Last month, I promised to tell you about my ‘run-in’ with His Honour Judge Claude Duveen of Slough County Court. This happened in the mid-1970s whilst I was with Campbell Hooper & Austin Wright at their Sunningdale/Ascot branch office – a very upmarket firm with some famous clients, such as Diana Dors, England’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Ms. Dors was the English equivalent of all the blonde bombshells of Hollywood. She described herself as “the only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva”! Other clients included film director Brian Forbes; Frances (Frankie) Day, one of the wartime singers, on par with Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton (she was then well into her 60s but still wore miniskirts) and known as ‘The Golden Girl of the 1930s’(you can see what she looked like in her heyday on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPi1vl0U_uo&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4W4NeUVkuo); Junior Campbell, an up-and-coming pop star whose star declined fairly rapidly for some reason or other; and another pop star, Leapy Lee, who had a top ten hit (his only one, if I remember rightly!) with ‘Little Arrows’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvXDxobNteA). The firm also acted for one of the Arab sheiks who had a mammoth pad in Sunningdale, and although we did not act for him, I did have a debt case against Simon Dee, who was the Terry Wogan of the time – an extremely successful chat host, one of the biggest celebrities on TV until the BBC sacked him for being too ‘big-headed’ and demanding an astronomical rise in salary. I felt quite sorry for the bloke as he went literally from riches to obscurity in a matter of weeks. Oh, how the mighty fall!
Anyway, Slough was our nearest County Court, and we undertook quite an amount of civil litigation there. On one occasion we were acting for a past employee of a very large Non-incorporated Members Association. Our client worked on a commission basis, and he was suing his past employers for outstanding commission of several thousand pounds. It was quite a ‘messy’ action. To sue a Non-incorporated Members Association, the defendants had to be named as ‘the (named) officers of the Association sued on behalf of themselves and all the Members of the Association.’ The officers and members would, therefore, be jointly and severally liable for the claim and for costs if the claim was successful, i.e. each of them would be personally (as well as collectively) responsible for the whole of the claim and costs. Because of this, I made an Application to the Court for the full list of members and their addresses to be handed over so we could be sure that, if we were successful, we would be able to go after any one of them or any combination of them for redress. There was also an ulterior motive: our client had started up a similar organisation, and the membership list would be extremely valuable for him to use for marketing purposes!
Our Application was strenuously defended, but I was successful and the Order was duly made that the list should be supplied to us by a certain date (about two weeks before the hearing date of the trial). However (surprise, surprise), the defendants made no effort whatsoever to supply the list and instead made all kinds of excuses. I knew that if they didn’t produce the list before the trial, it would be like getting blood out of a stone afterwards, so I made a further Application, asking the Court to sanction the association for not complying with the previous Order and also to adjourn the hearing date for a month to ensure that the list was produced before trial.
I went to the hearing of the Application full of confidence, especially because I was successful in the previous Application despite a strenuous defence. No doubt, I was whistling a happy tune as I bounded up the steps of the courthouse! However, what I did not know – because no one in the firm had ever before applied for a trial adjournment from His Honour Judge ‘Dracula’ Duveen – was that the one thing that made him madder than the maddest Judge who ever lived was for anyone to have the audacity to think that anything short of a nuclear holocaust would interfere with the smooth running of his Court calendar. When I tried to get the hearing date postponed, I received a scathing attack from the bench and was reduced to quivering jelly. I think I had nightmares for at least a fortnight afterwards.
Still, as the old saying goes, “All’s well that ends well.” The hearing date duly arrived (even though the members list hadn’t). I had my usual secret weapon at hand – namely, Mr. Douglas Hogg, the Barrister whom I invariably instructed if I could. Why? Because Mr. Hogg’s father was none other than Quentin Hogg, aka Lord Hailsham, aka the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain! Douglas Hogg … the name might be familiar to you – he is the same Douglas Hogg, Conservative Member of Parliament, who, during the MPs’ expenses scandal, hit the headlines for making a claim for the cleaning of the moat around his country mansion! He was a joy to work with because, of course, he was absolutely fearless in front of any Judge in the country – and so he should be, having the father that he did. The Lord Chancellor used to be the highest lawyer and member of the judiciary as well as presiding over the House of Lords, so Douglas Hogg knew all the Judges personally – they came to tea!
When we were all gathered in the Slough County Court for the hearing, His Honour Judge Claude Duveen came in, and we all stood up and bowed. As he sat down, we sat down. He glanced around the courtroom, and his eyes alighted on Mr. Hogg. His face broke into a broad grin, and he said, “Mr. Hogg, what a pleasure to have you before me today. How is your father? Do give him my regards and tell him that his volume of Halsbury’s on Bankruptcy [Halsbury’s Laws of England, of which Lord Hailsham was the editor] is absolutely invaluable in this Court.”
