Lounging on a sofa in the coffee lounge of Manchester’s Midland Hotel, Nick Freeman looks remarkably comfortable — perhaps more comfortable than such a controversial, not to mention paradoxical, figure should.
Freeman is, of course, better known as Mr Loophole, the lawyer who specialises in getting celebrities off driving charges by honing in on legal ambiguities — well-known figures who have had good reason to be grateful for his thorough knowledge of the traffic laws include David Beckham, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jeremy Clarkson.
Yet surprisingly, Freeman claims he shuns glamour, dismisses his career as “not something I expected it would be”, and says he is happiest when left alone to walk his dogs in the countryside. He does not even have his own desk, let alone office, at his Manchester city-centre law firm, preferring to work at his home in Cheshire.
And rather disappointingly, he does not look at all flash. No showy jewellery or car salesman suit. Out of court he is strictly a jeans man.
“People have a pre-conceived idea that I’m a flashy lawyer,” the 52-year-old father-of-two acknowledges good humouredly, “but I am very straightforward. I don’t like to be the centre of attention, though the attention is flattering when people recognise you. I just want to be a good lawyer — and golfer. I don’t regard myself as being in any way part of the celebrity world. I’ve become well known because of the celebrity status of my clients — who, by the way, all come to me through word of mouth. I see myself as a normal guy who represents well-known people.”
There is no doubt the “Mr Loophole” tag has been good for him, even though Freeman has an uneasy relationship with his nickname. “I didn’t like it at first because it suggested something slightly devious,” he says. But that did not stop him trademarking it to stop others using it.
But the label hides the fact that Freeman is an experienced criminal defence lawyer whose high-profile cases have afforded him a platform to tackle meaty issues. He is currently representing black England and Spurs footballer Jermain Defoe, who maintains he is the victim of a racist campaign by Essex Police, after being repeatedly stopped in his car by the local constabulary. “People should be judged as individuals, not because of their race or ethnicity,” Freeman says. “Anyone who feels they are being racially abused needs to stand forward. History has shown us how wrong it is to turn the other cheek.”
So is Defoe’s Jewish lawyer particularly sensitised to the issue of race? Freeman gives another affable shrug. “I’ve never been the victim of racism in my adult life or career. Some people don’t even realise I’m Jewish.”
Hard to believe, especially since his peers at boarding school, Uppingham in Rutland, would refer to him as “the little Yid without a foreskin” or rub their noses when they spoke to him.
“I didn’t interpret that as anything other than a way of identifying what made me different, in the same way a kid would get picked on for having ginger hair,” is his congenial response. “And in that tough, Ango-Saxon regime you learn to rise above it to survive.”
Yet it is his attitude to Judaism that perhaps forms the most conflicting element of Freeman’s character. There is the predictably incongruous behaviour of the assimilated Jew — he is partial to bacon and prawns, yet eats matzah on Passover and fasts on Yom Kippur (though admits to delaying his atoning for a day or two sometimes, if it clashes with a golf tournament). He says his approach to Judaism is spiritual rather than practical. But dig a little deeper and you will find his relationship with his roots is far more complex.
Born in Nottingham, Freeman’s parents were not observant, though he went to cheder from the age of seven, and in the run-up to his barmitzvah was a regular at his local synagogue, Nottingham Hebrew Congregation, of which he is still a member. Friday night dinners were sporadic (“I was always the one who asked my mum if we could have them”).
After spending time on a kibbutz in Israel, he studied law at Trent Polytechnic, coming to Manchester in 1981 after landing a job as a prosecutor for Greater Manchester Police. But it was not just work that brought him to the city that remains his adoptive home.
“I was attracted by the warmth, hospitality and vibrancy of the Manchester Jewish community and came with the intention, ultimately, of finding a nice Jewish girl,” he says.
Inevitably a paradox looms. “I ended up marrying out,” he says. “I found the whole package of the Jewish girl overpowering and I needed my freedom. My perception was that it would yoke me into the Jewish community and I didn’t want to be handcuffed to that. I like the religion from a distance but found it all a little too claustrophobic. But I love Manchester and wouldn’t move away, even though 80 per cent of my work comes from south of Watford.”
Yet he does what he can to support Jewish charities, and will be the guest speaker at a breakfast event in aid of Manchester Jewish Community Care on November 3.
Freeman married his wife Stephanie, a 53-year-old model, at a Unitarian chapel in Cheshire 20 years ago. At first his late father wanted two lots of invitations printed so that his parents’ Jewish friends could be kept away from the service. “In the end lots of them came and thought it was great,” Freeman grins cheerfully.
“But there is a price to pay for marrying a non-Jewish girl. The Friday-night dinner invitations dried up and you do sacrifice facets of your social network. Steph and I did talk about her converting, and she would have done it. But at the time I felt it was like painting a white man black and then saying he’s black. Though on reflection, I do regret that we didn’t do it. I tell my children about what it means for me to be Jewish and they understand that makes it part of them.”
Freeman attributes his legal success to his meticulous preparation and the sloppiness of the opposition. But there is a downside — a media waiting for him to fail, prosecution teams who scrutinise his every move, and the antipathy of the general public who think he fights the rich’s corner and sets back the cause of road safety. His response is unequivocal. “I’ll leave it to others to form their opinions. I just want to be the best lawyer I can be — regardless of who the client is. And I have no intention of stopping. There’s a lot of mileage left in the engine.”
His celeb cases
● Sir Alex Ferguson — Freeman argued the Manchester United boss had driven on the hard shoulder because he urgently needed the toilet. Ferguson was acquitted.
● David Beckham — was cleared of speeding after Freeman said he was trying to escape paparazzi.
● Andrew Flintoff — caught on camera doing 90mph. Freeman got him off by showing the prosecution notice was served too late.
● Caprice Bourret — Freeman claimed she was suffering the effects of prescription drugs, but the model was still banned for drink-driving.
● Wayne Rooney — cleared of driving without insurance after Freeman pointed out a requested adjournment had not been granted