News of the death of Sir Edward Eveleigh reminded me of the 1973 George Ince Barn murder case. Ince, on trial for the murder of Muriel Patience in a botched armed robbery at the Barn restaurant in Braintree, was defended by Victor Durand QC and Robert Flach and the judge was the acerbic Melford Stevenson.
The case against Ince was based principally on identification by Robert Patience and his daughter. Ince, who claimed that they were wrong, believed Stevenson was biased against him. He sent a telegram to the lord chancellor asking that he replace Stevenson. He then sacked both Durand and Flach and turned his back on the court. Whether all this affected the jury who can tell – but Ince was fortunate because they disagreed.
The second trial was before the much more urbane and kindly Eveleigh (pictured). On circuit, he and Stevenson were known as the smooth and the rough. Now Ince complained he was being prejudiced because everyone else had been given glasses of water while, as a supposed security risk, he had to have a plastic beaker. Eveleigh, who believed Ince was not guilty, then arranged that everyone should drink out of plastic. Ince was acquitted and within a month the real robbers were arrested and confessed.
Another story about Eveleigh. When he was sitting in a criminal case, a juror in waiting, thinking that he could be relieved of jury duty, said ‘challenge’ before taking the oath. Eveleigh told him it was for the defendant to challenge, not a juror. When the juror stood up again, the experienced defendant shouted, ‘Challenge. Have this one on me.’
In 1982 he ruled that El Vino, the barristers’ Fleet Street home-from-home, had discriminated against women by not allowing them to stand in the bar area. Tempora mutantur.
During the war Eveleigh, sent to join his regiment on the Belgian border, was told to remove his insignia. He was promptly arrested as a spy and had to wait for his fellow officer to identify him. He was then stranded at Dunkirk and was fortunate to have been on an early rescue boat —a paddle steamer. By an amazing coincidence his future wife, Helen, was also on the beach.
Then aged eight, she had cycled from Blankenburghe with her family to Dunkirk in the hope of evacuation. She was on one of the last rescue craft.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor