Review: My Only Crime was Loyalty (Jamie Bryson) – “Compromising isn’t my style”

I am not a diplomat and nor would I want to be. Compromising isn’t my style.

When people talk to me about Jamie Bryson there are a number of questions they repeatedly pose. Is he stupid? Has he gone away? How did he end up a flag protest leader?

Jamie Bryson book cover - My only Crime Was LoyaltyThe first two questions can be answered with ‘no’. And along with the third, they’re at least partly explained in Bryson’s latest book My Only Crime Was Loyalty which he has self-published and released today. (£7.99 in paperback, £8.04 on Kindle.)

The first hundred pages go over old ground, documenting his experience of being on the run, arrest, charge, bail, intelligence services and the Ulster People’s Forum. They are followed by a long set of appendices collecting together other writings and details of complaints and responses.

Fundamentally Bryson has written the book to explain the background to his encounters with the PSNI over the last two years and his very long running court case.

At times it reads like a revenge mémoire, allowing the prominent flag protester to hit back at investigating officers, the PPS, the judiciary, naysayers, the odd journalist and public representatives who have maddened and frustrated him.

At times it is reflective and self-critical. Bryson explains how he exacerbated and prolonged his falling out with Willie Frazer. He admits his weaknesses. Yet the author fails to believe that going on the record to criticise “DUP lackeys”, to say that “the Judge was a coward” and to publicly critique individual (albeit unnamed) PSNI officers will harm him more than it helps. His chapter about being on bail markedly recounts allegations made about his presence and actions before adding:

But that would have been a breach of bail. And I wouldn’t breach bail.

Readers have to make their minds up whether this is implicit boasting or explicit repudiation.

Despite acres of newspaper coverage, relatively little is known about the inside of the flag protests. Most people experienced the protests through the news, in the car, or out shopping in Belfast. Bryson usefully devotes an entire chapter to clarify his rise to prominence in the Ulster People’s Forum and details the movement’s growth and actions. The UPF is the only (loyalist) three letter organisation that is mentioned in the book.

Fundamentally, supporters of Bryson will read this book and cheer on their man … though some will wish they hadn’t been included. Critics will use it to reinforce their belief that Bryson is irrelevant and trouble. Journalists and commentators will check to see if they are mentioned, and whether it is positive (Allison Morris, Suzanne Breen, Sara Girvin, Stephen Nolan, David McCann) or negative (Sam McBride, Sunday Life, Sunday World).

The authorities will be spurred on to furiously check for nuggets of information they could use to bolster their legal cases and any ongoing investigations. The spooks will already have read the book. Some people will realise they’re not mentioned for legal reasons! And Bryson’s lawyer will panic every time the phone rings in case someone threatens libel.

Having been implicitly critical of a previous Jamie Bryson publication, I have to say that this one is better written. While the word-processed-and-published style and lack of a literary editor and design does lead to stylistic issues, they don’t get in the way of the plot.

The process of writing may have been cathartic, but an increased understanding of his psyche and motivation, knowing that his bail condition variation requests were more about trying to humiliate and embarrass the authorities than ease the constraints will not change a lot of people’s minds about Bryson. Yet reading the book will allow Bryson to get under people’s skin and might just humanise the best-known face of the flag protests.

– – –

Some extracts:

On being Jamie Bryson:

People judge me by what they read in the newspapers, by the views of others. Many people despise me and many love me, yet the majority have never met me. They don’t know me. That bothers me a bit. People make judgements quickly and stick to them. I suppose in a sense that goes with the territory. You just have to learn to live with it …

Some from my own community don’t like me either. I don’t quite know why. Perhaps it is because the flag protests and some of my campaigning have affected their gravy train. Some are just DUP lackeys and sheep. I don’t lose any sleep over it.

When I sat down to write this book it was important I was honest. I have made mistakes at times and throughout the book I have admitted that. If I thought somebody was a clown then I said that. I don’t believe in telling lies. I am not a perfect character and nor am I the messiah. I am just an ordinary fella who cares deeply about my Country, my culture and my heritage. There is no shame in that.

