Extract: The Trial by Rob Rinder
When hero policeman Grant Cliveden is dramatically poisoned to death in the Old Bailey, it threatens to shake the country to its core. The evidence points to one man: Jimmy Knight. He’s been convicted of multiple offences before, so defending him will be no easy task. Not least because this is trainee barrister Adam Green’s first case.
But it quickly becomes clear that Jimmy Knight is not the only person in Cliveden’s past with an axe to grind. The only thing that’s certain is that this is a trial which will push Adam – and the justice system itself – to the limit…
Read on for the opening chapters of The Trial by Rob Rinder!
It was the day he was going to die, but Detective Inspector Grant Cliveden didn’t know it yet. The events of the morning had been strange, certainly, but now the sun was shining, he was striding down Fleet Street towards the Old Bailey and feeling quietly confident that everything would go his way. Athletically built, with the kind of good looks which, if not quite Hollywood level, were of soap heartthrob standard at least, DI Cliveden adjusted the gleaming buttons of his dress uniform and straightened his tie. At his level in the hierarchy, you didn’t have to wear uniform for court appearances, but he always liked to, and his boss was more than happy to allow it. To him, being a police officer was a vocation, and a noble one at that, and he wanted the world to know the pride he took in his work. Of course, it also served to make him more conspicuous, and he became aware of a group of teenagers on a school trip who were excitedly pointing at him from across the road. He gave them a friendly wave. That documentary about his rescue of the late Queen from an attempted assassination must have been repeated on Channel 4 again; all the old royal shows had been getting a fresh airing since the monarch had passed away the previous September. And, of course, his face had been splashed through a load of the memorial supplements too: a supporting character in a pivotal moment in royal history.
That was all a long time ago now though. Royal protection was his past; serious crime was his present and, God willing, his future. As he’d told Susanna Reid on the Good Morning Britain sofa when he was asked to talk through the police’s new crime strategy, it was an honour to go from protecting one individual who represented the values of our great society to protecting society itself. He grinned as he remembered how her eyes had shone with admiration as he’d delivered his solemn vow of service; God, he’d always fancied her. The producers had fancied him, too, offering him a regular slot that they were going to call ‘Good Cop Britain’, or something. He’d turned them down, of course; policing was much more valuable.
Today he was due in court as the key police witness in another high-profile case – this one involving a nasty gang of teenage thugs. Thanks to the weapons and drugs he’d personally discovered during searches of the little shits’ residences, he knew they had them bang to rights. The trial still had some way to go, but DI Cliveden was already mentally chalking it up as another win – well, four really, if you counted each of the defendants separately. That meant his personal tally for the calendar year had already hit fifty. He felt a shiver of pride – ever since he’d hit the headlines again last year, after recovering London’s biggest ever haul of cocaine, he knew the public’s eyes were on him. And he wasn’t about to let them down.
The faces of his two children floated unbidden into his mind, as so often happened. He thought fondly of the school project his eight-year-old son Jamie had just completed, which his wife, Natasha, had shown him last night as she’d poured them big glasses of a crisp Waitrose Chablis. Jamie’s class at Wimbledon Prep (£15k a year! What would DI Cliveden’s younger self have thought of that?) had been asked to write about their heroes. Some of the kids had chosen popstars and footballers, Natasha had told him, but Jamie had written about his dad. ‘My dad works hard to keep us safe and make sure the bad guys are off the street,’ he’d written in his crooked eight-year-old’s hand. DI Cliveden smiled to himself: yes, that was what he did – whatever the cost. It certainly beat being a hedge-fund wanker, like most of the other dads.
As the Old Bailey loomed into view, DI Cliveden rolled his shoulders back and glanced upwards. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Lady Justice – or at least the twelve-foot golden statue version of her – was giving him an approving wink. It was a trip he’d made a thousand times before, but DI Cliveden didn’t think he would ever get tired of arriving at the most famous court in the world, knowing that thanks to public servants like him, society’s retribution would be dispensed to those lowlifes who deserved it.
