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Sean Horstead

  • Call: 1996
Sean Horstead
Legal 500 UK Awards 2015: Winner
"Very articulate and skilled, strong cross-examination and effective inquest technique."

Legal 500, 2019

"The family adored him and the jury were putty in his hands. He used to do criminal advocacy so he's got a really good jury style and a really good strategy of picking his points."

Chambers UK, 2018

“He’s sensible, practical, effective and a pleasure to work with.”
Chambers UK 2019 

“Very articulate and skilled, strong cross-examination and effective inquest technique.”
Legal 500 2019 (Inquests and Inquiries)

“An astute and forceful advocate, who commands a real presence.”
Legal 500 2017 (Civil Liberties and Human Rights)

“Extremely effective, very articulate and loved by clients.”
Legal 500 2017 (Inquests and Inquiries)

“Very pleasant, but underneath his charm he’s very steely.”
Chambers UK 2017

“Excellent, forthright and confident.”
Legal 500 2016

“His level of commitment is fantastic, and he is excellent with families as he’s warm and supportive.” “An excellent inquest practitioner whose work is instrumental in getting cases properly investigated.”
Chambers UK 2016

“Exceptionally dedicated and committed.”
Legal 500 2015

“He is a fearless advocate, who is not shy of asking difficult questions to people in a position of authority. He demands answers and through his technical expertise will often achieve them in situations where others would fall away.”
Chambers UK 2015

“Highly dedicated and committed, and an articulate and effective advocate.”
Legal 500 2014

“Absolutely fantastic with clients, he gains their trust quickly. He’s amazing in cross-examination and excellent at exposing the officers. He puts so much passion, energy and dedication into his work.”
Chambers UK 2014

“His client care is second to none and he knows how to handle a jury.”
Chambers UK 2014

“Fantastic in front of a jury.”
Legal 500 2013


Listed in the current Legal 500 as a leading junior in Inquests and Inquiries and ranked in Chambers & Partners 2019 for his work in Inquests, Sean remains absolutely committed to providing a thorough and professional service to his lay and professional clients alike in his twin practice areas focused on Coroners’ Inquests and criminal defence. He remains passionate in his commitment to representing the families of those who have lost loved ones in circumstances where the deceased was in a dependant position in relation to agencies of the state, whether in police custody or in prison. He will always seek to ensure that any failings of those agencies which may have contributed to the death will be clearly exposed and publicly scrutinised and, where appropriate, individual and institutional accountability demanded. Sean is presently instructed by Birnberg Peirce as part of their team of barristers in the fresh inquests arising out of the Hillsborough disaster. Sean also has a heavy-weight criminal defence practice, with an exceptional acquittal rate, and is regularly instructed as leading junior counsel.

(a) Inquests

Since 1997 Sean has appeared in coroner’s inquests before juries all over the country on behalf of the families of those who have died in police custody, in prison (as serving and remand prisoners) and in connection with police vehicle pursuits. He continues to act pro bono when necessary.

Sean has frequently obtained ‘neglect’ verdicts and/or highly critical narrative verdicts, leading to the use by coroners of their Rule 43 powers in a number of notable inquests including those into the deaths of:

Scott Robbins
(death in Metropolitan Police custody, neglect verdict);
John Sambells
(death in Portsmouth Police custody, neglect verdict);
John Everett
(death in HMP Norwich, neglect verdict);
Craig Whelan
(Greater Manchester Police pursuit death, critical coronial comment). This case was reported in the Manchester Evening News.
Dean Miller and Tunde Allimi
(Metropolitan Police pursuit deaths, highly critical coronial comment);
Michelle Allen
(death in Metropolitan Police custody, neglect verdict);
Seamus Walsh
(police pursuit death, Burnley area);
Gary Butler
(Metropolitan Police pursuit death);
Andrew Cliff
(death in HMP Holme House, neglect verdict);
Lee Duvall
(Metropolitan Police custody death, critical narrative verdict and coronial comment);
John Hinde
(Greater Manchester Police restraint choking case, highly critical narrative verdict and coronial comment). For more information, please see INQUEST’s press release.
John Hyslop
(death in HMP Wandsworth, critical narrative verdict);
Sean Beard
(Staffordshire Police restraint choking death, critical narrative verdict and coronial comment). This case was reported in the Burton Mail.
Mohammed Rasuel
(death in HMP Wandsworth: neglect verdict);
Jamie Yuksel and Voker Hasa
(two boys killed on a railway level crossing: highly critical coronial comment re Network Rail).

