In his first interview since his release, Otis Ferry - the 26-year-old son of Roxy Music star Bryan Ferry - says he was held in prison for four months merely because he supports fox hunting
OTIS Ferry is back where he is at his happiest: in the countryside surrounded by his five horses, his 60 hunting hounds and his three pet dogs. For the first time since the end of 2007, the man who says he prefers animals to people can relax in the knowledge that he does not have the threat of a lengthy prison sentence hanging over him.
Yet the eldest son of rock star Bryan Ferry and former model Lucy Helmore (now Birley) is in no mood for celebrating. "I don't feel like I have won the Olympic 100 metres title ? more like I have survived a two-year marathon," he says.
The dismay of Prisoner RB7994 is not, however, directed at his fellow inmates, most of whom he says he liked, but at the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which he claims targeted him unfairly. "This has been politically motivated. I am a Tory-supporting master of foxhounds, and the current Government is anti everything that someone like me stands for. This is a socialist Government and I am the epitome of everything they detest.
"The police and Crown Prosecution Service were baying to screw me over as hard as they could. The Gloucestershire constabulary are notorious celebrity-hunters ? not that I consider myself a 'celebrity'. I hate the word. The pressure from the Crown Prosecution was not normal. They put an enormous amount of effort and money into a bog-standard case."
It is not just Ferry and his supporters who think he was hard done by. Even the judge who had presided over his case after Ferry was accused of perverting the course of justice could not hide his anger at the defendant's treatment when the charge was dropped.
Ferry is no stranger to controversy, and has been arrested at least five times for his pro-countryside and hunting protests. In 2002, he was seized at 4am as he approached Tony Blair's constituency home "armed" with pro-hunting posters. Two years later, he led a famous assault on the House of Commons chamber when he and seven other pro-hunting protesters disrupted the parliamentary debate.
His latest woes began on November 21 2007 when he had been due to ride out with the South Shropshire Hunt, of which he is joint hunt master. Because his hounds were ill, Ferry called off his own hunt and, along with his girlfriend, Francesca Nimmo, and another huntsman drove to nearby Gloucestershire to ride out with the Heythrop Hunt.
However, he arrived late and was struggling to find the main group when he came across an incident in which a pro-hunt supporter clashed with two hunt monitors ? widely known as "antis" or saboteurs to the hunting community.
What exactly happened next is disputed, but Ferry admits that he instinctively went to the aid of the pro-hunt supporter in his scuffle with two women who were seeking to gather evidence of a breach of the Hunting Act 2004.
Ferry, who is dressed in a check shirt and dark blue jeans, admits the hunt supporter had "lost the plot", verbally abusing the hunt monitors, before rocking their car and smashing a window. "I saw the video camera drop to the ground. I thought: 'I had better help this guy out.' I jumped off my horse, ran to the side of the car, picked up the camera and jumped on my horse again. Then I galloped up the road as quickly as I could with the camera gripped in my mouth because my hands were on the reins. I got 200 yards up the road and there was a police car. So I chucked the camera into the verge, opened the gate to a field, and rode off."
One of the hunt monitors claimed, however, that Ferry tried to grab the video camera from her and had won a "tug of war" for her car keys, leaving her upper right arm slightly bruised.
Ferry denies the tussle, but admits he later returned to recover the camera, wiped clear the film, and gave it to a member of the hunt so the camera could be returned to its owner.
Two days later, Ferry was asked to attend Shrewsbury police station after an officer said they had found his lost Jack Russell puppy, Tiny. Yet when he arrived, he was arrested in connection with the Gloucestershire incident, and put in a police cell. Ferry was angry: "Of all the tricks to play. If they had wanted to question or arrest me, all they needed to do was ring me up."
Ferry was taken by police car to Gloucester police station, where he was interviewed and, later, released. In April last year, Ferry was charged with robbery and common assault and a trial date was set for September. Matters then escalated from bad to worse for Ferry, the eldest of four brothers, who was educated at Marlborough College before leaving school after passing 11 GCSEs.
Ferry says he received a mobile message from an anonymous texter just days before the trial, saying that he or she was going to be interviewed by the police. Ferry says he rang the number out of curiosity and found himself speaking to his former groom, David Hodgkiss. He says he was puzzled that Hodgkiss had contacted him, but was unperturbed, especially as the groom had not witnessed the dispute. However, when the police turned up to take the statement, Hodgkiss told them he had been warned by Ferry not to give evidence against him.
Days later, on the first morning of Ferry's robbery and assault trial, Hodgkiss's statement was revealed to the court. The hearing was adjourned until the next day when Ferry was again arrested, this time on suspicion of perverting the course of justice through "witness nobbling". He was interviewed at Stroud police station and, at the insistence of the CPS, refused bail and detained overnight in a police cell. The next day in court, the prosecution lawyer again opposed bail on the grounds that Ferry might re-offend. Judge Martin Picton remanded Ferry in custody, which meant he had to go to Gloucester prison, a Category B institution that houses murders, rapists and violent criminals.
