Sunday, 18 August 2013

Laurence Dowdall - The Great Pleader

Scotland, and in particular, Glasgow, has had great lawyers, involved mainly in criminal defence, that they have achieved legendary status.  These include Joe Beltrami, Nicholas Fairbairn, Donald Finlay, and in particular, Laurence Dowdall.  His long standing reputation was such that a joke was made that when nazi leader Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland in 1941, to allegedly talk a peace pact between Britain & Germany, that when apprehended by the authorities he immediately said "Get me Dowdall!"

    He was a lawyer who made certain that he knew his cases inside out and that he was very skilful in the courtroom.  He used subtle tricks to damage prosecution cases, without nastiness, and indeed, one time he blew up a condom and let it float around the jury, helping destroy the prosecution on a point.   He also was legendary for his sense of humour, which he realised could subtly influence a jury.  He was unfailingly polite at all times, and attributes like these made him respected throughout the criminal justice system.

    He helped in the defence of the Policeman killer James Robertson, who was executed in 1950 for killing his girlfriend, by running her down in his car, then reversing over her to make sure.  Robertson, who was married, refused to acknowledge the deceased, Miss McCluskey, was his mistress.  He did not want to cause any grief for his wife by publicly admitting adultery.  Dowdall tried to convince him to come clean and he believed it could help him avoid the noose but he refused.  According to one of the guards who helped take him to the execution chamber, Robertson was happy that he never betrayed his wife in public.

    Dowdall also helped in the defence of serial killer Peter Manuel, and tried to get his mother to press him for a guilty due to insanity plea, but she insisted he was not mentally unfit.  Manuel was hanged at Barlinnie Jail on 11th July 1958.  Dowdall retired late in life but at the age of 86 he went back into the legal profession, though not appearing in court.  He died in 1996, and many old Glasgow villains remembered him as a man who used mitigation a lot to reduce sentences, hence "The Great Pleader".