A political thriller featuring Irish Barrister Michael Devlin, American Reporter Sarah Truman & British Agent Joe Dempsey, all caught up in a deadly conspiracy following an assassination attempt on a former US President. Posted is the Court Scene in Chapter 10 in which we first meet Michael Devlin.
Daniel Lawrence’s heart raced as Michael Devlin’s questions developed. The barrister’s cross-examination of Claire Riley was fast approaching its key moment. Riley — a twenty-two year old secretary — was accusing their client of a sexual assault. Her time in the witness box had been her chance to be heard. Her chance to make her apparent attacker pay for his crimes. Reilly had not wasted that opportunity.
Daniel’s notes recorded every question Michael had asked in the past thirty minutes. He knew that his friend was doing everything he could. Michael always did. Their only chance of success – the only chance that Nathan Campbell had of leaving court a free man – was for Michael to undermine Riley’s evidence. So far he had done that. Slowly. Delicately. But neither Daniel nor Michael was naïve. They had been around long enough to know the public’s feeling towards men accused of sexual crime. It was an intense natural prejudice. And for Nathan Campbell to be acquitted his lawyers would have to overcome that.
The jury already seemed to hate the young soldier who sat in the dock. That did not surprise Daniel. At this early stage in the trial they had heard only the prosecution’s version. First was the Crown barrister’s opening speech. A harrowing tale. A tale of an innocent girl. Flattered by the attention of a young paratrooper. Lured from the safety of a nightclub. Subjected to a degrading assault in a nearby alleyway.
That speech had ended with several jurors staring at Campbell, hate in their eyes. But worse had followed. Almost all sexual assault trials turn on the testimony of the victim. So far Claire Riley had played her part to perfection.
London’s Central Criminal Court – known worldwide as The Old Bailey – had been extended many times over the years. New courtrooms added. Old one’s renovated. Court Two, though, was one of the originals. A cavernous, wood panelled temple of justice. Both the judge and the defendant were elevated. Facing one another across the centre of the room. They sat above the jury and witness on one side, and the full set of lawyers on the other. The set-up gave Daniel a clear view of the jurors as they heard Riley’s evidence. From where he sat their disgust was unmistakeable.
All twelve jurors had listened intently to what Riley had to say. As she painted the picture of her ordeal. By the time the prosecutor sat down every one of the twelve would have happily throttled Nathan Campbell. This was the prejudice he faced. A predictable handicap in a case of this type. Even Michael would struggle to overcome that. Which, Daniel knew, was why his friend would not even try.
Convention dictates that it is the barrister who argues the case in court. A solicitor’s job is more understated. More legwork. Less glory. This did not mean that Daniel had no hand in the preparation of Campbell’s defence. He and Michael had discussed every tactical move in advance, and they agreed on one very important thing. That any attempt to paint their client as whiter than white would be fatal.
Michael had started his questions carefully. Skilfully. At first he spoke with compassion. An old lawyer’s trick. Befriend the witness. Be kind. Be understanding. Wait for the guard to slip. It was always more effective than starting with confrontation. And so it had proved today. Michael had scored point after point. Gently leading Riley to admit that she had consumed far more alcohol than she had told the jury. And that she had presumed that they had left the club for Campbell could kiss her. These were small successes. They weakened the strength of Riley’s initial story. But they were not enough.
Both Michael and Daniel knew this. They knew that point scoring did nothing to lessen the impact of Riley’s evidence. If anything, it looked like clever lawyers playing clever games. They had to go further. They had to attack. It was a dangerous tactic. An all-or-nothing gamble. Nathan Campbell’s one shot at freedom.
“Okay Miss Riley, there’s just one more subject I want to ask you about.”
Michael’s Irish brogue became more pronounced as he spoke. A nervous tick Daniel had noticed before. Always there when Michael’s questions took a dangerous turn.
“What I want to ask you is this: you’ve told us all about Nathan Campbell grabbing you?”
“About him restraining you?”
“Intimately touching you?”
“You know I have. Why do you keep asking?”
Tears were again beginning to stain the witness’ cheeks.
“I’m asking, Miss Riley, because there’s one thing you haven’t mentioned, isn’t there? It’s right, isn’t it, that from a certain point in the incident Mr Campbell’s penis was outside of his trousers?”
Riley hesitated. She had not expected this. She took a moment to compose herself. When she replied she spoke quietly, her eyes never leaving the floor.
“Yes. Yes, he had his penis out.”
It was the answer that neither Daniel nor Michael really expected. A simple “no” and Michael would have taken his seat. As it was, he did not miss a beat.
