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UK’s first Rastafarian solicitor laid to rest on June 19

REAL ICON: Jeff Atkinson

THE FUNERAL of the UK’s first Rastafarian solicitor will take place on June 19 at the New Testament Church of God in George Street, Birmingham.

Described as “a real icon”, Handsworth-born Jeff Atkinson, 50, suffered a suspected heart attack following a gym session on May 26.

With his trademark dreadlocks a familiar sight in court, Mr Atkinson built an unrivalled reputation for defending people caught up in some of the Birmingham’s high profile gun and gang-related trials.

The father-of-two, who gained his law degree from the University of Warwick, sometimes spoke of how, as a young solicitor making his name, court officials would find his appearance hard to accept and mistake him for a defendant, not a professional legal expert.

A giant of a man, both physically and intellectually, respect soon grew for the way he mentored young people and supported those often marginalised in the criminal justice system.

Close friend Bishop Dr Derek Webley, former chair of the West Midlands Police Authority, said: “Our community has lost a real icon. A giant has been taken from us, but I thank God for the massive contributions he made. A man of principle, he shared a faith not always embraced by the establishment.

“As someone who often hears about the passing of a loved one in my role as a minister, I have to say I broke down when I heard of Jeff’s death.

“We had bumped into each other only three weeks ago and spent a good 40 minutes chatting and catching up. He always had time for people.”

Friend and community activist Desmond Jaddoo described Mr Atkinson as “an inspirational man.”

He said: “This is a great loss to the whole community. People talk a lot about positive role models, but Jeff truly was one of those. It was his grittiness and determination to succeed that helped him to achieve his law degree and set up his own practice.

“I knew Jeff before he was a solicitor. Being a Rastafarian, he had to overcome a lot in his profession.”

Veteran community activist Maxie Hayles remembered Jeff as a young student studying law alongside his own daughter.

He said: “Jeff was passionate and dynamic who won the utmost respect from the community he grew up with. People looked up to him and the community will miss him greatly - a life cruelly cut short.”

A book of condolence has been opened in Handsworth library in Soho Road, while tributes are still pouring in on a Facebook page. One says: “The loss of a true gentleman and a genuinely nice guy.”

While another reads: “I wish RIP meant ‘Return if possible.’”

* Mr Atkinson’s funeral will be held at 10am on Thursday June 19th at the New Testament Church of God in George Street, Lozells, Birmingham

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