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George Carman

George Alfred Carman, QC (6 October 1929 – 2 January 2001) was a leading English barrister during the 1980s and 1990s. He first came to the attention of the general public in 1979, when he successfully defended the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe after he was charged with conspiracy to murder. Carman had been appointed as a Queen's Counsel (QC) eight years previously. He later became known for appearing in a series of prominent criminal cases and libel cases.

George Carman
Born George Alfred Carman
(1929-10-06)6 October 1929
Blackpool, Lancashire, England
Died 2 January 2001(2001-01-02) (aged 71)
London, England
Cause of death Prostate cancer
Nationality British
Alma mater Balliol College, University of Oxford
Occupation Barrister
Spouse(s) Ursula Groves (1955-1960)
Cecilia Sparrow (1960-1976)
Frances Venning (1976-1984)
Children Dominic Carman
Parent(s) Alfred George Carman and Evelyn (née Moylan) Carman


Early lifeEdit

Carman was born in Blackpool, the son of Alfred George Carman and Evelyn (née Moylan) Carman. His father, a former soldier and auctioneer, briefly owned a furniture business, and his mother, the family's main breadwinner, owned a successful dress shop.[1][2]

His parents met in Ireland; his mother was the daughter of a Waterford cattle dealer, Michael Moylan.[3] Irish hurling player Christy Moylan was an uncle. George attended St Joseph's College in Blackpool, run by Christian Brothers from Ireland, and a Roman Catholic seminary, St Joseph's College, Upholland, where he trained to be a priest, and became head boy.[citation needed]

Only 5'5" tall, after national service as a captain in the Royal Army Education Corps, Carman went on to study at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1949. At Oxford, he befriended Jeremy Thorpe. Carman graduated in 1952 with a first-class honours degree in jurisprudence (law); the future law lord Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson also achieved a first in law at Oxford that year.

Early careerEdit

Called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1953, he came top in his law finals exam and won the certificate of honour. He was a pupil barrister at the chambers of Neil Lawson at 1 Harcourt Buildings and then practised as a barrister on the Northern Circuit in Manchester, based at the chambers of Godfrey Heilpern QC at 60 King Street, later 47 Peter Street, doing mostly criminal and personal injury work.

Carman was made a Queen's Counsel in 1971, and moved to Byrom Street chambers, with a London seat at 5 Essex Court in the Temple. A year later, he was appointed as a Recorder, a part-time judicial role.[3] He resigned as a Recorder in 1984.

He defended the manager of Battersea Fun Fair in 1973, when he was accused of manslaughter after a big dipper ride malfunctioned in May 1972, resulting in the deaths of five children. This case brought him to the attention of the London solicitor Sir David Napley, who instructed him to represent Jeremy Thorpe, the former Leader of the Liberal Party. In 1979, after successfully defending Thorpe, who was charged alongside three other men with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder Norman Scott in a case which became the cause célèbre of the decade, he became involved in several significant criminal trials during the 1980s. He practised exclusively from London chambers after June 1980.

Criminal casesEdit

In 1981, he defended Dr Leonard Arthur, a consultant paediatrician, which he would later see as his proudest moment. He later said of Arthur who had been accused of murdering a Down's syndrome baby: "He was a very dedicated doctor and clearly a kind and moral man who had done much good for thousands of mothers in this country - hundreds of whom wrote to him and sent flowers during the trial. His acquittal by the jury, very quickly, is the moment in my career which has given me the greatest pleasure".[4] In 1981, he accepted an appointment to the High Court in Hong Kong, but later declined after changing his mind following the Arthur case.[citation needed]

In 1982, he was defence counsel for Geoffrey Prime, a British spy who sold and disclosed information to the Soviet Union and also indecently assaulted young girls. Prime was sentenced to 38 years in prison. In 1983, he represented the family of Roberto Calvi at the second inquest into his death, after Calvi's body had been found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in June 1982. The original verdict of suicide was overturned by an open verdict.[citation needed] Also in 1983, he successfully defended the Coronation Street actor, Peter Adamson, who was charged with indecently assaulting two eight-year-old girls in a public swimming pool in Haslingden where he had assisted as a part-time instructor.[citation needed]