“And it’s also right that his penis was erect, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it was.”
It was the reply that Daniel both hoped for and dreaded. Welcome, but at the same time dangerous. Michael now had no choice. Their gamble now had to be pushed.
“That must have been incredibly frightening for you.”
“You must have been terrified. Not to put too fine a point on it, you must have believed that he was going to rape you?”
“That’s exactly what I thought.” Riley began to sob. Every inch the shattered victim. “I thought I was going to be raped in that horrible place. I’ve never been so scared.”
A wave of sympathy flowed from the jury. Matched only by the animosity they directed towards the dock. This was what Daniel had feared. That the answers would do Campbell more harm than good. He could only hope that Michael had the skill to turn that hatred into reason.
“So it’s safe to say that this was the most frightening part of the whole attack, is it? The most traumatic part?”
“Undoubtedly.” Riley was firm. No hesitation.
The compassion that had previously coloured Michael’s voice was now replaced by disdain. The switch in attitude surprised almost everyone in the room. Judge Peter Kennedy was no exception.
“I’m sorry Mr Devlin, but did I just hear you correctly? Did you just say ‘funny that’?”
The booming voice caused several jurors to jump. The judge’s intervention was unexpected. Except to Michael. The barrister turned towards the bench. Almost casually. Michael was in no hurry to reply. Took the time to remove his horsehair wig and scratch an itch that had been plaguing his scalp. Michael carefully replaced his headwear before responding. When he did, there was no indication that he regretted his comment.
“My Lord yes, that’s exactly what I said.”
“Well would you mind explaining yourself?” Judge Kennedy’s voice was rising. “What is it that you find so funny about Miss Riley believing she was to be raped? Because I don’t mind telling you, to my mind there could be nothing less funny!”
The judge’s words were intended to intimidate. They failed. Michael’s answer was calm.
“What I find funny, My Lord, is that this shocking event, this action which led Miss Riley to fear rape, has never been mentioned by her outside of the last few minutes. This mentally scarring moment has, until today, not been worth so much as a comment. It just seems rather unusual to me. That’s all, My Lord.”
The judge sat in silence. Glared at Michael. Kennedy had been played. Led into helping a skilled advocate make a key defence point in the most dramatic way. The jury’s attention had been caught. Kennedy finally replied, his tone of voice weaker.
“Very well, Mr Devlin. Perhaps you should continue with the witness.”
“With your leave, My Lord.”
Michael smiled. Turned back to the witness box. Leaned over his wooden lectern. Both arms crossed to support his weight.
“Well, Miss Riley, let’s carry on shall we? Can you explain why you failed to tell anyone – anyone at all – that Nathan Campbell had his erect penis exposed?”
“Well, I, I didn’t really think it was that important.”
Riley was struggling for an answer. Daniel knew it. Could feel his heart race. For the first time he allowed himself to imagine their tactics paying off. The solicitor sat absolutely still. Not even breathing. Waiting for Michael’s next question.
“You didn’t think it was that important? That’s your explanation, is it?”
“I’m going to give you a chance here, Miss Riley. I am going to give you the chance to change your last answer. To a sensible one, I hope.”
The prosecuting barrister rose to her feet to object. She did not need to. Judge Kennedy was bellowing before she was halfway up.
“Mr Devlin, I do not need to tell counsel of your experience that such comments are entirely inappropriate.”
Michael did not take his eyes from the witness. Did not even acknowledge the intervention. He continued:
“Then it looks like we’re stuck with that answer. So what was important enough for you to mention? You mentioned that he said you were beautiful. Was that frightening?”
“Was that traumatic?”
“But that was important enough to mention to the police and to tell this jury? Without me having to remind you of it?”
“Well, it was just something I thought I should tell them.”
Riley was now flustered. Far less tearful. An undercurrent of aggression now marked her answers. Michael’s questions were hitting their mark.
“And what about the compliments he paid your hair? You told us how he charmed you by talking about your new hairstyle. You described it in great detail. Remember?
“Well was that more important than your belief that you were about to be raped?”
“No, of course it bloody wasn’t!” All trace of the shy, retiring girl Riley had played for the jury was gone.
“Then why did you mention it? And yet leave out what you now say was the most frightening part of the whole attack?”
Michael’s voice was slightly raised. Now demanding answers, to some damaging questions.
“I just did, okay? I just forgot about it! I was scared and upset and angry...”
