Vilified QC in Bellfield case 'just doing his job'

When Jeffrey Samuels QC agreed to defend in court one of the most infamous British murderers of the past decade, he must have known it would prove an unpopular brief.

But the Manchester-based QC can hardly have predicted the vitriol he would face in the wake of Levi Bellfield's conviction on Thursday for the 2002 murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The barrister, who won Barry George's acquittal on appeal over the 1999 murder of Jill Dando, is described on his firm's website as a "very useful operator" with "very fine judgment". It is that judgement, however, that has since been called into question.

Mr Samuels' cross-examination came under fire for suggesting the 13-year-old fled from home because she was tormented and unhappy. He claimed her misery had been compounded by the belief her mother favoured her sister and that she had found a porn magazine of her father's.

Mrs Dowler collapsed and had to be helped from the court after leaving the stand and Mr Dowler wept as letters written by Milly were read out to him in court, in which she referred to herself as "your little disappointment".

After the verdict, the family issued an attack on his mode of questioning, branding Mr Samuels' treatment of them as "mental torture".

But friends of the barrister have defended him. "Jeffrey is an extremely nice chap outside court," said one barrister, anonymously. "But like any QC worth his silk, once the wig and gown goes on, it is down to business. He is clearly ambitious and doesn't shirk the chance to take on the big trials. He wants to be a big hitter. Of course he will have known how his line of questioning on the Dowler family will have made uncomfortable viewing and would have been particularly unpleasant for the family. But a lawyer is not in court to make friends. He is there to do his job."

Leading QC Michael Wolkind added: "A counsel's duty is always to carry out his client's instructions fiercely, although there is always an element of judgement in how he presents the style and manor in which he presents his defence."

Based at St John's Buildings chambers in Manchester, Mr Samuels has been a Queen's Counsel since 2009. He was called to bar in 1988. In 2009, Mr Samuels unsuccessfully tried to overturn the conviction of Colin Norris, who murdered four elderly patients in his care while he was a nurse in Leeds hospitals in 2002. His other notable defences include Petros Williams, jailed for 28 years last year for murdering his two- and four-year-old children, and Mo Ibrahim, jailed for life for his part in the "honour killing" of a couple whose house was burned down in a 2009 petrol attack. Colleagues have expressed concerns that Mr Samuels was being harassed by tabloid newspapers following the Bellfield trial.

On Saturday, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) argued that the adversarial nature of trials is fundamental to justice. "It's a key role," said Chris Kinch QC, chairman of the CBA. "One of the great things about our system is that defence lawyers do their job, give a defendant the best defence possible, and when the jury say they are guilty, they are convicted.

"That gives you such confidence in our system. If we read about a Brit abroad who was being defended by a lawyer who had stones thrown at his house, we would say, 'What a terrible country – just for defending somebody, a lawyer gets pilloried'."

The former director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, said defendants must be able to put their case fairly before a court, "however appalling" it is. He said it is the judge's job to protect witnesses, adding: "In a sense, even if it is distressing for the witness, the defendant has to be allowed to put his case."