George Alfred Carman QC: 1929-2001
8 January 2001
George Alfred Carman QC, who died aged 71 on 2 January, was always determined, but never dour.
His true Northern grit showed through when, shortly after retiring on August 29 last year on doctor's orders, he revealed on Breakfast with Frost that not only had he been suffering from cancer of the prostate gland for three years, but also that he had often undergone treatment for the disease in the mornings before turning up at court. "You can help the doctors enormously by having a positive attitude," he said.
The only son of Alfred, who ran a furniture shop, and dressmaker Evelyn, Carman grew up in Blackpool during World War II. Educated at St Joseph's College in Blackpool, Carman was a keen Catholic, and aged 14 he joined Catholic seminary at Upholland College in Lancashire. Abandoning his early priestly aspirations, he instead ended his education with a first in law from Balliol College, Oxford.
In 1953 he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn and started out as a criminal barrister on the Northern circuit, enduring several impoverished years where he had to wash dishes and pawn his then wife's engagement ring to get by. After the young couple moved into a flat in Wilmslow, their marriage soon fell apart to the extent that his first wife Ursula is entirely excluded from his entry in Who's Who and Debrett's People of Today.
Although now best known for his celebrity libel wins, Carman was in fact a great generalist of the English bar. It was not only his huge talent but also his ability to change with the times that ensured his supremacy over the last 30 years of his career.
In 1973, two years after he became a silk and recorder of the Crown Court, his prowess with a jury was noted by leading solicitor Sir David Napley. He watched Carman successfully defend a Battersea funfair manager on the manslaughter of five children and later catapulted him into the limelight when he instructed him to defend former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe at the Old Bailey on charges of conspiracy to kill Thorpe's former lover Norman Scott. Four years later Carman successfully defended Coronation Street actor Peter Adamson, who played Len Fairclough, who was accused of indecent assault. Soon after he won an acquittal for comedian Ken Dodd on tax-dodging charges with the famous admonition to the jury: "Comedians are never accountants, but accountants are sometimes comedians." He helped Maria Aitken and Richard Madeley escape convictions for cocaine smuggling and shoplifting respectively, and was dubbed "The Ferocious Great Defender" by The Times. Defence of the rich and famous moved Carman seamlessly into the libel sphere. He very publicly shared victory with celebrities such as Elton John, Imran Khan, Richard Branson and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
But it is those who experienced their own personal armageddon in the dock who will keep him forever in the history books: Neil Hamilton was "on the make and on the take"; David Mellor "behaved like an ostrich and put his head in the sand, thereby exposing his thinking parts"; Sonia Sutcliffe "danced on the graves of her husband's victims"; and Jonathan Aitken ended up in prison.
Not just a libel lawyer, Carman undertook a wide range of other work including shipping, licensing and commercial arbitration. Known as "Gorgeous George", he was also thought of by many as one of the most difficult men in the legal profession, with a somewhat brash and even obnoxious persona. His charm, however, was legendary, and he was never short of female company. His second marriage in 1960 to Cecilia Sparrow lasted 16 years and bore him his only child, Dominic. He married his third wife Frances Venning in the same year as his divorce, but was again divorced in 1984.
Head of New Court Chambers until its dissolution in April last year and his move to 4-5 Gray's Inn Square, Carman will be missed by all. Bill Conner, his clerk of 20 years, sums him up best: "I have some very fond memories of him. The main thing that comes to mind is that he is irreplaceable."
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