Obiter last week was a bit amused that Martha Costello QC of the legal soap Silk went to represent a man in a police station with no solicitor tagging along. Couldn’t happen, my colleague implied.
Oh, yes it could. Art can imitate life. It can only be the oldest among us who remember the barrister Stanley Crowther. When he was called to the bar in 1949 he joined a very fashionable set led by Derek Curtis-Bennett, son of the man who defended the tragic Edith Thompson in the Bywaters-Thompson murder trial. Curtis-Bennett himself defended the traitor Lord Haw-Haw and the Rillington Place murderer John Christie.
Unfortunately, Crowther fell out with another member of chambers, Reggie Seaton, who later became chairman of Inner London Sessions and left the set. From then it was downhill all the way. He seems to have spent a good deal of his time in pubs in the Chelsea area. There he met a ‘face’ who bypassed solicitors, sending work directly to barristers, taking a percentage from both the lawyer and the defendant.
At the beginning of 1952 Crowther was introduced to Charlie Kray when the Kray twins were suspected of stabbing a man in a Soho club. Would he attend the identity parades? Of course he would. Crowther persuaded the inspector in charge that each twin should have his own parade.
The witnesses correctly picked out each brother on the parade but thinking both would be on the same parade, also picked out another man. As a result no charges were brought.
In 1959, Crowther was charged over a passport offence, received six months and was disbarred. He then began to run a series of long firm frauds, one of which, Crowther & Co, fell into Kray hands. From then on he was their man, wheeled out to give evidence on their behalf in their trial when they were acquitted of demanding with menaces.
In June 1964 he was sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraudulent trading. He had been running a long firm fraud in Great Eastern Street. ‘I was the innocent dupe of other people,’ he said. Perhaps sensibly, he would not name the ‘other people’.
Crowther’s story can be found at the National Archives in file MEPO 2/11391.
Let us hope in a future episode Martha doesn’t end up the same way as him.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor