| Gareth Peirce |
(author, journalist, lawyer)
Jean Margaret Webb|
(74/75), Cheltenham, England, U.K.
|Alma mater||London School of Economics, University of Oxford|
|Children||Nicholas Peirce Zachary Peirce|
Gareth Peirce is a British solicitor, educated at the Cheltenham Ladies' College, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics. She is best known for her work and advocacy in high-profile miscarriage of justice cases involving people accused of Irish and Islamist "terrorism".
In September 2009, Gareth Peirce wrote an article on the Lockerbie bombing trial, in which she was highly critical of the prosecution evidence and of the forensic scientists (Alan Feraday and Thomas Hayes) that led to the wrongful conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, which she described as "the death of justice".
In a trial that started in January 2014 at the Old Bailey, Gareth Peirce represented John Downey, who was accused of killing four British soldiers in the IRA 1982 Hyde Park bombing. On 25 February 2014, the BBC reported:
- A man accused of killing four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing will not be prosecuted because he was given a guarantee he would not face trial. It follows a judge's ruling that an official assurance given in error meant John Downey's prosecution is "an abuse of process".
In August 2015, Gareth Peirce received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the Irish state with the following citation:
- "Gareth Peirce is a British solicitor who, in the darkest years of the Troubles and in very challenging circumstances, has campaigned for justice in a number of high-profile cases involving Irish citizens, including the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six."
Born Jean Webb, she dropped her forename while relatively young, and took the name Gareth. She has been described as a very private person who shuns the limelight and refuses media interviews.
She lives in Kentish Town, North London, with her husband, Mellen Chamberlain "Bill" Peirce (born 1930), a writer and photographer, son of the American painter Waldo Peirce and his third wife, Alzira. Bill and Gareth Peirce have two adult sons, Nicholas and Zachary.
In the 1960s, she worked as a journalist in the United States, following the campaign of Martin Luther King. Married, she returned to Britain in 1970 with her husband and elder son and undertook her postgraduate law degree at the London School of Economics. In 1974, she joined the firm of the radical solicitor Benedict Birnberg as a trainee, being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 15 December 1978.
Following Birnberg's retirement in 1999, she continued to work as a senior partner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners. In the mid-1970s, she supported specific campaigns for legal reforms of police procedures that permitted the prosecution and conviction of persons based solely on identification evidence. Individual cases then very much in the news led to the establishment of Justice Against the Identification Laws (JAIL), an organisation that Peirce supports.
During her career she represented Judith Ward, a woman wrongfully convicted in 1974 of several IRA-related bombings, the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and Moazzam Begg, a man held in extrajudicial detention by the American government. In 2008 Journalist Nadarajah Sethurupan, the founder of Norway News, appointed Peirce as his solicitor. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, appointed Peirce as his solicitor in the extradition case: "Swedish Judicial Authority v Julian Assange".
Recognition and reception
Her role in the defence of the Guildford Four was dramatised in the 1994 film, "In the Name of the Father", with Peirce portrayed by Emma Thompson. Peirce has reportedly never watched the film, and stated in 1995 that she was "an extremely unimportant participant in the story" but was "given a seemingly important status". She was appointed a CBE in 1999 for services to justice, but later wrote to Downing Street asking for it to be withdrawn, accepting responsibility and tendering an apology for any misunderstanding.
Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a campaigner against miscarriages of justice, dedicated a book to Peirce, calling her "the doyenne of British defence lawyers" and that she "refuses to be defeated in any case no matter how unfavourable it looks". Benedict Birnberg, who first employed her as a solicitor, believes she has "transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly".
Michael Gove, a journalist and later a Conservative MP, once described her as being a "passionate, committed and effective supporter of the Trotskyist Socialist Alliance", which he said was committed to destabilising the 'Establishment'. In 2005, Gove told The Sunday Telegraph that as well as serving her clients, she has an "idealism that is motivated by a political agenda".
Peirce was one of the initial eight people inducted in March 2007 into Justice Denied magazine's 'Hall of Honour' for her lifetime achievement in aiding the wrongly convicted.
"The Framing of Megrahi"
On 24 September 2009, the London Review of Books (LRB) published an important essay by Gareth Peirce entitled "The Framing of al-Megrahi" whose conviction for the Lockerbie bombing she described as "the death of justice". The article effectively demolished the Lockerbie Official Narrative and was reprinted in full by The Independent newspaper. But, apart from attracting some critical comments on Professor Black's blog from Frank Duggan, Richard Marquise and others, the article was generally under-reported. LRB's senior editor Paul Myerscough expressed his exasperation at this lack of publicity:
- But what happens when Gareth Peirce writes about the al-Megrahi case for us? She publishes her essay and you think my God, this surely has to be answered at some level ― and nothing happens. The Independent reprinted it in entirety, but it just doesn’t make the same sort of impact. You want to cry that it doesn’t, because in a sense the case she’s presenting is so extraordinary that it can’t be addressed in a culture in which there’s consensus: every time al-Megrahi is referred to he is the "Lockerbie Bomber" ― and that’s in news sources. So what happens when you have a piece that says he didn’t do it, actually it was someone else? You can’t really expect that to be picked up at ― except that it’s Gareth Piece, the most respected defence solicitor on miscarriages of justice this country has. So I think you have grounds to influence whoever by publishing it. All you can really do is put these things into the public sphere and hope that they get picked up. Very often it doesn’t happen.
