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The Mangrove case and the ‘lefty lawyer’

12 November, 2020 — By John Gulliver

A scene from the new film about the Mangrove Nine

BORIS Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel may use the term “lefty lawyer” as a term of abuse in their views of certain barristers and solicitors but the man who helped to launch this newspaper regards it as a badge of honour.

In a recent long interview with The Times, David Offenbach reveals all the qualities I was impressed by in 1982 when he, a youngish solicitor, and a Labour Camden councillor, guided the founders of the Camden New Journal through the thickets of Company Law and how to register a company, as well as, in our case, the extra programme setting out our commitment to the ideals of the Co-operative movement.

I have met him several times since then but what I did not know is that he played a big part in representing defendants of the historic case involving the Notting Hill club, the Mangrove, which is the subject of a new film directed by the award-winning Steve McQueen – all of which comes out in The Times article.

Darcus Howe (left) and Steve McQueen

Typically of the man, Offenbach, was proud of his involve­ment in the defence of Caribbean men who wrongfully faced drug charges while using the popular Notting Hill club. They were persecuted by the police, landed up at the Old Bailey, but acquitted – with the judge acknowledging that the Met Police had shown “evidence of racial hatred”. This, in the mid-1970s, was more than 25 years before the famous Lord MacPherson’ judged on the Met.

Years after the Man­grove trial, I got to know one of the leaders of the men who stood in the dock, Trinidad-born Darcus Howe whose portrayal plays a pivotal part in the coming McQueen film.

David Offenbach

I often talked to Offenbach around the time of the launch of the paper about Camden affairs and politics but never knew his part in the Mangrove case. But his abhorrence of racialism shows through in The Times piece when he said there was discrimination then – as there is now. Naturally, he was aghast over the Windrush scandal and the continued problems facing black MPs. He grew up in Holloway, lived when I knew him in Willesden, and I would continue to meet him occasionally as he worked for a firm of solicitors, Simon Muirhead and Burton in Soho, which we used for libel matters.

At 74 he is still politically perky, attacking the government for “lashing out at lefty lawyers” as “disgraceful” and more to do with deflecting public attention from its failures over the pandemic crisis. I certainly agree it is “disgraceful”. But he says he is happy to be described as a “lefty lawyer” because “that is what I was and I am now”.

He sounds just like I remember him in the 1980s when our paths frequently crossed.


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