“Yes, you were angry, weren’t you?” Michael leapt on the opportunity. “You were angry and you were upset, because you’d let this boy have his way with you. In a back alley. Only to watch him walk away when he was done. You were ashamed of yourself and you were angry with him, and that’s why you made up these lies. Isn’t that right?”
At first Riley did not respond. She stared at Michael. Unblinking. Naked animosity directed at her interrogator. When Riley finally spoke she did so with barely concealed contempt.
“He left me half-dressed in a doorway and walked away. Laughing. He should get what he deserves. No one treats me like that and gets away with it!”
Michael stood in silence for several seconds. His eyes fixed on the witness. He could not quite believe what Riley had just said. It was more than enough to turn the jury. Michael allowed a few more moments for the words to sink in. Finally he spoke:
“You had a very good reason for not mentioning that Nathan Campbell’s penis was outside of his trousers, didn’t you?”
“Because you knew that if you did, it would be obvious that this was just a cheap, drunken, consensual encounter. Isn’t that right?”
No answer again, the silence accompanied by an angry glare. Riley’s body language now undermined the vulnerable image she had cultivated.
“Which leaves me with just one final thing to ask you.” Michael’s cross-examination was coming to an end. Ever the showman, he wanted it to go out with a bang. “How exactly did Mr Campbell’s penis come to be outside of his trousers?”
“What? What the bloody hell does that matter?”
Riley was faltering. Thrown by a question she had not expected.
“Let me tell you why it matters. You’ve told us that in the course of the attack Mr Campbell was continually grasping your right breast with his left hand. Do you stand by that or would you now like to change your story?”
“I am not telling a story, I...”
“Yes or no, Miss Riley?”
“Yes he was grabbing my breast! The whole time! So much that it still hurt a week later!”
Riley was now snapping her answers. Teetering on an explosion of anger.
“And from the time you say the assault really began, he had his right hand inside your underpants. Is that right?”
“Yes it’s bloody well right! He had his hand all over me! He’s a dirty perverted bastard!!”
Judge Kennedy and the prosecuting barrister attempted to criticise Michael’s questions. Both were drowned out by Riley’s shouted reply. Michael carried on.
“And he didn’t have his penis out at the beginning of the assault, did he?”
“You know he didn’t or you wouldn’t bloody ask. So what?”
“I’ll tell you ‘so what’.” Michael’s voice was now raised. Almost angry. “I want to know how Mr Campbell managed to take his penis out of his trousers – undoing a button and a zipper in the process – whilst one of his hands was in constant contact with your right breast and the other was inside of your underwear. That’s ‘so what’, Miss Riley! So how did he manage it?”
The entire courtroom was silent. All eyes were on the witness. Her anger had suddenly disappeared. Her fire put out by the question she could not answer. The jury’s anticipation was palpable. And Daniel finally smiled. He knew the case was won.
“I, erm, I think, I think...”
“Come on Miss Riley, it’s not a difficult question. How did Nathan Campbell’s penis manage to release itself? Is it a particularly dexterous organ, perhaps? Can it undo buttons and zippers? Is that something else you forgot to mention?”
“Mr Devlin, I will not have that kind of question in this court!” Judge Kennedy finally interrupted. “If you want your questions answered you will ask them correctly.”
For a second time Michael failed to acknowledge the judge. But he did change his tone. Now, with Riley conceding defeat, Michael continued more gently.
“The only way his penis could have come out was if you took it out, wasn’t it?”
“You had a consensual sexual encounter during which you took out Mr Campbell’s penis. And when he callously walked away you concocted this story. To get back at him. That’s right, isn’t it?”
There was an almost imperceptible nod of the head. A movement that only Michael registered. He asked again, even more gently than before.
“Miss Riley, are you going to tell this jury who took Mr Campbell’s penis out of his trousers in that doorway?”
Riley looked up. Michael had sent her down dead end after dead end. Anything but the truth would now seem ridiculous.
“I did.” For the first time Riley’s tears were genuine. “I suppose I was more drunk than I thought.”
Michael stopped for a moment. Silent. Seconds past. He finally took his seat. Without another word. Without looking behind him. Not even towards the dock. Once seated Michael turned to his shell-shocked opponent and smiled.
“I think that’s your case done, isn’t it?”
Daniel watched as Michael exited one of six elevators that opened onto the Old Bailey’s ground floor. Nathan Campbell had left the building twenty minutes earlier. Daniel had been waiting for the tall Irishman since then.
