In January 2017, Brian Altman QC was appointed Lead Counsel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (to see The Times report of the appointment click here) and has led in the Inquiry’s 2017 hearings into historical allegations of child sexual abuse including those against Liberal MP Cyril Smith in Rochdale and in the 2019 hearings examining whether there was a culture of deference and tolerance by the political parties and the police towards persons of public prominence in Westminster.
Brian’s main specialisms are fraud and bribery, as well as corporate governance, compliance and regulatory work. A large part of his practice is advising prominent private and corporate clients, as well as the UK Government, on a wide range of high profile and esoteric issues. Brian’s clients have included several high net worth individuals, foreign multinational corporations and UK PLCs, and other organisations, as well as a Middle Eastern Royal Family. Typically, his instructions emanate from well-known and respected City solicitors, but also from in-house Counsel.
Brian has long and successful experience as leading counsel in the most serious, high profile cases of murder and terrorism, and has headed and advised teams of lawyers and investigators countless times over several years.
In June 2013, Brian ended his highly successful tenure as Treasury Counsel at the Old Bailey, having been Treasury Counsel for some 16 years, the last two-and-a-half of which had been as First Senior Treasury Counsel. During that time he advised on, and prosecuted, some of the best-known cases of the day such as the case of John Downey, alleged to be an IRA man guilty of the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, who had erroneously received a comfort letter indicating he was not wanted in the UK; the notorious abduction and murder of Milly Dowler and the killing of Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy; the so-called ‘Babes in the Woods’ murder case – the killing of 9 year old Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in Brighton by Russell Bishop in 1986.
Over the years Brian has consistently been acknowledged to be ‘a leader in his field’ by both Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500. In 2007, Brian was nominated by Chambers & Partners as ‘Crime Junior of the Year’ and in 2011 as ‘Crime Silk of the Year’. In 2013, he was also nominated by Legal 500 as ‘Crime Silk of the Year’. Brian was also selected by Lawyer Monthly as outright winner of the 2015 “White Collar Crime Barrister of the Year – UK”.
The Times has named Brian in its law 100 list as one of the country’s 100 most influential lawyers. He was also listed by The London Evening Standard in the law section of the list of London’s 1000 most influential people for 2011, and in 2012 he was named by The London Evening Standard as one of London’s top three “Golden Legal Eagles” in crime.
The case of Ash-Smith was one of two historic cases recently featured in Episode 3 of the BBC4 documentary series “The Prosecutors” in which cameras were allowed into court buildings for the first time. The programme in which Brian was interviewed followed milestones in the preparation and prosecution of the case to its successful conclusion. (See BBC IPlayer: the prosecutors).
Brian also featured in the 2019 BBC2 documentary ‘The Babes in the Wood Murders: The Prosecutors’ about the successful quashing of Russell Bishop’s acquittal in 1987 for the murder of two 9 year old Brighton girls in 1986 and his retrial and conviction at the Old Bailey in 2018 in which Brian led for the prosecution. (See The Times review)
Media agencies often ask Brian for his opinion and input on current legal affairs, and he has been quoted and mentioned in many media articles. In a Channel 4 News online article by Patrick Worrall “Why is there no courtroom drama like the real thing”, dealing with the issue of cameras in the courtroom, Patrick wrote:
“Court reporters sit around and argue over top prosecutors the way that fight fans talk about boxers. Who’s the best, pound-for-pound? We all had our favourites. Mine was Brian Altman QC, vanquisher of Milly Dowler’s repulsive killer Levi Bellfield, among others. Mr Altman is an expert cross-examiner, breaking down the hardest of the hard men with patient, remorseless logic, trapping them with their own lies.” (See Channel 4)
Brian has been interviewed by Clive Coleman, the BBC legal affairs correspondent, for the Radio 4 Today programme broadcast on 4 April 2013 about the end of his tenure as First Senior Treasury Counsel and the workings of the Treasury Counsel system. (See BBC News )
He has been quoted in a BBC online article about televising court proceedings (See BBC news UK). Brian has also been quoted in a BBC online article about forensics. (See BBC news magazine)
He has been involved in two diplomatic missions to Oman to participate in workshops with Beyond Borders and the British Council to address with the Omani Attorney General and local prosecutors issues of public order, bribery, corruption and anti-money laundering.
In October 2014, Brian gave a talk to lawyers and insurers at the 2014 Meeting of the Swedish International Chamber of Commerce Financial Services and Insurance Group, which was held in London at the offices of DWF LLP, on “The UK Approach to FATCA Disclosure Liabilities and Client Confidentiality”.
Brian has prosecuted and advised the Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) and the Attorney General in many serious cased both as Treasury Counsel and since involving:
- Advising solicitors in Singapore on behalf of a client charged with serious drugs offences in relation to trial and appeal proceedings taking place in Singapore
- Advising Police Scotland on a highly sensitive enquiry arising out of the RUC shooting of two men in a hayshed in Northern Ireland in the 1980s
- Murder, manslaughter
- Corporate manslaughter
- Breaches of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
- Medical manslaughter
- Police misconduct
- War crimes
- Official secrets and terrorism
Brian’s defence work is highly regarded. He was instructed privately by David Sonn of Sonn Macmillan Walker to represent a businessman, RF, at Snaresbrook Crown Court in September and October 2015. RF was accused of a large-scale drugs conspiracy. RF was acquitted following successful arguments regarding the admissibility of evidence which led to RF’s discharge on one of two counts he faced on the indictment, and he was finally discharged on the remaining count following a successful submission of no case at the close of the prosecution case.
