ON the eve of his 13th birthday tragedy struck Edward Smethurst. While the young boy was spending the night at his grandparents’ house, fire swept through the home he shared with his father who died in the blaze.
His parents had divorced when Edward was six and, after the death of his father, he then went to live with his grandparents. However, his grandmother died a couple of years later and his grandfather had a stroke, leaving Edward to fend for himself. By the age of 16, he was living alone in bed and breakfast accommodation.
“I had an extremely hard childhood,” he says. “The fire was devastating and as it was my 13th birthday, the story was on the front page of the Manchester Evening News and the Rochdale Observer.
“When my grandfather became ill, I had to live in a B&B for a couple of years. It was awful, but my father had wanted me to succeed and that spurred me on.”
Against the odds and after many hours working in a butcher’s shop to make ends meet, Edward passed his A levels and got a place at the University of Leeds to study law.
On his 18th birthday, he inherited a small sum from his father’s estate and bought a terrace house in Rochdale, from where he commuted to Leeds while embarking on his first entrepreneurial venture – `wheeler dealing’ in used cars and caravans, and investing the cash in more houses.
Today, Edward’s property portfolio consists of a number of working farms across Greater Manchester. He has a property lettings business in the Lake District and a small building firm that specialises in farm and barn conversions.
He is also a highly-respected lawyer who works as legal director at entrepreneur Brian Kennedy’s Latium Group. Mr Kennedy is the main backer of Kate and Gerry McCann in the fight to find their daughter Madeleine. As the family’s legal co-ordinator, Edward played a pivotal role in securing £550,000 in libel damages from Express Newspapers. He also directs the legal teams in the UK and and runs a team of private investigators searching for Madeleine.
Edward says: “My role is to oversee the teams. I am not a libel lawyer and left that to the team from Carter-Ruck who secured a huge settlement as well as an unprecedented front page apology after the newspapers printed highly defamatory articles about Gerry and Kate McCann. I am also on the board of the Madeleine Fund – No Stone Unturned. It is an extremely high profile case and every effort is being made to find Madeleine.”
He is also an ambassador for Cancer Research in the north west and UK representative for the European Company Lawyers Association, playing an instrumental role in bringing the organisation’s annual conference to Manchester this month.
All this is on top of his day job. “It has been very long hours recently, but I like to do as many good things as I can.”
After graduating from Leeds with a 2:1, Edward completed his law exams at Manchester Metropolitan University then joined Manchester law firm Halliwells where he specialised in commercial litigation.
An eye for business
At the age of 23, he joined the in-house legal team at British Nuclear Fuels Limited. By then, Edward’s fledgling property development venture was a successful enterprise, and he was keen to learn more about business. He says: “I felt that I was both an entrepreneur as well as lawyer, so it seemed the logical move.”
As a commercial litigator for BNFL, Edward travelled the world dealing primarily with shipping litigation. “My work took to me Japan, America, South Africa and even Panama where I dealt with attempts to halt nuclear shipments from various pressure groups.”
Edward spent seven years at BNFL, working his way up to senior legal adviser, but he had aspirations to join a plc board by the time he was 30 and fulfilled that when he joined Clitheroe-based conservatory maker Ultraframe in 2000.
In 2006, the group was bought by Brian Kennedy in a £58m deal, and Edward was the only one of the 13 directors to be kept on.
While his sideline in property development has been “a lot more lucrative” than his law career, he still has ambitions in the corporate world.
“The events in my childhood gave me a strong work ethic as well as a huge amount of motivation to fulfil my father’s desire that I succeed in life.”