Barrister Paul Dockery of Manchester set 18 St John Street Chambers has an unusual claim to fame: in his spare time he advises Coronation Street’s script writers on the legal aspects of the show.
“It all started about six years ago when I was chatting to my friend [Coronation Street archivist] Helen Nugent,” he relates. “It was the day after [Coronation Street character] Les Battersby was in court and I was passing comment on some factual inaccuracies and she said they’d call me in for the next large legal story.”
Since then Dockery has been called upon to advise on some of the soap’s biggest storylines involving a string of murderers, the odd kidnapper and several assaults.
“Once a storyline’s conceived they’ll come to me and ask for the potential defences and what sentences should be given if someone’s convicted,” explains Dockery.
It is a powerful position. Dockery will be consulted on potential storylines that could end up being binned, and in some circumstances he is privy to the fate of a character ahead of the actor who plays the role.
Scripts sometimes need to be altered to allow characters to return to the show at a later date. This was true when Gail McIntyre’s wayward son David framed his neighbour for the burglary of his grandmother’s house.
“The producers didn’t want him to go away for a long time, so they changed a few scenes so the crime was lessened and he could return,” Dockery says.
Most recently Dockery has helped scriptwriters on the saga facing Gail, who is facing trial for the murder of her husband Joe.
“Everybody wants to know whether Gail gets convicted,” says Dockery. “Even judges in the magistrates’ court have asked me that question, but I can’t say.”
A perk of being the show’s legal adviser is that Dockery gets to appear as an extra. The first time he appeared on the soap he sat between characters Cilla Battersby and Norris Cole in the court gallery; in a later appearance he told Gail that her son must face trial for pushing her down the stairs.
His first speaking part came when Corrie bad girl Tracy Barlow was sentenced to life for the murder of her boyfriend Charlie Stubbs.
Tracy will reappear in the show in May as Gail’s cellmate. “That would never happen in real life,” Dockery says. “Gail’s on remand and Tracy has a life sentence,
so they wouldn’t end up sharing a cell.”
Coronation Street celebrates its 50th anniversary later this year and already Dockery has been called on to help with one of the bigger plots involving major characters. But he is sworn to secrecy over what happens to who.
The barrister is clearly a lifelong fan of the show. When he was called to the bar in 1973, his chambers shared a local pub with television studio Granada. “You’d get all the Coronation Street people in there,” he says.
It is a far cry from his day job, where Dockery specialises in serious crime cases.
He represented South Manchester drug dealer Derek McDuffus, known as ’Yardie Derek’, in 2005 when he was tried and later found guilty for the murder of notorious Manchester gangster Desmond Noonan.
“I do Coronation Street in my spare time,” Dockery explains. “It’s a welcome diversion and if it’s a single short hearing it can often be done at the weekend. It’s great fun. By and large it’s all my area of work and it’s not too difficult.”
His weekend excursions into soapland have helped to shape the storylines of one the nation’s most watched shows.
If Coronation Street was real, you would find Dockery perched on a stool in the Rovers Return with people queuing out the door and along the cobbles begging for his help to right the wrongs of the past.