Shelagh J. Gaskill

Published 25th January 2019

This is a response to a prompt I received from your Twitter account.

My mother left school in Leeds at 16, and married my father, who lectured in law at what was then Leeds College of Commerce, at 19. She took ‘A’ level law and did secretarial jobs, and eventually took a full time LLB at the University of Leeds, graduating at 29. She went back to Leeds on a temporary lectureship which eventually lasted for 7 years. Among her colleagues were Professor Hogan, of Smith & Hogan on Criminal Law, and Geoff Hoon, the now disgraced politician.

After leaving Leeds University, she did a training contract at what was then Dibb Lupton. This was in the days when Dibb Lupton vied with another Leeds firm, Hammond Suddards, to be number 1 on the Solicitor magazine’s list of Top 10 Worst Firms to work for. It at Dibbs that she met her mentor, Simon Chalton, who was in the process of inventing the framework for big, IT outsourcing contracts.

The glass ceiling at Dibbs was fairly low. My mother left to join Masons (now Pinsent Masons) and took the whole of the information law function of Dibbs with her. She was one of the partners who opened the Leeds office of Masons. After a few years, she transferred to the London office, in Clerkenwell. By that time, she had completed, among other things, the outsourcing of BAE Systems’ IT to CSC. This was the first £1 billion+ outsourcing contract in the UK and, possibly, the world.

She was an advisor to the Home Office under the Blair government, and contributed wording to the Data Protection Act 1998. She was once asked if she wanted to be Information Commissioner. Her team did the legal work which demerged Vodafone from Racal Electronics, and Zeneca from ICI. During the latter project, she gave a presentation to the board of ICI about information governance strategy. In response to ICI’s account of how they intended to proceed, she called them “a bunch of wankers”, and was soon after told that her services would not be required. She did get further work from Zeneca.

She continued to practice until a few months before he untimely death, in 2006. Masons held a memorial event for her, at which one of the speakers was Richard Thomas, the then Information Commissioner.

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