He cut through the underpass where a ragtag group of friends and family of victims and defendants were gathered outside the public entrance, flashing a quick smile and relishing the ripple of recognition that went through the crowd as he bounded past. At the Lord Mayor’s entrance he spotted a former colleague coming out, and couldn’t resist giving her a wide Cheshire Cat grin as they crossed paths. The bosomy ageing female security staff who manned the door were always pleased to see him, and giggled and flirted as he put his wallet and keys through the scanner. He played along, asking after Dawn’s son, winking at Brenda. It was this easy warmth that not only endeared him to friends and colleagues but also made him a star – the nation’s favourite policeman, called upon as a talking head for all issues of law and order, used in police recruitment campaigns, hailed in the press as a modern-day hero. Through the polished wooden doors he went, and down the marble corridor. A young court clerk he hadn’t seen before, pretty, with soft blonde curls, hurried after him, pressing a coffee into his hands. ‘You’ve just enough time to drink it, Inspector, before they call you!’ the clerk said, blushing. He thanked her and continued towards the court room – pausing as, briefly, his vision swam. How strange. He wondered if he had time for a quick sit- down too. But no – he was summoned immediately to Court 3. Coffee in hand, Cliveden tried to ignore the strange sensation in his arms, the gnawing ache in his stomach. He must have gone too hard at the gym yesterday, he thought. He’d give himself tonight off.
Despite the odd sensation shooting through his muscles, Cliveden entered the court room with his usual swagger, drawing strength from the admiring glances of the twelve men and women of the jury. In the dock, four teenage boys, more babyfaced than he remembered, shuffled their feet and refused to look his way. The judge, a steely- faced woman he was not sure he had encountered before, fixed him with a cool stare. The stage was set – now for his star performance. He marched towards the witness box and stretched out his hand for the Bible. That’s when he felt it – the sudden and inescapable knowledge that his body was failing. His face started to droop, his vision blurred. He grasped for the side of the stand, unable to breathe. He tried to call for help but all that came out of his mouth was a slurred moan. He grasped his chest and fell to his knees – aware of the commotion in court as a flock of barristers surrounded him, their cloaks flapping like bats’ wings. As he collapsed backwards, his eyes fell on the Royal Arms, Britain’s most potent symbol of justice, one last time. Then, everything went black.
On the steps of Bexley Magistrates’ Court, pupil barrister Adam Green sighed and stuffed his bulging folder into his rucksack. It was starting to drizzle, making the pebble-dashed, utilitarian building look even more conspicuously depressing. The smeared glass double doors behind him swung open and two senior barristers, one middle-aged, male and portly, the other middle-aged, male and bald, came out. Either they didn’t notice Adam or they pretended not to, because they didn’t make any effort to halt their conversation about the declining standards in pupils.
Adam gritted his teeth, fished his phone out of his pocket, and tapped out a one-word message to his pupil master: Unsuccessful. It was a rather crude summing-up of the comedy of errors that had actually occurred, but how to put the full horror of Dale McGinn’s conduct this afternoon into one text? He’d tell Jonathan about it properly at the party – or ‘networking event’, as everyone insisted on calling it – later.
It was already gone five, his bail application having been the last hearing of a typically busy day at the mags. Adam was exhausted and thought longingly of the IKEA bed at his grotty bedsit on Holloway Road. But that wasn’t an option, because the party – or networking event – organised at chambers by the chief clerk, Tony Jones, was a three-line whip. And at this rate, Adam was going to be late.
He hurried past a scruffy row of pawnbrokers, takeaways and charity shops to the station, the April rain dripping from his short dark curls and soaking his cheap suit. He prayed to a God that he didn’t quite believe in that he would start to get some better luck soon. Becoming one of two selected from 400 applicants to get a prestigious pupillage at Stag Court Chambers meant he’d used up quite a bit of luck already. And yet now he was here it turned out that getting in was the easy part – staying was harder. Pupillage was essentially a year-long job interview for a coveted tenancy – a permanent spot at chambers – and he was already more than halfway through, without much to show for it. But after all the hard work, the debt, the sacrifices his mum had made, failure wasn’t an option.
Breaking into a run, Adam reached the station platform just as a train to London Victoria was pulling in. Perhaps his luck was turning around after all. The train wasn’t busy – at this time of day, commuters were all going in the other direction – so Adam got a seat: another sliver of luck. He picked up a copy of The Sun, its edges curled and grubby, which the seat’s previous occupant had discarded. The first eight pages were dominated with the Grant Cliveden poisoning, just as they had been ever since the famous police officer had dropped dead in the Old Bailey a month earlier.