On 26 July 1983, a Crown Court jury found Adamson not guilty. In 1989, he successfully defended the British comedian Ken Dodd on charges of tax evasion, famously saying "Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants." He also successfully represented Carole Richardson, one of the Guildford Four, in October 1989, when their murder convictions for IRA terrorism were overturned by the Court of Appeal. In 1991, Sir David Napley retained Carman to advise and defend Greville Janner, later Lord Janner, in the event of charges being brought against him. Both men were astonished Janner was not charged, according to Dominic Carman, the barrister's son.[5]

Libel casesEdit

During the 1990s, he appeared in many prominent libel trials on behalf of British newspapers, including the successful defence of The Guardian against a libel case brought by the Conservative politician, Jonathan Aitken. He became known for his celebrity clients, attracting headlines for his robust cross-examination, colourful one-liners in court and for winning difficult cases against seemingly insurmountable odds. When called back to Manchester in 1991 to save the legendary Haçienda nightclub from the threat of police closure he soon found the problem: the proclamations of owner Tony Wilson. It was reported that his opening advice was "Gentlemen, shut that loudmouth up!"[6]

Carman's reputation was built through representing The News of the World against Sonia Sutcliffe, The Sun against Gillian Taylforth, Sir Elton John against Mirror Group Newspapers, Sir Richard Branson in cases against British Airways and GTech, Imran Khan against fellow former cricketers, Sir Ian Botham and Allan Lamb, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman against Express Newspapers, and Mohamed Al-Fayed against Neil Hamilton, as well as his representation of Channel 4 when they were sued for libel by South African journalist, Jani Allan.[7]

Carman was head of chambers of New Court, Temple for twenty years before the chambers dissolved in January 2000, when he joined 4-5 Grays Inn Square for the last eight months of his career. He announced his retirement from the Bar on 29 August 2000.[citation needed]

Personal lifeEdit

Carman was married and divorced three times. He married Ursula Groves in 1955; they separated in 1958 and were divorced in 1960. He then married Cecilia Sparrow in July 1960, with whom he had one son, Dominic. They separated in 1973 and divorced in 1976. He married Frances Venning in March 1976; they separated in 1983 and divorced in 1984.[1] In later life, his companion was Karen Phillipps. He appeared as a guest on the BBC's Desert Island Discs in June 1990.

His son Dominic Carman[2] wrote the controversial biography No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman in 2002 and stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate in Barking for the 2010 General election and at the Barnsley Central by-election, 2011.[citation needed]


He suffered with prostate cancer for several years, and died on 2 January 2001,[8] in Merton in southwest London.

According to an obituary published a week later in The Lawyer, on 9 January 2001: Known as "Gorgeous George", he was thought of by many as one of the most difficult men in the legal profession, with a somewhat brash and even obnoxious persona. Brought up as a Roman Catholic, his funeral was held at Westminster Cathedral with a memorial service at St Clement Danes.

Get CarmanEdit

In April 2002, the BBC broadcast the biographical drama Get Carman: The Trials of George Carman QC starring David Suchet as Carman, Lisa Maxwell as Gillian Taylforth, Douglas Reith as Jonathan Aitken and Sarah Berger as Jani Allan.[9]


  1. ^ a b Morton, James (3 January 2001). "George Carman obituary". The Independent. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  2. ^ a b "George Carman: The Bar's 'silver fox'". 2 January 2001. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Carman, Dominic (24 January 2002). No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. ISBN 0-340-82098-5. 
  4. ^ Sweeney, John (19 December 1999). "Brief encounters - George Carman". The Observer. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  5. ^ Joe Mills "Judge who reviewed Lord Janner child sex abuse case was friend of peer's barrister",, 25 April 2015.
  6. ^ "Back to the Factory". The Guardian. 12 January 2000. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  7. ^ A HAM THAT CAN'T BE CURED,, 21 August 1992.
  8. ^ Verkaik, Robert (3 January 2001). "Britain's most-feared lawyer, George Carman, dies at 71". The Independent. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  9. ^ "Get Carman: The Trials of George Carman". Internet Movie Database. 5 April 2002. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 


  • Michael Beloff, "Carman, George Alfred (1929–2001)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2005; online edn, Jan 2011; accessed 3 June 2014.(subscription required)

Further readingEdit

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