Comment by Benedict Birnberg
Peirce's former partner in the law firm Birnberg Peirce commented:
- As a partner of Gareth Peirce until my retirement may I add a sequel to her penetrating analysis of the al-Megrahi case (LRB, 24 September). First, to point out that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) after an investigation lasting over three years referred his conviction to the Scottish court of appeal in June 2007; its statement of referral extended to more than 800 pages with 13 volumes of appendices. It is that appeal which, as Gareth Peirce says, al-Megrahi abandoned before his release and repatriation to Libya, thus denying the court the opportunity to consider the case, even though the SCCRC stated in its press release: ‘based upon our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court … the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.’
- Why did al-Megrahi withdraw his appeal? Was it because he was put under pressure to secure his release on compassionate grounds? Or was it voluntarily done because he lacked confidence in the impartiality of the court? Whatever the truth may be, the onus now rests on the Scottish government to establish a public judicial inquiry, so that the case so painstakingly prepared by the SCCRC does not go by default.
- Second, to add to the suspicions Peirce’s article exposes, it needs to be said that the Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision has unleashed a hysterical torrent of vilification, not least in the US where many of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims are convinced of al-Megrahi’s guilt. We have witnessed a campaign of denigration on which even Obama, Hillary Clinton and the late Edward Kennedy have bestowed their benediction. On this side of the Atlantic too the irrational commentators abound. The overwhelming weight of media comment has been hostile to al-Megrahi.
- On 3 September 2009, The Guardian carried a long article by Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary and a prominent Scottish lawyer, headed ‘Megrahi’s return has been a sorry, cocked-up conspiracy’: it failed even to mention the SCCRC reference. Even pillars of the human rights establishment, such as Geoffrey Robertson, have shouted themselves hoarse: ‘We should be ashamed that this has happened’ (Guardian, 22 August) and ‘Megrahi should never have been freed: the result is a triumph for state "terrorism" and a worldwide boost for the death penalty’ (Independent, 2 September).
- Yet, when al-Megrahi releases part of the SCCRC case on the Internet, his declared aim being to clear his name and ostensibly to prove his innocence, pat comes the Scottish Lord Advocate (Scotland’s chief prosecutor) joining relatives of the victims convinced of his guilt to denounce him for his ‘media campaign’. Meanwhile pleas from those who, like Dr Jim Swire, believe justice has not been done and who, for the sake of the memory of the victims as much as al-Megrahi, wish there to be a genuine and far-reaching inquiry, fall on deaf ears.
Critique by Barry Walker
Barry Walker (aka 'baz') wrote the following critique of Gareth Peirce's essay:
- This article was worth reading if only for paragraph 12 beginning "it is not difficult to obtain a conviction of the innocent - etc". That was brilliant.
- Ms Peirce also dealt well with the matter of RARDE and Messrs Hayes and Feraday with whom she has had professional dealings. Indeed I made identical points concerning the doubt as to which of two actually discovered the MST-13 fragment in my article on the UTA772 bombing here. She also dealt at length with Tom Thurman who unfortunately (as the article notes) was not a witness at the trial.
- However the rest of the article was littered with gross errors of fact and dubious assertions too numerous to detail. She also tried to construct a case against Abu Talb on the most tenuous evidence, a case far far more dubious than that on which Mr Megrahi was convicted. The article notes Gauci's claim to have seen the purchaser of the clothing in a bar months later. How can this have been Abu Talb? Would Ms Peirce have preferred somebody else to have been framed?
- I was disappointed that the article gave little thought as to why a fraudulent version of events was created save for a repetition of the illogical claim that the Libyan solution was improvised to meet the supposed needs of the Gulf War coalition.
- I was also horrified that a Solicitor of her standing made some sweeping allegations, irrelevant to her argument, which were unsupported by a shred of evidence. These claims appear to have come from proponents of the "drug conspiracy" theory.
- Firstly, Ms Peirce wrote "a second suitcase, opened by a Scottish farmer, contained packets of white powder which a local police officer told him was undoubtedly heroin." This enduring myth, central to the Francovich/Ashton/Ferguson version of the "drug conspiracy theory" is based on zero evidence. Farmer Jim Wilson never claimed to have recovered such a suitcase and therefore the claim about the "local police officer" is a complete invention.