In 2015, Brian was instructed privately by Ian Kelcey of Kelcey & Hall of Bristol to represent LW, one of four serving police officers, accused of misconduct in public office arising from a high profile murder case in Bristol in July 2013. Brian’s client was acquitted by the jury unanimously after a seven week trial at Bristol Crown Court which ended just before Christmas 2015.
In June 2017, Brian, who was instructed privately by Ian Kelcey of Kelcey & Hall of Bristol, secured the acquittal of GD, a former senior police chief in Avon & Somerset, who was accused of sexually assaulting women on cross country trains in the west country. GD had been accused by 3 women of 5 sexual assaults, but, following a 5 day trial at Bristol Crown Court, the jury acquitted GD of all the charges.
He is regularly instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division to prosecute terrorism offences including, most recently, those arising from the conflict in Syria, and by Complex Casework Units of the Crown Prosecution Service in a variety of high profile, difficult, and often historic, homicide cases.
- Advising the Attorney General whether he should issue a nolle prosequi in the case of a well-known MP accused in the expenses scandal.
- Instructed by the DPP to review the convictions of 29 activists who blocked a coal train entering the Drax Power Station following the non-disclosure of the activity of undercover officer Mark Kennedy.
- Advice on potential blackmail charges against RK regarding payments to him for the removal of listings on his ‘Solicitors from Hell’ website.
- Consideration of the prospects of a prosecution in the UK of Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz for hostage taking during the 1991 Gulf War.
- Advice whether the author Rupert Allason should be prosecuted for perjury arising from his legal action against Random House, who published ‘The Enigma Spy’, the autobiography of the former Soviet agent, John Cairncross, which Allason claimed to have ghost-written in return for the copyright and 50% of the proceeds.
- Consideration of manslaughter charges against the Prison Service arising from the murder by a cellmate of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham Young Offender Institution.
- Advising the Attorney General as to whether the evidence of a senior HMRC lawyer to a parliamentary public accounts committee amounted to perjury.
- Opinion for the Solicitor General on the admissibility of the use of experts to dispel myths in rape and other sex cases.
- Advising the DPP and MOD whether there was evidence of breaches of the Official Secrets Act by British Army Major Stankovic while acting as an army interpreter in Bosnia.
- Advice on the justiciability of potential prosecutions in the UK under section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 of parties involved in “assisted suicides” taking place in Switzerland under the auspices of ‘Dignitas’.
- Advice to HM Customs & Excise regarding the proper interpretation of section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, whether the exemption under that section applied equally to Customs (i.e. whether Customs officers were permitted to exceed national speed limits in enforcement situations).
- Opinion to ACPO on the advisability of a proposed national police procedure regarding the taking and use of evidential fingerprints, and the possible adverse implications of the proposed procedure for the successful prosecution of cases involving identification by fingerprint evidence.
Brian has recently led for the defence in:
- R v GD (Brian acted for a former Chief Superintendent who was accused of a series of sexual assaults on women on trains in the west country. Following a trial in June at Bristol Crown Court, GD was acquitted of all charges.)
R v AB (This was a multimillion pound money laundering case where Brian led for the main defendant. Despite the defendant pleading guilty to most of the charges only just before trial, and in spite of the amount said to have been laundered, Brian was able to secure a non-custodial sentence for AB).
- R v LW (This was a high profile case in which the prosecution alleged that three police officers and one PCSO had misconducted themselves in public office in July 2013 in Bristol in relation to their dealings with a man called Bijan Ebrahimi. Brian represented one of the officers, LW, who it was alleged had failed to deal properly with Ebrahimi’s 999 call one evening in which he alleged that his neighbour, Lee James, had assaulted him in his home and had accused him (wrongly) of being a paedophile. It was said also that LW had failed to deal with Lee James’ behaviour at the scene, in particular James’s threats to kill Ebrahimi. Thus the prosecution alleged against LW that she had failed to arrest Lee James, or deal adequately with his behaviour, and that she had failed to investigate Ebrahimi’s complaint all due to her alleged antipathy towards him. LW faced a further allegation relating to a separate occasion when she had refused to speak to Ebrahimi when he had tried calling her when she was on other duties. Within an hour Ebrahimi was murdered by Lee James with an accomplice offering him assistance. LW was acquitted by the jury unanimously after a seven week trial at Bristol Crown Court).