On life as a Christian:

I have a strong faith in God which helps too. I fundamentally believe that not one hair on my head will be harmed unless it is God’s will. That gives me an amazing peace inside.

I don’t live my life as a Christian should, I am candid about that. I occasionally drink to excess, I have sex outside of marriage and I do things that I am not so sure God would approve of. But you have to make judgements. One day I will face God and give account of my actions. I have made peace with that too.

Recalling the PSNI search for him in North Down on 27 February 2013:

The PSNI searched the offices and surrounding area bemused as to why they could not find me. One officer became irritated and shouted “He’s not f**king Houdini, find him”.

(Throughout the book, PSNI officers fall into two categories: “principled and decent old school RUC lads” and those who Bryson feel hate and “persecute” him.)

On that curry:

I refused food in Police custody because I do not trust the PSNI. I did not go on hunger strike and then order an Indian curry. I don’t even eat Indian food. That entire story was a figment of the imagination of some newspaper ‘source’. It was a lot of nonsense.

On getting to know Michael Stone while in prison:

I quickly came to the conclusion that Michael Stone is not mad, he is not insane. He is an extremely intelligent man with a much clearer grasp on what is really going on in this Country than many of those who seek to dismiss him. One thing that will live with me forever is when I asked him if he regretted the stand he took for Ulster because it had ended up with him spending much of his adult life in prison. Michael simply said “I did what I had to do. I had my best thirty years on the outside”.

If Michael Stone was a republican there would be massive campaigns to have him released, sadly many within Unionism seem to have forgotten about him and others are probably happy to let him rot in prison. I hope that one day Michael Stone can once again be a free man.

On testing his bail conditions and attending court when it wasn’t his case:

Jim Dowson was representing himself at this early stage of his case and he asked me to be his legal advisor. It’s called a McKenzie friend in legal circles. I attended Court for Jim’s first appearance after he got bail. The anger on the face of the [investigating officer] was a sight to see. She was spitting nails, furious because by being at the Court I was within 4 miles of Belfast City Centre. However, the condition stated that I was permitted to attend Court … It would have been fantastic propaganda- “Your honour Mr Bryson was within 4 miles of Belfast City Centre, he was attending Court in an official capacity to assist a man without legal representation…”- but she didn’t take the bait on this occasion.

A few months later my conditions were changed to not being within 500 yards of City Hall. This meant I could attend Court as often as I wanted, and indeed I did.

On becoming a leader of the Ulster People’s Forum:

The protest at the Alliance party was well attended. I was approached by a camera man who knew my face. I would have been well enough known in media circles due to community work over the years and I had already had a bit of adverse attention from the Sunday World in relation to flag disputes in the North Down area. The cameraman asked me to speak. I readily expressed my view not only on the removal of the flag but on the wider peace process. After this other cameras present approached me to speak, I was happy to do so. I saw it as an opportunity to get across my anti-agreement political viewpoint. And so it began.

The following day a protest had been organised for Newtownards. I was handed a loudhailer and asked to address the crowd. I spoke for a couple of minutes; again I spoke about wider issues and received widespread support. A video of the speech was uploaded online …

After the Newtownards video I began to be contacted by organisers of other protests across the Country and invited to speak at them … I began travelling around the province speaking at different rallies and protests. It seemed that most rallies attracted the same speaker … We travelled some miles over those first few weeks. Rab, Roy, Jonty, wee Jim, Glenn, Michelle and Josh frequently came to various protests across the country with me.

On getting access to the draft Haass proposals:

The draft Haass documents were meant to be secret, only those in the room were allowed to view them and they weren’t allowed to leave the building. So I was asked to come to the building. I don’t think it was policy from the UUP or DUP to show me or Willie Frazer the documents. It was individuals within those groups who were reasonably sympathetic to our more hard line views.

I went into the toilets and was passed a shorthand copy of the documents. I was given 15 minutes to study the document whilst the person who had given me it went to make a phone call. He returned after 15 minutes and took back the paperwork he had given me. I expressed my disgust at what I had read and he promised to keep me up to date. He said he would deny this exchange ever took place, I said that he didn’t have to worry; I would never reveal my source.

