Obituary: Edmund Romilly (PR/CO 1965-69)

Edmund Romilly may have been a barrister in the Rumpole mould, but he preferred to see himself as a novelist for whom appearing in the crown court was just the day job. Nevertheless, he was a highly respected advocate who tenaciously defended all manner of alleged criminals, ranging from petty offenders to jewellery thieves.

Only a handful of his cases attracted publicity, with perhaps the most prominent being an appeal in 2003 by one of the men convicted of conspiring to steal diamonds worth £200 million from the Millennium Dome.

Edmund’s true love, however, was writing. In 2006, he published two novels: Skinner – a kitchen-sink tale of a man beset by schizophrenia and alcoholism who feels that he is told by God to embark on a murderous mission, and The Barn – the story of a Londoner trapped in a dull job and life who becomes a ghostwriter. His third novel, Victims, published in 2015, was far more autobiographical; the central character is a casino worker named Giles whose father dies intestate, just as Edmund’s father, also called Giles, had done.

Edmund was born in July 1951 and brought up in London. He was a great-nephew of Winston Churchill and a great-great-great grandson of Sir Samuel Romilly, the abolitionist and law reformer. His father was a journalist and author who was imprisoned by the Nazis in Colditz Castle. Despite Colditz having a reputation for being impossible to escape from, Giles and a Dutch fellow prisoner did just that and Romilly Sr later told his story in a memoir, The Privileged Nightmare.

After Marlborough, he went on to read philosophy at University College London. Interested in the arts, he headed to Devon, where he took a job in an arts centre, writing plays and occasionally performing, until his mother convinced him to get a ‘real job’. He studied for the Bar and was called to Gray’s Inn in 1983. In the early stages of his career, Edmund had a fairly general legal practice, but he soon began to focus almost exclusively on criminal law.

He was often instructed by a firm of solicitors called Steel & Shamash and one day the instructing solicitor was Deborah Bowker. Edmund obtained an acquittal for her clients, but long before the verdict was delivered she had been struck by the barrister’s charm and ability. They lived together for several years before marrying 11 years ago. The wedding took place on 11 November, with the ceremony being paused during the two-minute silence.