Peter Stubbs, who travelled from his home in Bakewell and was warmly welcomed by an audience of 48 members, is no stranger to Stumperlowe Probus Club. This was his fifth visit to us in just over two years.
Peter is a man of many parts, and talents. On his first visit he managed to cram 900 years of legal history into just over an hour. Then, after three talks on his other big passion in life, naval history, Peter reverted to the day job to entertain us with stories of a selection of the characters – ranging from the colourful to the scary – he represented during his 35-year career as a criminal lawyer in Sheffield.
It was, as he pointed out in his introduction, a story of his life in crime, not his life of crime. “My own crime record is modest,” he assured us. “I had a bit of a penchant for parking on yellow lines on shopping trips, and I also managed to pick up one or two speeding offences.
“In my early 20s I was coming back from a night out in London, the following morning, when an ‘Inspector Morse’ Jaguar overtook me and flagged me down, and in Sheffield many years later I was on Rivelin Valley Road when out jumped a policeman with a speed gun who told me I was doing 38mph just after the 40 limit had changed to 30.” The fact that he was on his way to work – in fact to York Crown Court – cut no ice with the zealous officer.
Peter’s career began in 1978, and his practicing certificate as a solicitor was signed by Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls for 20 years up to 1982 and one of the most famous names in British legal history.
Although Peter’s practice in Sheffield was a general one, a large proportion of his work was involved with crime. “It was interesting and at times exciting, and often quite fun,” he recalled. “But what I might think was fun was serious business.”
Cases, perhaps not surprisingly in Sheffield, included handling stolen scrap metal. Another regular client had set up a bogus building business and was caught stealing lead from the roof of a bay window. “It turned out they had done about 60 houses; he was found guilty and went to prison. He just accepted it as a hazard of the job.”
Petty crime often ran in families, who would be Peter’s clients for ten years or more. He felt sorry for one lady, who was proud that one of her sons had reached the age of 16 without being ‘done,’ only to catch his brothers up with alarming speed as he worked his way up the criminal ladder.
Today, all police interviews must be recorded, with both sound and video, but it was not always the case. “In the old days, one of the officers would sit at the table taking notes, and it was not unknown for some of the evidence to be made up. Police are no different to anybody else, and sometimes they break the rules.”
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act has largely countered that, and today all evidence must be recorded.
Peter was acting for a man who had been accused of assaulting a police officer one Friday night on Attercliffe Road, but fortunately for his client there were three people having an Indian meal by the window in a restaurant who saw what happened and claimed that it was the police officer who assaulted the accused. They went to the police station, where the police did not take evidence but were obliged to pass the witnesses’ details on to Peter.
Peter recalled a lady called Violet, who would more appropriately have been called Violent, who lived in Attercliffe and was well known to police. She got into an argument in a pub with a fellow customer who was not physically injured but dropped down dead with a heart attack. Violet was charged with threatening behaviour, but later claimed that the investigating officer had sexually assaulted her. “I found that hard to believe, knowing Violet, but she claimed to have evidence” (which turned out to be a sample of semen wrapped in cling film, which Peter felt duty bound to take home and store in his freezer).
“The investigating officer ran a defence of consent, which was accepted, although he was dismissed because of unprofessional conduct.”
Murder was all in a day’s work for Peter, and he gave us examples of some of his more memorable cases. In the first, a husband had claimed that his wife had killed their daughter and then tried to throw herself under a bus. She was charged with murder, but an expert on pre-menstrual tension gave evidence which resulted in the woman being committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Another client, a bus driver in Sheffield, had been arrested on suspicion of murdering his girlfriend, who was found dead with her throat cut on the floor of her flat at Park Hill. The only evidence against him was from the man’s aggrieved wife, who claimed that he had admitted to killing the victim. The accused was able to prove “beyond doubt,” according to Peter, that he was several miles away at the time of the murder, driving his bus on the other side of Sheffield, but the jury found him guilty by 10 to two and he received a life sentence. The wife later admitted to Peter that she had lied, but an appeal was dismissed and the bus driver died in prison four years later from a heart attack.
The last murder case involved a long standing client, for whom Peter’s practice had previously done conveyancing work, who told his partner that he had voices in his head telling him to kill people. She took him to hospital where they sought psychiatric help, but they were sent on their way.
The following day the man confided to his wife: “Actually, the voices were telling me to kill you, but I didn’t want to tell you last night.” He later stabbed his partner 30 or 40 times and was charged with murder, although he offered a plea of manslaughter which was accepted.
Peter rounded off his presentation by taking questions from the floor. One member asked if he watched TV detective programmes. “All the time,” he admitted. “I’m retired after 35 years, and I am watching Inspector Morse! It’s ridiculous! But they are meticulously done.”