On being accused of being a dole cheat:

[A Sunday newspaper] claimed they had run an investigation and ‘uncovered’ that I was doing the double. Again this was totally false. They claimed I was working as a taxi operator and at the same time claiming job seekers allowance. They wanted to paint me as some kind of low life dole cheat.

The truth is that I was actually working along with [the taxi firm] on a voluntary community project. I was seeing if they could design an employment scheme for young people within the local area. They genuinely wanted to do something positive in the community, and they ended up having their business plastered all over the front page of a Sunday rag by some pathetic excuse for a journalist. Their ‘crime’ was having me in their office to try and draw up a scheme to bring young people into employment.

On football (Bryson manages 1st Bangor second team) and politics:

I hope to continue in football management, it is a challenge and I have got the buzz back. It gives me another interest in life which is important.

I am not so sure that I have a future as an elected political representative; I don’t think I have the patience or a high enough tolerance for lies. I intended to stand in the local Government and European Elections this year but I had to withdraw late on. The truth is that I found out my partner was due to have a child. The elections would have placed a lot of stress on her and that is why I announced that I would be taking a step back from politics. I resolved to stay in the shadows. It lasted a while but if truth be told I missed the hustle and bustle of it, I missed living on the edge and I missed the natural thrill.

Some people are addicted to smoking, some to drinking and some to drugs; I think my addiction is the buzz you get from living in the danger zone. I think you get used to the adrenaline and when it’s not there you start to crave it. That maybe sounds a bit strange, but it’s the truth of how I feel. Maybe my body and mind have just adapted to living in a constant state of high alert and when I am not in that place I miss the adrenaline rush. I can’t explain it any other way.

The main part of the book finishes by recalling …

David McCann the political commentator asked me during an interview how I would like to be remembered. I had never really thought about it then, but I have now.

Bryson goes on to list ways in which he hopes he will or will not be remembered:

I hope those who do know me will remember me as someone who devoted his life to the cause of Ulster, our people and the freedom of our future generations.

I hope my friends remember me as someone who was loyal to a fault, as someone who always stood by his own and as someone who would stand by his friends no matter what the personal cost.

I hope my children look up to me and realise that I took the stand I did be-cause in my heart I genuinely believed it was right. I hope that I will be a good father, a good step father and a good husband.

It’s clear that Jamie Bryson doesn’t take advice. He’s headstrong and lives with the consequences. Maybe becoming a father will soften his heart. Maybe that will widen the issues that he puts his energies into. Throughout the book, there’s a near complete absence of analysis and complaining about other ways in which the loyalist community Bryson chooses to represent suffer deprivation and unfair treatment by parties, government and society: health, education, welfare, housing, employment.

My heart is full of bitterness and hatred, I have seen what is really going on in this Country and because of that I can never forgive those who have tried to destroy it and nor can I forgive those from my own community who have been complicit in that by their silence …

[The armed conflict] is over and they and found out that they cannot win, it leaves us with the battle for the peace, the political battle. It is up to my generation to defeat them in this new battle, and to finish them once and for all. Perhaps the warped Republican ideal- the cause that inflicted so much violence and destruction upon our Country- will die out with the Provo’s.

Maybe this new generation of people from a Roman Catholic and Nationalist background will reject cultural wars and reject the idea that their previous generations fought some kind of just war against the British. Maybe they will simply want to live and let live.

I hope so. Because then I can go and enjoy my life and leave politics to those of my generation who can compromise and build a lasting and prosperous peace. I could leave politics to the politicians and enjoy celebrating my culture from time to time, socialise wherever I wanted, and watch my family grow up in a thriving society where the hatred and bitterness is long gone. Maybe then I could put all my hatred and the desire to resist the system in a glass cage with the words ‘break in the event of war’ on it.

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  • Comrade Stalin

    Sounds like a local version of Mein Kampf without being proof-read.

  • Ernekid

    Did Jamie write in crayon?

    Fair play to you Alan for working through Jamie’s ranting. From his Twitter feed it’s clear that jamie is a nasty sectarian hate filled little troll who has the political awareness of a flea. He’s better left ignored.

