'University changed my life': from Britain’s youngest armed robber to OBE recipient
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Robert “Bobby” Cummines, formerly one of the United Kingdom’s most notorious bank robbers, told BBC 5 Live that completing an Open University Course changed his life.

When he was convicted for his first offence for armed robbery, he was only 16 years old. The next two decades, Cummines established himself as a leader of a violent group of contract killers and racketeers during the 1970s in North London.

Convicted for armed robbery, he had to serve a 12-year sentence in high security prisons.

It was there that his former inmates Charlie Richardson and Reggie Kray encouraged him to apply for a university education.

Richardson, one of the leader of the famous London gang who rivaled the Kray Twins, told Cummines, “You’ve got a brain. Get into education.”

A cyclist makes her way alongside the Granary Building near King’s Cross, London, Thursday, April 30, 2015. Cummines lived in King’s Cross “when it was at its worst with drugs, gangs, prostitutes, you name it,” said Cummines to Guardian. Image via AP.

Having left school at around 16 years old, Cummines was without a qualification to his name. The first thing he studied at the Open University was sociology and psychology. “I wanted to find out why I was different from everyone else, you know”.

In Parkhust Prison and Maidstone prison, Cummines used to do tutor-marked assignments. Assignments would be sent to him to complete and he would then send them back to be marked. Although physically isolated from society, Cummines felt supported by the university, “You know, things I couldn’t understand, I could write to them, and they wrote back to me. It was like distance learning, but you felt like they were with you when you were in there.”

Cummines was lucky to be placed at Maidstone prison, which he said had a brilliant education department. He laments there aren’t more Maidstones, “It’s sad really that they don’t do enough of that in prison because as I said, education was my liberation.”

Since leaving prison, Cummines has been advising the government on legal and penal matters, including the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, prisoner education issues and the murder of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham Young Offenders Institution.

He also founded Unlock, a national association that helps reformed offenders move on positively in their lives and campaigns against social discrimination directed towards them. After 10 years, Cummines retired as its Chief Executive in 2002.

In 2011, he was awarded the OBE, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, by the Queen for his services to reformed offenders.

Reflecting, Cummines was grateful for the Open University Course in prison, “I’ll be eternally grateful to them for that. It didn’t only turn my life around, it turned everyone’s lives around who I’ve come in contact with.”

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