The expression on the face of Counsel for the other side was a picture! The Judge then looked at me, still smiling, and said (raising his eyebrows in a questioning manner), “Mr. … er, um ... Mr. …?”
I stood up. “Er ... Stacey-Hibbert, Your Honour.”
“Yes, Mr. Stacey-Hibbert – please sit down. I remember I was not very nice to you the other week, and for that I apologise, but I trust that I will never have you before me asking for an adjournment again!” He was still smiling, but now it was a slightly more sinister smile.
I had just started working for the firm, and my wife and family had moved from the London area to the house we bought between Ascot and Maidenhead. I commuted to Northwest London for a while, but it became too much, and that’s why I began working with Campbell Hooper. This was in January 1972, and we bought the house for £14,000 (which was not particularly cheap in 1972!). Around spring of that year, there started a property boom which resulted in property prices rising fairly rapidly. By August the house which we’d bought was worth £22,000, and so we sold it, deciding to rent somewhere locally until we found somewhere else we wanted to buy. We heard of a house in South Ascot which was for rent for 18 months, which sounded nice. The owner was a diplomat in some foreign country, and he wasn’t so concerned about the rent as having someone ’respectable’ to live there until he came home in 18 months’ time. So we made an appointment with the Agents to see it. Well … we couldn’t believe it! It was a beautiful, five-bedroom house set in seven acres of garden and woodland, with a servant’s pantry (no servants were included, but the gardener was!) and with a gated entrance and turning circle at the front – and all for £30 per month! No, that’s not a typing error – £30 per month! So we took it, and it was a wonderful 18 months.
One of the Senior Partners in the firm (the Sunningdale/Ascot office was a branch office, and the head office was in London) lived on the other side of the wooded road – directly opposite the house we rented, but it was a much smaller house with only a usual-size garden – nice, but only fractionally as nice as our own! This Partner was a bit of a snob (well, to be honest, he was a great big snob – I feel quite safe in saying that as he is now dead and cannot sue me for defamation!), and he didn’t know that we were the ones who had moved in. So when he saw the furniture van arriving, he thought that he would go and introduce himself the following day to ingratiate himself with the new ‘owner’. He was not a happy bunny when I opened the door!
Furthermore, at that time I drove a Mark 10 Jaguar, which was the same make and model that he drove – though his was silver whilst mine was gold in colour. The firm’s offices were set back from the main road in Sunningdale, and we both used to park our cars in the forecourt of the building – I must say that they did create a good impression! One day the Partner asked me to go through to his office to meet a new client, and we chatted about what he wanted to instruct us on. Just as the client was leaving, he said something like, “I’m sure we’ll get along well. I was very impressed even before I came in, especially with the two Jaguars parked in front of the building” – to which the Partner very quickly replied, “But my car is newer than his!”
Another time he asked me in to discuss something with another client of his – it went on quite late, and everyone else had gone home. The Partner wasn’t involved so much in the conversation and must have got lost in his own thoughts, because all of a sudden he got out of his chair, took his coat from the coat rack, turned off the lights and went home! He left us both sitting there, peering at each other through the gloom. I don’t know what the client must have thought. I couldn’t help laughing, as the Partner was like that in many other ways – a bit of a scatterbrain.
This branch office was not a large one – there was only the Partner, me, two articled clerks and four secretaries – and so I dealt with a variety of clients, mostly civil litigation but some conveyancing and a smattering of crime. One client in the latter category was a young local builder who had been charged with receiving stolen goods – namely, a dumper truck which he had bought off someone who had come to a building site where he was working and asked whether he wanted to buy it. It transpired that this dumper truck was, in fact, a hired piece of machinery which had not been returned to the hire shop. The basis of the police evidence was that my client must have known the dumper was stolen, because no one just buys such an item from someone you don’t know who just turns up and offers to sell it on the cheap. My client denied he knew it was stolen, and so off we went to Court.
Again, I instructed Douglas Hogg as Counsel. The arresting police officers were a Detective Sergeant and a Detective Constable. Now, I have a great admiration for the police; they do a great job in very difficult circumstances. Still, when I first learnt to drive, I quickly discovered that a favourite pastime of whatever local constabulary in the area one happened to be driving through, especially late at night, was stopping you and asking all manner of questions to convince themselves that you hadn’t stolen the car. Having been bitten once in my early career by a client who was ‘verballed’ by the police (i.e. words were put into his mouth which he hadn’t uttered but which miraculously appeared in their subsequent notes), I cultivated the habit of keeping a small notebook with me, and whenever I was stopped, I would take out my notebook and pen and write down everything that the police officer said, together with my reply – e.g.:
Police officer: “Good evening, sir. Do you know how fast you’ve been travelling?”
Me (while writing in my book, Good evening, sir. Do you know how fast you’ve been travelling?): “Good evening, officer. Yes, I was doing no more than 30 miles per hour.”
