Behind bars for 11 years, Albert Dryden has allowed only one man to interview him. In the second part of her special report on a book manuscript by former firearms officer Sergeant David Blackie, right, LINDSAY JENNINGS reports on the chilling moment the author came face-to-face with a killer.

The shabby, diminutive figure shuffled in and sat down, throwing his visitor a cagey look from his piercing blue eyes.

Being locked up in Durham's Frankland Prison was beginning to show on Albert Dryden. It fuelled his paranoia, and his complete belief that he had been unjustly incarcerated.

It was 1998, and former Durham firearms tactical advisor David Blackie was quite clear he was staring back at the face of a killer, a man who had gunned down Derwentside District Council's chief planning officer, Harry Collinson, in cold blood, and shot and injured two others.

But Dryden's initial suspicion quickly turned to animation.

"I recognised him immediately he entered, although his appearance had changed considerably from his trial," writes Mr Blackie, in an account entitled Manstopper, which he hopes soon to see published.

"My first impressions were of a stocky man, in his mid-fifties, about 5ft 4in, with collar length white hair, combed across his head like the man in the Hamlet advert, with a rubicund appearance, a white spiky beard, dancing blue eyes, looking a bit like Father Christmas on a bad day."

During the first meeting between Dryden and Mr Blackie, who was researching the tragic events at Butsfield, County Durham, on June 20, 1991, for his book, Dryden was keen to talk about his chances for redress, despite his appeal being refused. Blackie found it hard to interrupt his subject.

"When I tried to ask specific questions about what had happened on the day of the killing, each time he would return the conversation to his plight as the hard done by little man just trying to do his own thing, without causing harm to anyone," he writes.

"It was not until much later that I realised that this random prevarication was a conscious and cynical ploy by Dryden to avoid admitting responsibility for the murder."

According to Mr Blackie, Dryden referred to the other prisoners as murderers, thugs, rapists and terrorists.

"He did not appear to have any comprehension of why he himself was in prison," he observes.

"He seemed preoccupied with his health and, from what I could gather, was prone to getting into confrontations with fellow prisoners. From what I saw of him, he was a complex and not very subtle mix of bigotry, pedantry and obsessiveness, and it was hardly unexpected that he might suffer at the hands of prisoners with whom he was incarcerated."

Mr Blackie next visited Dryden in July 1999, at Garth Prison, in Lancashire.

"He greeted me like an old friend and immediately launched off into one of his diatribes about the bias of the tariff board, which had recently refused to entertain an application for a reduction in his sentence," he writes.

He talked about a wide range of subjects, from his fondness for working at Consett Steel Works to the person who worked in Cape Canaveral and sent him regular updates for rocket fuel recipes.

"But it was still not on his agenda to speak about the murder, rapidly changing the subject each time I introduced it."

Mr Blackie saw Dryden for the last time at Garth Prison in April 2000, where the killer talked about his dissatisfaction with prison, his solicitors and his imaginary appeal.

"At times he was almost incomprehensible. His hair was askew, his beard had been cropped and his eyes were rheumy. He spoke in staccato outbursts. I tried to steer the conversation towards the circumstances regarding his offence but exasperatingly he would inevitably return to his interminable persecution at the hands of authority.

"When I directly asked him if he was sorry that he had killed Harry Collinson, a crafty, wary look came into his eyes and he quickly changed the subject. After about two hours, we both fell silent with nothing left to say to each other. I bid him farewell and left."

Not long after, Mr Blackie finally gained permission from the governor to conduct a tape recorded interview with Dryden. Mr Blackie prepared a list of questions, which he sent to the killer beforehand, but the response was not what he expected. It prompted an angry outburst over the telephone from Dryden, who then refused to see Mr Blackie again.

According to the former police sergeant, Dryden's fight against authority has continued. He has worn out at least five firms of solicitors and one barrister, claiming they are in league with the Crown, and has written regularly to a website which campaigns against Freemasonry. His claims are "wild and exaggerated" and include the demented belief that Durham's Chief Constable was a golfing pal of Harry Collinson and that they were both Freemasons. As Mr Blackie points out, Harry Collinson never played golf and Freemasonry would have compromised his socialist beliefs.

Dryden has also become the focus of attention for some bizarre cults and individual supporters from as far away as America, who see him as some kind of hero against authority, Mr Blackie writes. This has fuelled Dryden's ego and he believes these supporters will eventually secure his release.

"There is evidence that Dryden is becoming increasingly divorced from reality, shown by his convictions that there is a conspiracy within the prison service to kill him and torture him by poisoning his food, withholding his mail and subjecting him to a farce of rigged intelligence and assessment tests.

"In fact nothing could be further from the truth, as every effort is made to accommodate Dryden, even to the extent of moving him to Holme House Prison, at Stockton, so that he could be closer to his friends. However, as the regime did not suit him, he was returned to Nottingham.

"He is described as argumentative and sulky, with an exaggerated sense of his own importance, constantly asserting that his current dilemma is not of his own making, but is the fault of others.

"Nor has he, in any of his parole hearings to date, made any show of remorse for the murder.