"This really sent a shiver down my spine," says Ferry. "I was handcuffed and booked into this prison with 400 other people. I was absolutely petrified because I had no idea what I might be up against."
Initially, he thought he would be in his single cell for just a night. But the jail was to become his home for the next four months.
In his 12ft-by-7ft cell, he had a bed, sink, lavatory and colour television. "The first week was a blur. I just could not believe that this was happening to me."
His worst moments were changing from his prison uniform ? a grey tracksuit ? into his suit to go to court expecting to be released on bail, only to be returned to jail: "Going to court to be denied bail is one of the most crushing experiences anyone will ever experience. It happened to me four times and was completely soul-destroying."
After a week in jail, his first visitors were his girlfriend and mother. It was an emotional experience for everyone. "For me, the tears were not about my predicament but how embarrassing it was to be seen in that state: reduced to wearing prison uniform, anchored to a table wearing a prison bib. I felt particularly for my mum, seeing her son totally defensive and helpless. Every part of you is stripped and you become a number, a nothing."
Ferry spent his 26th birthday and Christmas in prison, though he was grateful on Christmas Eve to have a visit from his
63-year-old father, the former lead singer of Roxy Music, whose hits include Dance Away, Avalon and Jealous Guy. "Dad was a bit tougher about it all than mum. I was very touched that he came. I didn't think he would ? not out of disloyalty, but because it's a demeaning place to have to come and see your son. If you are in the public eye, you are very image conscious, quite rightly. But I was delighted to see him."
Typically, Ferry spent more than 20 hours a day alone in his cell, reading and writing letters (he had more than 400 from
well-wishers to reply to). Every other evening, o
ne half of the prison block had "association", during which prisoners had the chance to play table tennis or pool. "I have never played with such a bunch of cheats ? they were worse than my brothers," he jokes.
Ferry liked most of the "screws" ? the prison officers ? but complained some were "chippy, unhelpful and lazy". While he was never attacked or threatened, he admits that he benefited from having "Trevor" as his "next-door neighbour". "He was the most feared man in the prison ? a black guy, aged about 40, on remand for attempted robbery. He was a colourful character but was very nice to me and a nice person. I got on well with him. Prisons are full of people who have simply made a bad decision at some point in their lives. There was a great feeling of camaraderie. Unless you are a child molester, everyone is seen as an equal."
Ferry found that most prisoners were pro-hunting. "I hope I did a good PR job for the hunting community ? and public schoolboys." He says that fellow prisoners offered him drugs ? there was an abundance of cannabis and heroin in the jail. It was an offer he found easy to decline.
In January, after four months in jail, Ferry's lawyers persuaded the judge to released him on bail subject to a ?25,000 surety, a pledge to live with his mother in west London, and Ferry reporting to the police twice a week. Two months later, the prosecution indicated in court that it was unhappy with witness "inconsistencies" relating to the perverting the course of justice charge against Ferry. This incensed Judge Martin Picton, who described Ferry's custody as "nonsensical and farcical".
Finally, nine days ago, the Crown accepted Ferry's pleas of not guilty to robbery and common assault charges. He admitted a public order offence and was given a one-year conditional discharge for causing "fear, stress and upset" to one of the hunt monitors. He was also fined ?350 with ?100 costs. Today, he concedes he was responsible for an "error of judgement" and regrets getting involved in the dispute.
Gloucestershire police and the CPS deny targeting Ferry unfairly. "He was treated the same as any other member of the public," says a spokesman. "The decision to investigate alleged offences was made by professional, seasoned officers."
A spokesman for the CPS says: "Mr Ferry's case was kept under review and dealt with according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors, in the same way as every other case that the CPS deals with."
Although Bryan Ferry is worth millions, his eldest son lives a modest existence. Unpaid for his role as hunt master, Otis
lives alone in a two-bedroom cottage, occasionally selling horses, modelling and writing for a living. He drives an ageing green Mercedes estate, and his parents help him out by paying the odd bill.
Ferry is unclear about his future but remains committed to country pursuits. "I love animals more than people," he says. "I have always been fascinated by the countryside." He admires foxes but says hunting is important for conservation, as it picks off the weakest, oldest animals, unlike shooting, which can kill a fox in its prime.
He says the countryside feels "betrayed, victimised and cheated" by the Government, and, as a Conservative supporter, he is now tempted to pursue a career in politics.
"Hunting is like religion in the countryside. I don't think there is anything I could enjoy more than running my hounds and the hunt. The question I now have to answer is whether I feel I have an obligation to other people to try to safeguard rural traditions."