Mr Loophole - celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman
- Credit: JULIAN KRONFLI
He courts controversy as the celebrity lawyer who secures acquittals for his famous clientele but at home in Knutsford life is far simpler for Nick Freeman.
If Nick Freeman is troubled by being badged Britain's most controversial lawyer then the solicitor known as Mr Loophole must be an awfully good actor too.
In fact, as he lounges on the sofa in the lake-view orangerie of his Knutsford home, Freeman presents as a man almost impossibly comfortable in his own skin.
Trim and lightly tanned, his loyal Staffie, George, either curled protectively at his feet or dozing on his lap, the 62-year-old father of two gives a sigh of contentment as he gazes out at the mere which winks and ripples beyond the garden of his elegant home.
'I'm often asked why I haven't moved to London,' says Freeman, clearly still captivated by the waterside view. 'After all, a great deal of my work takes me there, not least because of my so-called celebrity client base. But though I can drive up to 50,000 miles a year, with cases all over the country, I wouldn't dream of moving my firm's offices from Manchester or leaving my Cheshire home. There's just no place like it here.
'George and I spend hours walking in Tatton Park. I call it our little safari since we're always finding new trails. And I love the quaint feel and warmth of Knutsford. You'd have to go a long way to beat this. I don't need London. If London needs me, I'm happy to go. But only ever to visit. Never to stay.'
Yet a love of rural calm and Cheshire tranquillity hasn't stopped Freeman making a big noise not only in the legal world but also, thanks to some of the views he fields, as a media commentator - more of which later.
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Nicknamed Mr Loophole for a seemingly magical ability to secure acquittals for A-list clients (and ordinary folk) based on legal technicalities, Freeman has certainly notched up an astonishing record of imaginative defences: from effectively arguing that Sir Alex Ferguson used the hard shoulder because he had a bad stomach and needed to get to the nearest loo, to successfully claiming Jimmy Carr wasn't using his phone at the wheel to make a call but rather to record a joke ("so it wasn't an interactive device" Freeman sagely points out. Colloquially known as Carr`s law!) Little wonder so many celebrities have his number on speed dial.
But there's a dark side to such unrivalled success: in some quarters, Freeman is seen as nothing more than a courtroom chancer and a scourge of road safety. Did he set out to be this controversial when, as a newly qualified lawyer, he moved to Cheshire from his native Nottingham back in 1981?
'I don't see myself as controversial,' he says simply. 'In court I just use the law which Parliament put in place to put forward a legal defence. I don't do the acquitting. If the law says you cannot, say, be convicted for speeding because a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) hasn't been served within 14 days and my client's NIP arrives late, why shouldn't I argue this? That's the law of the land .'
But what of all the so-called drink drivers and habitual speeders his courtroom wizardry puts back on the road?
Unsurprisingly the question hardly rankles the seemingly unflappable lawyer. 'Drink driving or speeding may be appalling conduct but there is a presumption of innocence in criminal law. It is for the court to find the defendant guilty. I'm simply there, like any defence lawyer, to assist clients with a defence if they have one.'
And sometimes even if they don't. Like the time a client accused of drink driving for the fifth time insisted Freeman fought the case in court even though the lawyer couldn`t find anything in the papers on which to base a defence.
'I wasn`t happy with this at all but my client insisted - and I`ll never forget this - "You`re the ****ing hot shot lawyer, just go to court and see what you can do". So after checking with the Law Society I felt I had no choice.'
So far, so bad. But, then the astonishing denouement. As Freeman bleakly listened to the evidence, convinced his client would be convicted, a police officer made the kind of slip only a loophole lawyer would spot.
'Under cross examination about the breathalyser the officer told the court that when the defendant blew, the word 'void' flashed up. Void means the machine was not working. What he should have said was "voided", which means the defendant hadn`t blown properly.'
An astonishingly obscure point, which Freeman had absorbed whilst - as he always does - reading traffic law books on holiday. Case thrown out, costs from central funds, and one astonished client.
Do such victories make him feel invincible, I wonder?
'Not at all. It simply shows that the police and prosecution need to do their job better. I win because, in the main, they slip up.'
Warming to his theme, he adds: 'There are so many things which could improve the system - I`ve offered the Government my help but so far they haven`t called.'
Amongst the changes Freeman suggests are banning hands free phones, reducing the drink drive limit to 50 mg, increasing the penalty of using a mobile phone to immediate 12 month disqualification and dumping postal systems in favour of email.
Freeman's fine eye for detail and ferocious desire to be proved right dates back to a young age. His mother always labelled him the difficult one - "but I wasn't being difficult, I was being argumentative when I felt something was wrong."
His first ex-wife, Stephanie - there are two - has previously said it was difficult being married to him as every discussion turned into a form of legal argument.
He recognises his modus operandi, though legally watertight, places him in a more difficult position.
On one occasion, he agreed to take part in a television debate with a family who had been severely injured by a drink driver whose acquittal he had secured.
'I tried to explain that all I was doing was pointing out to the court where the case was defective. I understood their bitterness and despair. But what they really needed to do was level that at the police and prosecution for following the wrong procedures. But this innocent family had suffered so much. They couldn't accept it. As a human being my heart broke for them. As a lawyer, whose job it is to defend clients ….'
He pauses. Then: 'Well, if I was presented with same situation I would do it all again.'
Freeman is clearly a man of contradictions. When his daughter Sophie - he also has a son Ben - was charged with speeding he refused to defend her. 'Actually, I`m proud of her. She took her medicine, and admitted guilt.'
Freeman may speak with the considered timbre of a public-school educated professional - he is an alumnus of Uppingham - but as a commentator he has ruffled plenty of feathers with unapologetic views on capital punishment, corporal punishment and, more recently, how a woman`s dress and behaviour may compromise her safety.
It's a point on which he remains steadfast: 'We should all be entitled to wear what we like, drink what we like and go where we like. And when it comes to heinous attacks on women, the only person responsible for them is the attacker,' he insists.
'But surely it's common sense, not controversial, to warn women that walking home late at night after too much drink - which they are entitled to do - may increase vulnerability.
'People are quick to define my comments as misogyny when all I'm expressing is good, old-fashioned common sense. I simply don't want innocent people to be attacked or to get hurt.'
It is this conflict between perception and reality which lies at the heart of Nick Freeman: a man who loves smart cars and loves to shop at Hugo Boss, yet is at his happiest roaming around Tatton with his dog.
'People think I'm this smart-ass lawyer. But I just want to do the job to the best of my ability and to make sure innocent people are protected. The image doesn't reflect who I am or what I do.'
And that, perhaps, is the biggest loophole of them all. u
The Art of the Loophole by Nick Freeman is published by Hodder
Nick's most famous cases
Alex Ferguson's digestive issues weren't the only courtroom caveat that allowed Nick to win his case
David Beckham received a six-month driving ban earlier this year after being caught using his phone at the wheel. Nick wasn't representing him that time - but he has a few times before and helped the star swerve a couple of proposed bans; once by suggesting he was fleeing the paparazzi when Becks was caught doing 24 mph above the limit near Cheadle.
Out of gear
In 2006 Nick argued that while Jeremy Clarkson - who was accused of drivng 82 mph in a 50-zone - had signed the loan form on a hired Alfa Romeo, it could have been any of the Top Gear team driving.
Not fast enough for Freddie
Cricketer Andrew Flintoff may have been accused of driving too fast on the M60 (87 mph in a 50-zone) but police were too slow at sending out the paperwork. Nick successfully argued they'd busted the 14-day time limit for posting papers.