Secret E-Diary - September 2013

We live in a world of the personality cult where urban rats being represented by thugs will rarely win the day.

August 12, 2013: “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you place the blame.” Oscar Wilde

We are now on a charming Scandinavian cruise. Idyllic, and yet…There is something about a barrister’s life that makes holidays more stressful than work. My own theory is that it is adrenalin withdrawal: so many hormone surges occur during trials. Holidays, on the other hand, are contrast-free and can become just a tiny bit boring. Nevertheless, I was plain exhausted after the trial of Jason Grimble, who, together with Moses Lane, allegedly murdered Claude Allerick, sometime one of Her Majesty’s less popular circuit judges and former member of Gutteridge Chambers.


It was a peculiar case: unique, in my experience, in that it featured me in a bit part, since I was delivering Christmas cards in Chambers whilst the dreaded deed was done close by in the Temple. Sadly, the redoubtable Mrs Grimble, mother of the pallid Jason, aided and abetted by my own professional body, swept aside the normal decencies that would have protected me from having to represent this fey youth; so there I was. In fact, the prosecution case, other than the interlude to which I just referred, was dull and largely agreed – much to the joy of our Treasury Counsel, George White QC, who was not of the prosecutorial persecuting variety and who saved his agitation for the iniquities practised by one branch of his family against the other during the Wars of the Roses.

No, the bloodletting in this case occurred almost exclusively during the defence cases. The real question for the jury was whodunit as, rather depressingly, each defendant blamed the other for killing the judge when HH caught Moses thieving his family silver. George, more in sorrow than in anger, put to both that this was a simple joint enterprise from thieving through to murder.

Our trial judge, the delightful rotund and jolly Jonathan Hay QC, beamed at everyone and, in answer to any protests about unfair cross-examination, said it was dreadfully unfortunate, but that he really had to be fair all round and that he was sure the jury would listen carefully to his directions to take it with a pinch of salt. The jury, who had started with the usual bewildered gazes, had by now adopted the demeanour of the Spanish Inquisition on a bad day.

We live in a world of the personality cult and the public gallery doubtless thrilled to the many exchanges between counsel and the defendants and each other. Since Moses Lane’s counsel, Rico Smyth QC, had also been a member of my chambers until he had driven off in a puff of exhaust fumes from his two hundred miles on the clock red Porsche, having told me he was not earning enough with us, there was the added bitterness of old friends. I wondered what the press and public made of us. I saw myself as an Edward Marshall Hall figure with Smyth as something from “Silk” until my junior, the equestrian-minded Hetty Briar-Pitt, brought me back to earth. “The jury likes you,” she told me “because you resemble a country doctor – all comforting and bedside manner.” Thankfully she added: “unlike that thug next to you.”

But the truth was in what the two defendants were, as much as what they said. Moses Lane was an unhappy combination of the Artful Dodger and some kind of urban rat, whilst Jason looked as if he would have been much happier having a cherryade inside a community centre. When I put to Lane that he had been “cornered” by old Claude, he drew back the lips in a passable imitation of his rodent counterpart. When Smyth put to Grimble that he had viciously attacked the judicial paragon, he burst into tears.

There was the usual five-day wait because the court is too frightened to concentrate the jury’s mind on reaching a decision and lets it trip off home every night as if this was just a day at the office.

The result can be deduced from the final act. Rico Smyth vanished in an angry screech of tyres attached to a black Lamborghini – the Porsche doubtless in a scrapyard – whilst I saw the terrifying Mrs Grimble crushing the life out of Jason outside the Bailey with tears coursing down her face. Perhaps I had been unfair. Surely she was more than a cross between Peggy Mount and Nora Batty. I hovered close by until it was over. Then Jason held my hand, a little too warmly perhaps, and said “thank you, sir”. “It wasn’t really me you know,” I replied. Naturally Mrs G. had the last words: “yes, we do know.”

William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.