SIR David Napley, who has died at the age of 79, was the most

high-profile solicitor in Britain, celebrated for the famous cases he

took on and for his masterful advocacy.

Lauded by the legal profession as the most distinguished solicitor of

his generation, he also attracted hostility from barristers who felt he

usurped their role.

The list of those he represented reads like a potted history of cause

celebres of the last 20 years.

It includes politicians like Jeremy Thorpe and Harvey Proctor,

Princess Michael of Kent, murderer Jeremy Bamber and the family of

Italian banker Roberto Calvi, found hanging under London's Blackfriars


As well as gaining a reputation as the unofficial solicitor to the

establishment, he also became known as a champion of the underdog.

His fame led to attention focusing on his high legal fees, notably

when he acted in the 1982 inquest of nurse Helen Smith who fell to her

death mysteriously from a flat balcony in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. His bill

of #164 an hour sparked an outcry.

Born the son of a London stockbroker in July 1915, David Napley was

educated at Burlington College, Essex.

He founded the now prominent legal practice of Kingsley Napley in

1937. He joined the Queen's Royal Regiment in 1940 and was commissioned

into the Indian Army in 1941. He was invalided out in 1945 with the rank

of captain.

As a young man fresh out of the Army, he sought advice whether to aim

for the Bar or to remain a solicitor.

He was told by a senior judge to go for the more mundane life of a

solicitor and too late he discovered his talent for advocacy. In later

years he said he had no regrets about the decision.

He was elected to the council of the Law Society in 1962 and became

chairman of the Law Society criminal law committee in 1963 until 1975.

A self-confessed workaholic and bon viveur with a penchant for

Rolls-Royces, his love of good food was evident in his chairmanship of

an Italian restaurant chain in London in the 1960s.

He was made president of the Law Society in 1976-77 and in 1977 was


That year he also attended the inquest into the death of South African

black activist Steve Biko. His independent report attacked the South

African security police and accused them of a cover-up.

But it was Sir David's defence of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe

on charges of incitement and conspiracy to murder at committal

proceedings in 1978 that shot him to fame.

His courtroom clashes with male model Noman Scott hit the headlines

and then his pairing with Mr George Carmen QC for the Old Bailey trial

the following year saw them win a famous victory.

An acknowledged master of advocacy, he was a formidable opponent in

the courtroom, gaining a fearsome reputation for his dedicated pursuit

of his clients' interests.

His clients ranged from royalty to murderers.

In 1974 he defended Ian Ball who attacked Princess Anne in the Mall.

Sir David was defence solicitor for Jeremy Bamber who in 1985 was

jailed for life for murdering his family.

In 1986 he acted for Princess Michael of Kent. He negotiated an

out-of-court settlement after the Princess was accused of plagiarism in

her book, Crowned in a Far Country.

That year he also acted for former Tory MP Harvey Proctor who admitted

he committed acts of indecency with two under-age rent-boys.

In 1989 he was brought in as a solicitor for Guinness to help with the

Department of Trade and Industry investigation into the takeover of

Distillers. Consequently he figured prominently in the trial of Guinness

chief executive Ernest Saunders.

He always dismissed accusations about his expensive costs -- in 1987

said to be #450 an hour -- ''When you consider the professional service

rendered it is commensurate with the work,'' he said.

His sense of fair play led him to champion various causes and attack

the legal system for what he deemed miscarriages of justice.

In recent years he took on the case of Life Guards officer Simon

Hayward who faced a drugs charge in Sweden.

He also acted for Sarah Tisdall, the Foreign Office clerk jailed for

six months after she leaked information on cruise missiles to a


He also represented families of victims involved in the Zeebruge

Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster, the Lockerbie air crash and

the King's Cross fire.

As for accusations of being a solicitor to the stars, he said most of

his work came from other solicitors giving him cases they could not


He pointed out Lord Goodman sent him Jeremy Thorpe.

''Somebody gets into trouble and they feel they don't know how to

handle it and they send for me,'' he said.

He agreed that more than most he made a point of dealing with the


He wrote several ''faction'' books on famous trials and in 1982 his

autobiography, Not Without Prejudice, was published.

He leaves his wife Leah, whom he married in 1940, and two daughters,

Anne and Penny.