The young man of the hour
2 July 1995
Roger Pearson talks to the lawyer who has been on the front line of the battle to free Private Lee Clegg
There seems little doubt that sooner rather than later Private Lee Clegg, the paratrooper said to have fired the bullet which killed a girl passenger in a joy rider's car at a Belfast road block will be freed from the life sentence he is serving for murder. Although the Law Lords have just refused to reduce the charge against Clegg to one of manslaughter his plight has generated a high level of public support and as always when the public - the voters - get restless, the matter has become political.
But unless his freedom is the result of a change in stance over the law relating to actions by members of the armed forces or police in the course of their duty, Clegg's legal team is unlikely to let the matter drop. The lawyer who has played a major role in spearheading Clegg's Ministry of Defence backed legal battle in its latter stages has said that if necessary he will postpone gaining his legal qualifications to see the matter through.
The case of Clegg, remarkable and unique in itself, is made all the more remarkable by the fact that much of the complex legal fight has been master-minded by 26-year-old Simon Kay, not a qualified lawyer but a former clerk and currently a litigation executive with Bradford based Barras Solicitors. In addition to his work with Barras he is in the third year of a four-year law degree course at his local university. He still hasn't even made up his mind whether he eventually wants to head for the Bar or become a solicitor.
Kay came to the case by chance. His home was near that of the Clegg family and he would occasionally give them friendly guidance on minor legal matters. But when Clegg was arrested the family turned to him, as he puts it, "to help translate the legalities". Although he played a major part in this capacity, it was not until the case transferred from the courts of Northern Ireland to mainland Britain following Clegg's conviction, that his role was formalised and Barras was officially instructed. From then on, his detailed personal knowledge of the case proved invaluable, especially during the run up to the final House of Lords hearing, which was preceded by a three week flurry of furious activity resulting in him at times working 20 to 22 hours a day.
Kay heaps praise on the activities of the committee set up to run the support campaign for Clegg. The efforts of such support groups in cases of this nature, both in media liaison and generating support is invaluable, he says. However, he is the first to admit that everyone was taken aback by the level of media and public support that has emerged since the House of Lords ruling.
"From one point of view dealing with the media and giving interviews on the subject was made far easier because I genuinely believe there has been a miscarriage of justice here," he says. But he stresses that the most important lesson he had culled beforehand on dealing with the media was that it is essential to have a clear idea in your mind what you are going to say when confronted by the press.
As far as the future of the case is concerned, he says the immediate priority remains to secure Clegg's release from prison. But once that happens, unless it has been as a result of legal changes and not parole, he says the fight for a change in the law will continue. "Everyone involved is highly motivated to pursue this case," he says. "As far as I am concerned, if continuing the fight to get a change in the law means suspending advances in my career to be involved then I will. That would not matter to me. The issues involved here far outweigh any personal interest I might have in qualifying."