JOHN LATHAM, 1945 - 2010
I first met John Latham in March 2006. John was described to me as a man who’d devoted his long career to fighting miscarriages of justice and representing many seemingly impossible cases, and more often than not winning them. He was the bane of many police forces, politicians, magistrates and judges in the UK and challenged many inappropriate and wrong decisions made by the authorities. The more I got to know John, the more I respected his tenacity. John Latham’s advice and guidance in the near four years he represented us, especially throughout the whole of 2009 challenging Sussex Police, will be seen to have been inspirational.
Unfortunately, in April 2009, John was admitted into hospital with respiratory problems. His sever difficulty in breathing a result of a double pnuemothorax, i.e. his lung had collapsed in two places causing his oxygen levels to be dangerously low, while his CO2 levels became considerably higher than they would normally be.
As well as being placed on a ventilator, John needed two drains inserted before re-inflation of the lung could begin. Once the drains had done their work, and subsequently removed, John then underwent an operation which involved putting talcum powder between his lung and his chest wall. The talcum powder helped the lung stick to the rib-cage thereby assisting in the re-fluffing process. In mid-May John was discharged from hospital and started his recuperation at home.
Although limited by the constant need for oxygen – he had to carry an oxygen bottle everywhere – John soon started back to work. Although initially working from home it wasn’t long before he ventured into the office, and then gradually spent more time at his desk and leading a more ‘normal’ lifestyle, albeit with the inconvenience of the face mask and his portable oxygen bottle continually in tow!
Throughout the remainder of 2009 John appeared to be coping well, whenever I met with him or talked on the phone he never once allowed his medical problems to affect his professionalism. Behind the scenes was a very different matter though, only later I learnt of his continual breathing difficulties and just how hard it was for him to cope with everyday life.
John’s work on our behalf continued unabated though, and his abject frustration with Sussex Police often seemed to overcome the inconvenience of lugging his oxygen bottles around. I know he was looking forward to obtaining a portable compressor which would have made his life a lot easier and, although he knew he would be reliant on the oxygen for the rest of his life, he did talk to me enthusiastically about the future, talking of plans for holidays and eventual retirement.
Just days before Christmas John received a correspondence from Sussex Police, and as a result of their statement we arranged to meet between Christmas and the New Year to discuss the implications. It came as a shock to me however when John’s wife Sara phoned and told me that John had been rushed into hospital on Boxing Day (26th December). He’d had a relapse, and with him experiencing great difficulty in breathing she’d had no option but to call for an ambulance. Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and well into January, Sara kept both her and John’s family and close friends informed of John’s progress (and set backs) and I felt privileged to be included as a friend, and on Sara’s mailing list.
John was to remain in hospital for three weeks. During that time, and due to various factors, including the appalling weather stopping theatre staff and surgeons getting into work, the operation he needed was cancelled a number of times.
Eventually on Friday 8th January John’s surgeon successfully operated on him and on Sunday 10th January Sara wrote: “Went to the hospital yesterday afternoon to find John with the twinkle back in his eyes and frequent smiles, he’s breathing almost normally, albeit with the oxygen mask, clearly showing that the op has worked”.
On Monday afternoon I talked with John’s secretary in the office who said he’d been on the phone dictating letters!
In an e-mail to Sara that evening I wrote: “I'm so pleased for you, after all the anguish of the last week or so it's terrific news that John is now in recovery, please give him my best wishes. Hopefully the weather might clear this week and as soon as possible I'll drive down to see you both”.
Sara replied: “Trevor, thank you so much for your kind thoughts. John is now on the road to recovery, but still very frail. I know that he would be more than delighted to see you if you were able to brave the elements....”
As I mentioned above, the weather since Christmas had been atrocious. It was reported that this had been the coldest spell in the UK for over forty years and many businesses and almost all of the country’s schools remained closed. Many roads were impassable with all of the snow and ice and the advice from the motoring organisations was not to travel unless absolutely necessary. It was reported however that the thaw would start to take effect later in the week and conditions would be returning back to somewhere near normal. I wrote to Sara and said that I planned to drive down on Thursday afternoon to spend a couple of hours with John.
My greatest regret is that I never did get to visit or speak to John. His secretary phoned me around midday on Wednesday 13th January to tell me that John had passed away that morning.
John Latham was a special person. He was a caring man with principles that might put others to shame. He was an extremely articulate and experienced lawyer who became my close friend. John Latham’s generosity to me, the Brian Jones Fan Club and the cause we represent knew no boundaries. His knowledge and experience supported our research in a way that is going to be sorely missed.
During numerous conversations I had with John over the past few months, he often grumbled about being a slave to his oxygen bottles and face mask, but he never let the inconvenience get the best of his dry wit and humour, and although his way of life completely changed through illness, John the person never changed. 4th
12th February 2010