Her Majesty’s Former Servant

My “best friend'', as my Chinese press colleagues have dubbed him, is an 82-year-old British retired High Court judge named Miles Henry Jackson-Lipkin who, along with his 81-year-old ex-barrister Chinese wife, Lucille Fung Yung-shim, is currently standing trial in Hong Kong on three counts of fraud in connection with welfare housing and medical aid applications.

In addition to what prosecutors paint as a fondness for living high while on the dole - the couple allegedly took five flights to London and Beijing while on welfare, have maintained a membership in the posh American Club and once faxed the Hong Kong social welfare office from the even posher Hong Kong Club - Jackson-Lipkin has a fondness for naughty schoolboy limericks, Greco-Roman history and decided views on the proper place to purchase a proper bowler.

The legal proceedings, coupled with delays and various winding judicial side roads, including a mental competency hearing for his wife, have been sputtering along since January. The proper trial only began in mid-October.

The case comes down to this. Despite telling social services that they had only about US$1,400 to their name and were about US$9,400 in debt to HSBC, it appears they owned property in Canada, had a slew of investments and hidden savings that prosecutors allege totaled US$244,300 and were able to fly to Beijing three times and London twice in the same year that they were applying for public housing.

To say that Miles Henry Jackson-Lipkin is eccentric would be overly polite. He springs straight from a Paul Theroux Hong Kong novel, the kind of British expat who once lived life much to the full in the colony. He was at his height in the '70s and '80s, a time when he reportedly needed the assistance of two chauffeured automobiles to reach the office. The colonial government provided one Rolls to ferry his briefcase. The other was the personal Rolls in which he rode to court.

He and his wife now use public transportation and rely on the kindness of old friends for their wheels. Jackson-Lipkin still sports a nicely trimmed white beard, wears tailored three-piece black pinstriped suits and an honest-to-god bowler from James Lock & Co. of St James's (at the same location since 1676, and the designers of the original bowler hat, where a new topper, including fitting, will cost you 325 pounds sterling). But gone are the bogus British military medals which ultimately led to his decision to retire from the judiciary ``for health reasons'' in 1987.

His decline began after months of controversy over discrepancies in his entries in the 1983 and 1984 International Who's Who. His Worship was found to have falsified his birth date and his rank in the Royal Navy and to have sported military service awards which had he had not earned.

Last year in preliminary hearings for the current trial, he made more news by flashing a handwritten sign at the swarming HK press paparazzi that read ``Barbarians'' in Chinese.

Jackson-Lipkin has mellowed some since and as I've covered his trial he's glommed on to me as the only aging white, male, native English speaking face amid a sea of young, female Chinese reporters in the press gallery. As such, he often wanders over to me, cane in hand, during recesses and pre-trial waits to offer whatever (usually non-legal) thoughts that might be on his mind. Sometimes it's a naughty limerick from his youth, such as this one on the origin of the Sphinx's smile:

The sexual life of the camel

Is stranger than anyone thinks.

At the height of the mating season

He tries to bugger the sphinx.

But the sphinx's posterior sphincter

Is clogged by the sands of the Nile

Which accounts for the hump on the camel

And the sphinx's inscrutable smile.

Homoerotic doggerel isn’t his only interest, however. Jackson-Lipkin also stays abreast of current affairs, though his grasp of the world outside of Hong Kong is a tad antiquated and occasionally tenuous at best.

Typical is this exchange in late September outside the court room when he approached, bowler jauntily cocked, and asked in upper-crust tones that belie his humble Liverpudlian origins:

``Say, who is this political fellow in your country who seems to be in trouble?"

Me: "Which one?"

Jackson-Lipkin: "A French name. De-something, I believe."

Me: "Oh! Yeah, Tom DeLay. One of many corrupt Republican mountebanks."

Jackson-Lipkin: "Corrupt is he? Is he French?"

Jackson-Lipkin: "Uh...no. No. Actually, he's from Texas. "

Jackson-Lipkin: "A French name, though."

Me: "I guess. Maybe French ancestry. We're a nation of immigrants, you know."

Jackson-Lipkin: "Yes, a pity that. A pity also that so many governments have elected leadership. It only leads to trouble."

Me: "You'd prefer a monarchy?"

Jackson-Lipkin: "Yes, of course."

He loathes the prosecutor, Kevin Zervos, (whom his wife once called ``Mr. Persecutor'' when addressing the judge) and holds Zervos's Greek ancestry against him, resolutely refusing to call him by name and referring to him only as ``the Greek.''

Zervos is a native-born Australian, a fact I once pointed out during a recess during another quiet, stiff-lipped rant about "the Greek."

In reply, Jackson-Lipkin gave me a history lesson that seemed dredged straight from 1930s UK public schooling --The Battle of Thermopylae. It was a clash between 300 Spartan soldiers and thousands from the Persian army in which the Spartans were slaughtered after a valiant defense, due, in Jackson-Lipkin's view, to the cowardly retreat of "Greek", i.e. Athenian, allies.

He leapt then to the 20th century and the Greek-Nazi conflict, claiming that the Greeks, unlike, say, the French or Italians, had folded quickly to embrace Hitler and Co. After the collapse of the Reich, Greco-Nazis fled to Australia - ergo, he, Jackson-Lipkin, a former Royal British seaman and faithful Servant of the Crown, was being persecuted by a Nazi sympathizer. Or something like that.

Zervos was native-born, I again pointed out quietly. I believe he told me his mother was second or third generation Australian. And he's told me about growing up in a Jewish neighborhood. Not exactly the kind of place a fugitive Nazi would go to ground.

"They all say that," he replied. "Clever. Duplicitous."

The prosecutorial evidence against him seems overwhelming - bulging files of printouts containing allegedly undeclared overseas and Hong Kong bank and stock accounts, including other minutiae such as a small pension he and his wife were drawing in the UK. He glowers frequently as Zervos presents the prosecution's case, furiously scribbling notes to his publicly-appointed attorney, Richard Donald. Between sessions he asks Donald questions such as "Do you still have the photograph of me planting the tree?"

This in reference to his claim that some of his trips to Beijing and London were freebies sponsored by an unnamed timber conglomerate which had sent him to the Forbidden City to "teach Chinese how to plant trees." Though he won't name the sponsor, a generic photo of him planting a tree seems, in his mind, sufficient evidence of his good and entirely legal intentions.

Old photos loom large in his mind. Following a 90-minute videotaped police interview – one that he had requested and in which he apparently unwittingly disclosed the possession of a Vancouver flat, and also loudly asked for compensation for the small sum he paid to provide bank account records that the prosecutors had not asked for - Jackson-Lipkin showed the female Hong Kong detective a photo of himself in WWII naval garb.

"Oh, you are very handsome here," she told him. The polite comment obviously stuck with him, though his gaffe at allegedly reporting property holdings outside Hong Kong did not. Two days later he was asking her if she "still had the photograph."

"Which photograph?" she replied, as court proceedings were beginning, but not yet formally underway.

"The one of me in my naval uniform that you so admired," he replied. "During our interview."

She appeared not to remember it, but then brightened. "You never gave it to me. You just showed it to me at the police station."

What then transpired was a lengthy quiz session between Jackson-Lipkin and a court clerk, asking if the court had a lost and found department. The concept was obviously alien to the court staffer, and despite being told that the photograph had never been shown in court, he insisted that he had displayed it and not misplaced it. It remains missing to this day, perhaps, in his mind, purloined by a romantically inclined Hong Kong police detective pining for an elderly former judge wrongly accused of fraud.