Who is Ivan Lawrence QC? Dennis Nilsen’s lawyer appears in Netflix’s Memories of a Murderer

The criminal barrister, who acted as Dennis Nilsen's defence during his murder trial, is featured in Netflix's Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes.

Ivan Lawrence

The case of serial killer Dennis Nilsen has been explored many times over the last 35 years, with dramas such as Des and series like Great Crimes and Trails of the 20th Century taking a look at the Muswell Hill murderer’s many crimes.

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Now Netflix has shone a new light on the Nilsen murders with its brand new documentary – Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes.

Featuring audio from over 250 hours of tapes recorded by the serial killer, the documentary looks at how Nilsen’s murder went unnoticed for so long and interviews a number of figures involved in the case – including Nilsen’s defence lawyer Ivan Lawrence QC (although Peter Jay and Brian Masters who were featured in Des are missing).

The barrister, who has acted in the cases of other notorious British criminals, appears in the film to speak about defending Nilsen – but who is Sir Ivan Lawrence and who has he defended before?

Read on for everything you need to know about Sir Ivan Lawrence QC.

Who is Ivan Lawrence QC?

Sir Ivan Lawrence is a barrister who is best known for representing a number of high profile defendants in criminal trials – including Dennis Nilsen.

Lawrence appears in Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes, in which he says that he’d never defended a serial killer prior to Dennis Nilsen.

“Looking at this from an ordinary person’s point of view, all this behaviour was madness – it didn’t seem to us to be arguable that the fellow wasn’t deranged. But the whole thing for me – was he too mad to be sentenced to life imprisonment for murder?”

Lawrence defended Dennis Nilsen, who was charged with six counts of murder and two of attempted murder in 1983, arguing that he suffered from diminished responsibility, was incapable of forming the intention to murder and could therefore only be convicted of manslaughter.

However, the jury considered Nilsen guilty on all six counts of murder and one of attempted murder, with the serial killer being sentenced to life in prison.

Lawrence, who was knighted in 1992, has appeared in over 90 murder trials, while his practice has taken him to the Divisional Court, Court of Appeal, the House of Lords and The Hague, for a mass murder war crimes trial.

Outside of his legal career, Lawrence became a politician and was elected as the Conservative MP for Burton between 1974 and 1997.

During his time in the House of Commons, Lawrence was the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee from 1992 until 1997 as well as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for two years.

Since leaving politics, Lawrence joined 5 Pump Court Chambers and became a Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Buckingham. He published his memoir, My Life of Crime: Cases and Causes, in September 2010.

He was portrayed by Pip Torrens (The Crown, Poldark) in ITV’s 2020 drama Des.

Who else has Ivan Lawrence QC defended in court?

Aside from Dennis Nilsen, Lawrence has been involved in a number of infamous criminal trials, including that of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who were convicted of murdering Jack McVitie in 1969.

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He also acted in the case of Russell Bishop, who was acquitted of the 1986 Babes in the Wood Murders though later found guilty of the murder of two girls in Brighton that same year, as well the Brink’s-Mat gold bullion money-laundering case of 1983, where £6 million worth of gold bullion, diamonds and cash were stolen from the Heathrow International Trading Estate.

Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes arrives on Netflix on 18th August. Looking for something else to watch? Check out out the best Netflix documentaries. You can also plan your viewing with our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Documentaries hub for the latest news.