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Scapegoat. John Parris. Duckworth. 14.95 [pounds].

Not at any time, in any way, could Mr. Parris have been considered a conventional member of the English Bar. His rebellious, not to say maverick, spirit made him the perfect, albeit serendipitous, choice as defence barrister for young |Let-Hime-Have-It' Chris Craig, indicted with Derek Bentley for the shooting of Police Constable Sidney Miles on a Croydon warehouse roof in November 1952.

The hanging of the dull, very dull (I.Q. 66), epileptic, nineteen-year-old Bentley, who was in fact in police custody anyway at the time of the murder, greatly upset a public who understood not the law relating to accomplices and the joint liability thereof. The disquiet has lingered on for forty years, and led to a Craig-Bentley |industry', to which, as the last surviving barrister in the case, Mr. Parris' contribution might be expected to be crucial. It is not. It supplies little more than a first-hand -- and to that extent a further and necessarily better informed -- replay of the tale told in Francis Selwyn's Gangland (1988), Christopher Berry-Dee and Robin Odell's Dad Help Me Please (1990), and M. J. Trow's |Let Him Have It, Chris' (1990). But it is Mr. Parris' learned opinions concerning the British legal system -- especially in the matter of criminal justice -- in general, and the Bench and Bar of the 1950s in particular, which give his book a curious additional dimension.

Beneath the stuff of his gown,, Mr. Parris' shoulders were patently not without chips. In fact, he had chips with everything. And there were wigs on the green! |Most Londoners believe civilization ends at Potters Bar ... The Provincial Bar was despised and treated with contempt by all the Oxbridge types who occupied subsidised chambers in the Inns of Court (and) lunched or dines every day with the judges'. And that despite the fact that there were |old Etonians and Harrovians and ... other snobs on our (North Eastern) circuit'.

Harken then, to some of former learned counsel's quill-notes on his brethren. Goddard, L.C.J. comes in for the severest drubbing; a crypto-semite, closet flogger, rampant and rampageous sadist. As pleased and waggish as a dog with two tails -- or a cat with nine -- at a hanging or a flogging. |His clerk, Arthur Smith, told me he used to take a spare pair of striped trousers round for Goddard' -- when the old gentleman was sentencing the young to the birch, cat or scaffold. This, like what the soldier said, is not evidence.

Hallett, J. 'So clever and conscious of his cleverness that his particular pleasure was to expose any counsel before him as bloody fools.'

Oliver, J. |Another who terrorised the Bar,' and was |cold and deadly to the defence on all occasions, and whose summings-up were rich in venom against any accused.'

Stable, J. is said to have imposed a mere three-month sentence for motor manslaughter because he had driven a car often himself when in a state of eft-like inebriety.

Croom-Johnson, J. (pere pas fils) |Apart from Goddard, the supreme Bully on the Bench ... a bastard ... A small man whose delight and mission in life were to try to make big men look small.'

Christmas Humphreys, of counsel, does not escape. He is overheard in the robing room saying of Mr. Parris in a tone of contempt: |Oh, he's some young chap who's not been called long. I suppose he's got the brief (for Craig) because he's some relation of the Croydon solicitors'. Untrue.

Director of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory at New Scotland Yard, Lewis Charles Nickolls |would say anything the police wanted him to say and would co-operate with them in fabricating evidence against the accused'.

And, of the Home Secretary himself: |The man was a complete bloody fool' (Churchill), |Stupid' (Harold Macmillan), |Extremely stupid' (Parris). While Hylton-Foster, Q.C., contributes:

The nearest thing to death in life

Is David Patrick Maxwell Fyfe.

It was his moral cowardice -- fear of Goddard, Churchill, the Cabinet and the police -- that denied Bentley a reprrieve.

Sick of it all, shouldering for the last time his red bag, Mr. Parris turned his back upon |what are humorously referred to as "The Royal Courts of Justice" in the Strand'. He has presented us with a scandalously compulsive read and a most worrying clue to the Craig-Bentley affair as supplied in the case of R v. Appleby, where the precise words, |Let him have it ...' had been previously and fatally articulated.

Richard Whittington-Egan
COPYRIGHT 1992 Contemporary Review Company Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Whittington, Egan
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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