Britain’s “most dangerous female criminal” Jane Lee, of Rainham, on turning her life around
In 1997, after terrorising an Ilford street with an antique gun and taking four police bullets in the process, tabloids dubbed a young Rainham mother the most dangerous female criminal in Britain.
Then 31, Jane Lee, of Tuck Road, was about to serve her first of three prison sentences. An armed robbery had gone wrong and now, chasing her target past Valentine’s Park in a Transit van, she was screaming at pedestrians to “get down”, gun in hand.
Two operations, 350 stitches and a blood transfusion later, she woke up in King George’s Hospital, her right arm torn apart by gunshot wounds. Doctors told her she should have been dead.
An armed robber at the age of 14 and a mother four years later, Jane had been forced to grow up fast and was a dab hand with a samurai sword and a sawn-off shotgun when the law caught up with her. She often cited her “gypsy blood” - inherited from her father - as the source of her pluck and resilience.
Fifteen years on and a free woman, Jane is now a volunteer with rehabilitation service Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI). Nicknamed “the Gran” in her youth but now a grandmother in her own right, Jane has even found truth in the maxim that the pen is mightier than the (samurai) sword – and written a book about her life.
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“Now I’m doing my work with the CRI I’ve got a goal,” she told the Recorder one evening after a volunteering session. “I’m doing that three days a week, and whenever else they need me. I’m really enjoying helping people turn their lives around.”
This isn’t the first time Jane, now 45, has tried to go straight. After her second prison term ended, she vowed to give up crime, find work and spend time with her family.
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But a series of romantic and financial betrayals pushed her over the brink and when she was apprehended by police three years ago and sentenced to her last 18 months behind bars she was plotting a quadruple murder – during which she herself would die.
Now she says writing the book has helped her come to terms with her experiences.
“It’s like I can close that chapter now,” she said. “I started it when I thought I was going out to die, and finished it when I came out of prison.
“I was in a very dark place,” she added. “But I’m out of that world now and I want to help other people who’ve had it hard.”
Jane knows about having it hard – with a violent, alcoholic mother who regularly threw her out of her own home as a teenager, she had to learn to look after herself. And as a single mother in a male-dominated world, she had to learn to stand up for herself and protect her family. She once held up a bank while heavily pregnant so she could afford a pram, cot, toys and clothes for her new son.
Now Jane hopes her wisdom will inspire others get their lives back on track.
“I’ve gone straight for 10 years. It was only because of the betrayals I had a breakdown,” she said.
“But this time I’ve got a grandson. Life is for living and crime’s not nice.”
Jane Lee’s autobiography Gypsy Jane is out now, published by John Blake.