THE daughter of a larger-than-life lawyer who became known as the “Rumpole of Rotherham” and the “legal James Herriot” said she was moved by the many tributes paid to him following his death aged 72.
Solicitor Steve Smith, who spent over 50 years defending clients, mostly from his base at the top of Main Street, died on Sunday.
During a 56-year career, he committed dozens of his most memorable cases to print in a series of books with titles such as Boozers, Ballcocks and Bail.
Awarded an MBE in 2006 and the Freedom of the Borough in 2013, the keen charity supporter helped make thousands for good causes such as SAFE@LAST, the PACT children’s charity, of which he was patron, and Weston Park Hospital, and enjoyed many memorable nights as an after-dinner speaker and charity night compere.
Steve’s daughter Rebecca Smith-Bains, a director of Wilford Smith, said her father “was able to speak to prince of vagabond and treated all with respect”, adding: “My dad helped so many people in his life, always with humour and humility.
“We have received hundreds of messages and when so many people remember how important he was to them and how pivotal he was even in his short involvement in their lives, you realise you cannot be too upset — you have to think about what he did while he was here.”
Steve founded Wilford Smith with fellow lawyer Steven Wilford in 1981 — 16 years after joining the legal profession —– and was a regular feature at Rotherham and Sheffield’s magistrates’ courts for the next 40 years, defending clients accused of everything from the most minor matters to the most serious crimes.
Rebecca said: “He spent a lifetime defending the rights of the underdog.
“I remember him explaining how everyone had the right to a good defence: ‘I remind people that everyone has a right to be defended, especially if they haven’t done anything wrong. ‘
“And if we all thought it was wrong to fight for the man in the street, we would be a very poor world indeed.”
Steve was involved in the BBC series Rough Justice, which explored miscarriages of justice.
One case featured in the series was the subject of his first book Hell is Not for Angels and Steve later noted “led to the Times describing me as the ‘legal James Herriot’ and thereafter the dubious title ‘The Rotherham Rumpole’.”
Rebecca revealed that her father, widely known as Smithy, had dreamed in his youth of running a law firm with his brother, hopes which were dashed when Neville and his wife were killed in a road accident just months after their wedding, both aged 24.
Instead, he entered the legal profession at 16, as an office boy with his friend and local football companion Les Walton, before founding Wilford Smith in a one-room office with a single desk and two chairs.
It later expanded to the old Halifax Building Society offices at the junction of Main Street and Westgate, eventually employing over 60 staff.
In 2017, the firm expanded into offices at Meadowhall Business Park, but the Westgate HQ was being refurbished ahead of reopening celebrations later this year, with Steve at the forefront of the clean-up operation himself.
Steve battled a rare form of cancer in 2017 and returned to work, regularly appearing in court before walking to the hospital for ongoing treatment.
And Rebecca said although he had been unwell earlier this year, he had been looking forward to returning to work in the courts following a period of isolation but his health had declined again.
She said he would have been moved by the hundreds of tributes she had received, including those calling him a legend, a unique character and a gentleman.
Funeral and memorial details will be released shortly.