Criminal mastermind Sir Ivan showing no signs of stopping

Aimée Horwich discovers that it is not just celebrities who lead interesting lives

SIR Ivan Lawrence QC is showing no signs of slowing down, even at the age of 73.

His memoirs, My Life of Crime: Cases and Causes, chronicle the fascinating life of this Knight of the Realm and member of the Queen's Counsel, who is best remembered for defending the notorious Kray Twins.

"I have no thought of retiring, as long as I get briefed in cases," said Sir Ivan, from London's esteemed Clarendon Chambers.

"I feel like a young man, there's still plenty of life in me yet.

"I would agree that this summarises just how much I love what I do - I think you've got to love life and what you do in life or you will become disillusioned with it.

"Besides, I can think more clearly about things now than I ever could when I was younger."

Born into a working class family in Brighton in 1936, Sir Ivan was the only child of Romanian and Russian descendants.

Growing up, Sir Ivan was always aware of his Jewish heritage, but described himself as "more religious than his parents".

He said: "I would say in the old phrase that I was 'Jew-ish' - we didn't go the whole hog.

"I did go to synagogue on Shabbat all the years I was at school.

"I originally joined the Orthodox shul on Holland Road, because my maternal grandfather was the warden.

"I attended cheder until I was about nine or 10, but I didn't learn very much, so my father suggested we try the Liberal synagogue in case I found it more to my liking, which it was."

Sir Ivan was barmitzvah at Brighton and Hove Liberal Synagogue and his Jewish identity stayed with him throughout adolescence.

In his memoirs he recalls being turned away from Brighton College because they had already filled their "quota of Jews" and was subsequently labelled "Jew Boy" at Brighton Hove and Sussex Grammar School for Boys.

But the QC speaks with great fondness about becoming president of Oxford University Progressive Jewish Society, where he would ultimately meet his wife, Gloria.

"She took a genuine interest in the Jewish religion," explained Sir Ivan, who studied jurisprudence at Christ Church College.

"She came to the progressive society meetings as a Christian."

Gloria later converted to Judaism and the couple were married at the West London Synagogue, on Upper Berkeley Street, in April 1966.

"I never said to her we can't get married unless you convert, Gloria said she wanted to do it because she wanted to be Jewish and so our children would be Jewish," he added.

Although he was always a confident teen growing up, Sir Ivan remembers lacking direction and to an extent he simply fell into the law.

"I got high grades in sciences and arts at school so I could just have easily ended up in the sciences," he recalled.

"I just had to make a choice and decided on the arts - but I think if my parents hadn't left school at the age of 14 and had a university background they could have guided me. But I was left to my own devices and became a lawyer."

At the age of 19, during his pre-Oxford days, Sir Ivan joined the Royal Air Force and was stationed in Malta and Mountbatten.

The father-of-one said: "I read about notable British trials and used to go to Plymouth Magistrates and Crown Court to watch some of the cases. That's where I got hooked on crime and my legal interest really started."

And it was a case of not what you know, but who you know, which aided Sir Ivan to land a pupilage and place in chambers.

After meeting Manny Fryde, the manager of prestigious criminal practice Sampson and Co, at a family wedding, it was arranged for the budding barrister to become a leading junior at the leading criminal chambers at Queen Elizabeth Building, aka 'the Factory'.

"I found myself a little niche in criminal law and stayed there," said Sir Ivan.

"I never had any ambition to become a high court judge so I never felt it necessary to do civil cases."

His legal career immediately rocketed and Sir Ivan's impressive list of cases included defending Ronnie and Reggie Kray, Dennis Nilsen, Joey Pyle and Russell Bishop, who was acquitted of the infamous 'Babes in the Wood Murders'.

And the QC very nearly acted as Junior Counsel in the Great Train Robbery trial.

His involvement with the Krays, who sent him Christmas cards and paintings, is still a conversation starter for most people interested in Sir Ivan's life.

"I was a young man, just 29, when I first defended them and I felt proud and greatly encouraged that I had chosen the right profession and that I could be trusted to do high-powered work.

"So it was quite an achievement to be asked to be part of the defence team when there were so many other brilliant barristers who were older and more experienced than me who might have been asked."

Sir Ivan added: "It showed that by that age I had got something of a reputation for myself, but I don't like to be particularly remembered for that case because there were many more challenging or exciting or legally involving cases.

