The Honourable Sir Oliver Bury Popplewell
(born August 15 1927
, Middlesex) is a former British judge
. He chaired
the inquiry into the Bradford City stadium fire
, presided over the libel
case brought by Jonathan Aitken MP
against the guardian newspaper
which eventually led to Aitkin's imprisonment
, and was widely reported for asking "What is Linford
?" during a case over which he was presiding, brought by Linford Christie. He played first-class cricket
for Cambridge University
and was president of the MCC
from 1994 until 1996. He wrote a book about his legal career.
Popplewell's father, aged 47 when Oliver was born, was a civil servant in the Board of Trade
. A widower
, Sir Oliver remarried fellow-barrister Dame Elizabeth Gloster
in March 2008. He is the father of four sons, the eldest of whom is the Cambridge University and Somerset
cricketer, Nigel Popplewell, and also has thirteen grandchildren amongst whom is the actress Anna Popplewell
Popplewell went to Charterhouse School
as a scholar, where he played cricket with Peter May
and future politician Jim Prior
, and after spending two years of National Service
in the Royal Navy
, he went to Queens' College, Cambridge
as an exhibitioner
. He was awarded a B.A. degree
in 1950 and an LL.B.
In 2003, Popplewell became one of the oldest mature students at the University of Oxford when he started reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Harris Manchester College.
Popplewell was a right-handed wicket-keeper
, playing 56 innings
in 41 matches, scoring 881 runs
for an average
of 20.46 including two half-centuries He played for Cambridge University
from 1949 until 1951 at the time when Rev DS Sheppard
was playing for the University, for MCC in 1953, and for the Free Foresters
from 1952 until 1960. His only bowling
stint was three balls for MCC against Cambridge University in 1953. He was president of the MCC from 1994 to 1996.
Popplewell was called to the bar
in 1951. He became a Queen's Counsel
in 1969. After serving as Recorder
of Burton upon Trent
and Deputy Chairman of Oxfordshire Quarter Sessions
, he was appointed as Recorder of the Crown Court
in 1971. He was a High Court
judge from 1983 until 2003. During this time, he chaired the Bradford Inquiry into Crowd Control and Safety at Sports Grounds in 1985. He became president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal
and vice chairman of the Parole Board
in 1986, and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
In 1975, he defended a then-18-year-old Stephen Fry at his trial for credit card fraud. Popplewell and his wife had long been friends of Fry's parents. Stephen Fry writes about the event in his autobiography Moab Is My Washpot.
Following the fire at Valley Parade, the Bradford City stadium, on 11 May 1985, Popplewell was chosen to chair an inquiry held under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. Following this inquiry, he was chosen to chair a Committee of Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds. In 1999, he donated the papers of the inquiry to the University of Bradford.
He presided over the libel case brought by Jonathan Aitken against the guardian and Granada Television.
While presiding over the High Court case brought by the athlete Linford Christie against former criminal John McVicar, the editor of Spike magazine, he was widely reported as asking, "What is Linford's lunchbox?". He later claimed that this was intended as a joke. Following this case, the name "Mr Justice Cocklecarrot" was revived by Private Eye magazine (it was originally the name of a character in the Beachcomber column in the Daily Express) which became the magazine's generic name for unworldly and out-of-touch judges, though Popplewell asserts that this description did not apply to him.
He upheld Reynold's privilege, established in the the House of Lords in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd in 1999, in an action against the Yorkshire Post for reporting that a local karate company was selling "rip-off" lessons.
Since he retired, Popplewell has spoken up for the right of judges to impose the sentences they see fit. He had an argument with Home Secretary David Blunkett who was seeking to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for some serious crimes.
- Benchmark: A Life in the Law by Oliver Popplewell (foreword by Stephen Fry) Publisher: I.B. Tauris (June 30 2003) ISBN 978-1860648861
- Football in Its Place by David Canter, Miriam Comber and David L. Uzzell with an introduction by Sir Oliver Popplewell, Publisher: Taylor & Francis Books Ltd (May 4 1989) ISBN 978-0415012409