20 MAY 1995, Page 27



Michael Argyle, the judge in the Oz

trial at the Old Bailey, finally answers his critics, especially Mr Mortimer QC

TWO CHEERS for dear old John Mor- timer of the Temple for his witty review (Books, 13 May) of the convict Richard Neville's book about, among other things, the Oz trial at the Old Bailey, of which I was the judge. Of course, if, like him and many others, you were and are on the side of the peddlers of porn magazines, soft drugs, terrorists and the rest, and so there- by were and still are under no threat, you can afford to be humorous, light-hearted and unworried about the victims. Unfortu- nately for John, he has as usual got it near- ly all wrong.

Yes, of course, there were crowds of demonstrators outside the court in the street, and I was burned in effigy. But behind the Oz magazine was a conspiracy of criminals who were selling it, together with soft drugs, at the entrances to state schools, youth clubs and such, and the stuff was pouring in by ship, in huge lorries from Scandinavia and the Low Countries. When these imports were at their height, a very senior American policeman, who spe- cialised in drug-related crime, was invited over to London to take a look at us. `You're about ten years behind us in the USA, but you're coming along nicely,' was his verdict.

When the accused were sent to prison,. the imports seemed to slacken. When the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed most of the convictions, the traffic picked up again. That was the last chance to put a stop to this type of crime. The same can be said about football hooligans; when the life sentence which I gave to the Chelsea 'fan' Kevin Whitton (now back in prison for another crime) was reduced to three years, we rapidly got Heysel, Hillsborough and repeated football riots, because the hooli- gans knew that they were fireproof from then on. The `fun' society so admired by John and his crew is one that has gone soft on crime, but also hellishly and mercilessly hard on victims. Ask anyone in the street the name of the present Lord Chief Jus- tice. After a few moments of embarrassed silence, he is quite likely to reply, 'Let's see, Lord Goddard's dead, isn't he?'

During the Oz trial I was accompanied 24 hours a day by three armed special branch officers. During the sitting of the court, a police dog-handler with an alsa- tian sat outside in the judges' corridor. Three more armed police lived in the house night and day for weeks, guarding my late wife and baby daughter Caroline (liter one of 'Pan's People'). These three officers drank all my whisky, but one was fond of birds and cared tenderly for Gus- tavus Aldophus, my pet yellow canary. Throughout the trial, from Mondays to Fridays, I stayed in a splendid suite at the top of the Savoy Hotel, overlooking the river. My three armed guards took the next-door room, and a fourth man was sta- tioned on the roof all night, in case anyone tried to abseil down through my windows.

One day a man called 'Kelly' was booked into the suite directly below mine. The chambermaid reported that he was carrying a huge amount of cash. When the hotel register was checked, it was found that he had given a false name and address. He was arrested, and the police tore down the ceiling of his suite beneath my bedroom, in case a bomb had been hidden there. Poor 'Kelly'l He had won the pools, and wanted to live it up in Lon- don for a couple 5f weeks without his fam- ily knowing.

At weekends; I stayed in the Carlton Club in St. James's Street. In the small hours of one Saturday morning, I was roused by a very senior Scotland Yard man, who informed me that there was an 'Er, excuse me, is this the gentleman I put on hold yesterday?' attempt afoot to kidnap me in London and my wife at home. The police surrounded the Carlton Club, to such an extent that the Secretary, who had been out 'on the tiles', was not even allowed into his own bedroom for some time. At home, Ann listened with her armed escorts to the police radio, as the police cars took up position, the railway level-crossing gates were closed, and even- tually the threat died away.

What wonderful fun for you and your friends, John! These experiences steeled my late wife Ann, half-Irish, half-Scottish, a cradle Catholic, and me in our hatred and total contempt for criminals, peddlers of porn and drugs, and for the democrat-Irish lobby in the United States, supported 'by the dreadful Kennedy family, who are so enraptured of the IRA. ..

John mentions George Melly. I well remember his testimony — his alleged homosexual activities in the Royal Navy anything to belittle Great Britain.

There was another witness for the defence — a voice which I can still hear on my little bedside radio in the small hours of the morning, until I quickly switch it off. This witness was boasting on oath about his past venereal disease. As he testified, he took one or two sips of water from the glass provided on the witness box. As he did this, my eyes met those of my senior court usher, the late and great John Mack- ett, formerly a WO Class 1 in the Royal Military Police. When I retired to my room at the next natural break, pausing to pat the alsatian and commiserate with his han- dler, I sent for John Mackett. 'I know why you sent for me, my Lord,' he said. 'I've already smashed that glass to pieces, and the next witness will have an uninfected glass.' If the late Marty Feldman did — as John Mortimer claims — call me a 'boring old fart', he must have whispered it to the press on his way out of court. Had I heard him, I would of course have dealt with him suit- ably on the spot.

No doubt, John, you and your friends had great fun in trying to ridicule a recently appointed Old Bailey judge. I was sus- tained by my wife, the wonderful staff at the Central Criminal Court, the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and the staff of the City of London, and by a very private and personal letter from the then Lord Chief Justice (a fellow-bencher of Lincoln's Inn) written before the judgments of the Court of Crim- inal Appeal. I took to going for my Holy Communion • on Sunday mornings to churches where I was unknown, in case my presence should upset anybody. And as I fell asleep during those dramatic weeks, I would think of fighting the SS alongside the Jewish brigade in the deep Italian snows, advancing across a valley carpeted with the dead through the Gothic line towards the crossroads in a village called Croce, where hung the figure with the sunken head and the helpless outstretched arms of the Redeemer of mankind.