  • Guest

    Jamie Bryson. A very interesting character indeed.I do not support the bile that he spouts at all. There is a huge difference between a normal everyday Unionist and an extremist like him who has openly stated that the UVF are not a terrorist group. I believe it was via LAD on Facebook that we all seen the photos of him wearing a UVF armband with North Down battallion on it during the gunrunners parades. Walking with his fellow UVF members. I think we all know that only “certain” people can wear those uniforms and march in those parades.
    He really should not be given any time of day.

  • Ernekid – play the ball not the man.

  • Sp12

    ” Throughout the book, there’s a near complete absence of analysis and complaining about other ways in which the loyalist community Bryson chooses to represent suffer deprivation and unfair treatment by parties, government and society: health, education, welfare, housing, employment.”

    Unfair treatment?
    Jesus Christ.

    Perhaps because even an unashamed fantasist like Bryson realises he can only keep a straight face for so long.
    Does he go into much detail about the electronic counter measures he takes to thwart the shadowy men who follow him into cafes and bug his sausage rolls?

  • A Morris

    I have finally arrived, this may well be the greatest day of my career

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Well written Alan-

    Johnny Adair and company used to run around with the slogan ‘ My only crime is Loyalty ‘- this book has the title-‘ My only crime WAS Loyalty ‘- is young Bryson no longer loyal-

    Bryson and Stone got on well in prison and the author in his book says Stone is of sound mind- is it great minds that think alike or is it minds that are alike who think they are great-the author also hopes that Stone can once more be a free man- of course he will -once he serves his time-

    Bryson- ” I went to the toilets and was passed a shorthand “- but was it a DUP or UUP shorthand-any wonder Bryson will not reveal that source-

    Bryson says he had to pull out of the elections last year- but did he blame himself or his cause / beliefs- no he blamed his Partner and new child- that sums up Jamie Bryson to me-

  • Niall Chapman

    The guy is clearly not a complete idiot, he just has a very narrow minded view of the world and a very narrow minded view of the tiny “country” he lives in.

    One part that did show some idiocy or at least made me laugh was his ideas on christianity “I don’t live my life as a Christian should, I am candid about that. I occasionally drink to excess, I have sex outside of marriage and I do things that I am not so sure God would approve of. But you have to make judgements.”

    Even though I don’t think he is an idiot, dissection would be a noble scientific endeavour, given the guys personality, if a gland exists in the brain that secretes a chemical that makes the subject an egotistical arsehole, Jamies gland is sure to be the largest ever discovered.

  • It’s up on Amazon on Kindle (£8.04) and in paperback (£7.99)

  • Niall Chapman

    “… Jamie, without fear or favour ‘lays bare’, in the most vivid style …” Creative license on the part of the Reveiwer?

  • Jag

    As someone who knows Jamie through Twitter, I have a low opinion of him, and worry for the future of the PUL community if Jamie is a role model. Twitter shines a light on people’s internal workings and to me, Jamie is pretty much what you’d find in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s – primitive, narrow-minded, nationalistic, not very far from instinctive savagery with a bit of religious cover.

    I have noticed that in the past couple of months, the grammar, words and articulation on Jamie’s Twitter has improved dramatically. I wonder if he’s getting a hand from his bathroom friend who passed him a draft of Haass…

  • Paddy Reilly

    I don’t know about the book, not having read it, but the Facebook page contains
    some real crackers. “I am furious that after almost two years, on the day of my trial the PPS have tried to usurp thousands of years of British law by trying to shift the burden of proof onto the defence”.

    Bwahahaha! Almost as good as Dame Edna Everage’s “And this is where William
    Shakespeare lived, all those billions of years ago”.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    A born again Christian with a God complex who screws around on his wife, drinks to excess, and meets strange men in toilets – see definition of “Loyalist”. A caricature of a man.

  • That’s the publisher’s blurb ….

  • sp12

    Isn’t this self published?
    So yeah.

  • Comrade Stalin

    So I read Alan’s summary in a bit more detail, and also the clips from the book elsewhere on social media (I have no intention of giving Bryson any money and will not be buying the book).

