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The Shipman files Monday, 31 January, 2000, 16:49 GMT
Judge credited with thorough job
Justice Forbes displayed sensitivity and kindness
There was nothing light hearted about the trial of Harold Shipman, but the presiding judge skilfully managed to raise a smile a few times.

Just occasionally Sir Justice Thayne John Forbes would wrap up a heavy day by telling the jury of his plans to relax with a drink.

Or send them away on a Friday afternoon by letting slip his thoughts for unwinding over the weekend, mindful perhaps of his fifth grandchild, who was born during the proceedings.

It wasn't much, but amid the dense gloom of courtroom one at Preston Crown Court, it was like a rush of mountain air.
Sir Justice Thayne Forbes arriving at Preston Crown Court
Elsewhere though Justice Forbes rigorously applied his characteristic eye for detail.

His two weeks spent summing up for the jury at the end of the trial might have seemed excessive, but he is known as one of the most meticulous and thorough judges in the country.

Keen to avoid an appeal

This perhaps helps explain why none of his convictions have been successfully appealed against since he became a judge in 1993.

He made every effort not to push Shipman too far, showing sensitivity and offering him breaks during the defendant's long stretch in the witness box.
Justice Thayne Forbes
Born: June 1938
Educated: University College London
Instructor Lieutenant Royal Navy 1963-6
Called to the Bar in 1966
Made Queens Council in 1984
Circuit Judge 1990-3
Made a High Court Judge in 1993
After a particularly harrowing session, he would not hesitate to adjourn for lunch or cut short the day's hearing.

Initially in the case, the defence had argued the sheer weight of evidence would confuse a jury and the case ought to have been split into several trials.

It appeared Justice Forbes was intent on cutting off all avenues to an appeal.

"He's been really, really kind to members of the jury and if he's going to make a joke he directs it at them," said BBC reporter Allan Urry.

He also took tough measures to guard against any charge of contempt that might have been pounced on.

In one instance he ordered the station manager of a local radio station before the court after a presenter referred to the case on air and began to chant "guilty, guilty".

In another incidence an American journalist was hauled before the judge after she attempted to sound out jury members during their lunch break - a practice that is common in the US.

And the judges frantic note taking won him the respect of many a shorthand journalist, and helped him keep right on top of the evidence.

Justice of the High Court
The judge made every effort not to push Shipman too far
Justice Forbes, 61, has been the presiding judge on the Northern Circuit since 1995. Born on the Isle of Wight and educated at University College London, he served in the Royal Navy for three years before he was called to the Bar in 1966.

As a barrister in London he concentrated on civil cases that often demanded a highly technical insight.

"He has a very good eye for detail," says one former collegue who shared chambers with him for almost 20 years. "He's very thorough and he has a very high sense of public duty."

Appointed a Queens Council in 1984, he was a circuit judge from 1990-93 before becoming a justice of the High Court.

Last year he presided over the case of Darren Vickers in Manchester Crown Court. Bus driver and paedophile Vickers was found guilty of murdering eight-year-old Jamie Lavis.

In 1998 he was judge at the trial of Paul Seddon, who was found guilty of shooting dead five-year-old Dillon Hull in a bungled assassination attempt in Bolton.

His former colleague defends him against the charge that most judges are out of touch with real life.

"I would have to say that of all the judges I know he is the one that least fits that slightly pejorative stereotype. He takes a keen interest in all kinds of things. He has brought up three children." Indeed, during his days at the Bar he ran free legal advice sessions in London's East End.

Much of Justice Forbes's time is spent hearing appeals and clarifying points of law.

For example, in 1994 he was one of two judges to hear a case that involved European election candidate Richard Huggett.

The Liberal Democrats had taken issue with Mr Huggett who stood in the Devon and East Plymouth seat as a Literal Democrat. Justice Forbes ruled Mr Huggett's candidature was perfectly legal.

Outside of the courtrooms, Justice Forbes finds relaxation in hobbies such as sailing his boat Scimitar off the south coast of England, bird watching, astronomy, opera and bee-keeping.

Find out more about the Shipman murders

Trial and reaction

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See also:

31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
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