"Right up to my election to Parliament I was involved in a string of high-profile cases."

An esteemed legal career wasn't enough for Sir Ivan and in 1966 and again in 1970 he stood in the General Election for the Conservative Party in the Peckham constituency.

"I expected to be defeated, this was just part of my training so after each experience I was going to make a better politician and, therefore, hopefully be selected for a seat I could win," said Sir Ivan.

"I became politically involved - it was exciting and self-fulfilling and it was making a contribution."

He added: "Everybody who is in politics knows it isn't a way of earning money, so you have to be in it for another purpose - to try to do some good and make the world a better place."

In February 1974, it was third time lucky for Sir Ivan, who was elected MP in the Burton constituency - winning by a majority of more than 2,000.

In Parliament, Sir Ivan worked 18 hour days to balance his legal and political commitments and trained himself - as did the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - to survive on just five hours sleep per night.

He also became acquainted with another eminent barrister, Lord Greville Janner QC - who served as his "Jewish inspiration in political life".

He said: "Lord Janner was the one who brought me into the Jewish activities in Parliament.

"He suggested I join the Board of Deputies, which I have been a delegate of for 30 years, and I am a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust."

Sir Ivan considers himself a staunch Zionist. During his 23 years as an MP, he also acted as chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel and rigorously campaigned for the release of Soviet Jews.

The former-politician's earnest care for humanity was plainly displayed in 1985, when he became involved with the lobby against fluoridation of the public water supply.

But, in his memoirs, Sir Ivan states that he was the least-likely person to become entangled in such a dispute.

"There was a strong probability that fluoride is poisonous and therefore will harm people but not only that, mass medication is contrary to my principles of freedom not being unnecessarily imposed upon by the state.

"I'm a libertarian to a degree and mass medication offends that principle, plus the fact is, it was both undemocratic and illegal."

Sir Ivan hit the headlines when he gave a speech in Parliament during the report stage of the Water Fluoridation Bill, which lasted four hours and 23 minutes - the longest speech given in the Commons during the 20th century.

"I don't know to what extent my involvement achieved anything, but I know that there's no more water fluoridation now than there was in 1985," he added.

But his largest political contribution perhaps comes in the form of the National Lottery, which was put forward by Sir Ivan in a Private Member's Bill in 1991.

Sixteen years later it is still going strong, with multiple draws a week and numerous scratchcard games available to play.

"I'm very proud that 24 billion pounds has been raised for good causes and charities since the lottery began," beamed Sir Ivan.

"I believe the national attitude towards charitable giving has been fanned by the national lottery.

"And yes, I buy a ticket every week, Monday and Wednesday."

He laughed: "I spend too much money on the lottery, but one day I might win."

With the landslide success of New Labour, led by Tony Blair, in 1997, Sir Ivan's political career was ended and he lost his seat in Burton.

"I didn't feel that my political career had run its course, but it was inevitable that I would lose my seat," he recalled.

"I spent a lot of time telling Conservative Party leaders that unless we were clear about Britain's place in Europe, we were going to be out. John Major was muddled and we were finished."

When asked about his greatest achievement, Sir Ivan is adamant that it was when he became a QC in April 1981.

He said: "Now that is pride and honour - there is nothing more praiseworthy than having the approval of your peers.

"Being a QC as well as an MP gave me a status from which I could do my work even more effectively."

About his knighthood, he said: "Naturally I'm proud to be a knight of the realm - who wouldn't be? - it's a very great honour. I am only sorry that my parents didn't live to see it."

Sir Ivan revealed that, among others, David Dimbleby was one of the driving forces behind putting pen to paper for My Life of Crime, which is released on September 30.

"Although I wasn't a cabinet minister and therefore not a very important politician, my experiences give an interesting peep behind the curtain of how the political process worked during my career," said Sir Ivan, who is a visiting professor of law at the University of Buckingham.

"Many young people read about high-flyers who were always going to make something of their lives.

"This book may help to stimulate young people who may not be high-flyers into understanding that you do not have to brilliant or successful in order to live constructive and helpful lives.

"I believe that those of us who have been there should pass on their experiences to those who still have to fulfill their dreams."

Indeed, Sir Ivan's vitality for life and his continuing love-affair with the law is summarised by the memoirs' final quotation of John Milton - 'Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new'.

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph