13:29, July 11 88 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-11 13:29:03
Rex Makin obituary

Until 1986, legal services could not be advertised in the UK, but the Liverpool solicitor Rex Makin, who has died aged 91, was ahead of the game in making his name widely known. Through a succession of high profile cases, he became the “go to” solicitor on Merseyside.

For anyone accused of a criminal offence or injured in an accident, the immediate thought was to “get Rex”. He was brilliant at mounting an aggressive defence or claiming the maximum damages, but it came at a personal cost. “I am loathed and despised,” he once said. Behind that hard shell, though, he was a generous benefactor, establishing a chair in the school of law at Liverpool John Moores University in 1999.

He was born in Birkenhead, into a Jewish family: his father, Joe, manufactured and sold sailors’ trunks, and his mother, May, was a dressmaker. Rex studied at Liverpool college and Liverpool University, where he read law, gaining his degree in 1945 and then being articled to a firm of local solicitors. Once he was qualified, in 1949 he established his own practice, E Rex Makin & Co.

He made the front page of the Daily Mirror in 1951 when he told a magistrate that he had given a 12-year-old “a good hiding” for stealing sweets before bringing him to court. The following year he represented Harold Winstanley, a young trainee footman who had shot and killed several people at the stately home Knowsley Hall. Winstanley was convicted but saved from the gallows when he was found guilty but insane. Makin was certain that George Kelly had been wrongly hanged in 1950 for the Cameo Cinema murders in Liverpool and acted for his family in their attempts to clear his name. The judgment was declared unsafe in 2003, leading to the reburial of Kelly’s remains outside the prison walls.

In 1958, Makin established a trap for someone who was blackmailing his neighbour Brian Epstein because he was gay (homosexual acts were not partially decriminalised until 1967). Epstein worked in the family business, Nems, which sold electrical appliances and then gramophone records. “Brian was a good neighbour and I liked him,” Makin told me, “I bought a dishwasher and a washing machine from him. He told me that he had discovered a group who would sweep the world, but I thought it was pie-in-the-sky. I was wrong and he was right.”

When, in 1961, Epstein asked Makin to draw up “an unbreakable contract” with this group, the Beatles, Makin said there was no such thing: “I believe that if anybody wants to break a contract they can do it.” Epstein went to another lawyer instead. “Maybe it’s just as well,” Makin reflected in 1999, “as I shudder to think what would have happened if I had harnessed myself to that Beatle machine.”

Makin acted for both sides when John Lennon punched the Liverpool disc-jockey Bob Wooler at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday celebration in 1963, and obtained £200 for Wooler. He claimed, too, to have invented the word “Beatlemania”; he was certainly the first to use it in court, but it had appeared in print a few days before that.

There is a photograph of Makin on Epstein’s doorstep in London after his death in August 1967. Although he was not there in any official capacity, he told the journalist Anne Robinson that Epstein might have taken his own life, which became her first big story for the Daily Mail. The coroner later stated that the death was accidental.

Known as a champion of the underdog, Makin won many personal injury claims for dockers against the Port of Liverpool. He acted for employees of Liverpool city council who claimed to have been victimised by the Militant tendency, represented on Merseyside by Derek Hatton. In 1993, when he began a waspish and controversial column in the Liverpool Echo, Makin His Point, it was with his selection of Liverpool villains, headed by Hatton.

He sometimes took on distasteful cases, such as that of a fascist who daubed a Jewish cemetery with swastikas. He said: “My conscience was very troubled but he was just a stupid hooligan and he had a right to a defence.”

Makin represented victims and their families after the Hillsborough disaster. He acted for the parents of the Walton sextuplets born in Liverpool in 1983, and for Ralph Bulger, whose young son James was murdered in 1993. He represented Alison Halford, assistant chief constable of Merseyside police, when in 1990 she brought a claim that sexual discrimination had blocked her chances of promotion. His show business clients included Ken Dodd, Freddie Starr, Carla Lane and Bill Shankly. His son, Robin, now running the family firm, represented the Moors murderer Ian Brady.

When Makin was granted the freedom of Liverpool in 2003, he said: “I’m not used to the establishment being nice to me. The ordinary people of Liverpool and I have had a longstanding love affair. I’ve been there in all their disasters and most of their triumphs.”

In 1957, he married Shirley Davidson, who survives him, as do their children, Robin and Susan.

Elkan Rex Makin, solicitor, born 20 August 1925; died 26 June 2017