Michael’s destruction of Claire Riley had forced the prosecution to abandon its case. With the key witness a confessed liar it had become hopeless. What followed had been inevitable. A fixed process. The judge had taken the decision out of the jury’s hands. Had directed them to find Nathan Campbell ‘Not Guilty’. Daniel was sure they would have done the same even without the direction. Still, that extra guarantee was always welcome. The Devlin/Lawrence partnership had won. It was becoming a habit.
Michael glanced towards the building’s wide main staircase. He knew he would find Daniel standing there. Always did.
Michael had stayed in the private barristers area on the top floor while Daniel had seen their client from the building. Only once Nathan Campbell had gone did Michael reappeared. A practiced routine. Michael lacked the patience for the social work side of their job. Struggled with the handholding. Not that it mattered. Daniel’s compassionate nature more than made up for the traits Michael lacked. One of many factors that made them so effective together.
“It takes an hour to look respectable these days, does it?” Daniel glanced at his watch. Tried to fake annoyance. He was no actor.
Daniel had been joking, but he could not have chosen a better description. Everything about Michael screamed ‘respectable’. His impeccable black, pinstriped suit and starched white shirt complimented his 6’1” athletic physique. Michael was every inch the TV idea of a barrister. Which could not be more ironic. And not just because so few barristers resembled the clean-cut actors who played them. It was also because so few came from a background as unprivileged the boy from the slums of Belfast.
“Sometimes I think you’d rather not speak to our clients,” Daniel joked. “Nathan asked me to say “thanks”, by the way!”
“So he should!” Michael laughed. “C’mon, let’s get going”.
The Old Bailey’s ground floor is not at street level. A quirk caused by the building’s expansion over the course of a century. There was a final flight of stairs for Michael and Daniel to walk down before they could exit the building. At the top of that staircase — embedded in the wall, far above head-height — was a lone piece of shrapnel. A morbid reminder of an IRA bomb that had exploded in the street outside in 1973. Michael had been raised on the streets of Ulster at the very height of The Troubles. It was a past he had long ago left behind. But one he would never forget. Whenever Michael set foot on this staircase his eyes would dart to the shrapnel. It made him think of how far he had come. Of what he had left behind. A frequent reminder that stirred his emotions.
No words were spoken as the two lawyers left the building. They passed the ever-present paparazzi. Turned left. Walked the short distance to Ludgate Hill. Not a famous name, but still one of London’s most iconic locations. Left out of Old Bailey – the road that gave its name to the court – was St Paul’s Cathedral. Old London’s dominating landmark. To the right were Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street. The historic home to Britain’s printed press. The journalists had moved away decades ago. The lawyers, who had been there even longer, remained.
Daniel wore his shirt unbuttoned at the collar, his tie stowed in his briefcase. Michael – who wore a tunic shirt in court, to accommodate his traditional wing collar and bands – now wore no collar at all. Both carried their jackets over the shoulder. It was a relief to be free from the formal dress of Britain’s courts. Especially for Michael. The 18th Century outfit still worn by criminal barristers did its job. It made the advocates stand out. Put witnesses at a disadvantage. But that did not prevent the discomfort. Particularly in courtrooms built before air conditioning. So it was welcome respite to enjoy the rare sunshine in fewer layers.
They walked west. Down Ludgate Hill. Neither spoke. A comfortable silence that can only exist between the closest of friends. Minutes passed as they made their way, sometimes having to physically push their way through crowds. These pavements were always busy. Bustling with workers and tourists alike. Like anyone familiar with the City, both Daniel and Michael were used to being jostled as they walked.
“A particularly dexterous organ?” Daniel’s face broke into a grin as he finally spoke. They were already halfway along Fleet Street. “That’s not something I thought I’d ever hear in a courtroom. God knows how you get away with that shit.”
“Don’t see why you’re surprised?” Michael’s smile was just as wide. “I’ve asked stranger questions than that without getting us into trouble”.
“Bullshit! If you had I’d have heard about it. Especially with your big mouth! You’ll be calling everyone you know tonight, to brag about this one!”
“You’re the only one who still lets me boast, Danny. The others just hang up!”
“Then you’re calling the wrong people. I’m sure Dad’ll want to hear all about it.”
Daniel did not mean to silence Michael. He managed it anyway. Daniel’s father was Hugh Lawrence QC. Maybe England’s most famous barristers. Hugh had been disappointed to see his son become a solicitor instead of following in his father’s footsteps. Michael had been a consolation for that decision. Hugh Lawrence had taken the interest he would have had in Daniel’s career and had invested it in his son’s friend. Daniel had accepted this long ago. Was even grateful. But it made Michael uncomfortable and so it was never discussed.
