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News > Annoucements > TOWNEND, James Barrie Stanley, QC

TOWNEND, James Barrie Stanley, QC

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories, and celebrate the life of James Townend, who we sadly lost in 2018.
1 Apr 2019
TOWNEND, James Barrie Stanley, QC

Died on 17 December 2018, aged 80. The following obituary was published in the Telegraph:

James Townend, who has died aged 80, was a fearless advocate gifted with a brilliant turn of phrase and considerable courtroom presence.

As a QC at the Family Bar he played a prominent part in the Cleveland child abuse inquiry in 1987, representing senior social workers and conducting what the Telegraph considered the fiercest cross-examination of the lengthy proceedings when he accused a police surgeon of hypocrisy over her criticism of paediatricians. He also served as chairman of the Family Law Bar Association between 1986 and 1988. But he was also in demand in other legal areas.

In crime, he was involved in many murder and other serious cases and in 2002 represented the Royal Butler, Harold Brown, who had been charged with stealing from Princess Diana. The charge was dropped following the Queen’s intervention in the trial of the other Royal Butler, Paul Burrell.

Townend made an astonishing disclosure in court in response to a prosecution statement playing down the extent and value of royal gifts to servants. Had the case against Brown gone ahead, Townend said he would have produced evidence that the Prince of Wales had offered a gold wedding ring as a gift to someone on his staff.

The Prince, Townend added, had scribbled a note on the back of an envelope saying: “There is a very good gold wedding ring here which someone in the office might find useful”. It was not clear whose ring it was, but St James’s Palace insisted it was not the Prince’s own, which he continued to wear under his signet ring.

After his client walked free from the Old Bailey, Townend might have permitted himself a smile of satisfaction at one newspaper report headed “Another Butler Who Didn’t Do It”. He appeared in many cases exciting press coverage over the years, and had an eye for an attractive angle. In 1986, when he prosecuted a man at Lewes Crown Court accused of stabbing a pregnant 17-year-old girl to death while stoned on strong lager and LSD, he said the accused man was obsessed with black magic and wanted to witness a human sacrifice.

Defending a wealthy farmer accused of cutting down protected trees on his land in 1984, Townend lost the case but won a eight-week reprieve for his client by persuading the judge to postpone the two-month jail sentence he had imposed until the farmer had finished gathering in the harvest.

Under the headline “Wife in bikini took lessons on guitar”, the Telegraph reported in 1978 how Townend, sitting as a judge at the High Court, granted a woman a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour even though she had made numerous “conquests” of local men, including a window cleaner from whom she had received music tuition clad in her swimsuit. The husband had branded her “the village whore”.

James Barrie Stanley Townend was born at Deal, Kent, on February 21 1938. From Tonbridge School he went to Lincoln College, Oxford,
and after National Service was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1962. He soon built up a successful practice at the Family Bar, being much in demand by the London “Magic Circle” divorce firms, acting in the late 1960s for Earl Spencer (then Viscount Althorp) in his successful custody claim in respect of the young Diana.

Townend took Silk in 1978 and became a Recorder of the Crown Court the following year: impressive achievements. For many years he also sat as a deputy High Court Judge of the Family Division and became a Bencher of his Inn.

In the 1990s he had an extensive practice in professional negligence cases involving potentially negligent surveyors, solicitors and accountants. It was especially in this last area where he belied his frequent assertions that he knew no law. So much in demand was he that once, when he had to be in Canterbury Crown Court on a criminal case in the morning, his client in a family case due on in London that afternoon hired a helicopter to fly him from a field just outside Canterbury to make sure he was back in London in time.

In 1982 he became Head of his Chambers at 1 King’s Bench Walk, a position he held for 17 years, and where he led with firmness and benevolence. Townend was one of life’s great raconteurs, blessed with abundant charm and wit. When the wife of a senior member of his Chambers was made a dame, at the celebratory party he closed his congratulatory speech by saying: “All that’s now left is for her husband to make a lady of her.”

He was as comfortable in his three-piece suits, with watch chain across his front, as in his favourite pair of lime-green slacks covered with colourful pictures of parrots. He was a bon vivant, and alcohol always flowed freely at his home in Kingston, where in the conservatory a large chemist’s dispenser held neat gin from which visitors were encouraged to help themselves. When he was Head of Chambers, the AGMs were held beside his swimming pool, with business usually dispatched within an hour so as not to delay the more serious concerns of the day.

Following his retirement he returned to Deal to enjoy wine, conversation and good company as well as fishing and sailing, while maintaining his “open door” policy for visitors.

James Townend’s first marriage, to Airelle Claire (née Nies), was dissolved in 2005. Three years later he married Marleen Marie Lucie (née Deknudt), who survives him with a stepdaughter from his first marriage.

(Sc 51-55)

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