Tim Lawson-Cruttenden: A memoir

A personal account of Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden, 23 January 1955 – 17 April 2019 : A fine Christian, civil liberties lawyer, cavalryman, charity worker, and sportsman. (2000+ words)

Tim Lawson-Cruttenden died as he lived. He was swimming in the sea off Gibraltar on 17 April 2019 when he was overwhelmed by currents and died of hypothermia. These simple facts are rather at odds with most reports of his death. I hope the papers were more accurate in stating that he was Johnny Rotten’s lawyer in the 1980s, a delicious nugget which was news to me.

For sure, TLC (that’s what many called him, inevitably) was a vigorous 64 when he died. He was a Christian, a onetime and a proud cavalry officer, a charity worker and – I would say most significantly – a lawyer who was very important in defining and defending civil liberties.

I hadn’t seen him for quite a few years but in the late 90s and early Noughties I was a close observer of his most pioneering, long-running and controversial campaign. I was pleased when last year he accepted as accurate an account I wrote of those events (as yet unpublished). We said, as we had occasionally for years, that we should lunch at the India Club one day when I was in London. We didn’t, and I lost an opportunity to hear from the horse’s mouth something more of the man.

Attending the thanksgiving service for Tim which was held in a packed Holy Trinity Brompton, I realised just how committed a modern Anglican he was. It became clear that one of his earliest friends was the youth who would become the Reverend Nicky Gumbel, the star of the Alpha movement, based in the cluster of churches called HTB. The clergyman told us he was 18 when they met in Cambridge: Tim was 19 and they were studying law. Someone said, and it rang true, that Tim wasn’t a natural student. He slugged away at his studies in something of the way he would later slug away at his cases.

I can readily imagine Nicky and Tim reinforcing each other’s Christianity throughout the decades they were priest and parishioner. But rather contrary to the many stories at the service of TLC’s constant and even insistent sharing of the Good News, he didn’t ever bother me with any of that. He may have thought me worthless beyond saving, but his creed wouldn’t really allow that proposition. Anyway, TLC and I became volubly fond. Indeed I suspect that alongside the missionary enthusiasm, there were vestiges of a traditional Anglican diffidence. In any event, I had no idea that Tim was a prosletysing, evangelical charismatic. He seemed to me more of a “healthy in mind, body and soul” sort. I can readily imagine him loving Nicky Gumbel’s powerfully committed, and quite particular, spiritual world. Tim was likely a man of faith in whom loyalty and affection came a close joint-second, action a decent third, and a pleasure in selected glories of British national life an important fourth.   

Certainly, I saw and see Tim as a Christian Soldier for whom onward was the only way to face and go. TLC loved a scrap and was stalwart and passionate in any he undertook. He was a physical man: solidly muscular. But he was puckish, too. At some point in his teens, TLC fell in with, and in love with, the Household Cavalry, and in particular the Blues and Royals. For seven months before he went up to Sidney Sussex in the autumn of 1973, TLC was a Cornet (2nd Lieutenant) in that regiment, and during his university years and for a time afterward, he was what one might loosely call a reservist officer. He even served overseas with the regiment.

My mind’s eye has him in the Basil Spence barracks and stables of Hyde Park, where I never actually saw him. For some years he had the borrowing of regimental mounts, to exercise man and beast in the park. He was, again in my imagination, a sort of Lucian Freud, who had similar privileges and was a bold rider. And there are notes of the Parker-Bowles harum-scarum love of horses. At one point TLC gave me a glossy book of photographs of the Household Cavalry.

In the early 1980s, TLC joined the Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry (Territorial Army) as a Lieutenant, leaving in the mid-1990s as a major in command of a squadron. In the 1990s, and near his chambers in Gray’s Inn, he sometimes invited me and various collaborators and allies to lunch in the dining room of the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry in Lincoln’s Inn. I had to wear a tie. We were served proper school food by the kind of women who wait on the same sort of shiny but scarred mess table at clubs and venerable restaurants: polite and friendly but too direct to be called deferential. On one wall there was a painting of cavalry troopers stripped to the waist as they watered their horses in a mere in East Anglia. It was art to thrill a Munnings or a Spencer.

TLC was the kind of man who could wear a regimental tie with pride but without affectation and without inviting any ridicule. Part the glory of the man was that there was nothing pompous or Blimp about him (or perhaps it is that he reminds us of the merit of old Colonel Blimp) as he performed this sort of service. He liked old habits. He sometimes commemorated the help he received by sending people school-prize heraldic plaques made up with appreciative captions etched on metal plates screwed beneath.

TLC was a sort of over-grown schoolboy. He was a bit Tiggerish. He was at the tough end of sportsmanship: his younger brother told the thanksgiving service with evident pride that someone who was rugger-tackled by a Lawson-Cruttenden, “stayed tackled”. The HTB screens showed many pictures of a beaming sweaty Tim doing his marathon-running, year after year, for a succession of charities. He mentored various young men and boys. I see him as a person whose conception of service combined duty and pleasure, both constant. It all seems beautifully matched by his wife Lorna’s faith and style. I once visited them in their large house in Chelsea: as I recall it could have been an English country home anywhere, and apparently it was full of prayer and people who visited in need of help of one sort or another. From the thanksgiving service, I now understand that it, and much of Tim’s life, was no stranger to champagne and beer.

