For decades Charles Bronson has been known as Britain’s most dangerous prisoner.

He has spent almost half a century locked up in the country’s most notorious prisons and asylums.

A one time armed robber, 95 per cent of his crimes have been committed while in custody.

He has spent 45 years as a Category A prisoner for hostage taking and repeated attacks on inmates and guards.

"I’m like a cat with nine lives. I’ve lost a few of them but I’ve still got a few left."

Now aged 66, Bronson says his days of railing against the system are finally over.

In an exclusive interview, the former bare-knuckle fighter says he is hoping to be released from custody before he reaches 70.

Bronson says his new-found optimism is thanks to jurors at Leeds Crown Court who found him not guilty of attempting to cause serious harm to the governor at Wakefield Prison.

Bronson was cleared after a high-profile trial last November. He sacked his legal team and fought the case on his own.

It was a high stakes gamble. A guilty verdict would have made it probable that he would have been spending the rest of his life in a cell.

Here, the fitness fanatic talks about his against-all-odds court battle and a new lease of life which he says he owes to his love of art.

He also speaks about how he hopes to help steer youngsters away from a life of crime, about life in a “cage” at HMP Wakefield, his 3000 press-ups-a-day fitness regime and his disdain for the modern-day prisoner.

Bronson wants to be out ‘creating masterpieces’ within three years

Charles Bronson estimates that he has caused £5m worth of criminal damage during nine rooftop protests within Her Majesty's prisons.

Now he’s planning to “smash his way” into the art world.

After a lifetime of destruction, he’s aiming to channel his new-found creativity towards his latest bid for freedom.

It is six months since Bronson was found not guilty of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent against Wakefield Prison governor Mark Docherty.

Bronson - now known as Charles Salvador in honour of his favourite surrealist artist Salvador Dali - says a conviction would have been ‘the last screw in his coffin’.

Cleared by the jury, Bronson says he is enjoying a new lease of life at HMP Woodhill, Milton Keynes.

In fact, he feels like a “new geezer”.

His focus is now on persuading the Parole Board that he is finally safe to be released back into the community before he is 70-years-old.

He said: “Ever since that day in Leeds court my life’s turned around for the better.

“I was looking at another ten years there. If I had got another guilty there that would have been the last screw in my coffin.

“Since then I’ve boxed it clever. I’ve had a move. I’m doing well. I feel good. Focused. Positive. I just feel fantastic.

“It’s looking like I’m getting out in about three years' time.

“I’m doing courses. As you know I’m doing a life sentence, but my tariff was only three years. I’m 17 years over that tariff now.

“Take into account my age - I’m 67 this year - I’m going to be out before I’m 70.”

Bronson is a self-taught artist. He is prolific in his output.

"I’m going to smash my way into the art world"

Most days in solitary confinement are taken up with creating pieces using basic materials which he sends to friends, family and his loyal army of supporters.

Bronson believes art has helped him become a better person.

His work depicts the violence, inhumanity, brutality, madness and creativity of a complicated mind.

An exhibition of his work was held in London in March after the lifer struck up an unlikely friendship with international art curator Lisa Gray.

Bronson said the exhibition's success has spurred him on to achieve great things upon his release.

He said: “There’s only one thing I’m going to do out there, mate.

“I’m going to get stuck in and I’m going to smash my way into the art world.

Art curator Lisa Gray

“I’m a born again artist. I love my art.

“I’ve always been a destructive person all my life.

“But since I’ve found art, I’m now creative. Positive. Focused.

“And I can’t wait to get out there and start creating - masterpieces. On canvas with oils.

“And I would like to go around the schools and get the kids involved in art.

“If possible visit a few YP jails (Young Offender Institutions) and get the youngsters involved in art. Get them off the streets.

“Get them in to the art classes. Get them into gyms. Boxing. Football. Weightlifting.

“Everyone is born with a gift and it took me over half a century to find my gift.

“And now I’ve found it, I’m going to use it and hopefully help a lot of people along the way.”

He added: “Yes, I’m getting out in about three years’ time.

“Love and respect to the world.”

How Bronson fought his own case at Leeds Crown Court

Charles Bronson said his victorious legal battle at Leeds Crown Court has left him feeling like a “new geezer”.

Bronson was cleared of attempting to seriously harm to a prison governor after representing himself at court.

"I sacked all my legal team. I had no faith in them."

The inmate was said to have lunged at Mark Docherty as he entered a room for a welfare meeting at HMP Wakefield.

He spoke about why he had taken the decision to fight the case on his own.

He said: “If I would have lost it I would have got another ten years.

“That would have been the last screw in my coffin. I would never have got out.

“I sacked all my legal team. I had no faith in them.

“I thought ‘I’m going to smash this on my own. With the truth’.

“And I stuck to the truth. And the truth done me proud.

“A wonderful jury who understood me and listened to me.

“They probably didn’t agree with everything I said - why should they?”

During the trial, jurors heard how Bronson landed on top of Mr Docherty and screamed "I will bite your f***ing nose off and gouge your eyes out", before prison officers intervened and restrained him.

