As criminal barrister for 30 years, Sir Richard Henriques appeared in 106 murder trials.
They included that of the most prolific serial killer in history, Hyde GP Harold Shipman.
That case alone would have secured his place in legal history.
But he was also chief prosecutor for a case which matched the Moors Murders for its harrowing nature.
That was the trial of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables for the murder of James Bulger, aged two, in 1993.
Now retired, Sir Richard, the former High Court judge and QC has written of his most notorious and fascinating cases in ‘From Crime to Crime: Harold Shipman to Operation Midland – 17 cases that Shocked the World’.
Sir Richard’s fascination with crime began at the age of ten, when the Blackpool poisoner, Louisa Merrifield, was hanged at Manchester’s Strangeways for killing her employer with rat poison in 1953.
Growing up in the town, he ‘read every word of the trial, including the sentencing remarks’.
The law is in his DNA. His grandfather, Edward Henriques was an engineer, and colonel, who chaired Salford Magistrates. His father, elder brother, cousin, and uncle were also in the profession.
Sir Richard’s own, legal career would see him reject an appeal by Jeremy Bamber against his conviction for shooting dead his sister, twin nephews, and parents in 1985; and Barry George’s first appeal against conviction for the murder of TV presenter, Jill Dando in 1999.
He also presided over the case of Metropolitan Police after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at a London underground station in 2005, and the inquiry into the catastrophic Operation Midland which investigated high-profile figures for alleged sexual abuse – claims invented by Carl Beech, who was later jailed. He was customarily knighted in 2000, when he was appointed to the High Court.
The most disturbing case Sir Richard was involved in was the murder of James Bulger, which he addresses in the book.
His forensic knowledge of the case means the most intricate of details can be the most heartbreaking.
Of particular significance was ‘a small handprint on Venables’ jacket, a print attributable to a small hand covered in blue paint.’
He believes that speculation that the killers had watched a film featuring the killer doll, Chucky, in the violent Child’s Play 3 is significant.
Before abducting James, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables had tried to snatch another child, but were foiled by its mother, and had also stolen a tin of blue modelling paint from a shop, Sir Richard recounts.
He observes that the paint they had stolen was of similar in colour to that splattered on Chucky’s face in the video.
“A railway featured in both events, as did a toddler,” he writes. “Chucky died after being splattered with paint and having his face mutilated, as did James. An argument that the boys were re-enacting Child’s Play 3 was clearly tenable.”
The video was the last to be rented by Venables’ father before the killing. But there was no certain proof that either boy had seen the video and Venables’ father was adamant they had not.
In the end, the video was not used as part of the prosecution case, as police regarded it as a ‘red herring’.
Other details are more well known, but have lost none of their power to shock, distress and appal.
Little James was subjected to a sustained attack by Thompson and Venables, both aged 10, who abducted him from a shopping centre in Bootle.
Hesuffered 42 injuries and at least 30 were separate blows to the body.
The killers had walked two-and-a-half miles across Liverpool to Walton with James to a railway line, where he was hit with bricks and stones and a piece of metal, before he was hit by a train.
One of the most devastating aspects of the case was that the pair were seen 38 times as they walked James across the city.
Thirty eight witnesses had seen this ‘unusual threesome’ – and some had attempted to intervene, but were ‘fobbed off with calculated lies’.
The killers claimed they were ‘with their little brother,’ ‘taking him home’ or ‘taking him to Walton police station’ after finding him.
Sir Richard captures the agony of those 38 witnesses, who were ‘visibly distressed’ by the realisation that an intervention would have saved James’ life.
“Every time I see a three year-old thoughts of James are rekindled, as they are indeed as I drive into Liverpool through Bootle, or out of Liverpool through Walton,” the former prosecutor writes in the book. “No one who played any part in this trial will ever forget such a tragedy.”
He concludes: “Failure to prosecute these boys would have resulted in civil disorder.”
He also describes how he backed a request by the press for reporting restrictions to be lifted so that both Thompson and Venables could be named, saying ‘publicity in itself is a deterrent to those who may be minded to commit grave crimes’.
A few years later Richard Henriques found himself at the centre of Dr Harold Shipman’s case.
He describes in the book how his involvement in the Shipman case began, with a meeting at Ashton-under-Lyne police station in August 1998.
The case sounded ‘less than thrilling’, he thought, with the GP having been arrested for forgery.
But he was advised it was the tip of the iceberg. Detective Supt Bernard Postles got straight to the point and told him: “We believe we are investigating a doctor who is a serial killer.”
The police had exhumed the body of Kathleen Grundy, whose will they suspected had been forged by Dr Shipman. They believed she had been poisoned.
But there was a problem. As Sir Richard recalls: “The Manchester Evening News were taking an intense interest in the case and there was concern that disclosures by them might make a fair trial impossible.”
While the M.E.N was first to break this horrendous story, Shipman did get a fair trial at which he was convicted of 15 murders in a prosecution led by Richard Henriques.
Of the Hyde GP’s motive for killing for what is now believed to be at least 215 people, he says: “I have concluded the explanation is comparatively simple. Shipman enjoyed the thrill of killing his patients.
“It was not merely injecting them with with morphine…on the pretext of taking blood, it was the subsequent drama of fobbing off the family, ensuring that no post-mortem took place…falsifying medical records, ensuring if possible that the body was cremated, and deceiving the undertaker and the coroner.”
Despite the ultimate success of the prosecution Henriques remains aggrieved that he did not achieve one thing.
He believed there was a chance that during cross examination Shipman would change his plea to guilty – but the killer never did, and so many grieving witnesses had to endure the trauma of giving evidence.
Henriques was also at the heart of another case which made legal history – but for all the wrong reasons.
He defended Merseyside drugs baron John Haase, who along with co-conspirator and nephew Paul Bennett, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to import Class A drugs.
They admitted leading roles in smuggling £18m worth of heroin from Turkey, destined for Liverpool, and were both jailed for 18 years.
But then, the judge in the case wrote to then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, indicating they should serve just five years. The request was quietly approved, but the public were not told.
This was because both men had registered as informants following their arrest, and had been feeding information to the police and customs agents in the run up to sentence.
Indeed, between October 1993 and August 1995, 28 major seizures of guns were made on the basis of intelligence they provided.
One appeared to be hugely significant – guns including 9mm automatic pistols found in Holyhead, en route to the Republic of Ireland, at a time when the peace process was at a delicate stage.
Information was also provided regarding the alleged smuggling of a gun into Strangeways for a prisoner who was facing a murder trial and drugs were also seized as a result of the pair’s tip-offs.
As a result of this ‘exceptional assistance’, and a claim made that Haase and Bennett would be in such danger, following release, that they would have to live in South America under new identities, it was agreed they would serve just a fraction of the time that the public believed they would be serving.
So when they returned to Merseyside after serving 11 months of their sentences, having already spent a significant period on remand, neighbours thought the pair had absconded from jail and reported them as escapees.
Due to the nature of the deal, police couldn’t explain why they were free, and the Home Office kept silent.
But, it later emerged, that the gun and drugs had been planted by Haase and Bennett in order to get reductions in their sentences. As a result of the elaborate plot, both men would get significant sentences for perverting the course of justice, in the politically embarrassing affair.
After the affair became public, Henriques says a number of ‘wise after the event’ police officers told the Liverpool Echo that they had doubted the information from the pair was genuine.
“Yet not one of them raised any suspicion with the authority before the die was cast,” he adds.
The underworld saga, and the crimes of Harold Shipman and James Bulger, are just three of the extraordinary cases explored in the book, which is out now, published by Hodder & Stoughton.