Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Knowsley Hall Shootings

Two stately home employees were shot dead by a work colleague in a tragic incident in one autumn evening in 1952

Knowsley Hall, on the eastern fringe of Liverpool and home to the earls of Derby for many centuries, cannot have witnessed more horrific events than those of 9th October 1952.

At 8.15pm that evening 19 year old Harold Winstanley, a trainee footman who had been discharged from the army due to tuberculosis, entered the smoke room and shot Lady Derby in the neck. While she 'played dead' Winstanley turned the gun on butler Walter Stallard and under-butler Douglas Stuart, who had been attracted by the commotion. 

After moving to the inner hallway, a frenzied Winstanley then shot and wounded valet William Sullivan and housekeeper Mrs Turley in the hand and leg respectively. Miss Doxford, Lady Derby's maid managed to slip away from the scene and call the police, after Winstanley had casually told her that he had shot Lady Derby but hadn't meant to hurt her. 

Winstanley then left the hall, drank a pint of beer in the Coppul House pub and then realised his plight was useless. He took a bus to Liverpool city centre and dialled 999 at 11.42pm to give himself up, expressing surprise when he was told that Lady Derby had survived.

On 14th October the two victims were buried in adjoining graves at the Church of St Mary in Knowsley Village. Three days later Winstanley appeared at Prescot Magistrates Court where he was defended by a young Rex Makin, who urged the press to 'stifle their wrong conclusions and suppositions until the facts are known.'

There was little doubt that Winstanley had carried out the shootings and the task of the defence counsel Rose Heilbron at his trial in Manchester on  16th December was to prove that he was insane at the time of the killings. Evidence was heard that his mother had a history of psychiatric problems and fellow staff members told how he had always been pleasant to work with. they said that on the fatal night he was acting normally and in a good mood when he enjoyed a meal with them at 5pm, but by he time of he shootings was white and wild eyed. 

Dr. Francis Brisby, Senior Medical Officer at Walton Prison described how Winstanley spoke of the shootings as if he'd witnessed them, rather than carried them out. It was Dr. Brisby's opinion that he was suffering schizophrenia and gross hysteria at the time, not being able to tell right from wrong. The jury returned a verdict of 'guilty but insane' and Winstanley was detained indefinitely at Broadmoor.

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