Since joining Garden Court in May 2008, Sean’s committment to inquest work has continued. Over recent years he has developed a particularly detailed knowledge of the planning, command and control and conduct of police firearms operations having been instructed in two high profile inquests concerning deaths arising out of such police operations. In September 2009 he represented the family of Terry Nicholas in a month-long, high-profile inquest arising out of a fatal shooting by a number of Metropolitan Police Firearms Officers. The inquest involved detailed questioning, over weeks, of the Gold, Silver and Bronze Commanders involved as well as the firearms officers directly and personally concerned in the fatal shooting of Mr Nicholas. Issues of operational planning and risk assessment, operational execution and dynamic risk assessment, command, communication and control; officer deployment, strategy and tactics and officer and commander training were all tackled. Matters were additionally complicated by the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 as applied in an Article 2 inquest context. This case was reported by the BBC.

Over six weeks in October and November 2011 Sean represented the family of Mark Nunes in another high profile inquest into a fatal police shooting. The inquest was particularly significant in that it involved the first double-fatality arising out of a police firearms operation in England. Again, over a number of weeks Sean was involved in detailed questioning of the senior officers involved in the prior criminal investigation and the subsequent planning and execution of the firearms operation that culminated in the fatal shooting by police marksman of Mr Nunes and his associate, Andrew Markland (the family of whom were represented by Leslie Thomas also of Garden Court Chambers).

Additional inquests of note over the last couple of years or so include:

James Robinson (suicide in prison: narrative verdict)

Callum Mclean (death in Ashton Police Station, Manchester: neglect verdict with highly critical narrative attached and highly critical coronial comment). Further information can be found in INQUEST’s press release.

Patrick Ewens (death of an infirm elderly serving prisoner in HMP Swaleside: negelct verdict with highly critical narrative attached and adverse coronial comment);

Barry Taylor (death of an elderly prisoner in HMP Holme House from complications arising from delerium tremens: neglect verdict and highly critical narrative attached). This case was reported via Gazette Live.

Lucy Smith (suicide of a vulnerable young mother shortly after release from police custody in Brighton, Coroner sitting alone: critical narrative verdict);

Michael Spencer (suicide of vulnerable professional father shortly after release from police custody in the Swindon area, Coroner sitting alone. Significant changes to Force policy and practice confirmed in the light of issues arising from the death);

Sean Hardy (death following contact with East Midlands Ambulance Service and Derbyshire Police: narrative verdict highly critical of both EMAS and police; extensive and highly adverse Coronial comment). This case was reported in the Derby Telegraph.

Paul Davies (another police restraint choking death, this time involving South Wales Police: neglect verdict with a highly critical narrative attached. Police National Computer system changed as a directconsequence of the findings at inquest to allow a warning of ‘propensity to swallow drugs’ to be included when appropriate).

Liam Albert (police pursuit death; inquest held in November 20011 with the jury concluding that the training and conduct of officers and civilian staff involved in the high speed pursuit of 17 year-old Liam from South West London down to Esher directly contributed to his death in the resultant road traffic collision. Arising out of the evidence at the inquest and the critical verdict of the jury HM Coroner for Surrey raised a number of important issues with the Metopolitan Police Service under his Rule 43 powers concerning training, communications and conduct of such pursuits).