The press and public all seemed to agree on one thing: there was only one thing worse than the murder of a police officer, and that was the murder of a police officer who was also a minor celebrity. Maybe ‘celebrity’ was the wrong word; Cliveden hadn’t exactly courted the media’s attention – he’d turned down Strictly ‘at least four times’, according to this particular breathless Sun write-up. But he’d nevertheless found a place in the nation’s psyche, somewhere between national treasure and bastion of society. In an age of influencers and reality stars, Cliveden represented real heroism, duty and integrity; he had been, in short, everything the British thought their public servants should be. Adam had only been eleven when Cliveden had thrown himself between the Queen and that madman with a gun, but he still remembered how his own mother had wept at the grainy footage of the baby-faced officer prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Adam flicked past the now-familiar picture of Cliveden surrounded by his adoring and extremely photogenic family, which had been splashed across every newspaper and television news bulletin. It showed Cliveden on an idyllic beach, barefoot, with his legs stretched out in front of him. His arm was around his wife, Natasha, her honey-blonde hair ruffled just so by the sea breeze, and the strap of her elegant white sundress slipping playfully from her slim shoulder. In their laps sat two cherubic children – Jamie and Arabella. All of them had deep tans, straight white teeth, and the kind of glow that looks like an Instagram filter but is really just a fortuitous combination of Hello! magazine, genes and money.
There were plenty of wizened and snaggle- toothed ex- cops who still managed to build media careers off the back of past triumphs, thought Adam (they’d all been wheeled out to write ‘tributes’ and ‘analysis’ to fill the endless pages of coverage of the murder). It would have been very easy for Cliveden to have done the same, and Adam admired him for instead remaining on the front line. Not content to rest on his laurels, Cliveden had moved to serious crime where he had cemented his reputation with a prestigious conviction rate and the recovery of enormous amounts of drugs. His death was, undoubtedly, a terrible waste – and the nation was howling for justice. Adam paused to look at the mugshot of the man charged with the murder: Jimmy Knight, an ex-con with a dead-eyed scowl that would give you nightmares. He wondered idly which chambers would get the defence case. As he flipped the page to find an incensed columnist raging beneath the headline IS LIFE IMPRISONMENT PUNISHMENT ENOUGH FOR HERO COP KILLER?, he didn’t envy them the task.
The train crawled through the shadows of Battersea Power Station and at last into London Victoria. Adam caught the District line to Temple, from where he ran the final leg of his journey, through the winding lanes of Middle Temple, past the gothic splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice and up the flagged steps to his chambers, Stag Court. The noise hit him instantly as he pushed open the polished black door; the networking event seemed to already be getting out of hand. Solicitors from some of the city’s top law firms were swigging Champagne with Stag Court’s finest, spilling in and out of meeting rooms and up the stairs, laughing raucously.
No one seemed to notice Adam as he squeezed gingerly around the edge of the crowd, trying not to knock anyone ’s elbow. Catherine Jordan KC had a group of solicitors rapt as she narrated the dark tale of her latest rape defendant, which she’d nevertheless managed to turn into an amusing party piece. Adam was sweating, and it wasn’t just because of his polyfibre shirt. He’d never been good at these sorts of things at Oxford. The social awkwardness that had blighted his time at university had followed him into the real world, where he felt it even more acutely. It wasn’t that people didn’t want to come over to talk to him – his tall, broad figure, melancholic green eyes and angular cheekbones often drew people towards him. It was just that he never knew what to say. How he wished he could be one of those people who found this kind of thing easy – power pose, bank of anecdotes, honking laugh.
In one of the larger meeting rooms, Adam found a makeshift bar messily arranged on the glass conference table. Tony, the chief clerk and iron fist of Stag Court, had recently got rid of the blousy curtains and heavily patterned carpets that had adorned the chambers for decades in favour of corporate glass and all-beige everything, which Adam thought was an interesting choice for an office with a chronic red wine problem. He was flipping the cap off a bottle of Becks when he felt the back of his neck prickle, which could only mean one thing – she’d spotted him.