Selective high-profile terrorism and organised crime trials in which Brian has led for the prosecution include:
- R v Khalid Ali: Khalid Ali disappeared from London in 2011 and found his way to Afghanistan where he joined the insurgency, becoming a bomb-maker for the Taliban and the affiliated terror organisation, Al Qaeda. Ali returned to the UK in 2016 and in the following months began plotting to kill a policeman, military person or a politician in the Whitehall area which he had reconnoitered on two occasions before making his way to the area on 27 April 2017 armed with three knives in order to carry out his intentions. The plan was thwarted by armed police who intercepted Ali as he crossed Parliament Street. In later interviews with the police, Ali admitted to having been a Taliban bomb-maker and to having detonated over 300 IEDs to cause explosions. He freely admitted to being a trained Taliban fighter and a mujahid. He said he had returned to deliver a ‘message’ to the decision-makers in the UK. He said he had pledged his allegiance to successive leaders of the Taliban and to the leader of Al Qaeda. He resiled from this account at trial, claiming he had been captured by the Taliban or their affiliates and forced under threat of execution to make IEDs. He said that on 27 April 2017 he had only been carrying knives into town for his own protection and had not planned to carry out any acts of terrorism. The jury saw through his account and convicted him unanimously of making explosive substances and preparation of acts of terrorism.
- R v Hassane, Majeed, Hamlett & Cuffy: This was the first prosecution of a major Islamic State-influenced plot to kill in the UK. The terror plot was successfully disrupted by the Security Services and police in late September and October 2014 with the arrests of several individuals. Hassane and Majeed plotted to kill servicemen or policemen in drive-by style shootings with a firearm with which they had been supplied by Hamlett and Cuffy. The plot was directed and funded from abroad, most likely from Syria, and while Hassane, who in July 2014 had pledged his allegiance to Islamic State, led the plot chiefly from Sudan where he was studying medicine, Majeed who had been studying physics in London acquired the gun from Hamlett and he was tasked to arrange for an untraceable moped and a lock-up, while engaging in secret communications with his controllers abroad on a laptop. The plot received further impetus in late September 2014 when the official spokesman for Islamic State issued a fatwa to extremists in the West to kill.
- R v Khawaja, Bhatti & Ali: In this case Khawaja went to Syria in 2014 to join with Rayat al Tawheed, and IS-related jihadist insurgent force in Syria, where he received weapons training with a view to fighting. He returned to the UK after Rayat al Tawheed put out a false story on social media that Khawaja had been killed in battle in order to provide cover for his secret return. His cousin Bhatti assisted him to get back into the UK, and Ali had helped fund his journey into Syria. All pleaded guilty to a variety of terrorism offences.
- R v Sarwar & Ahmed: Ttwo young men pleading guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorism, having been in and returned from Syria after five months with Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, fighting Assad’s regime.
- R v Begg: Former Guantanamo detainee charged with terrorism offences but dropped in light of material undermining the case.
- R v Downey: ‘On the run’ IRA man accused of 1982 Hyde Park bombing but not prosecutable having erroneously received a letter of assurance from the government in 2007 that he was not wanted in the UK.
- R v Naseer, Khalid & Ali: Convictions of Birmingham terror bomb plotters at Woolwich Crown Court in February 2013 following a 5 month trial.
- R v Lewington: Conviction of white supremacist for offences under the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006 and the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
- R v Boukhezer: Terrorism Act offences arising from the raid on Finsbury Park mosque.
- Operation Odin: International plot to bomb the Christmas market in Strasbourg.
- R v Rivas & Others: News of the World scoop about a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham.
While Brian’s main area of practice is in serious crime, his practice sees him regularly advising both private and corporate clients across a wide and esoteric range of commercial activities and issues, including on private prosecutions.
In addition to significant high net worth individuals, and household name corporations, Brian advised the Competition & Markets Authority (formerly the Office of Fair Trading) over several years in a high-profile UK-wide cartel investigation involving the construction industry, which concluded with the sentencing in September 2017 of Barry Cooper who had pleaded guilty to a cartel offence.
Brian has also advised the SFO in major blockbuster cases, and the FCA on insider dealing, and over the years he has defended, and advised, in large-scale fraud (such as the high profile Butte Mining PLC and Brent Walker frauds) including mortgage and tax fraud, insider dealing and other serious fraud and corruption cases.
- Advising a nationwide firm of solicitors on issues arising under the Official Secrets Act.
- A US based global aerospace corporation on issues of Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 compliance during a $100m acquisition of a UK company.
- City administrators involved in tracing the £100 millions of assets of a PLC were there have been previous allegations of fraud.
- A Swedish multinational company on suspected fraud during a £1.7bn reverse takeover involving a British PLC.
- Significant high net worth individuals following the judicial review of unlawfully obtained search warrants by a prosecution authority.
- A well known British construction and civil engineering PLC on compliance with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
- A global information services group on the Data Protection 1998 processes of a target company during due diligence in the course of the target company’s acquisition.
- The Bar Council on the application of the Bribery Act 2010 to Bar referral fees.
- A City firm of solicitors on judicial review proceedings arising out of the unlawful execution of a search warrant.
- Reviewing and reporting on corporate governance and the processes of a nationwide retail postal service organisation.
- LOCOG prior to the London 2012 Olympics on internet-based ticket-touting offences.
- A significant high net worth individual on issues arising from the phone hacking enquiry.