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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 19:45 GMT
Courtroom king Carman dies
George Carman QC
George Carman built up a fearsome reputation
George Carman QC, one of Britain's best known and respected libel lawyers, has died aged 71.

His son made the announcement on Tuesday, almost four months after Mr Carman retired and revealed he had been battling prostate cancer for more than three years.

The Blackpool-born barrister, described as the most fearsome lawyer in Britain, acted as counsel in a string of high-profile libel cases following a successful period as a criminal lawyer.

He was famous for his formidable cross-examination technique which is said to have left those who experienced it quaking in the witness box.

He made the law seem interesting, which it isn't, and he played his part with enormous relish

Ian Hislop
Private Eye editor
Dominic Carman said his father was a small man, but added: "With his stage as a courtroom and his audience as the jury he was a giant among men."

Mr Carman's close friend Karen Philips, speaking from his home in Wimbledon, south-west London, said the news was very sad.

"We have been expecting it. I am just glad that he has gone quickly and he has not suffered at all and it's been very very peaceful."

Peter Carter Ruck, one of the foremost solicitors specialising in libel cases, said one of the keys to Mr Carman's success was his use of "plain, simple, understable English" and his ability to surprise those he was cross-examining.

Sympathy of the court

Mr Carter Ruck, who engaged Mr Carman's services on a number of occasions, said: "The Gillian Taylforth case was a particular example where he produced a videotape in court which was very compromising."

But Mr Carter Ruck also maintained that Mr Carman was "courteous" in court, saying: "Even if he was cross-examining the witness he engaged the sympathy of the court rather than any sympathy extending to the witness.

"If you have an agressive cross examiner sometimes a jury will lean towards that witness in sympathy."

Ian Hislop, editor of the Private Eye magazine which he often represented, said Mr Carman was the first libel lawyer to understand the importance of convincing the jury rather than the judge.

"He was also almost fantastically lucky - he always had a surprise, an ace up his sleeve.

"He made the law seem interesting, which it isn't, and he played his part with enormous relish."

Fearsome lawyer

Mr Carman first came to prominence nationally with the successful defence of Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe in his Old Bailey trial on conspiracy to murder charges in 1979.

He enjoyed considerable fame as a libel lawyer, notably recently representing the Guardian against the former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken and Mohamed al-Fayed in his libel case victory against former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton.

Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan Aitken: Faced Carman across the courtroom
He represented The Sun newspaper when EastEnders actress Gillian Taylforth unsuccessfully sued it for claiming she and Geoff Knights had performed sexual acts on an A1 slip road.

He also represented Richard Branson in his libel battle with American lottery chief Guy Snowden.

George Carman entered a seminary at the age of 14 with the intention of becoming a priest.

But he took up a scholarship to Oxford after National Service in the Army, and was called to the Bar in 1953.

He started to practise on the Northern Circuit before moving south. Mr Carman was three times married and three times divorced.

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