Giving evidence, Bronson said he had intended to give Mr Docherty a "gentle bear hug" and whisper in his ear, but tripped, or was tripped by someone, and fell.

He admitted he partly blamed the governor at Wakefield's segregation unit after he was told photographs of his prison wedding to actress Paula Williamson two months earlier would no longer be allowed to leave the jail until his release.

Bronson said he intended to whisper "where's my wife's photos?" in what he described as a "wake-up call" to the governor to not mess with his family.

Jurors unanimously found Bronson not guilty of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent after deliberating for less than three hours.

Describing the hearing, he said: “And at the end of the day the system tried everything in their power to make me lose that trial.

“They wouldn’t even let me wear my own clothes.

“I had to wear a prison uniform with HM Prison wrote on the back.

"If I’d have got a guilty he would have probably smashed me for six. But he was a gentleman. He run that courtroom like a proper judge should."

“I was up against eight prosecution witnesses. Video evidence. Photographic evidence. And all I had was myself.

“I never had one witness.

“The jury could see right through it and that’s why I smashed it.”

Bronson was driven to Leeds for each day of the trial from HMP Frankland, County Durham, where he was sleeping on his cell floor after having his privileges removed.

He said: “I went to bed that night. At that time I was up in HMP Frankland.

“I had no bed and I was sleeping on the floor. I had no furniture for 13 months - closed visits.

“And that night when I got back to Frankland, I was lying on my floor, looking through the cell window up at the sky and there were stars in the sky.

“And I thought to myself ‘am I dreaming this or have I actually just won this trial.’

“And I thought to myself ‘someone up there must love me’.

“And from that day on I’ve felt nothing but good thoughts.”

As was widely reported at the time, Bronson did a celebratory jig in the dock as the jury returned the verdict, and said: “British justice. Best in the world.”

Recalling his moment of courtroom glory, he said: “I just feel like a new geezer and after 45 years locked up in her majesty's prisons and asylums I actually feel that something good come out of that trial.

“I found myself. And I must say, what a wonderful judge. I thought that judge (Judge Tom Bayliss, QC) was a very fair man.

“I thought he was an absolute gentleman but he was probably a hard man underneath.

“If I’d have got a guilty he would have probably smashed me for six. But he was a gentleman.

“He run that courtroom like a proper judge should.”

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‘I don’t want to go back to my cage in Wakefield Prison’

Charles Bronson has been a Category A prisoner three times longer than the Kray twins.

The vast majority of his crimes have been committed within prison walls.

For 45 years he has ranked at the top of the prison system’s most dangerous and unpredictable inmates, housed alongside the most heinous of the nation’s murderers.

Names that need no introduction. Harold Shipman. Ian Huntley. Peter Sutcliffe. Levi Bellfield.

On and off, he’s been a regular inhabitant of the infamous ‘jail within a jail’ at HMP Wakefield.

It is a ‘glass cage’ resembling the one featured in The Silence of the Lambs.

The cells have large bulletproof windows through which inmates can be observed.

The only furnishings are a table and chair made of compressed cardboard.

A toilet and sink are bolted to the floor while the bed is a concrete slab.

His neighbour for many years was Robert Maudsley, the inmate nicknamed Hannibal the Cannibal.

It’s almost 18 months since he was a resident in Yorkshire following his arrest. But he has no desire to return.

Bronson says he’s enjoying the regime at HMP Woodhill, Milton Keynes, where he’s concentrating on the two things he loves most - art and keeping fit.

He said: “I don’t want to go back there (Wakefield). If I go back in there I’m back in the cage aren’t I?

“I’m training six days a week. I still do my 3,000 press ups in the yard.

“Have a little jog on the yard. I’m just feeling good, I’m feeling my old self again. And my next move from here is gonna be a right positive one.”

Describing the grim existence in Wakefield Prison, he said: “I’ve been in and out of it for twenty odd years. It’s all I knew.

“If you took a man off the street and put him in there he would probably last a week and top himself.

“But when you are in there year after year after year, decade after decade it becomes a way of life.

“They push the food under the door, under the cage door.

“Not a nice place but it’s life, you get used to it and it becomes normal.”

The lifer explained how he thinks it’s high time his prison status was decategorised so he can build for a future on the outside.

He said: “I’m the longest Cat A prisoner in the prison system. Even Ron and Reggie Kray, they only spent 15 years on Cat A. I’ve been on it 45 years. Never been off it.

“Once I’m decategorised I can then start going to prisons I’ve never ever been to.

“And I’m looking forward to it.”

Although he’s not looking forward rubbing shoulders with run-of-the-mill inmates.

He added: “But unfortunately, you see prison today, it’s full of f****** idiots.

“Most people are on that, what’s called spice. And they go mad.

"Prison today is not a nice place. It used to be full of proper hardened criminals."

“I don’t know why they take it. It’s unbelievable.

“Prison today is not a nice place.

“It used to be full of proper hardened criminals.

“Proper villains. Good bank robbers. Safe blowers. Cat burglars - proper!

“A real cat burglar won’t get out of bed for less than ten grand.

“Nowadays they are burgling old people’s houses just to nick a tele and sell it for a tenner for a bag of smack.

