012 at age 91 while in Addenbrooke's Hospital,
Cambridge, after a long illness.

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