Wheels of British justice - The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life - John le Carré

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life - John le Carré (2016)

Chapter 6. Wheels of British justice

In the mid-summer of 1963, an eminent West German lawmaker who was in my care in London as an official guest of Her Majesty’s government voiced a wish to see the wheels of British justice turning, and voiced it in the presence of no less a luminary than the Lord Chancellor of England himself, whose name was Dilhorne, but before that, Manningham-Buller - or, as his colleagues on the bench preferred to call him, Bullying Manner.

A Lord Chancellor is the member of the cabinet responsible for the management of the nation’s law courts. If political influence is to be brought to bear on a particular trial, which Heaven forbid, then the Lord Chancellor is the most likely person to do the job. The topic of our meeting, in which Dilhorne had displayed not an ounce of interest, had been the recruitment and training of young judges for the German bench. For my eminent German guest, this was a crucial matter affecting the future of the German legal profession in the wake of Nazism. For Lord Dilhorne it was a needless claim on his valuable time, and he let it show.

But as we rose to take our leave, he did at least manage to ask our guest, if perfunctorily, whether there was anything he could do to make his stay in Britain more agreeable: to which he replied - feistily, I’m pleased to say - yes, there was indeed something. He would like to look in on the criminal trial of Stephen Ward, charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler, whose part in the Profumo scandal I have described in an earlier chapter. Dilhorne, who had played a leading role in concocting the disgraceful case against Ward, coloured, and then through gritted teeth said, ‘Of course.’

And thus it was that a couple of days later my German guest and I found ourselves seated cheek by jowl in No. 1 Court at the Old Bailey, directly behind the accused Stephen Ward. His counsel was delivering some kind of final statement in defence of him, and the judge, whose hostility to Ward was matched only by that of the prosecuting counsel, was making it as hard for him as he could. I believe, but can no longer be certain, that Mandy Rice-Davies was sitting somewhere in the public gallery, but she has received so much publicity that my imagination may have put her there. Mandy, for those too young to have relished her refreshing contributions to the trial, was a model, dancer, showgirl and flatmate of Christine Keeler.

But I do remember with certainty the exhaustion in Ward’s face as, aware that we were some sort of VIPs, he turned to greet us: the fraught, aquiline profile, skin stretched tight, the rigid smile and exophthalmic eyes reddened and ringed with tiredness; and the husky smoker’s voice, playing it for nonchalance.

‘How’m I doing, you reckon?’ he asked suddenly of both of us at once.

You do not expect, as a rule, actors on stage to turn round and chat casually with you in the middle of a drama. Answering for both of us, I assured him that he was doing just fine, but I didn’t believe myself. A couple of days later, without waiting for the verdict, Ward killed himself. Lord Dilhorne and his fellow conspirators had got their man.