Confessions of a high court judge - Richard Henriques

Picture Martin Bostock.'Sir Richard Henriques QC .
Picture Martin Bostock.'Sir Richard Henriques QC .
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Retiring Justice recalls his rise to prominence and high-profile cases including the James Bulger murder.

Henriques is on centre court...

If ever a lawyer’s name was guaranteed to send a frisson through a court house and win press coverage it’s that of Richard Henriques – now the Right Hon Mr Justice Henriques of the High Court Queen’s Bench Division.

Sir Richard, no less. Born in south Fylde, educated at Southdene, in South Shore, Lawrence House Preparatory School, St Annes, before being packed off to public school, Bradfield College in Berkshire - and later Worcester College, Oxford.

But he honed those legal skills in the school of truly hard knocks: Fleetwood Magistrates, then the toughest bench on the Fylde coast, watching his godfather, solicitor Richard Blackburn, of the Fleetwood-based law firm, and Walter Clegg, who later became both an MP and fellow knight, at work there.

“I got a place at Oxford in December and wasn’t starting till October and wasn’t sure whether to become a solicitor or go to the Bar. I went to Blackburn and Co. Solicitors, Fleetwood, where my godfather Richard Blackburn, was principal.

“It was the best training ground of all,” he says of the bench which then sat two days a week and struck terror into the heart of even hardened offenders. “That and attending the quarter sessions at Blackpool and Preston made me convinced the Bar was the place to be. Although then, as now, commercial law was where the money was.”

Blackburn and Clegg were two of the top advocates of the day. Richard would ultimately outshine them including his mentor, the late George Carman, Blackpool born libel lawyer to the stars.

“Both my father and my mother’s brother were at the Bar,” Sir Richard adds. “My father Cecil must have divorced a whole generation of Fylde dwellers. I don’t think there was a divorce he didn’t act in one side or the other for some 50 years.

“George Carman and Christopher Rose were the giants of advocacy. George spent so much time socialising he knew how to talk to juries. It was a gift. I saw him through pupillage in my early years. He was a friend, came to our wedding – I met Toni when I was a junior at a wedding in 1977.

“George had his dark side as his son’s book revealed but he was very driven. He took silk at the right time for me as it left a huge amount of Blackpool work. Then he moved to London at the time I took silk at 42.”

No crumpled resort Rumpole Richard was slick, stylish, substantial, able to parry words with the ablest, cut to the very heart of the matter for jurors and judges.

This is the prosecutor who not only brought the killers of James Bulger to justice in a case which made legal history but nailed Harold Shipman, slicing through his defence with almost surgical precision and laying bare his black heart for all to see.

Today he’s the judge who, by common assent, presides over terrorist trials. Eight in all. Including the trial of eight terrorists who would have slaughtered almost 3,000 people had their plan to bring down transatlantic airliners been played out. It was foiled at the 11th hour. The fact it got so far strikes a chill for Henriques to this day. “It would have been by far the worst crime, in terms of numbers, that I had ever seen. And it came so close.”

Sir Richard stepped down as High Court Judge ahead of his 70th birthday this month. It’s the age at which High Court judges must retire. It’s an odd call in light of the fact that jurors can continue to 75. Unquestionably it will be debated,” Sir Richard admits. “And rightly so.”

He points out that we would have lost one of the greatest legal minds of our times - Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice - for two years had he retired at 70.

“He retired at 72. The goal posts have since moved.”

It’s been a truly illustrious career for a man who still calls the Fylde coast home - even though he’s spent each working week away from his Thornton home for the last 13 and a half years as High Court, Appeal and Administrative courts judge.

He was called to the Bar at 24, Queen’s Counsel in 1986, Recorder in 1993, High Court judge in April 2000.

Sir Richard has made a living out of murder, running the media gauntlet but never taking the tabloid shilling. He was recently described by Lord Judge as a “most respected judge, a master of the criminal justice process.”

As a barrister he regularly topped the fantasy lawyer league - as the man most would want on their side in a criminal court case.

His memoirs will be unmissable.

His friends included Blackpool’s best and brightest, including the late Sam Lee, solicitor, former coroner, who saw the saving of the Grand Theatre as his greatest triumph. And, of course, Carman himself, who saw Doddy cleared of tax evasion, got Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe off on a charge of conspiracy to murder (said to have been hatched here in Blackpool) and helped the Guardian nail Jonathan Aitken.

