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A day in the life of a court artist
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

Carlos the Jackal, Lord Archer, game show cheats - Julia Quenzler has drawn them all in her two decades as the BBC's court illustrator.

Mary and Jeffrey Archer [copyright Julia Quenzler, NO REUSE WITHOUT PERMISSION]

Julia Quenzler never draws a line in court. She, and the handful of other court artists working in the UK, are prevented from doing so by an Act of Parliament dating back to 1925.

Instead, she writes brief notes to herself about the hair, facial features, clothing and body language of the main players, before scuttling off to the press room to commit the image to paper.

"It's all done from memory; I rarely refer to the notes unless there are many defendants in the dock and I need to remind myself if Number Three had a blue or white shirt on," Mrs Quenzler says.

The only people she's barred from faithfully representing are the jurors. "Instead I do the backs of their heads - even that I make up so there's no risk of identifying them."

She always watches for the defendant's reaction - if any - to the verdict. "It's nice to be able to capture that."

And demeanour, posture and body language can be very revealing. She recalls Maxine Carr's pre-trial hearing via a video link from prison, during which the woman accused of giving Soham murderer Ian Huntley an alibi became visibly distressed. "And she was wearing a Daffy Duck shirt; that was an amazing image."

American tradition

Mrs Quenzler's career as a court artist started in California, and on her return to the UK in the early 1980s, she set about persuading the BBC to take her on.

Julia Quenzler's court drawings

"I rang the newsroom, Newsnight, Panorama and the answer was the same: 'We don't do that sort of thing in England.' But I kept plugging away, and got an interview with Ron Neil, the then head of Newsnight. He sent me on a job the very next day."

And when Mr Neil was appointed head of news and current affairs, court drawings became a staple of TV bulletins.

Since then, her assignments have taken her across the UK - and abroad - to capture notable trials for the BBC. Her subjects have included General Pinochet during his extradition hearing; the Princess Royal, in the dock after her dog attacked two children; and the Lockerbie bombers.

"The job I found the most horrific was the James Bulger case. It was so heart-breaking because the accused were boys themselves. I heard things during that case that I still can't get out of my mind."

GP Harold Shipman [copyright Julia Quenzler, NO REUSE WITHOUT PERMISSION]
Harold Shipman in the dock
Also emotionally draining was the Harold Shipman case, in which the GP was convicted of killing 15 of his elderly patients. It was too close to home, as two years beforehand her own mother had died in hospital, a death which sparked a police investigation.

"And then there are trials like the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? cheats - that was pure fun. It's always good to have a trial like that after a particularly nasty one."

But how long will court drawings be around for? Aside from the prospect of cameras being allowed in courts, some TV bulletins have this week been using a virtual courtroom for their coverage of Sion Jenkins' murder appeal with photographs of Jenkins, the court officials and witnesses.

"I think it's a step backwards rather than forwards - they were using photos before I came on the scene 20 years ago, and drawings proved to be far more revealing. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?"

All images are copyright of Julia Quenzler and cannot be reproduced without the artist's permission.


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