- Even if a suitcase of drugs was recovered at Tundergarth (and there is no evidence one was) how does that relate to the bombing? Who is going to smuggle a suitcase of perfectly good smack onto a plane they plan to blow-up?
- Secondly, Ms Peirce wrote "Charles McKee (a CIA operative flying back to the US to report on his concern that the couriering of drugs was being officially condoned as a way to entrap users and dealers in the US)."
- Who said McKee (an army Major) was a "CIA operative"? Who said he was returning to the US to blow the whistle on the drug-smuggling operation? Was this Juval Aviv and how did he know?
- I have never read the Interfor report but I understand it was based on what Aviv claimed to have been told by anonymous intelligence officials as if that was credible evidence. Aviv's claims do not constitute evidence.
- As far as I am aware this scenario has been "investigated" and as far as I am aware the only "evidence" has been produced by fabricators such as Oswald LeWinter. LeWinter and Aviv duped John Ashton and Ian Ferguson (and Paul Foot) and apparently Tam Dalyell who wrote the forward to their book. Coleman is LeWinter's collaborator. Francovich knew perfectly well LeWinter was a fabricator as he had previously exposed him as such!
- I am prepared to accept the CIA were involved in such operations. (It is in the public domain they carried out similar operations in Venezuela.) However my point is if this were true (and there is no evidence that it is) how does this relate to the bombing? As I pointed out in 2001 the bomb was introduced at Heathrow not Frankfurt.
- p.s. I note that retired Superintendent Iain McKie is a signatory to the letter to the President of the General Assembly. What is the relationship between the Shirley McKie case and Lockerbie? None whatsoever save an unsubstantiated claim by Aviv of what he claimed to have been told by unidentified FBI agents.
"Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice", a collection of her essays for the London Review of Books, was published in 2010. Of her defence of Muslim suspects accused of "terrorism", Peirce has said:
We have lost our way in this country. We have entered a new dark age of injustice and it is frightening that we are overwhelmed by it. I know I am representing innocent people; innocent people who know that a jury they face will inevitably be predisposed to find them guilty.
Documents by Gareth Peirce
|Title||Document type||Publication date||Subject(s)||Description|
|America's non-compliance||article||29 April 2010||Extradition|
War on Terror
|The Framing of al-Megrahi||Article||24 September 2009||Abdelbaset al-Megrahi|
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command
|It is not difficult to achieve a conviction of the innocent|
- "Profile: Gareth Peirce", BBC News, 10 March 2004.
- "Brief biography of Gareth Peirce at 'This is London'."
- "The Framing of al-Megrahi"
- "Lawyer for 'Guildford Four' will represent John Downey in IRA Hyde Park bombing case"
- "Alleged IRA Hyde Park bomber goes free after 'no trial' guarantee"
- "THE QUEEN ‐ v ‐ JOHN ANTHONY DOWNEY, JUDGMENT: ABUSE OF PROCESS"
- "Birmingham Six lawyer receives top award along with Hollywood star"
- "Vincent le Plastrier" (note misspelling of husband's surname as "Pierce")
- "Gareth Peirce" The Times, 21 April 2008
- "When Sir Ian heard who the lawyer was, it is likely he let out a long, hard sigh"
- "Gareth Peirce: Tough case" The Independent, 4 August 2002
- "Chamberlain Peirce bio"
- "The Three Little Peirces", Life, 12 November 1945, p. 82
- "Peirce family"
- "Gareth Peirce: Why I still fight for human rights", The Guardian, 12 October 2010
- "The Guardian profile: Gareth Peirce", The Guardian, 14 January 2005
- "Law Society"
- "Farewell to a non-fat cat" The Independent, 25 February 1999
- Martin Walker and Bernadette Brittain, "IDENTIFICATION EVIDENCE - Practices and Malpractices: A report by JAIL", 1978.
- "WikiLeaks' Assange builds new, less-confrontational legal team"
- "Emma Thompson to reprise role of Gareth Peirce in 'War on Terror' film"
- "Justice Denied article about Gareth Peirce" Issue 36 (Winter 2007)]
- "30 Years of LRB"
- "Comment by Benedict Birnberg"
- "Critique by Barry Walker"
- Colin Blackstock, "Muslims face 'dark age of injustice'", The Guardian, 1 April 2004
- Gareth Peirce speech regarding Samar and Jawad
- "This covert experiment in injustice", The Guardian (4 February 2004)
- "Was it like this for the Irish? Gareth Peirce on the position of Muslims in Britain", London Review of Books (10 April 2008)
- "The Framing of al-Megrahi", London Review of Books (24 September 2009)
- Vanity Fair article on Mouloud Sihali, February 2008, No. 570
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