A mystery that for months has affected Upper and Middle Temple may at last have been solved.
Perhaps now Temple, usually the epitome of tranquillity, can return to normality. And it will all be thanks to the courage and quick thinking of the good clerks of Littleton Chambers.
The story begins with one of Littleton’s tenants, and one of its finest to boot. No lesser man than Richard Price QC.
Two Fridays ago (23 January), Price was looking forward to his weekend, but first had to return to chambers. He opened the door of his room fully expecting peace and quiet. Instead there stood a being he did not recognise.
“What the devil?” Price boomed. “Who are you?”
“I’m, er, the delivery boy,” stuttered the muscular, six-foot stranger. “I’ve come to deliver something.”
Price wasn’t having any of it. He ordered the man out of his room and into reception.
Clerks soon filled the reception. There was also a solicitor, Ian Dodwell, keen to return home after having issued his instructions to Littleton counsel.
One of the clerks (we shall call him Tim) recalls that the mystery man began ranting. The police were called – they weren’t taking any chances with this one. After all, there had been a spate of burglaries in nearby chambers. Could this be the culprit?
The man began edging towards the front door. There was a shout. It was Price. “My wallet’s gone,” he boomed (again).
Then the man was off, through the front door, across Temple. Tim and four other clerks set off through the sharp turns and alleyways to Mitre Court. Here the assailant lost a shoe. But still on to Fleet Street.
There were pedestrians and cars in every direction, but the man had disappeared.
A passer-by pointed to a bus. “That’s where he is,” he cried. The bus was halted at traffic lights. One of the clerks put his foot on the step at the back of the bus, while the other clerks assembled around him.
Their prey then burst through their ranks and fled down Fleet Street in the direction of St Paul’s.
Tim and co were more determined than ever. They gave chase again, the man hurtling down Fleet Street. He reached C Hoare & Co, the private bank, where he was confronted by none other than Dodwell, who received a punch in the face for his efforts.
A cab driver, seeing the clerks still in pursuit, pulled up next to Tim. He jumped in and, with eagle eyes, noticed the mystery man dart into Shoe Lane and run behind the enormous edifice that is Goldman Sachs.
Out jumped Tim. The others turned up, he recalled, one of whom had picked up Price’s wallet. “Together we pinned the man against the wall,” remembers Tim. In police parlance, a citizen’s arrest had occurred.
So who was this man who turned a quiet Friday into a desperate chase through the heart of London?
He is believed to be none other than the daring ‘Thief of the King’s Bench’, the local police’s ‘Most Wanted’ for petty theft in the vicinity. The man who had shinnied up more drain pipes, rifled through more silks’ bottom drawers and brazenly crept away with more clerks’ pennies than most barristers have said “Your Honour”.
The thief’s main victims had been the various chambers of King’s Bench Walk.
For months his face – or at least a version of it – had been pinned on notice boards around Temple by police investigators with the words: ‘Beware of This Man’.
Littleton itself was in possession of his mugshot.
Today, Temple struggles to get back to normality. Price got his weekend away. The heroes of the tale, Littleton’s clerks, with the help of a few beers, are on the way to full recovery. They will be lead witnesses in any future prosecution.
But life may never be quite the same again.