Being the duty solicitor on Boxing Day was rather fun. My recollection is that Bill Robbins was usually the stipe and he could whip through a list quicker than almost anyone I knew. One day he had 109 cases — admittedly a number were drunks, prostitutes and gamers — and finished well before 1pm. He would just say ‘no’, which I correctly interpreted as meaning he was not going to send the man to prison. All I had to ask was, ‘£3 a week?’

But the spoils on offer were not just a few green forms. One Christmas I picked up the only case I ever had that went to the House of Lords – although my name was spelled incorrectly in the law report. By the time it reached their Lordships the man was well out of prison and had, so far as I was concerned, completely vanished. With the hearing a few days away I received a telephone call from him. He was working on the continent. ‘Shall I come over?’ he asked. ‘If you want, certainly, but in all honesty it has nothing to do with you,’ I replied. Except that he made a bit of legal history and his name was spelled correctly.

His interest in his case was in complete contrast to Tommy, due at the Old Bailey ‘not before 2pm’. We had a final conference the night before and he asked what his sentence was going to be. ‘Four years,’ said counsel. Just as I was getting ready to leave, there was a telephone call from him. ‘Where are you?’ I asked.  ‘I’m not telling you,’ was the reply.

He didn’t need to. Almost at once there was the sound of a ship’s hooter and a Tannoy announcement: ‘All ashore who are going ashore.’

His surety did rather well. He told the court he had been playing snooker with the client late the previous evening and he had made no mention of absconding. The judge took only £2,000 of something like a possible £10,000. Afterwards the surety told me: ‘What a lovely man Tommy is. He said that anything the old boy didn’t take I could keep myself.’

A few years later I received another telephone call from Tommy. He had acquired properties in the Midlands which he wanted to sell. Would I help him dispose of them? As they say in the newspapers, ‘I made my excuses’ and referred him to another solicitor.

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor