A NOTORIOUS armed robber, Noel ‘Razor’ Smith spent the best part of 33 years behind bars.

With 58 convictions to his name, the 58-year-old career criminal from south London was sent back to jail time and time again.

But it was during his last stretch inside that he decided enough was enough.

More than a decade on from his final sentence Noel is now telling his story of a “brutal” criminal justice system to schoolchildren, and on Friday, July 5, eyes were opened at Harrow Way Community School.

Standing in the school’s hall Noel enlightened the pupils about how he got into committing crime, from stealing the odd sweet in Woolworths he went on to hotwire motorbikes and terrorise the police,

“I had no intention of getting into crime,” Noel told the students. But that changed when he and his mate were pulled into the back of a van and tortured until they would confess to a string of burglaries, and that is when his life turned.

Magistrates deemed that Noel had not committed the earlier crimes, but the trouble with the police continued.

“Every time I left my estate I was being stopped by the police. After five or six months of this I had had enough,” Noel said.

But after years Noel turned to robbing banks, which became his thing. He estimates he held up about 200 of them over the years.

His biggest haul was £63,000 as part of a gang of four. He was usually armed with a sawn-off shotgun or a revolver.

“After three years I was a professional criminal, I was an armed robber for most of my life.”

His gang became known as the Laughing Bank Robbers as on one of their stings they wore Santa masks over ski masks.

In 1998, after two trials, he was given his final sentence of eight years and that’s when he began to turn his life around and he started to read.

“I couldn’t read or write until I was 19, I was already embroiled in the criminal justice system.”

He added: “I read anything I wanted to read.”

Firstly looking at fiction novels before moving onto factual books, he went on to gain an Honours diploma in journalism and an A-Level in law. Noel then went on to write his first book - A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun: The Autobiography of a Career Criminal - and has since produced more, while he also writes for the prisoners’ newspaper.

Speaking after his visit, Harrow Way pupil Nancy Levason said: “After studying History and learning about the prison system it was invaluable to hear from someone who experienced it first hand.”

And Kitty Gray added: “The whole story was touching from the start to see how the prison system could still be affecting someone even after their release.”

Liv Myers said: “No-one ever puts their hand up in assembly...but they did with Noel.”