09:16, September 01 106 0 theguardian.com

2018-09-01 09:16:06
This much I know  Michael Mansfield QC: ‘The university admissions tutor asked me, “What would you do with £1m?”’

The Blitz is my earliest memory. My father was disabled through the First World War, and so afterwards my mother would drive him to his night shifts on the railway, while I’d be left sleeping at home. One morning, aged three, I woke up and nobody was in the house. I couldn’t reach the front door handle, so I piled up telephone directories and opened it. I ran out into the street screaming, which you weren’t supposed to do during air raids.

I campaigned for Margaret Thatcher as a child – she was our local MP. Both of my parents were arch Conservatives and had me out posting envelopes. Years later I framed the letters my mother received from her, so guests would come over and think I was a closet Tory.

I failed my Cambridge interview, Manchester rejected me, too. I packed my bags and took a train to Keele University, and found the address of the admissions tutor. I knocked on his front door and asked why I was turned down, so he interviewed me on the doorstep. He had one question: what would you do with a million pounds? I said I’d give half to my mum, and with the rest I’d forget university and travel the world. I was offered a place there and then.

Politicisation was a rude awakening. I went from a two-up two-down in Finchley to studying in the Potteries – one of the most deprived areas of Britain, both then and now. I’d get off the train at Stoke and see this other world, people living and working in terrible conditions. The course and the city changed my view of life completely.

There’s no case which I’m most proud of taking on. Stephen Lawrence, the striking miners, Bloody Sunday, the Marchioness disaster, Hillsborough, Grenfell – there’s a strata of cases which all have one thing in common: a grave injustice, and the indomitable spirit of those who never gave up until they got to the truth.

It’s vital that we learn from Grenfell. It’s a microcosm of the malaise that has affected our society. After the Second World War there was a vision of a welfare state, and this block burning down, killing so many, represents the way in which we’ve destroyed it. Our Thatcherite society, in which we’re all islands with no community, is dangerous.

Spending time with my children helped me escape the pressures of the courtroom. I’d make up mad, silly games to play with them. When people saw me dressed up like a banana playing the fool it just didn’t compute in their brains.

Anna’s suicide was devastating. I was living in Cheshire at the time, working on Hillsborough, and early one morning a disembodied voice called my phone, asking if I knew about my daughter. It told me she was dead. You re-examine every contact, all the communication – I was due to meet her in London the following day.

People were shocked at Anna’s funeral that in my speech I used the word “suicide”. Others came up to me and thanked me for addressing the elephant in the room. Everyone started sharing their own experiences. It became so obvious that people needed a space to talk. It’s why we set up the charity SOS – we go to places and provide a space for people to open up and speak about suicide. Those who attend tell me it’s liberating.

God, it must be hell to live with a barrister. I believe that relationships need two things: overpowering love, and anger. Of course My partner Yvette and I argue, because we are passionate. It’s about not accepting what you feel is an injustice, even in your personal life.

SOS brings the bereaved, those feeling suicidal and those who have attempted suicide together (sossilenceofsuicide.org)

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