Sir Richard delivered the most moving eulogy at Sam’s memorial service at Rossall School.

Carman was a mentor. “A man of the people, he knew how to talk to jurors.”

Many say the same of Henriques – as prosecutor, defender and now High Court.

Retired as of - now.

Sir Richard is now back at home with wife Toni, Lady Henriques, for the first weekdays since May 2000.

“It’s been a bit lonely,” Toni admits. She’s already bought her husband a Victorian greenhouse as a heavy hint. “He can have a seat in there, take his radio, and be sent out with his packet of seeds - we have a lot of garden to fill.” It’s a measure of his standing that Sir Richard has been invited by the new Lord Chief Justice to continue part time.

He admits: “It’s an invitation not accorded to all retiring judges so I’m pleased and honoured to accept.

“I have found it thoroughly interesting, exciting and been fortunate that most of the work I’ve done have been high profile criminal cases, the outcome of which have been of extreme importance.

“They are all fascinating in their way.”

Meantime, it’s Toni’s guess Sir Richard will soon tire of bridge, golf (Royal Lytham, Poulton), gardening, “endlessly watching sport on telly”, public speaking, wine tasting, cooking- if not his Blackpool FC season ticket - and jump at the chance to answer the Lord Chief Justice’s call.

“I’m just hoping we get a nice holiday together first,” she admits.

There’s already been a round of retirement parties - Toni getting a look in on all too few.

“It tends to be boys’ own stuff,” admits the former Victim Support rape victim counsellor.

Sir Richard was particularly touched when court ushers invited him out for a pizza.

“He’ll miss all that,” Toni adds. “It won’t be easy to switch off. Well, not until the sport comes on...”

It’s hard to do justice to a high flyer who started his career via a Fleetwood-based law firm and continues to live locally.

Home is not some swish suburban stockbroker belt mansion or posh pad in Cheshire but a semi rural retreat handy for his favourite golf courses and his beloved Bloomfield Road.

Red ivy tumbles down the front, the garden is full of flowers grown from plug by Sir Richard. He sees gardening as therapy.

The couple’s home is warm and welcoming, pictures of the grandchildren taking pride of place rather than VIP or royal gatherings.

They met at a wedding at the River House in 1977 and share stepson David, from Toni’s first marriage, and son Daniel, a Manchester DJ - which at least justifies the mystifying presence of a Club Anthems CD on the Goodman ghetto blaster in the lounge.

”We went to see him perform in the Purple Pussy Cat in Manchester,” his dad confesses.

Daniel was much the same age as the boys Henriques QC prosecuted at Preston Crown Court for the killing of toddler James Bulger.

“I had no qualms discussing the case with him, he took a great interest in it,” says Sir Richard.

But he had to fight to ensure the trial went ahead, the defence arguing that, given the level of media attention, it would be hard to give Robert Thompson and Jon Venables a fair trial.

But fair trial they got.

Sir Richard still finds it hard to discuss. “It was a case that made history - not just here in Britain but across the world. And it never rests. I doubt it ever will. For that reason I can’t say any more about it. There has never been a case like it before or since. I pray there never will be.”

It also consolidated his reputation as a prosecutor. It also saw the press, surprisingly, turn on him for one uncharacteristic aside.

“I was criticised for saying to a pathologist using technical language ‘we’re in Preston now which is not a city,’” Sir Richard explains.

“Preston had just applied to become a city and I was furious it hadn’t won city status and was trying to make that point and fly the flag and assumed the press would pick it up.

“Instead they thought I was merely trying to rubbish the citizens for not being able to understand the language of the pathologist.

“I got lambasted by the press. It taught me a valuable lesson.

“Well until I got the headlines of the sports page after a terrorist sent an email to another saying Fowler (Robbie) had just left Liverpool.

“In fact it said he had re-signed for Liverpool not resigned. I pointed it out and counsel said ‘M’lord that was my mistake’ and I said, ‘not really, it was Liverpool’s mistake.’

“The headlines said judge rebukes Liverpool for re-signing Fowler – in the middle of a terrorist trial.”