I was born in 1948 in Sheffield in South Yorkshire, and am very proud of my roots. My dad was a butcher for the Co-op and my mum worked in a factory.
I had a brother, five years younger than me, but tragically, he and his wife were killed in a road accident in 1975, something we never really got over.
My school record is best described as undistinguished. I left school with five bottom-grade O-Levels and a budgerigar. I had devoted the rest of my time to music and sport and was classically trained on the piano accordion, which I learnt to play because I thought it was different. One day at school, the teacher asked if anyone could play a musical instrument. Most of the other kids were claiming the piano or the violin and more usual type of instruments. Being a born braggart and ‘expander of the truth’, I put my hand up, and the first thing that came into my head was the piano accordion because I knew no one else in the school played it.
‘How unusual,’ said the teacher. ‘You can play in the school concert at Christmas!’
Here I learned my first lesson – if you’re going to lie, make sure you have an escape route!
The next eight months were spent having piano accordion lessons, paid for out of my parents meagre earnings. I found it was easier to make up my own tunes than to read music, and not only that, they sounded a lot flashier. Consequently, I appeared at the school concert playing a selection of what I’d described as ‘Ethnic Inca’ music. To cover my mistakes I announced that I would put in a couple of deliberate mistakes for the audience to try to spot. The sound of applause, albeit slight, captured my enthusiasm, and I became smitten with the show-business bug.
Over the years I progressed and won a number of championships. My then mentor and teacher, the great Horace Crossland, taught me how to conduct, and I took charge of the junior band, having a great time in the process. I was also in charge of the comedy section of the show, used to vary the input of music, and hence my love of comedy was born.
I was determined to become a professional musician, but sadly in the sixties the accordion lost its popularity and gave way to the electric guitar. I have often said that if I had played the guitar to the same standard, I might well have achieved my wish of becoming a professional musician.
I played both solo and with the band for a number of years after leaving school, reaching the great heights of an unemployed ‘wannabe’ professional musician.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my parents felt that I should get a job. I saw my show-business career fade in to the distant background as I filled in application forms. It was then that fate lent a hand, or rather ‘stuck the boot in’.
I met an old pal of mine who was working as an office boy for a firm of Solicitors. They had a football team and were a player short for an important match in the Yorkshire and District competition. Using such skill as I had, I played in the match and managed to score three goals.
I was asked to play in the quarterfinals, where I scored five goals. Then I was asked to play in the semi-finals, and scored a hat trick.
On the day of the final, I was due to attend an interview at Barclays Bank in Nottingham. When the senior partner at the firm found out, he was livid. He thought Bury and Walkers had a very real chance of winning the championship, and was adamant that I should play.
To cut a long story short, they had no alternative but to offer me a job as an office boy’s assistant, earning the grand salary of £4.10s a week. And so my legal career was born.
I hadn’t given up my aspirations to a show-business career, but thought that having this job would placate my parents and also give me a bit of spending money. So that I would look smart on my first day, my parents bought me a pair of cavalry twill trousers and a new sports coat. When I arrived at the Solicitors office, all the men were wearing suits. To say I felt out of place is an understatement. I swore an oath then that one day I would have a different suit for every day.
My first two tasks as office boy’s assistant were to blow up his rugby ball for the senior partners son, and to fetch sandwiches and buns for the typing pool.
I managed twelve months before I was sacked.
This was all due to Lord Byron.
One of the partners had bought an antique desk belonging to Lord Byron. I had never heard of him, and I assumed that it was going to be replaced by a ‘proper’ one from MFI. With some help, I took the desk down to the basement, and thought that would be the end of it. In effect, it was. Three months later, when the auction house Christie’s came to value the desk, I rushed to the basement to find it. (By that time I’d found out who Lord Byron was.) Unfortunately, our caretaker had shared my initial ignorance. He had burned the desk, believing it to be rubbish. The senior partner was not altogether happy, and I found myself applying for a job at another firm.
Here I was promoted to the exalted position of Office Boy first class, carrying out a series of mundane tasks commensurate with my ability. Then on one occasion I was asked to take some papers to the local Magistrates Court. I went inside and watched the advocates dealing with their cases. They were resplendent in their black coats and pinstripe trousers, and the whole essence of the theatre was apparent to me. I wanted to wear a suit like theirs – I wanted to be just like them.
My passion for the law had begun.
I worked in the wilderness for 3 or 4 years. I still hoped for a career in music, but as time was passing by, I started to attend night-school classes. My almost impossible goal was to become a Solicitor of the Supreme Court – without A-Levels, a degree or even, to be frank, a formal education.