    My comparison with Mein Kampf is quite apt. Chap with insatiable ego and belief in his role in history comes out of nowhere, chap calls putsch (sort of), putsch fails and everyone laughs, chap ends up in jail, chap then writes long rant blaming everyone except himself, promotes a revisionist and delusional version of history, and warns of dark clouds on the horizon.

    Maybe in some messed-up dystopian future where Bryson is Prime Minister of an independent Northern Ireland state (with Willie Frazer in charge of legal affairs and the police), and where me and my pals have been put up against the wall and shot, the book will become compulsory reading for all citizens. This would be a place where the English language is updated to require the insertion of extra apostrophes and spelling mistakes everywhere, and where proofreading is a criminal offence. What a nightmare.

    The revisionism seems to start early on. Bryson says he wants to be remembered as a person who devoted his life to Ulster. That’s great, except he admits that his first priority is not Ulster, but his pregnant partner and child, and he claims he withdrew from elections for that reason. Now ordinarily a bloke’s devotion to his family would be laudable, but in this case he uses them to make a pathetic excuse – there are plenty of politicians who have been busy campaigning while their partners were either pregnant or dealing with small children (including two recent Prime Ministers). Whether Bryson was careless with his family planning techniques, or made a conscious decision to become a father, it’s pretty clear that he his thoughts were elsewhere than the need to answer Ulster’s call.

    And of course, it is a matter of public record that Bryson had every intention of standing for election. He started a fundraising page, which after several weeks had raised only a tiny proportion of the deposit required. This fantastist was able to persuade someone (from the “Ulster Human Rights Watch” – no doubt a body concerned with crucial, life-defining issues such as parades and flegs) to write a gushing foreword to the “book” which describes his position of “leadership within his community” – despite the fact that the man could not even raise the £250 council election deposit, never mind find 500 people to donate a tenner for a European election run. Bryson quite obviously leads nothing and represents nothing.

    Bryson also says he isn’t an egotist. Yet he includes a foreward that compares him to Martin Luther and extolls his virtues as a speaker of truth to power. Bryson has variously in the past compared himself to Ghandi, Rosa Parks, and Jesus. On his Amazon page you can find a made-up interview where the interviewer can’t contain his amazement with this personification of Christ as he spews forth a load of unintelligible rubbish about the Titanic.

    Bryson’s “leadership”, whatever that amounts to, has ultimately been exposed as a failure and a fraud. All this agitation and all the rest has accomplished nothing; the government remains as it is, the status of the flag on city hall is unchanged and this situation does not seem likely to reverse any time soon. He claims he isn’t capable of compromising, but this is another piece of revisionism; Bryson compromises all the time. He told anyone arrested to reject bail, yet he accepted bail himself. Compromise is a fundamental prerequisite of survival in western civilization. He’ll either figure this out, or join his friend Michael Stone and all the other people who couldn’t.

  • Niall Chapman

    I’ve came to the conclusion that he’s just an extremely dedicated comedic method actor, in the same vein of Ali G, but his performance is year round

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The “loyalist” label has always been something of a wild inaccuracy. It all begins with a massive act of treachery against James II driven by bitter (in the case of Presbyterians, self harming) opposition to his almost 20th century liberalising policies during the short years of his reign (see “making Toleration” by Scott Sowerby):

    http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674073098

    And regarding Bryson, the claim of “loyalty” of someone who cannot even be loyal to the wife he lives with let alone an abstract reifications such as “Britian” or “the Crown” must always be questionable, so past tense may be an unconscious honesty rather than consciously intentional.

  • Comrade Stalin

    A psychoanalyst would have a field day. I think, deep down, he views himself as a political leader and a visionary. He seems to have learned recently to try to cover this with a false modesty that fools nobody.

  • AJ

    ‘I have a strong faith in good’ immediately followed by ‘i dont live my life as a christian should’ is basically the equivalent of saying ‘i love One Direction but i never listen to any of their songs’…

  • Jag

    Jamie, or whoever operates his Twitter account have claimed that the Department of Justice has “banned” his book from prisons. Incitement to hatred? suicide? ennui?