He rather deliciously jumbled things up. We were told he changed one daughter’s nappy in his tank on manoeuvres. At a daughter’s primary school he led an assembly by appearing flanked by two cavalrymen in full fig. Their gleaming armour and weaponry was touched-upon as being the physical embodiment of the spiritual sword and shield Paul told the Ephesians about, and both of which TLC held dear.

TLC will be remembered for various legal services rendered to the Blues and Royals, to Harrow, his old school, and probably to other institutions. He was not remotely an Establishment figure. Perhaps that was what the punks spotted. He was not in any case on the Colonels’ side in the Courts Martial in which he often acted in the robust defence of other-rankers who were in trouble sometimes of their own making. This work reaped various rewards. His elder daughter Venetia mentioned that her father once pitched up at a Chelsea nightclub unannounced after a regimental dinner, wanting to dance with her. He had been let in by the bouncer, whom he had at some point saved from gaol, and who also ensured the complimentary champagne would flow for this unlikely guest. This pious lawyer had advised Venetia as she left for boarding school for the first time that an important rule was, “Don’t get caught”. When, later, she was and rang him to ‘fess up, he reminded her of that dictum and then I imagine got on with preparing her defence, if one were needed.

In the end, the Blues and Royals’ chain of command found his advocacy more robust and perhaps more random or quixotic than was good for discipline. It is easy to sympathise with them, though the break was painful for our hero. Tim was not one for the bigger picture when his dander was up.

He told a journalist, with customary cheeriness, “I am Rottweiler. When I see a bone, I’m going to get a bite of it.” But he was intellectually sound in the liberal credentials of his biggest legal cause. He fought hard for a new balance between protest’s direct action and the rights of its targets. Everything he did, he argued correctly, was perfectly compatible with the balance supposed by the competing elements of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Tim was after and above all a full-on civil rights lawyer, if not in the manner of Liberty. He helped formulate and was an authority on the Harassment Act, 1997 which made it easier to protect women from stalkers, but which from the start had much wider implications. Within months of its passing into law, TLC was deploying it to persuade judges to defend fur shops, cat farmers and other beleaguered targets of vicious or violent animal rights direct action. His point was simple: people had a legal right to sell fur, to breed animals for scientific research and product testing, and to do that research and testing. No-one had a right to use intimidation to alter these facts. In short, though I never heard him say it, he was against the fashionable secular antinomianism.

TLC and his small team plotted case after case in his chambers, often over lunchtime snacks in a sort of courtyard which was done up in camouflage netting as though it was a tank or scout car bivouac on manoevres. This seemed a perfectly natural and jolly background for Tim. In the Noughties, as extremism in general became a serious topic for the Home Office and the police, I dimly remember that TLC built a considerable wall chart of the connections between seemingly diverse and shadowy groups. Given the range of his cases and the tactics of the protest movements, he could hardly have done other, though perhaps it also appealed to his military sense of tactics, strategy and intelligence.

Tim would arrive for off-site meetings, say at a chic fur business or a staid corporate HQ on a mountain bike beside which trotted his lurcher Arthur, who wore a regimental collar. I have a feeling that as a puppy Arthur rode in a commodious basket.

Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden was a solicitor not a barrister, and proud of his part in the campaign to give his backroom tribe a new dimension as Solicitor Advocates. He enjoyed this new courtroom role but did not trouble to bring smoothness or schmoozing to the job. In court, TLC was dogged. He was not stylish or flashy and no more than ordinarily articulate. But he knew how to wear down a judge’s resistance even at the expense of the Bench’s patience.

In almost any adversarial situation one would have been thrilled to have TLC in one’s corner. It is important though to see that he was a real legal innovator even if an intuitive rather than an intellectual one. He saw and made others see that harassment is what its victims think it is: those on the receiving end are experts in their experience. He persuaded courts that there was nothing lost in allowing victims of intimidation to be anonymous in giving their evidence against harassers.

Of course he made enemies, and the protestors cordially loathed TLC and his tactics. They accused him of trying to crush free speech, which was plain nonsense. It was obvious that campaigners needed to be thwarted in their use of intimidation.

The Noughties saw a widening of TLC’s use of the anti-harassment injunctions, not least as environmental protestors became more and more imaginative in their direct actions, though they were never as vicious as the previous wave of animal rights people had been. As much as there were a few journalists such as Polly Toynbee prepared to stand up against animal rights extremists, TLC’s cause was hardly popular or even properly debated. Indeed, as the years rolled by, writers such as George Monbiot were probably widely popular in “progressive” circles in condemning TLC’s tactics against the damage and chaos caused by climate change and anti-capitalist protests. TLC’s work was becoming more, not less, contentious.

The point, anyway, was that if TLC’s injunctions had always been or later became “draconian”, as was increasingly claimed, these were the courts’ injunctions based on statute law and open to legal appeal. Indeed, courts did knock back some of TLC’s attempts to gain injunctions, especially latterly.

I admired TLC very much for his inventiveness and doggedness and his courage. He had no fear of being ostracised either by liberal bien pensants or the chain of command of his beloved regiment, though he shared many of the best instincts of both and felt himself part of both families of thought and behaviour. He knew wrong when he saw it and stood up to be counted on the matter. This scion of a Sussex ironmaster family would have made a splendid figure for a Dickens, who seldom liked a lawyer but might have appreciated this rather Pickwickian liberal. I very much hope that Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden will come to be appreciated as a pioneer in the tricky business of reconciling the right to be heard with the right to live peaceably within the law.

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Publication date

06 June 2019