Obituary: Elkan Rex Makin

Lawyer and journalist who championed the underdog against the establishment and bureaucracy


The lawyer Elkan Rex Makin, who has died aged 91, was a Liverpool legend who retained his razor-sharp wit to his last days. In the course of a distinguished legal career he handled many murder cases whose outcome — in the 1950s for instance — was literally a matter of life and death for his clients.

In 1950 he was consulted by the brothers of George Kelly, condemned to death for double murder, known as the Cameo Cinemas murders in Liverpool, on March 19, 1949, which led to a miscarriage of justice and the longest trial in British history at the time. It was too late and he was unable to prevent George Kelly’s execution. Although he had the satisfaction of seeing the conviction overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeal in June, 2003, (it was judged unsafe and duly quashed) the distraught image of the brothers haunted Rex for the rest of his life.

In 1952 he took on the Knowsley Hall murder case, in which Lady Derby was shot and her butler and footman killed. Harold Winstanley was charged with murder but was found to be insane and sent to Broadmoor from where he was later released. He wrote each year to Rex about his life. Later, in the 1950s, he successfully defended the US soldier Freeman Reese charged with murder.

On the day President Kennedy was shot, Rex was representing Gerry Marsden in court in Wales. He was involved in matters connected with the Beatles and when Brian Epstein died in 1967 he went to London to sort out the arrangements, and was given a lift to Euston by journalist Anne Robinson, who thus gained a media scoop. He was credited with being the first to use the term Beatlemania in court, when he described a miscreant’s behaviour to Liverpool Magistrates Court.

In the early 1970s Rex acted for Liverpool University students in disciplinary proceedings brought as a result of an anti-apartheid protest. One Jon Snow, the newsreader, was expelled.

Elkan Rex Makin, known as Rex, was born in Birkenhead, the son of May and Joseph (Joe) Agulnek, with Russian-Polish ancestry. In 1928 Rex’s father Joe took his wife’s surname, Makin, since she objected to being called Mrs Uglyneck. One of Rex’s uncles who remained in Russia became second secretary to Trotsky. Some of the family went to Israel and Rex first visited it in 1929, developing a love and support for the country. An only child, Rex gained a bursary at Liverpool College — which was then very sporty — and Rex had to box at the age of nine, and play rugby, which he hated.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, the family evacuated to Llandudno, and Rex went to the John Bright Grammar School. An inspirational Welsh-speaking teacher taught him wonderful English which was of fundamental significance and value for his future legal and journalistic life.

Reading law at Liverpool University, he became interested in politics and journalism, and edited its undergraduate magazines. Despite these distractions and perhaps, he claimed, because of their wider contribution to the University, he gained a law degree, and then a Masters on the topic of the MNaghten rule relating to criminal insanity. (This was established by the House of Lords in the mid-19th Century as a standard test for criminal liability in relation to mentally disordered defendants.)

Rex’s father had business acumen and steered him towards a lucrative career as a solicitor: six months after qualifying he set up his own firm. Rex used the ‘sweat of his tongue’ to champion the underdog against the establishment and bureaucracy. Although maintaining exacting standards he displayed compassion. In 1993 he started to write a weekly column for the Liverpool Echo. He continued with his column until he was over 90 years old. When he retired, the Echo thanked him for 23 years of caustic comments and incisive insight and said he was ‘’ the best journalist not on the Echo staff”.

Charitably, Rex supported less popular causes, including cemeteries and the communal mortuary. He was keen to remember his parents and his wider family, and devoted time to Stapely Care Home and Hospital. He insisted on helping rabbis who had been maltreated at work.

Rex loved the City of Liverpool through the arts and education. He supported the universities in the City and was a trustee of St George’s Hall. He received the Freedom of the City, and attended many civic events. Later in life he was a member of the board of the Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, which he supported.

Rex Makin’s career success was matched only by his unfailing generosity and all who worked with him appreciated the opportunities he gave them. However, a great deal of his success was due to his wife Shirley (née Davidson) whom he married in 1957 and whose support and devotion enabled him to continue living with infirmity. He tolerated his decline with stoicism. He is survived by Shirley, his childrenSusan and Robin, and his grandchildren Moses and Miriam


Elkan Rex Makin: born August 20, 1925. Died June 26, 2017

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