The Reading Room

Jeremy Hutchinson’s Defence of Christine Keeler

Thomas Grant’s new book and appearance at the Lincoln Book Festival…

tgThomas Grant QC (opposite) has written a very engaging book on one of England’s greatest criminal barrister’s of the last century. Jeremy Hutchinson, who celebrated his one hundredth birthday in March of this year features in many of the great legal trials of the 1960s, 70s and early 1980s including the defence of the Soviet spy George Blake, the Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson, a quite incredible defence of Howard Marks and the unforgettable Christine Keeler.

Thomas Grant reveals how Hutchinson saw societal change for what it was and the approach of a ‘new dawn’ in sexual freedom and expression. Despite being very much a part of the establishment he defended those who sought to move out from under the blanket of a suppressive attitude to literature, cinema and the arts and, as in the case of Christine Keeler, ignored public opinion and offered a fair minded and considered appraisal of a young woman catapulted from teenage irrelevance into a worldwide phenomenon.

It is a fascinating book which details a remarkable life led by a remarkable man. Each of the cases covered offer an insight into the circumstance leading up to the court appearance and the dramas which would unfold thereafter. Having heard Thomas Grant discuss the Keeler/Profumo affair and then read the chapter dedicated to it one cannot help but appreciate Hutchinson’s position and his steadfast approach to a case which defined the British class system in the 1960s.

What I found most interesting was the approach Hutchinson took to defending Keeler who was near guaranteed a custodial sentence at the end of the trial. Hutchinson argued that regardless of the hype and the truths and untruths told as to who Keeler did and didn’t sleep with, here was a young woman whose start in life could not have been much worse than it was. In Hutchinson’s view the public image of Keeler was in stark contrast to the reality of someone used and abused by those at the top of the social ladder and whilst nobody would suggest she was wholly innocent she was a product of the times and used as such.

When one recollects the case there is a tendency to fall into one of two camps in the assessment of Keeler and her part in the scandal. Many painted her as an opportunist who manipulated the situation for her own ends and to a degree that is correct but it is also not entirely fair. To consider Keeler in the round one must remember the astonishing level of public interest in the case. Her life was turned upside down and everyone wanted a bit of her. It is not unreasonable therefore for Keeler to expect some financial gain from a media circus which was feeding lucratively from her for months afterwards and Grant raises the issue of public envy towards her via Rebecca West’s account of the trial. In the book he quotes West’s appraisal of a public screaming for Keeler’s head whilst privately resenting her beauty, lifestyle and sexual freedom.

She was hounded by the public and the press wherever she went and that pressure was summed up perfectly by Hutchinson in his closing statement to the court when he urged the judge to resist giving the public ‘their pound of flesh’ and to Keeler’s surprise her inevitable sentence was far more lenient than she expected. Whatever our thoughts may be on Keeler it was a quite incredible episode in British history and one in which there were no winners, least of all Keeler, who, even in her seventies is still subject to press intrusion and comparisons to her looks now to that as a twenty year old.

Thomas Grant’s book demonstrates Hutchinson’s remarkable foresight and understanding of a public and a media we have come to deserve.



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