Book Review: Jeremy Hutchinson's Case Histories; From Lady Chatterley to Howard Marks by Thomas Grant

21 July 2016

This book is rather different from the traditional advocate biographies, such as Norman Birkett by Montgomery Hyde. Instead, it purports to look at the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s through the prism of the high-profile legal cases involving a remarkable barrister, Jeremy Hutchinson QC.

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

                   - Philip Larkin, Annus Mirabilis

Jeremy Hutchinson QC, son of Jack Hutchison QC (a famous criminal advocate who had defended Compton Mackenzie on a charge of breach of the Official Secrets Act), was a first-hand witness to, and some might say, an instrument of, that invention.

Jeremy had in many ways a gilded youth, moving freely in literary and artistic circles which included TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, and later visiting and staying with Aldous and Maria Huxley in California. After Oxford, Hutchinson served in the Royal Navy on the same ship as Louis Mountbatten, was dive-bombed by German Stukas and had to be rescued from the sea. He had a “good war”, and it would have been no surprise to see him become a Conservative member of Parliament. But he had already been politicised in the opposite direction by the sight of the Jarrow Hunger Marchers. By the 1960s, he was the go-to counsel in a roster of cases for clients threatened with outbreaks of Establishment morality. And it is quite a list of Greatest Hits.

George Blake

Blake was one of the Cambridge five (along with Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt), an employee of the Secret Intelligence Service, who had worked as a Soviet spy for a period of nine years. He passed secrets to them, motivated by personal conviction, following a conversion to Communism whilst a prisoner of war during the Korean conflict.

The discovery of his treachery caused consternation in Whitehall. There was public outrage against him. Hutchinson had to face the enmity of presiding judge Lord Justice Parker. He reminded the judge that this was not a political trial, and its purpose was not “to give comfort to our allies and bring fear to our enemies.” This fell on deaf ears as Blake was sentenced to 42 years.

But they did not build the prison walls high enough. He escaped and made it to East Berlin in 1966. He currently lives in Russia and on his 90th birthday President Putin congratulated him as a hero. It should be recorded on the debit side that it is believed his information to the Soviets resulted in the death by execution of at least 40 British agents.

John Vassall

Within a year or so, Hutchinson was to defend another notorious spy, John Vassall. Vassall operated at a more junior level than Blake. He too spied for the Soviets, having been honey-trapped and then blackmailed for his homosexuality, before going on to accept bribes from his Soviet paymasters.

There were pleas of guilty to four breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Hutchinson, in essence, repeated his plea in mitigation from Blake. A criminal trial was not an Executive act, and the courts were not there “merely to assist in the squashing of fly.” His address fared rather better this time around and Vassall was sentenced to 18 years.

The Profumo Affair and Christine Keeler

Hutchinson’s role in this sorry affair was to represent Christine on a charge of perjury in respect of the trial of her former lover Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon. Hutchinson recalls that when she came to see him for consultation, she turned every head in his Chambers, as colleagues surreptitiously peeped their heads round the door to see her as she walked through the corridors.

The Profumo affair is described in some detail. It becomes more absurd with each retelling (and of course tragic for the person of Stephen Ward), yet it would hardly merit a Daily Mail sidebar in this day and age. It provided an opportunity for an outpouring of self-righteous humbug on a grandiose scale. Quintin Hogg MP (later Lord Hailsham and the father of Douglas Hogg MP, he of expenses for duck-ponds fame) fulminated in the House of Commons that his colleague John Profumo had lied and lied and lied. This prompted one of the finest putdowns in Parliamentary history from Reginald Paget MP, which is worth quoting in full:

“From Lord Hailsham we have had a virtuoso performance in the art of kicking a fallen friend in the guts. It is easy to compound for sins we are inclined to, by damning those we have no mind to. When self-indulgence has reduced a man to the shape of Lord Hailsham, sexual continence involves no more than a sense of the ridiculous.”

Keeler pled guilty. Hutchinson delivered a more sinned against than sinning plea and she received a comparatively light sentence of 9 months.

The Lady Chatterley Trial

Hutchinson was junior in this case, instructed by Penguin books to defend the publication of the DH Lawrence sex and class bonk-buster (once again so very tame to modern sensibilities). The defence strategy was to provide a chorus of the great and good to testify that this was truly a literary masterpiece.

Particularly telling exchanges came between prosecuting counsel Mervyn Griffiths-Jones QC and the academic and Lawrence expert Richard Hoggart. Welcomed by Griffiths-Jones with sniffy disdain as a provincial academic, Hoggart proceeded to trounce him in the questioning which followed. Asked whether he was not horrified when confronted with the Anglo Saxon shorthand for sex, Hoggart explained that he had already heard it three times that morning on the way to court.

Every practising courtroom lawyer has had the experience of asking the disastrous question, but was there ever a more catastrophic public remark than that of Griffiths-Jones QC, who in his summing up asked a bemused jury of ordinary Londoners: “Is this a book which you would wish your wife or servant to read?”

Acquittal inevitably ensued, followed by record book saIes. I can still remember as a shocked (but very curious) young schoolboy, seeing grown-ups on the bus read the now familiar orange and black Penguin edition, with its D.H. Lawrence Phoenix motif.

These are merely a few of the remarkable cases in which Hutchinson pressed the thorn into the Establishment flesh. Others included: Duncan Campbell, accused of disclosing state secrets relating to GCHQ; Tom Keating, the art forger; and, Howard Marks, the charismatic drugs runner nickname ‘Mr. Nice’. Hutchinson maintained contact with many of his accused clients after their trial, assisting them with job applications and the like.

From his vantage point of 50 years on, Hutchinson believes that this period marked a sea-change in attitudes to a ruling elite which was now seen as degenerate, corrupt and hopelessly out of touch. The trials were reported in great detail by a mass circulation press, and in a real sense the 60’s cases changed public attitudes and private morals.

Hutchinson is still alive, aged over 100 years, with his memory as sharp as a pin. I finished this hugely entertaining book on the same day as the death of androgynous rock star and patron saint of otherness, David Bowie. It is not too fanciful to suggest that without Hutchinson, the true life of that great musical artist would have remained unlived.

Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories by Thomas Grant is published by John Murray, available in paperback from Amazon for £7.49.

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