Magazine article The Spectator

A QC's Guide to Christmas Crime

Magazine article The Spectator

A QC's Guide to Christmas Crime

Article excerpt

Why Christmas is busy for us criminal barristers

My colleagues at the commercial and chancery bar are all at their chalets in Gstaad, funded by the endless fees from Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and the family bar are out en famille in Mustique, awaiting the festive fallout -- there's something about turkey, port and the Queen's Speech that pulls marriages apart like a pound-shop cracker, and divorce doesn't come cheap.

But for we poor criminal hacks, it's business as usual: crime never sleeps, and never less so than when Santa Claus is coming to town.

As a junior barrister I made out like a bandit. Booze flows, blood follows; office parties are a magnet to drug dealers keen to ensure that all enjoy the right kind of white Christmas. Burglars do well with houses full of new iPhones and PlayStations -- and they all come ready-wrapped!

My favourite client from those halcyon days was a chap who decided to give watches to his loved ones. He went to Argos, identified a tray of suitable Swatches (it was about 1989) and jemmied the cabinet lock with a tyre lever. He secreted the entire tray inside his coat and made to leave. But then he noticed the security camera and heard onrushing feet. Thinking as quickly as he could with the brains God gave him, he removed the tray and held it up for the store detective to see.

'How much are these?' he said.

The court was not impressed.

My first armed robbery was a Christmas caper -- blagging being popular during the season of goodwill, because the security vans are full of cash frittered on tat by desperate husbands. Foolishly, the gang had sourced its getaway car from my client, who was not a Nobel prize winner.

'If the police come round, say you don't know nothing about no armed robbery,' said the chief robber.

A few days later, the police did indeed come round. Before the copper even opened his mouth, my client immediately blurted out, 'I don't know nothing about no armed robbery!'

The rest of the gang was soon rounded up. At trial, the gleeful prosecutor cross-examined my man. 'When you opened your door,' he said, 'you had no idea why the policeman was there?'

'Correct,' said my client.

'So what made you say that you knew nothing about no armed robbery?'

'Because I didn't,' said my client, as though m'learned friend was a little simple.

Amazingly, the jury acquitted him; his mates were not so lucky.

I've had a few unconventional Christmases myself, the most memorable when I was homeless in France in 1979. …

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