Celebrated QC known for his attention to detail and lack of airs and graces
Michael Worsley, who has died aged 89, was one of Britain’s most experienced and distinguished criminal lawyers and a powerful, if eccentric, advocate. During his 55-year career at the criminal Bar, he appeared for the Crown in some of the country’s most harrowing murder trials and dealt with offences which plumbed the depths of human depravity, ranging from child abuse to torture. His more recent cases included the prosecution of the three men behind the killing of police Special Constable Nisha Patel in 2006 and the “honour killing” of Surjit Athwal by her husband and his 70year-old mother in 2007. In the 1980s during the Security Express trial – the country’s largest ever cash robbery, in which a gang stole more than £6 million – he cross-examined the actress Barbara (now Dame Barbara) Windsor about her fugitive ex-husband Ronnie Knight, who later admitted to having received more than £300,000 from the perpetrators. Worsley earned the respect and admiration of the profession for his scrupulous fairness and relentless attention to detail, as well as his unrivalled mastery of criminal law, procedure and evidence. He had no “airs and graces”, brushing aside convention when it suited him. In warm weather, and fresh from his daily commute from Eastbourne, he would arrive at the Old Bailey dressed for the beach, in white slacks and a green Aertex shirt open at the neck. On February 12 2010, in a packed Court 1 at the Old Bailey, Bench and Bar assembled to bid him farewell and to pay tribute to his extraordinary career. Michael Dominic Laurence Worsley was born on February 9 1926. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was 13 and living with his family in France. They spent the war years in Britain and from 1944 to 1945 he served in the Royal Navy. He was briefly at school in Bedford but he was largely self-educated, even teaching himself Latin. After the war, the family moved to South Africa for his health (he had recurrent and serious chest infections). In Cape Town he set himself up as an importer of furs, silver and French ceramics. While visiting Britain at the beginning of the 1950s, he wandered into the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and was mesmerised by the art of advocacy. Convinced he could master it, on his return to Africa he wound up his affairs and in 1952, back in Britain, he enrolled as a student at the Inns of Court School of Law. He next turned his attention to finding a home. Equipped with books from the series, and with only the occasional assistance of a bricklayer, he designed, then built a bungalow on land he purchased in Eastbourne. He was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1955 and became a pupil in civil (Chancery) chambers. Eventually he moved to the chambers of John Buzzard, an eminent criminal lawyer, and by the mid-1960s the Criminal Appeal Reports were already littered with Worsley’s cases in the Divisional Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal, in which he took up (usually successfully) technical and often obscure points of law. The prosecuting authorities soon became aware of his impressive legal expertise and he became heavily engaged in prosecution work. His workload was huge, but he loved it. Worsley served as Prosecuting Counsel to the Inland Revenue from 1968 to 1969; Treasury Counsel (Inner London Sessions), from 1969 to 1971; Junior Treasury Counsel from 1971 to 1974 and Senior Treasury Counsel at the Central Criminal Court from 1974 to 1985. He was elected a Bencher of the Inner Temple in 1980 and was head of chambers at 6 Kings Bench Walk for 22 years. In 1984 the decision by the Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers to sack four Treasury Counsel (including Worsley) was regarded as inexplicable in the legal world and created an uproar. The four “victims” later issued successful writs for libel, targeting the manner in which the sackings had been reported in the press. Three of the four continued to enjoy flourishing careers and in 1985 were successful in their applications for “silk”. As Queen’s Counsel Worsley remained much in demand for heavy prosecution work. His style of advocacy was idiosyncratic. He might, for example, interrupt his own aggressive crossexamination of a defendant to offer reassurance that it was “nothing personal”. Some of his trials became legal tutorials for judges. In the 1960s Worsley liked to lunch at the Rex Café, a sandwich bar opposite the Old Bailey, typically returning for a working “high tea” (two or three rounds of eggs and bacon, a plate of bread and butter, numerous cups of tea and, in warmer weather, a helping of strawberry ice-cream) at 4.30pm with the police officers in his case. Worsley was an enthusiastic member of the Garrick and owned some very fast cars over the years. In 1962 he married Pamela Philpot, whom he had first met at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, while pursuing a common interest in ballroom dancing. Tragedy struck with the death in 1966 of their first son at the age of three months, and in 1980 when Pamela died of cancer aged 48. In 1986 he married his second wife, Jane, who survives him with a son by his first marriage, and a stepson and stepdaughter.