At the same time I replied, I would be writing in my book, Good evening, officer. Yes, I was doing no more than 30 miles per hour – and so on throughout the conversation. At the end, I would ask him to sign it – needless to say, none of them ever did! However, it did ensure that I was never ‘verballed’!
However, I digress – back to the dumper truck.
The two officers involved in the case I did not take to. There was something about them – very cocksure and brash. Anyway, lo and behold, our guardian angel (Mr. Hogg of Counsel) was with us once again, and we had a stroke of good luck: one of the Managers of the hire company was giving evidence as to the fact that the dumper truck was theirs, that it had been hired out on such and such a date, and that it hadn’t been returned. On cross examination, when Douglas Hogg asked the Manager how long his firm had owned the vehicle, his reply was that he couldn’t be sure.
“Look at your records,” Hogg suggested.
“I don’t have them with me” was the reply.
“Don’t have them with you? You have no record of when your firm acquired the dumper?”
“Not on me – no!”
“How do you know then that the dumper truck in question is the one that belonged to your firm?”
“I just do!”
“What’s its engine number?”
“I don’t know!”
“So you cannot actually be certain the dumper was the one hired from your firm?”
“Yes, I am. I remember the licence number.”
“Have you brought the log book with you?”
When the prosecution was finished, Douglas Hogg stood up and submitted that there was no case to answer: there was no actual evidence that the dumper truck belonged to the hire company, and therefore there was no actual evidence that it had been stolen from them! If there was no evidence that it had been stolen, there was no evidence that our client had received ‘stolen goods’.
The Magistrates retired, and when they came back, they dismissed the case against my client. The two police officers were livid. They were both standing at the door of the Court when we all went out, and as we passed, the Detective Sergeant said, “I suppose you think that you’re clever – we know he was guilty, and if we didn’t get him this time, we’ll get him for something else some other time.”
Sure enough, some couple of months or so later, the client was back in my office, having been charged with driving whilst disqualified. Guess who the police officers were who charged him! Their evidence was that whilst they were in their car, they saw my client drive past in his car going the other way. The facts were that, indeed, they might have seen my client in his car at that time and that place, but his wife was driving (as she always did). My client and his wife were going to a pub between Ascot and Bracknell which they always went to on a Thursday evening (or whatever day it was) to play darts. But how could my client prove that his wife was driving that particular evening, apart from his wife confirming it (especially considering that the evidence of a spouse is not always convincing)?
When I was taking instructions from my client, I asked him how he could remember that particular evening, as the prosecution would be bound to ask him this. The occasion was only a week or so before he was charged, and he said he could remember it because about half a mile from the pub, he was held up – there had been an accident between two vehicles, one of which was a Post Office van. Also, when they did get to the pub, one member of the darts team came into the car park at the same time and parked in the adjoining space. He was able to verify not only that the wife had been driving, but also that my client had mentioned the accident on the way. Finally, I was able to verify through the Post Office that one of its vans had been in an accident on that particular day and at that time.
As I was wont to do, I instructed Douglas Hogg as Counsel at the trial. We agreed in conference beforehand that he should attack the police by impugning their evidence and their integrity. This is always a tricky thing to do, as Magistrates do not like lawyers calling the police liars and rogues and accusing them of fabricating evidence. However, my client gave evidence of the previous proceedings regarding the dumper truck, of his acquittal, and of what the Detective Sergeant had said as we left the court that day – and I gave evidence corroborating this last. Also, Counsel told the Magistrates that he was with us at the time and he also heard the comment. The bench brought in a ‘not guilty’ verdict (actually, rather than finding an accused ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, usually Magistrates merely find the prosecution case either ‘proved’ or ‘not proved’), and we had another success for my client – or, should I say, his legal team?
I mentioned above that one of our clients in this firm was Frances Day, a famous singer of the 1930s and 1940s. I got on with her quite well, as I love the music of that period, and she asked me round to her house in Maidenhead for dinner one evening. I readily accepted, and she said she would fix a date and time. My wife was livid, not because she was not invited, but because of why she thought she was not invited: Her husband was going to be seduced by some siren of the 1930s! And so I had to keep making excuses to Ms. Day. But one day I was called in to see the Partner, who told me that he understood that Ms. Frankie Day had asked me round for dinner and that I kept making excuses to get out of it. Didn’t I realise that she was an important client, he wanted to know? Didn’t I realise that Ms. Day was most displeased, and didn’t I realise that it was my duty to the firm to go? So I went – and had a most delightful evening (and I wasn’t seduced even once!). She played me her old records, sang at her piano, showed me her scrapbooks, and told me anecdotes about the times when she was famous, about entertaining the troops all around the world during World War II and about all the other stars she worked with – it was pure magic. My wife was still livid, though!