(b) Criminal Defence

Sean has a thriving Crown Court practice and is instructed in serious cases across the criminal law spectrum as both leading and junior counsel. In recent years he has been instructed as leading junior in a number of cases including: R v Peters and Others, a £500,000 cheque fraud, R v Butt and Others a multi-handed £10,000,000 international money-laundering case arising out of HMRC Operation Labici and R v Hussain and Others an eight-handed conspiracy to rob in which his client was one of only two defendants acquitted.

Serious violence

Sean has particular experience in offences involving the most serious violence, armed robbery and firearms. He has been instructed as junior counsel in a several murder trials at the Central Criminal Court including, recently: R v Crawford and Others (summer 2012, led by Dexter Dias QC) and R v Podiapphumey and Others (summer 2013, led by Courtenay Griffiths QC). Sean has also been instructed as Junior alone in attempted murder: R v Searle. His numerous Section 18 cases, include serious injuries to babies: R v Featherstone and Another(acquitted of all allegations of inflicting injuries to the child); the causing of multiple death by dangerous driving: R v Cherry and Another; multiple robbery of the targeted elderly (eight counts): R v White; armed robbery and conspiracy to rob: R v Samuels and another; (led); R v Eguaba and Others; R v Hussain and Others, (one of two defendants out of eight acquitted: leading); numerous cases involving possession of firearms with intent to endanger life/ commit indictable offences: e.g. R v Harriott (acquitted of two counts of attempted murder); conspiracy to kidnap, false imprisonment, blackmail, threats to kill: R v Hutchison and Others (acquitted on all counts); R v Khurram; R v Green and Others; R v Sinnarsa and Others; R v Gaynor (acquitted).

In February 2011 Sean represented a defendant originally charged with two counts of attempted murder of police officers: R v Ryan Johnson. The defendant was alleged to have made off on foot from police officers following a short car chase and to have stopped and discharged a semi-automatic pistol directly at them from a distance of 40 to 50 feet. After a seven day trial at Isleworth Crown Court the jury acquitted the defendant of all counts, including attempted section 18 wounding, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and possession of ammunition.

Serious public order matters

All manner of serious public order disturbances including, inter alia, organised football violence: R v Row and Others; R v McNamara and Others; conspiracy to cause public nuisance (so-called ‘rave’ cases), including R v Steinecker and Others(successful application to dismiss against his client leading to the collapse of the case against all defendants); violent disorder: R v Stevens and Others (acquitted of violent disorder and section 18 wounding); R v Harmonjot Singh and Others(acquittal following successful application to exclude evidence of identification obtained in breach of PACE codes); acquitted of two section 18 woundings of the same alleged victim within a three day period: R v Habib Salary and Another.

In July 2011, after a four-week trial at Kingston Crown Court, Sean secured the unanimous acquittal of an internationally renowned and widely respected Sikh religious figure alleged to be the ring-leader in the false imprisonment and serious assault of a Sikh student: R v Suka Singh and Others.

Serious sexual offences

Sean has appeared for the defence in some of the most challenging sexual cases of recent years. In January 2010 Sean was instructed in R v Wells, (reported in the Swindon Advertiser) a month long historic child sexual abuse case involving some 44 counts of rape and indecent assault involving the defendant’s daughter and several of her friends. In R v K another case of historical sexual abuse, the defendant was acquitted of multiple counts of rape, buggery and indecent assault alleged by his step-daughter. The defendant was acquitted of all but four counts of indecent assault, and three of those convictions were subsequently over-turned by the Court of Appeal (see below).

In R v W Sean represented a 14 year old diagnosed with autism spectrum and significant learning difficulties in a case involving allegations of the rape of two boys under the age of nine and indecent assault of two girls aged four and six: the defendant was just 11 years old at the time of the alleged offences, making him one of the youngest alleged perpetrators of this kind of multiple offending in UK criminal history. Sean has appeared in a great many rape and serious indecent assault matters, including notably R v Nandasena: an allegation of indecent assault by a care worker upon a patient (leave granted for appeal against conviction, appeal against sentence allowed); and more recently an acquittal in the rape trial of R v Smith.

