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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Victims of the 'silver fox'
George Carman graphic
The sigh of relief from old adversaries was palpable as George Carman announced his retirement. BBC News Online looks back at the cases which made him into a legal legend.

George Carman had been practising law for 26 years but became an overnight success in 1979.

Born and brought up in Blackpool, he began work on the Northern Circuit but moved south in the 1960s in a search for more rewarding casework.

Although his name is now forever linked with libel cases, he first came to prominence in a criminal trial and has achieved notable successes away from the libel courts.

In 1979 the Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, plucked him from relative obscurity to defend him against a charge of conspiracy to murder his former lover Norman Scott.

Jeremy Thorpe
Jeremy Thorpe: His case made Carman's name
In his closing speech he told the jury: "In his time Mr Thorpe has won millions of votes from people in this country, but now come the 12 most precious votes of all."

He went round them, moving his eyes and finger to each juror - "yours", "yours", and "yours".

It was high drama, some would say melodrama. But it worked.

Thorpe's political career was finished but Mr Carman won his acquittal and legal eagles took notice.

Two years later came what Mr Carman still believes is his finest moment - the acquittal of paediatrician Dr Leonard Arthur, who had been charged with the murder of a three-day-old Down's Syndrome baby.

'Good doctors do not turn away'

Dr Arthur's defence was that he had allowed the baby to die as humanely as possible by deciding not to treat its pneumonia.

Mr Carman told the jury: "He could, like Pontius Pilate, have washed his hands of the matter. He did not, because good doctors do not turn away.

"Are we to condemn him as a criminal because he helped two people at the time of their greatest need? Are we to condemn a doctor because he cared?'"

Ken Dodd
Ken Dodd celebrates his acquittal in 1989
In 1989, having rescued comic Ken Dodd from accusations of tax evasion, Mr Carman quipped: "Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants."

South African journalist Jani Allan was unable to persuade a jury she had not slept with the white supremacist leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.

Under intense questioning by Mr Carman, she told him: "Whatever award is given for libel, being cross-examined by you would not make it enough money."

His retirement comes only months after one of his greatest victories, the cash-for-questions case.

'Behaved like an ostrich'

After one of the most bruising encounters ever seen in a libel court, Mr Carman's client, Mohamed al-Fayed, walked away happy while his adversary former MP Neil Hamilton was a crushed, and financially ruined, wreck.

In his closing speech - an essential text for any budding lawyer, Mr Carman told the jury: "Truth and honesty have all been sacrificed on the altar of self-preservation.

"He (Mr Hamilton) has learned to be deceitful and learned to conceal matters in terms of his financial affairs.

"It is with regret that one has to say this, but say to you in all seriousness, that the evidence in this case establishes that this former honourable member has been demonstrated in this court to have no honour left.'"

Another of Carman's victims, David Mellor, was described as having "behaved like an ostrich and put his head in the sand, thereby exposing his thinking parts".

Representing the News of the World, being sued for libel by the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, Sonia Sutcliffe, Carman said: "She danced on the graves of her husband's victims.

Sonia Sutcliffe
Sonia Sutcliffe was accused of "dancing on the graves" of her husband's victims
"She is a clever, confident, cold and calculating woman. She has sought to excite sympathy at every available opportunity in the witness box. The truth and Sonia do not make good bed-fellows."

In 1997 he cross-examined the prime minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong, who was suing a leading light of that country's opposition, J B Jeyaretnam.

Carman said Mr Goh paid lip-service to democratic freedoms of speech, press and opposition, but added: "There comes a point where you adopt them for your own purposes to stay in power and stifle opposition."

Ball tampering affair

In 1996 cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan hired Mr Carman to defend him in a libel case brought by England cricketing legends Ian Botham and Alan Lamb.

Botham and Lamb attempted to sue Khan after he said illegal ball tampering was common among fast bowlers.

They also sued him over a newspaper article in which he allegedly accused them of racism, being uneducated and lacking class and upbringing. Botham and Lamb lost.

He acted for Elton John against the Sunday Mirror over an untrue story that the singer was hooked on a "don't swallow and get thin" diet which was a form of bulimia.

John was awarded 350,000 damages, which was eventually reduced to 75,000 by the Court of Appeal.

He also won the acquittal of Coronation Street actor Peter Adamson (who played Len Fairclough) on charges of indecently assaulting young girls. Adamson later "confessed" to the News of the World.

Gillian Taylforth
Gillian Taylforth: Lost her case against The Sun
One of his most famous cases involved EastEnders' Gillian Taylforth, who unsuccessfully sued The Sun in 1994 for claiming she and Geoff Knights had performed sexual acts on an A1 slip road.

Mr Carman, representing the Sun, was at his vicious best.

He made his case day by day, using props such as a home-made video at a party during which Miss Taylforth showed off a "party trick" involving a large sausage.

One of his most celebrated cases was in defence of The Guardian newspaper when disgraced former minister Jonathan Aitken took a libel suit against it.

Aitken dropped his action on the eve of the trial, after documents were produced from the Ritz Hotel in Paris revealing discrepancies about his stay.

The former minister was later charged with perjury and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

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29 Aug 00 | UK
Libel lawyer Carman retires
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