‘Georgina, hi,’ he said, trying to keep his tone as even as possible. His fellow pupil, Georgina Devereaux, was regarding him as a kestrel might look at a mouse, a slight smirk playing on her perfect rosebud lips. Privately educated, well connected, and extremely good at parties – and networking events – Georgina was everything Adam was not. That would have been fine, except that only one of them was going to get the tenancy spot at the end of their pupillage. And Georgina was the favourite – something she never liked Adam to forget.
‘Finally decided to put in an appearance, have you? I thought you might need a little alone time after losing a simple bail application…again…’ She pouted, sarcastically.
News travels fast, thought Adam.
‘Well, it wasn’t that simple, actually,’ he said, trying to take away her sting with neutral friendliness. ‘My client, Dale McGinn—’
‘Oh Adam, I don’t actually want to hear about it!’ Georgina cut in, with a laugh like tinkling glass. ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’d already told Tony you’d be late. He wasn’t very pleased, I can tell you…’
Damn, thought Adam. He had hoped he’d be able to sneak in under the radar and Tony would have been none the wiser. But that plan had failed to take into account the wolf in Reiss clothing. Georgina had already spotted someone more interesting and important than Adam and was looking past his shoulder, tossing her long auburn hair and setting her expression to ‘flirty’. Adam took the hint and headed down the corridor to stash his bag in his pigeonhole, manoeuvring himself past a mass of bodies in Savile Row suits and pencil skirts. The door of the post room was shut, which was unusual, and as soon as he pushed it open, Adam realised why. There was Martin Norton KC, ‘tactical acumen second to none’ according to The Legal 500, proving that he had acumen in other areas too, if the expression on the face of his female companion was anything to go by.
Adam slammed the door shut – and kept his back to it when he spotted Tony storming down the corridor with a face like thunder. Shaven-headed and powerfully built, Tony looked like a bouncer and was about as intimidating as one too.
‘You!’ he barked at Adam, in his trademark gravelly Cockney. ‘Pupil or not, I don’t want to see any of my people standing around gawping when they could be building commercial relationships!’
Like ‘networking event’, ‘building commercial relationships’ was one of Tony’s favourite new phrases. He ’d left school at sixteen and had started making a living in the wheeler-dealer world of chambers in the 1980s, when clerks had needed to do little more than answer the phone and watch the money roll in. But his commercial instincts were as sharp as his suits, and he knew those days were long gone. Tony believed Stag Court needed to get corporate if it was going to survive, and was on a one-man mission to drag his creaking chambers into the brave new world.
Adam would almost have felt sorry for Tony if he weren’t so scared of him. He knew the clerk had envisioned this evening as something of a glorified seminar, where London’s highest-powered solicitors would politely discuss their legal specialisms and identify the best Stag Court barristers to take on their next lucrative cases. Sloshing Champagne and steamy clinches on the photocopier were definitely not what he’d had in mind.
‘Where’ve you been anyway, Green?’ Tony growled. ‘I could not ’ave been clearer about the start time of today’s event.’
‘Er, yes, sorry about that,’ said Adam, raising his voice in an effort to drown out the escalating grunts and moans coming from the other side of the door. ‘I was at Bexley Mags.’
‘You must be mistaking me for someone who cares,’ said Tony menacingly, one eyebrow raised. ‘You’ll have my full attention when – one – it pays, and – two – you’ve won. Now get out there and get schmoozing!’
As Tony barrelled off to browbeat someone else, Adam took a swig of his beer and scanned the corridor, trying to decide who would be the least intimidating solicitor to approach. He spotted Magda Frank, who’d instructed on a recent robbery case, but she was no fan of his since he’d gone to find their defendant’s girlfriend in the magistrates’ lobby only to have four women answer his meek call and a fight break out.
If only he could think of something clever to say. The person he actually wanted to talk to, Bobby Thompson KC, was standing a little removed from the crowd, sipping a glass of water with a haughty expression on his face.
Proud of his roots in the Jamaican community of working-class Birmingham, Bobby had come to the Bar when racism was casually deployed and widely accepted within the profession. Against the odds, he was now one of its leading lights, and it had been Bobby’s incredibly inspiring speech delivered at Adam’s school as part of an outreach scheme that had brought him here, to Stag Court. Adam had known, ever since what had happened to his dad all those years ago – but now wasn’t the time to think about all that – that he’d wanted to do something that would make the world a fairer place. But it wasn’t until Bobby and his talk on the urgency of creating a justice system that reflected the dignity of those who used it that a career in the law had seemed a realistic possibility. Hundreds of hours of study later, a ham-fisted attempt to make himself a whole new person, and a determined vow to keep the past in a box where it belonged, here he was, a pupil in Bobby’s chambers. Surely now was the time to try some ‘networking’ that might actually matter?
