Preston Crown Court Judge Andrew Woolman shares memories of his career as he announces his retirement

One of Preston’s longest serving judges, who dreamed of joining the judiciary at the age of 13, has announced his retirement.

By Stef Hall
Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 5:00 pm

Andrew Woolman, 69, has been a judge at Preston Crown Court for almost 14 years, presiding over some of the county’s most challenging cases.

He was born in Leeds in 1950 to mum Anita and father Sydney.

His mother served as a magistrate and councillor, and had a long career in social services and charitable work, while his father ran a family firm involved in cinema and theatre lighting, and later importing children’s toys.

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Judge Woolman, pictured as a student at Cambridge, playing late night croquet

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But a book he read as a teenager was to shape his life.

He recalls: “I read a book called Great Victorian Advocates when I was 13, and I had the romantic idea that law was a great career.”

Despite this, when he attended at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, he studied Classic Greek and Latin for his first two years.

Judge Andrew Woolman

It was only in his third year that he decided to pursue his childhood dream seriously.

He adds: “I suspect my dad was disappointed I didn’t go into the family business, though he was too nice to say.”

After graduating, the budding lawyer went to London to do his bar exams but admits he didn’t do well because of London’s “various distractions”.

However, the next time proved more successful and he secured a pupillage in Leeds with the former Recorder of Leeds, Brian Walsh QC.

Judge Andrew Woolman, aged four

His destiny was set, and his first case - for which he earned the princely sum of £5 - was linked to a political sex scandal which rocked the country.

The late government minister, Lord Lambton, had been secretly photographed smoking cannabis in bed with two prostitutes, and one of them, Norma Levy, was being evicted from the flat in question.

Judge Woolman recalls: “I was sent to Marylebone Magistrates’ Court - with no brief.

“I was representing Norma Levy, who had been allowing no-good to go on in her flat. But I didn’t know this at the time, because they wouldn’t tell me properly what the case was about.

Judge Woolman, far left, playing the role of Octavius in a school production of Anthony and Cleopatra

“I was just instructed to stand up and utter two words: ‘I consent.’”

Judge Woolman was recruited as an Assistant Recorder in 1992, before becoming a full time Recorder.

In 2006, he moved to Lancashire to become a circuit judge at Preston Crown Court, where he has dealt with a range of high profile and unusual cases.

He has become known for his choice words, including telling a pervert to “keep his hands to himself”.

In recent history, Judge Woolman presided over the trial of former Catholic priest Michael Higginbottom, 76, jailed for 18 years in July for sexually abusing two teenage boys in the 70s and 80s.

In 2013, he jailed Indian national Vrujeshkumar Patel, 24, who abducted two young boys aged four and six in Leyland, while delivering takeaway leaflets on their estate.

In 2015, voyeur Christopher Robinson, 44, of Station Road, Bamber Bridge, was jailed by Judge Woolman after being caught trying to rig up a hidden camera in a disabled changing room in Asda, Chorley.

And the judge also fined a company £300,000 in 2017 after a worker was drenched by 4,000 litres of 96% strength sulphuric acid from a faulty pipe in an accident at a factory.

Despite the grave nature of the job, his career hasn’t been without its light hearted moments.

He recalls: “We had a defendant in the dock who, when asked for his nationality, replied: ‘Church of England.’

“Then he kept shouting out and interrupting the proceedings.

“When his defence said he was 43 he piped up: “No I’m not, I’m 38.”

“His barrister told the court about the charges and he kept shouting: ‘No I haven’t’ or ‘No I didn’t’.

“It went on like this before he eventually shouted: “No, I was convicted of theft.”

“It turned out the defendant was called Zac - the court was supposed to be dealing with someone called Jack - with the same surname.

“We had to take him out of the dock - we were in hysterics!”

In more recent years, Judge Woolman has become vocal about the challenges ahead for the criminal justice system, and in a speech at the end of a complex trial at Preston Crown Court, he said the ‘continuing erosion’ of the criminal bar caused by the government’s funding cuts is a matter which ‘acutely concerns all criminal judges’.

He adds: “The Ministry of Justice had its budget cut hugely and it shows.

“The government is working through some of the issues.

“But there aren’t enough resources across police, probation and prisons - we all know they are over full. They can’t do what they are meant to do properly and it’s frustrating.

“Some defendants you can’t do much about, they are always going to be a criminal - but there are lots of people who can be diverted onto other paths.”

Judge Woolman is married to Telsa, a retired deputy headteacher, and they have two sons, Ben and Dave, and a daughter, Rebecca.

The adventurous couple plan to spend the first part of his retirement on safari in Tanzania, and the keen linguist is aiming to improve his French, Italian and Greek.

He has also threatened to give pals a run for their money on the tennis court.

Away from court, he is a staunch Leeds United supporter, and enjoys skiing, walking, classical music and the theatre.

The Yorkshireman says he classes Lancashire as his second home, and intends to continue residing part time in the Ribble Valley.

He says: “I shall miss everybody, most of all my colleagues, but also the court staff because they’ve been terrific.

“And actually I will miss the work to some extent. I always love listening to people’s stories.

“Everybody has got a story to tell, be it a defendant or a member of court staff - and it’s never what you expect.”

Judge Woolman officially retires on January 31.