We first opened our criminal law solicitors practice in Clapton Square Hackney on 3rd January 1993. The office was a rundown Georgian Building, leaking at the seams which I, for want of ready cash, had tried to repair in an entirely amateur and ineffective way. Before we moved in it had been a moneylender’s office providing small cash loans to the poor of Hackney. From the name plate on the large first floor office we could tell that the prior occupant had been Lionel Lazarus. There were two huge safes and row after row of filing cabinets containing paper records of loans advanced and repayments made. Some loans were as small as five pounds. Interest was high but nothing like the payday operators of today. For years after we opened people would drop in asking if we still did loans, perhaps they were waiting for Lazarus to return. The old employment records were at the back of the cabinets detailing dismissals for insolence and insubordination. The building was equipped with a comprehensive if ancient CCTV system; no door was unsurveyed.
Clear out and burglary
We hired a skip and dumped the ancient records. Those were the days before data protection. We had specialist removers take out one of the safes, stripped out the CCTV and opened our doors. Unfortunately, the first criminal case we had was not defending the good people of Hackney but replacing all our computers and other electronic equipment. We had been burgled – a low moment especially when going to make a consolatory cup of coffee we discovered they had taken not only the kettle but the coffee as well. Nothing if not thorough these Hackney burglars. There is one client who will not be using our expertise as criminal law solicitors. I knew with hindsight who it was. A sham client has “cased” the office. He came to the newly opened criminal law solicitors with a non-existent case, spent 20 minutes with me and as he left, systematically eye balled each and every piece of equipment in the reception area. A few days later we had been cleaned out. They waited four weeks or so for us to replace the equipment and, despite substantially increased security, struck again. Since then, over 20 years ago, only bars inside and out and a red-care burglar alarm has kept us secure.
The seat of serious crime
Just down the road was the “murder mile” a stretch of Lower Clapton Road, infamous for its multiple gun and knife killings over drugs turf wars. A few yards in the other direction was the “Front Line”, where according to Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA) the police would raid the drug dealers and then sell the proceeds of the raid on Sandringham Road. HCDA reported that eight police officers were transferred and six suspended. The police station was closed.
According to HCDA’s, The Radical History of Hackney,
“Everybody knew that drug dealing went on in Sandringham Road. It was common knowledge that police officers took money and drugs from dealers. They would pocket the money and supply the drugs to other dealers”
What a changed world we live in. Slowly, slowly over the years Hackney has changed. It is reverting to its roots, a pleasant Villa strewn suburb for the middle class. It happened imperceptibly. The first signs were young mothers walking their buggies with their handbags hanging of the handles. On a few occasions concerned (or interfering) solicitors would give words of advice. “Keep your bag under your coat” or “Don’t leave valuables on show”. Then the Pembury Tavern morphed from one of the most run down disreputable East End dives into the admirable all singing all dancing purveyor of hand crafted beers and pizza, scrubbed tables and pub skittles that it is now.
At first, we worried that our Hackney criminal practice would suffer. That the whole families of criminal clients we had represented over the years would move away. This worry became acute when I noticed that the hipster cafes were mushrooming. There are at least five within easy walking distance of the office. It’s easier to get a vegan nut bake than sausage egg chips and beans. You can even buy decent coffee.
There are smart bike shops, designer clothes, Scandinavian emporia. Music stars such as Amy Macdonald and Rufus Wainwright play St John at Hackney Church opposite our offices. Blondie (nearly) played the Round Chapel. The gig was cancelled after the Westminster Bridge terror attack for security reasons. Groups of completely civilised mums, dads and their offspring congregate in the sunshine of the walled garden. On summer lunch-hours they sip wine and nibble at pitta and humus, or get a quick take out from the excellent Turkish café. But they do not commit any crimes.
Still going strong
So, our practice has evolved. The Hackney families we have loyally served still live in the area although offences tend to be committed further afield. We do more financial crime, more fraud and money laundering, more domestic violence and sexual offences. There are still murders, robberies, firearms and big drugs conspiracies and they come to us. We are fighting an alleged gang murder at the Old Bailey right now. However, the strictly local scene has been replaced. There are not the places to hang out any more. The police pay less attention to the area.
Perhaps the gentrification of Hackney is for the best. There are certainly more affluent clients seeking a private client service, the streets are safer, before dark, but little changed after. The leaks have been fixed long ago and we look forward to providing expert criminal defence in Hackney for the next 25 years.
If you have an enquiry about a criminal law case, you can contact Keith Hollywood on 020 8986 8336 to arrange an appointment, or use the contact form below.