Serious drugs offences

Numerous cases involving conspiracy to supply drugs of Class A, B and C and/or possession of large amounts with intent to supply the same: R v Roberts (acquitted, 2 kilos of heroin); more recently: R v Harisingh and Another involving 2.4 kilos of cocaine and R v Heath and Others (firearms with intent and possession with intent to supply heroin, crack cocaine and ecstasy). Sean has successfully defended many large scale cannabis cases includingR v Oviahon(aquitted of an alleged importation of 60 kilos of cannabis); and sizeable commercial cannabis cultivation cases: R v Fane and another; R v Webb and Collins.

In April 2009 Sean secured the acquittal of a defendant in a case arising out of one of the largest seizures of cannabis in the history of the Metropolitan Police Service (some four and half tonnes of imported cannabis) at Wood Green Crown Court: R v Musa and Others.

In recent years Sean has appeared in two of the largest conspiracies to import cannabis to the United Kingdom on record. In June 2010, after a six week trial at Bristol Crown Court, Sean’s client was the only one of eight defendant’s acquitted in a £63,000,000 conspiracy to import cannabis. The Crown and all other defendant’s were represnted by QCs and juniors; Sean was instructed as a lone Junior. The conspiracy was alleged to have been one of the largest in British criminal history and received wide-spread press coverage, including by the BBC: R v Stephen Docking and Others.

In February 2011 Sean was instructed as leading junior for the principal defendant in a four-handed three week trial (in the absence of the defendant) at Isleworth Crown Court involving some 32 importations of cannabis amounting to in excess of 16 metric tonnes: R v Nicholas Semple and Others.

In August 2011, at Exeter Crown Court, after a two week trial Sean represented one of two Iranian brothers allegedly involved in a nationwide, large-scale conspiracy, running over some six years, to supply Class A drugs (opium) and money-laundering (involving the transfering back to Iran of large sums of money). Both defendants were acquitted of all counts: R v Yazdani and Yazdani.

Serious dishonesty offences

Sean’s experience covers a broad compass including conspiracy to steal; conspiracy to commit housing benefit fraud; credit card fraud, including large-scale ‘skimming and cloning’ operations; £500,000 conspiracy to defraud: R v Peters and Others (leading); money laundering: R v Butt and Others, part of HMRC Operation Labici involving in excess of £10,000,000 (leading) (both mentioned above) and was led in an acquittal secured following successful application to stay as an abuse of process in an £8,000,000 tobacco importation case (R v Georgiou). In February 2011 Sean secured an acquittal in a £66,000 housing benefit fraud following a successful submission of no case to answer.

Sean has experience of the Court of Appeal in appealing against conviction and sentence, with and without leave including in R v Cherry reducing a sentence (after trial) for causing death by dangerous driving x 3 and in R v Peters reducing a sentence for fraud offences, having renewed the leave application before the full Court, leading to the Appellant’s immediate release. Sean successfully appealed conviction in relation to three counts of indecent assault. In R v K [2009]All ER (D) 71 (Sep) the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions on the basis of submissions that the amendment of the indictment during the trial to include counts of indecent assault as alternatives to rape, where the appropriate alternative of unlawful sexual intercourse was time-barred, was improper.


Prior to coming to the bar Sean taught International Relations and Human and Civil Rights at the University of Sussex for a number of years. During this period he worked closely with Professor Mary Kaldor on a project funded by the United Nations University analysing the post-1989 revolutions in East and East Central Europe, culminating in the publication of two books, both edited by Mary Kaldor: Citizenship and Democratic Control Contemporary Europe (1996) and The European Rupture: The Defence Sector in Transition (1997).


Originally inspired by ‘The Clash‘, Sean has played the drums in various bands for well over 25 years, though, sadly, a record contract has yet to materialise.