‘Do you think Bobby thinks it’s weird, how much you stare at him?’
Rupert Harrington – sandy hair, rugby player’s shoulders, charming dimples – nudged Adam in the ribs.
‘I’m only teasing, mate,’ Rupert said, handing Adam another beer. ‘Here you go, you look like you need this. Let’s go in the other room – not sure I want to be here for Martin’s encore…’
Adam felt his shoulders relax as he followed his friend into the main lobby. Easy-going and good-natured, Rupert had the ability to put anyone at ease. As Stag Court’s newest tenant, he’d become an invaluable source of guidance, particularly as he had been in Adam’s shoes a year ago. It was Rupert who’d warned Adam not to follow chambers’ official advice to ‘ask any question, no matter how silly it sounds’. Rupert’s sage riposte was: ‘Only do that, mate, if you don’t mind the KCs all saying, “He asked me a really stupid question six months ago,” and deciding not to give you tenancy because of it.’ Rupert got a vote on Adam’s tenancy too, but he just wasn’t the type to keep a running tally of follies and faux pas. As such, he was the only person Adam could speak (relatively) freely around without worrying that what he said might count against him.
‘It’s just as well there are plenty of criminal barristers here, because Tony might just commit a murder before tonight is out,’ said Rupert merrily. ‘I’ve been upstairs and there’s a whole load of them in the stationery cupboard racking up lines on box files…’
‘Well, I’d advise him to get someone other than me to apply for his bail,’ said Adam, chinking his bottle with Rupert’s. ‘I’ve had another stinker today.’
‘So, my client has been done for a burglary at a betting shop, but he insists he didn’t do it. His case is that it’s mistaken identity – the culprit’s on CCTV in a vintage red Man United top, and he tells me last week, that’s not him. So today I’m all set to make the bail application, feeling good about it all, got my little spiel prepared – and then they bring him in. And you’ll never guess what he’s wearing.’
‘A vintage red Man United top.’
Rupert threw back his head and roared with laughter. Adam allowed himself a smile – but it didn’t last long.
‘Green!’ The unmistakable reedy tones of Jonathan Taylor-Cameron, Adam’s pupil master, were drifting imperiously over from the other side of the room.
‘Godspeed,’ said Rupert wryly, clapping Adam on the shoulder. Adam approached his bouffant- haired pupil master with some trepidation, wondering if he, like Tony, was about to admonish him for today’s showing in court.
‘So,’ said Jonathan, arranging a crocodile smile on his boyish features. He was in his fifties but still retained his roguish good looks, notwithstanding the little paunch he’d developed in his middle age. ‘How did we get on today?’
This was a first. The pupil master had generally shown next to zero interest in Adam’s progress in his ‘second six’, the period of six months during which a pupil was allowed to represent their own clients in court, rather than simply doing the pupil master’s donkey work.
‘Well, it wasn’t necessarily the verdict I’d have wanted, but—’
‘No, no, no, I don’t mean that,’ Jonathan said, waving away Adam’s words like a bad smell. ‘I mean, how did you get on with the flowers?’
Adam had almost forgotten. Jonathan had rung frantically first thing that morning insisting there was an ‘emergency’ and he needed Adam to send flowers to his mistress, Allegra, as a matter of urgency.
‘Oh, right, yes, that’s all sorted,’ said Adam. ‘I wrote in the card “Never again, darling” like you asked…’
‘Good, good,’ said Jonathan. ‘Did you add the bit about how I miss her milky thighs, or did we decide that was a bit much?’
Adam opened his mouth to answer, but didn’t get the chance before their conversation was unceremoniously interrupted by Tony. The clerk’s previous fury seemed to have passed, replaced with a fizzing, malevolent excitement.
‘Mr Taylor-Cameron, Mr Green,’ he said, his eyes glittering. ‘Come with me. I’ve got you a big one.’
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