Property developer who lost a legal battle ‘killed rival solicitor with a sawn-off shotgun’

June 5, 2013 | by | 0 Comments

A property developer who lost a lengthy legal battle took revenge by killing the rival solicitor with a sawn-off shotgun, a court heard today.

Michael Chudley, 63, walked into the office of James Ward, 58, and blasted him in the face with a single shot.

The Crown said the killing was out of “anger and resentment” following a legal dispute that saw Chudley lose his house, livelihood and long-term partner.

Solicitor James Ward who died in hospital after being shot in the head at his office in Wiltshire

Solicitor James Ward who died in hospital after being shot in the head at his office in Wiltshire

Michael Chudleigh at his house in Wiltshire

Michael Chudleigh at his house in Wiltshire. He allegedly killed the solicitor in a revenge attack


A court heard the defendant had been involved in a long-running legal dispute after he carried out extensive works on a property in Surrey belonging to Christopher Sears.

Chudley’s claimed his life was left a ”misery” after he tried and failed to sue Mr Sears who then successfully counter-sued him, a court heard.

Mr Ward – known as Jim – had represented Mr Sears in the case which left Chudley unable to keep up with mortgage payments and resulted in the break up with his partner.

Salisbury Crown Court heard that Chudley went Mr. Ward’s office in July 2012 and walked up to him as he was on the phone to a client.

He shot him in the head, blowing part of his skull away, and despite initially surviving Mr. Ward died three weeks later.

The police cordon around the solicitor's in Devizes, Wiltshire, where solicitor James Ward was shot in the head

The police cordon around the solicitor’s in Devizes, Wiltshire, where solicitor James Ward was shot in the head

Chudley, of Rowde, Wilts., denies murder but admits manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

He also denies a charge of having a firearm with intent to kill and possessing a firearm with an intent to cause fear of violence.

Chudley also denies making threats to kill Daphne Courtney, a receptionist at the Morris, Goddard and Ward Law firm in Devizes, Wilts.

William Mousley QC, prosecuting, told the court: “In 2009 James Ward was instructed by Christopher Sears over a building dispute he had with Michael Chudley.

“In June 2012 there was a hearing before the court to assess the damages and legal costs, and on June 30 a quantity surveyors report had been sent to interested parties.

“There is evidence from a number of sources to show that Michael Chudley blamed James Ward for the outcome of the proceedings and had made threats, including to kill, during 2012.

“On July 2 Michael Chudley parked his car immediate outside MGW Law, got out, looked around and walked into the premises.

“He stopped in reception about 3ft away from Daphne Courtney carrying a sawn-off shot gun and told her to take him to James Ward immediately.

“James Ward was in his first floor office talking on the phone to a client, he had the door open.

“Michael Chudley walked in a foot or so, raised the gun, pointed it and fired once.
He was heard to roll back, and then silence.

“It is clear that Michael Chudley intended at the very least to cause serious injury injury to James Ward and most likely he intended to kill him.

“When arrested 30 minutes after the later he told officers, ‘I shot him because he made our lives a misery’.”

The court heard after the failed legal case Chudley began living in pubs and his car and wrote a number of notes where he blamed Mr. Ward.

He broke up with partner Francine Whale in April 2012 and the bank repossessed his house, the court was told.

The jury heard how a large chunk of Mr Ward’s head, around nine inches by six inches, had been blown away by the shot, exposing a section of his brain.

The father-of-three was rushed to Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, by air ambulance, where he was placed into a medical coma.

But despite doctors’ best efforts including reconstructive surgery on his skull, he died almost three weeks later after contracting broncho-pneumonia.

The court was told how following the shooting Chudley returned to his repossessed home where two builders spotted him crawling on his hands and knees in a nearby field.

Mr Mousley said: ”They spotted a sawn-off shot gun by his right hand side and he told them he had been shooting.

“His voice sounded normal but they regarded him as being on edge and nervous.

“It appears he had also called Francine Whale where he told her ‘I have shot Ward, and it’s all your fault’.

Chudley was later charged and submitted a written statement to officers claiming that he had not meant to kill Jim and had instead been in a “daze and on autopilot”.

He also said he had planned to kill himself after the shooting.

Mr Mousley told the court that Chudley had been assessed by two psychiatrists who had agreed that the former property developer was suffering from a personality disorder.

However they did not agree as to whether this had made a difference to his mental state at the time of the shooting.

Mr Mousley said: “Dr Sandford, a psychiatrist for the prosecution, says in his report, ‘This killing was simple revenge, routed in anger and resentment.”

The trial, expected to last two and a half weeks, continues.

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