I worked in Wakefield for 3 years, until in 1971 I left G. W. Towell & Co to work in a place I had only heard of, called Rotherham. I was told it was a rough area, full of macho men who liked to fight. It was so rough even the kids played conkers with hammers.
On the 4th September 1971 I married my wife Jennifer. We had met through music – she was an accomplished opera singer from a theatrical background.
I started work as a Legal Executive with Crehan, Tierney, Hartnill and Co on the 20th September 1971. No Byron desks this time! I continued ploughing through my examinations, and was given six months off to go to Leeds University to complete my finals.
I enjoyed it. It was a whole new life for me, because of course I had been used to working. The six months soon passed and, with a substantial measure of luck, I passed my exams and became a Solicitor of the Supreme Court.
My mum and dad paid for my first black jacket and pinstripe trousers. A little different from the sports coat and cavalry twill trousers I wore when I first started this job.
In 1979 I began my career in the Courts, appearing at Magistrates’ and Crown Courts around the country. Despite prospects of working with large firms in the big cities, I stuck with Rotherham because I had grown to like it and its people.
In 1981 my pal Steve Wilford (‘the stable one’) and I formed Wilford Smith, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Steve Wilford and I had worked together in Barnsley in the 1960’s, when he too was an office boy. We are equal partners in our firm, and anything we have done has been by agreement – to this day we don’t have a formal partnership deed. We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’re still there, fighting the corner for the little man.
At Wilford Smith I have worked on some controversial cases and along the way represented a number of remarkable and famous people, including the late Adam Faith, the boxer Prince Naseem Hamed, and a host of show-business celebrities – the theatre was never really far away.
I have recently dealt with the high profile case of Lord Ahmed. I was surprised at how unfair the reporting of his case was by the media. The publics’ perception was that he was criminally liable for the death of another. He wasn’t. The Court of Appeal said so and agreed with my submissions. They also found that whilst in the wrong for using his mobile phone, at least afterwards he acted with integrity and put his life at risk to ensure no one else lost theirs, by reason of the drunken driver who had crashed his car which led to the collision with his.
It was an experience dealing with that case and I learned a lot about politics and the press, but we won in the end.
I appeared in two BBC television Rough Justice programmes, centering on the famous biker case I dealt with in the 1990’s, in which an innocent man had been convicted of murder. All we had to work with was our gut feeling – it took four years, but we pulled it off. John Megson, the biker in question, asked me to write the story, and so my writing career, such as it is, began.
I wrote my first book Hell is not for Angels based on the case. We named the killers, and just before the book was released they were arrested and the book therefore banned (otherwise they would not have had a fair trial).
Caught by the writing but I moved on to anecdotes about my life in the Yorkshire courts, and so Boozers, Ballcocks & Bail was born…
I don’t get much free time because I am a self-confessed workaholic, but when I do, I like gardening, visiting the theatre and eating out with my mates. I am also involved with several local charities. I enjoy all kinds of sport, but these days it is more watching than playing, and I am proud to be the president of the Rotherham Town Cricket Club.
My wife and I have a daughter, who has inherited our theatrical genes. She was one of the youngest singers ever to perform in The Phantom of the Opera. When ‘resting’, she found the same fascination with the law as I had, and is now in charge of our Crown Court department.
I often wonder if she would like to take over one day, but she says that having seen what it’s done to me, there must be an easier life to be had somewhere else.
Steve was awarded the MBE in Her Majesty the Queens Birthday Honours List in 2006 for services to Rotherham and South Yorkshire Charities.
In over 40 years of experience Steve has acquired a nationwide reputation for dealing with criminal and environmental law matters. He is also a Higher Rights Advocate which entitles him to appear in the Crown Court.
He has represented a number of controversial cases and celebrities including Adam Faith, the former featherweight champion of the world Prince Naseem Hamed and more recently the Peer Lord Ahmed, who was successful in his appeal at the Court of Appeal against a Crown Court decision. The appeal was achieved within 15 days of his sentence in the Crown Court. He also had a part to play in the Jamie Bulger case in the application to oppose the early release of Venables and Thompson.
His firm, Wilford Smith Limited specialise in fraud and environmental cases, together with serious crime, such as murder, manslaughter and drug related offences. Supported by a dedicated set of co-Directors and support staff Wilford Smith provided a 24 hour emergency Police station cover service. They also specialise in road traffic matters, dealing with drink driving and potential disqualification cases.
This work takes them the length and breadth of the country and for more details see the official website at www.wilfordsmith.co.uk. The office can be contacted on 01709 828044 or by fax 01709 835295