THE Brighton trunk murder case was one of the most sensational to have been heard between the two world wars.

It gave Brighton a new and not desired nickname as the queen of slaughtering places. And it made the reputation of the young defence lawyer Norman Birkett.

His great rival was Sir Patrick Hastings who appeared on opposite sides in many cases but who recognised more than most Birkett’s extraordinary talents.

Sir Patrick said: “If it had ever been my lot to decide to cut up a lady in small pieces and put her in an unwanted suitcase, I should without hesitation have placed my future in his hands.

“He would have satisfied the jury a) I was not there b) that I had not cut up the lady c) that if I had she thoroughly deserved it anyway.”

Birkett defended Toni Mancini who was charged with murdering a prostitute called Violette Kaye in Brighton, stuffing her body in a suitcase.

The case was heard at Lewes Assizes in 1934 and attracted widespread attention. It seemed certain that Mancini had done the deed.

But Birkett cleverly put doubt In the minds of the jury during his cross examination of prosecution witnesses. He was particularly adept at questioning the eminent pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury.

Handling Mancini with great care in the witness box, Birkett made him appear unexpectedly believable and quite lucid.

But it was his closing speech that did the trick for Mancini. Birkett told the jury not to base their decision on the grim world in which Kaye and Manini both lived in Brighton.

After making his final plea, Birkett stopped talking and scanned the jury box for a few moments. Then his voice rang out to them: Stand Firm.

It took the jury just two and a half hour to find Mancini not guilty. The result was a triumph for Burkett but one which gave him little pleasure.

His private opinion of Mancini was that he was “a despicable and worthless creature". And many years later when an old man he confessed that he had really been guilty.

Birkett was put in the top 29 in a popularity poll organised by the Daily Express, highly unusual for a barrister.

He remained a notable advocate for many years later and it was said (wrongly) of him that he never lost a murder case.

Birkett replied on honest oratory to make his points. He had a beautiful voice which he used to maximum effect.

In later life he went on to become an MP, a lord and a judge. But he did not enjoy any of these roles as much as being a defence lawyer saving many men and a few women from the gallows.

In some cases, such as the Brighton trunk murder, he was almost too good, gaining freedom for a guilty man. But it was hard for even the most flint-heated jury men not to sway by his matchless speech.