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Funny who you meet at a lawyer’s party in a butcher’s

16 November, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Jan Atkinson, Bridget Thompson, Mark Freedman, Stuart Kightley and Sophie Davies

IT was a party that made me think a lot – I heard of a solicitor who dropped dead at his desk, and came across a lawyer acting for the family of Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Labour politician who hanged himself last Tuesday.

It started when I was waving my arms like a bookie at a racecourse, shouting out, “partners, partners, this way” in the middle of the crowded party on Wednesday evening. Then I spotted a little grey-haired man coming towards me. “Ah!” I boomed, “you must be a partner!”

I should explain that I was looking for “partners” at the Camden Town law firm of Osbornes to arrange a photograph for my colleague. Osbornes were, strangely, holding the party to celebrate the opening of their new branch in Hampstead High Street in a butcher’s in Hampstead, Rosslyn Hill – to be exact, the posh Hampstead Butcher & Providore.

The man I spotted in fact wasn’t a partner.

“No,” he said, “I’m a solicitor for the Labour Party!”

Baffled, I forgot for a moment that the Labour Party would have solicitors on their staff. So, he added: “Yes, I’m acting for Carl Sargeant.”

Mr Sargeant, I knew, had killed himself after being suspended by the Labour Party over allegations about his behaviour with women.

“There’s little you can do for Mr Sargeant now,” I said sadly. “I’ve been thinking about his case,” I went on, “and it’s terrible – anyway I’m against any form of trial by newspapers for this sort of thing.”

Then I introduced myself and the solicitor looked a little pained and left hurriedly. I was a “hack”, and he probably had said too much anyway.

I had assumed the party would be held in Osbornes’ new offices but head of business development Chris Aubeeluck had the idea of staging it in the richly stocked butchers a few hundred yards away.

It was a gamble – but it paid off. Somehow, it gave the party extra zest especially as the shop became crowded with Osbornes’ staff as well as various members of the fraternity of solicitors and other well-wishers.

Also, accidentally, Osbornes’ partners – there are 18 of them – found out something about the founder of the company, William Osborne, who set it up in the 1940s in the spot where HSBC stands today next to Camden Town tube station. When it was bombed, Mr Osborne moved to Parkway. And it was at his Parkway desk that Mr Osborne – perhaps not for the first time for an overworked solicitor – actually dropped dead at his desk!

Reconstituted, the firm grew and moved to its present home in Pratt Street.

A guest had turned up at the party, John Wheeler, aged 82, who turned out to be William Osbornes’ nephew, and told me the story about his uncle.

As for the firm, it is now perhaps the biggest firm of solicitors in Camden Town with a staff of 100 – several newcomers have joined it in the past year.

John Wheeler

It specialises in personal injury, property, family law – and something that is becoming more important today, “surrogacy” and “fertility”.

Probably because more and more women are delaying having a family until they’ve had a go at a career, more couples than ever are having to turn to lawyers to help them settle surrogacy cases.

It seems many couples make arrangements for their new babies in parts of the US where it can cost as much as £100,000 or, more cheaply, in the Ukraine or Georgia. Either way, lawyers have to be involved. It’s a bit of a booming field for law firms. Just shows you – even in the middle of a recession life goes on, and things can boom.

As I was reflecting on this, I looked around and saw the Labour Party lawyer putting on his coat and leaving. “Sorry, I have to dash, I need to get home,” he said. No doubt he had to make phone calls and send emails on the ever-troubling and tragic case of Carl Sargeant.


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