Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Great Defenders - Sir Patrick Hastings

Another of the Great Public Defenders was Sir Patrick Hastings, whose rise to prominence included a stint as the Attorney General for England & Wales.  His famous cases included "The Hooded Man" (John Williams), The Savidge Inquiry, in which a respected man was accused of public indecency with a woman, The Royal Mail case, Elvira Barney, and Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists.

    Patrick Gardiner Hastings was born on 17th March 1880, and he attended the famous and exclusive Charterhouse Private School until 1896, where his family mover to Europe.  Hastings developed a skill for horse riding and shooting which led him to being accepted into the Suffolk Imperial Yeomanry at the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa.  Later he returned to the UK where he worked as an engineer in Wales before moving to London and settling in the Middle Temple as a Law student in November 1901.  He qualified as a Barrister in June 1904.  His first major case was that of John Williams, charged with the murder of Police Inspector Arthur Walls in Eastbourne in 1912.  There were unsettling aspects of the case but Hastings was unable to save Williams.

    It was in 1919 that Hastings was now a fully qualified King`s Council(KC) that meant he was able to lead in any case for prosecution or defence. 1922 saw Hastings be elected Member of Parliament for Wallsend, and within two years was appointed Attorney General under the new Labour Government, but he inadvertently caused the downfall of the government when he authorised the "Campbell Case" which led to a political storm and the Government fell.  He resigned his post and as an MP and returned to working as a barrister.  Hastings disliked working on capital murder cases but it was in 1932 that he was approached by Sir John Mullins to defend his daughter Elvira Barney on a capital charge of murdering her lover in their Knightsbridge home.  Her lover was shot but Barney insisted it was an accident.  He took the brief after being persuaded by his wife, due to the fact that Elvira had the same governess as their children.

    Hastings cross-examined the Home Office pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury at the committal proceedings at a magistrates court but naturally such a charge usually goes to trial.  There followed a three day trial at the Old Bailey in which Hastings displayed his skills.  A firearms expert, Robert Churchill - first made a name in the case of John Williams - stated that the trigger of the gun required a heavy pull, ruling out an accidental squeeze of the trigger.  Hastings picked up the gun and repeatedly pulled the trigger, showing to the Jury that it appeared it did not.  A witness described Barney as being seen wielding her gun with her left hand.  Hastings had the gun placed in front of Barney when she went into the witness box, then after a pause told her to pick it up.  She did instantly with her right hand.  His closing speech was described later by the Judge, Mr Justice Humphreys, as one of the finest he had ever heard.  Elvira Barney was acquitted.  It has been claimed that after the trial, Hastings had a heavily bruised finger from pulling the trigger!

    Hastings continued working as a barrister but late in the 1940`s he suffered a couple of strokes that severely restricted him and he died on26th February 1952.