“They are not villains today - they are f****** horrible people. Gutless, spineless people.”

Last month Bronson launched his own anti-drug and knife crime campaign from his cell in the hope of deterring others from following in his path.

He wrote: “Most people have disagreements, but don’t stab them.

“If you must, go to a gym and put the gloves on. Have a punch up, then shake hands afterwards.

“Or go to the park and have a straightener.

“Respect each other, that’s what life is all about. But when you start putting holes into people, you are going to end up in prison, spend years in these horrible places like I have.

“Another waste of a life, but this time it’s your life, and that of your victim.

“Look at my life inside, forty-five years I have spent in these hellholes.

“The reason I have spent so long in prison is because I have rebelled against the system, but the system doesn’t play by normal rules, so in the end you can’t win.”

The life and crimes of a ‘born again artist’

Charles Bronson was born Michael Gordon Peterson in Luton, Bedfordshire, on December 1952.

He was one of three sons of Eira and Joe Peterson.

His aunt and uncle were mayor and mayoress of the town.

His aunt once described Bronson as: "Gentle and mild-mannered, never a bully; he would defend the weak."

When he was a teenager his family moved to Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, where he first started getting into trouble.

Aged 13 he was part of a gang of robbers and ended up in court for stealing.

His first job was at Tesco where he was sacked for attacking his manager.

Bronson's first taste of custody came when he was remanded for criminal damage for smashing up parked cars.

Bronson got into serious trouble for the first time after crashing a stolen lorry into a car.

By 19 he was convicted for his role in a robbery.

Peterson met his first wife, Irene Kelsey, in 1971.

Their son Michael Jonathan Peterson was born the following year.

The couple divorced five years later,

Bronson was convicted of armed robbery in 1974 and jailed for seven years.

He was sent to Walton Jail, Liverpool, but was transferred to Hull after he attacked two inmates.

Bronson was transferred to Armley Jail in Leeds after attacking a prisoner at Hull with a glass jug.

His reputation as a dangerous prisoner increased and he was regularly switched between prisons.

Bronson continued to attack other convicts, damage property and spend periods in solitary confinement.

At HMP Wandsworth he attempted to poison the prisoner in the cell next to him.

He was moved to Parkhurst, a psychiatric facility on the Isle of Wight, in 1976.

There, he befriended the Kray twins, describing the London gangsters as "the best two guys I've ever met".

Bronson spent four months in isolation after he was caught trying to dig his way out of his cell.

He was detained under The Mental Health Act after attempting suicide and attacking another prison officer.

Periods were then spent in Broadmoor and Rampton high security hospitals

In 1982 he carried out his first rooftop protest at Broadmoor.

During a second rooftop protect, lasting three-days, £250,000 worth of damage was caused before he was talked down.

In 1984 he started an 18-day-long hunger strike before being transferred to Ashworth hospital.

There he used a sauce bottle to stab a patient who made advances towards him.

Bronson was returned to the general prison population in 1985, but was put into isolation after punching an inmate.

Later that year he was returned to Liverpool, where he staged another three-day rooftop protest, causing £100,000 worth of damage.

In 1987 he strangled the governor of Wormwood Scrubs.

That year he was released from prison where he began a short-lived career in bare-knuckle boxing in the East End of London.

He changed his name to Charles Bronson on the advice of his fight promoter - having never seen a film starring the American actor.

On New Year's Day 1988 he robbed a jewellery shop and stole a ring for his girlfriend. He pleaded guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to seven years.

At Long Lartin Jail in 1989 he ran riot in the nude, clutching onto a spear he fashioned out of a broken bottle and a broom handle.

Bronson was released from prison in November 1992 but was arrested over a robbery conspiracy 53 days later. He was subsequently given an eight-year sentence.

While on remand he took a librarian hostage and demanded an inflatable doll, a helicopter, and a cup of tea from police negotiators.

He was transferred to HMP Wakefield's "cage" in 1994, where prison officers encouraged Bronson to take up art.

In 1996 he took a prison doctor hostage at Birmingham.

Later that year he took three inmates hostage in his cell. He demanded a plane to take him to Libya, two sub-machine guns, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and an axe.

In 1999, he took a civilian education worker hostage for criticising one of Bronson's drawings.

Bronson got married again in 2001 to Fatema Saira Rehman in Woodhill Prison.

She had seen a story about him in a newspaper and began writing to him. They divorced four years later.

In 2002, he published Solitary Fitness, a guidebook on physical training in confined space.

Tom Hardy as Bronson in the 2008 film

The film Bronson was released in 2008. The biopic, starring Tom Hardy, is based on his life.

He was refused parole after a hearing in 2009.

In August 2013 a petition with 10,000 signatures was presented to 10 Downing Street for his release.

Bronson announced in 2014 that he was changing his name to Charles Salvador, stating: "The old me dried up... Bronson came alive in 1987. He died in 2014."

He proposed to actress Paula Williamson during a prison visit on 13 February 2017. They married nine months later.

Bronson announced last July that he planned to divorce her.

In November 2018 he was found not guilty of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent after being accused of trying to attack the governor at Wakefield Prison.

Listen to the interview in full (contains explicit language):