Despite his pedigree, Daniel had always felt unsuited to a career at the Bar. It was a doubt that had remained unspoken. Until it was confirmed by a young man with every attribute he lacked. Michael Devlin.
They had met as students. Placed them in the same University study group, their backgrounds had been poles apart. Daniel had always been wealthy. A privileged rich kid with the best education money could buy. Michael had come from a very different world. He had fought tooth and nail to break free from his upbringing. To build a better life away from a family he never discussed.
The young men had been equals from the start. The outstanding students in a law class that was quickly a two-horse race. But their approach to their subject differed drastically.
Crucially for his future career, Michael was capable of one thing that Daniel was not. He could argue in favour of anything. Michael’s feelings on a subject never affected his ability as an advocate. He could deliver winning performance after winning performance. Regardless of the moral rights and wrongs. In this way Daniel could not compete. He could fight a cause as well as anyone. As well as Michael. But only when it was a cause in which he believed.
This was always going to be a problem. A barrister must accept any case offered. Regardless of personal feelings. It is an ancient rule. There to guarantee that an accused person will be defended, no matter how terrible the allegation. But such a rule demands Michael’s ability to be effective; the ability to fight any cause. It was the very talent that Daniel lacked.
The choice that had disappointed Daniel’s father was therefore inevitable. Daniel’s ability was bound to his morality. Which made him more suited to the life of a solicitor. A role that gave him the freedom he needed. Freedom to champion good causes. Freedom to turn away cases that offended his sense of justice. It was this life that Daniel had chosen fifteen years ago. A decision he had never regretted.
“Any plans for lunch?” Michael broke the short silence that had fallen between them.
“A fat sandwich and a fast car. It’s Harry’s Sports Day. Promised I’d be there for his race if his Uncle Mike got us out in time. You want to come? ”
“I think Uncle Mike’s done enough by getting you there, don’t you? Besides, I’d only be watching him lose if he’s anything like his old man!”
“Bollocks!” Daniel laughed in mock outrage. “I never had any trouble outrunning you!”
“Yeah, but that was then. I’ll give you a head start any time these days, you chubby bastard!”
Daniel laughed aloud. Conceding defeat. Michael was right. They had been equally athletic in their University days. But Daniel hadn’t kept himself in the same shape as his friend. This was only natural. Michael had no wife cooking him a meal each night. His life was entirely his own. Daniel sometimes envied that but knew he had the better deal. Even if it had caused his softening frame. He continued.
“So what’s more important than seeing your godson on the road to Olympic glory?”
“Just the usual,” Michael replied. “I’ve got a fraud trial starting in two weeks. I’m going to pick up the papers, head home and get some work done”.
“More work? After today? You’re joking, right?” Daniel did not hide the disbelief in his voice. “Mike, you need to get out more. Get a work-life balance. Come to the Sport’s Day, mate. Come cheer on Harry. You can check out his English teacher while you’re there.”
“I’m out enough,” Michael snapped. His irritation only half-feigned. He had taken Daniel’s bait. “And don’t you think you’ve got to set me up with women. I’m not passed it yet.”
Daniel laughed, but behind it was concern. Michael’s preoccupation with his career was beginning to worry his friend. Particularly the impact it was having on his personal life.
It was a far cry from their University days. Even from their 20’s. When they had made the most of their freedom. Both young. Both fit. Both successful. Michael was much the more handsome of the two. Daniel knew that. And that it had become more true in their late 30’s. Michael was tall and strong, with thick blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Classic good looks. Daniel was four or five inches shorter. Dusky-haired and, in his youth, a much more wiry build. Far from handsome in the traditional sense, it had never dented Daniel’s confidence. He was quick witted and charismatic. A personality that made up for his average features.
Their success at charming a stream of beautiful women had been enviable. But those days were gone. Both had settled down. Daniel to a happy marriage. To a contented family life and early middle-age spread. Michael had just as committed a relationship, but his was with his career. Daniel worried that this obsession would stop his friend from finding the right girl. Concerns that could be addressed another time.
It was not long before they had reached the bottom of Chancery Lane. The point they would go their separate ways.
“Wish Harry luck for me.” Michael stopped walking. Continued. “Get him to give me a call at home if he wins. And get me that teacher’s number too, would you? I guess a little help couldn't hurt.”
Daniel laughed a final time. Happy that his friend’s sensitivity did not run too deep. Already walking north Chancery Lane, Daniel’s own farewell was shouted over his shoulder.
“I will. And maybe Claire can invite her to dinner at our place! Don’t work too hard.”