Property developer who shot solicitor in the head says he’s ‘fortunate’ he can’t remember it


A property developer who blasted a solicitor in the head with a sawn-off shot gun has told a court he felt “fortunate” he could not remember it.

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

The shooting, allegedly out of “anger and resentment”, followed 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


Despite initially surviving, Mr Ward, who worked at the Morris, Goddard and Ward Law firm in Devizes, Wilts., died three weeks later.

Giving evidence, Chudley told the court he felt “fortunate” he could not remember the event but was ashamed of his actions.

He told Salisbury Crown Court: “I have no idea what happened. I’m very ashamed of what I did but I’m fortunate to have no recollection of the incident at all.

“All I can remember is that I went out to a place where I used to walk and I went for a walk on my own.

“I felt tearful and went and sat back in my car and became very upset.

“That is the last I remember, I switched off completely.

“Apparently I have then gone into Ward’s office, but I have no recollection of going there whatsoever.

“I was very ill at the time. I am very ashamed of what I did but I am fortunate not to remember.”

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 denies murder but has admitted manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility.

He said: “I have admitted manslaughter with diminished responsibility. I have been honest and have admitted the dreadful thing I have done.

“It is the right thing to do, I am a normal person and what I did was dreadful.”

The court heard Chudley had bought the gun from an Irish employee 15 years earlier following threats from the boyfriend of a former partner.

But the gun remained hidden until he and partner Francine Whale were the victims of an armed robbery at his home, Rowde Mill House, now Kingfisher House, in Rowde, Wilts., in September 2009.

Chudley alleged the robbery had been instigated by solicitor Mr Ward after he had sent him a picture of £50,000 in £50 notes to show he had money.

He then removed the gun, from where he had hidden it bricked inside a wall, and sawed it down to protect himself and Francine if they robbers ever came back.

The court heard that Chudley had become involved with Mr Ward following a long-running legal dispute after he agreed to renovate a house in Esher, Surrey, belonging to Christopher Sears.

Mr Ward – known as Jim – had represented Mr Sears in the case which left loser Chudley unable to keep up with mortgage payments and the £1.75million house he shared with Francine was repossessed.

Chudley told the court that he brought the case against Mr Sears after he had refused to pay for the extensive renovation works he had carried out to his house – which included demolishing and rebuilding most of it.

The serial litigant, who had bought many cases against others before Mr Sears, claimed the homeowner owed him £96,000 in extra costs.

He told the court: “During the first year of the court case we laughed at it, we were well off with a six figure sum in the bank.

“During the second we ran out of money and had to start selling the assets. The guns went first, I sold them for £20,000, and then I sold my Ferrari for £60,000.

“The third year of the case I was getting ill, I was a mess in the end, I was despondent, there were tears, I just couldn’t believe it.”

The bankrupt dad-of-three then went into Mr Ward’s office in July 2012 and walked up to him as he was on the phone to a client, shooting him in the head and blowing part of his skull away.

Chudley told the court he had no planned to kill Mr Ward, and admitted he was “no angel” but had never “stepped over that line”.

He said: “If I wanted to kill him I would have stolen a car, gone round to his house, shot him, driven away, set fire to the car and then run like hell.

“If I had been thinking rationally I wouldn’t have walked into his office in the middle of the day and shot him with 50 witnesses and cameras seeing me.

“I have done 30 years in Wiltshire, I am no angel I know but I have never stepped over that line.”

Chudley, of Rowde, Wilts., also denies a charge of having a firearm with intent to kill and possessing a firearm with an intent to cause fear of violence.

He denies an additional charge of making threats to kill Daphne Courtney, a receptionist at the law firm.

The trial continues.


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