SO FAR – April/May 1956, and the sleepy town of Wisbech, which rarely makes the national press, is suddenly headine news when an attractive blonde woman turns a gun on her drunken lover. Allegedly. But it was fun while it lasted.
Ella Grundman, who has been living with a wealthy divorced farmer, Charles West, in his palatial home near Wisbech, has been accuse of trying to kill him during a drunken late night spat, which allegedly involved Mrs Grundman taking a kitchen knife to Mr West, and then bringing down a shotgun to finish the job. Mrs G has been sent to trial at the next Cambridge Assizes, and is facing a long term in prison.
The May Assizes in Cambridge that year was presided over by Mr Justice Oliver, and when Ella Grundman came to face him, she was defended by a man who would go on to be one of the most famous politicians in the country. Quintin Hogg, Q.C. was also 2nd Viscount Hailsham (below). He later renounced his title in order to enter fully into government, and served as First Lord of The Admiralty, and then Minister for Education. After losing to Alec Douglas Home in an election to be leader of The Conservative Party, he returned to the Lords, but served as Lord Chancellor under Margaret Thatcher.
Frankly, he couldn’t have had an easier case to defend. By the time of Ella Grundman’s appearance in court, the police – who, in pre Crown Prosecution Service days, made the decision as to whether a case should be pursued – must have realised that there was not a great deal of merit in it. The newspaper reported:
“Mrs. Grundman altered her plea on that charge to one of ” Guilty.” The prosecution did not proceed with four other charges, and on these she was formally found not guilty. These charges were of shooting at Mr. West with intent to murder; wounding him; possessing a smooth-bore gun with intent to endanger life; and causing grievous bodily harm to Mr. West with intent to maim, disfigure or disable him.”
Mr. Leonard Caplan, Q.C., prosecuting, described a drinking party at Mr. West’s home, Needham Hall, Friday Bridge, near Wisbech. Mr. West accused Mrs. Grundman of stealing twenty-five cigarettes, added Mr. Caplan. She said they were in his desk but he refused to open it. Mrs. Grundman brought a gun and again asked Mr. West to open the desk. The gun went off, but Mr. West was not hurt.
Later Mr. West was found at the foot of some steps, with a fractured shoulder. Lord Hailsham, Q.C. for Mrs. Grundman, said the party started at 12.30 p.m. and Mrs. Grundman went to bed at 2.30 p.m. to get away from it.. Mr. West sent the gardener to drag Mrs. Grundman from bed, and accused her of stealing the cigarettes. Mrs. Grundman only took the gun to shoot the lock off the desk. Mr. West received his injured shoulder by falling down the stairs, as he appeared to have been ” rolling around.” Mrs. Grundman, added Lord Hailsham, was unjustly accused of stealing the cigarettes, as they were found in the desk.”
Reading between the lines, it looks as though the judge, Mr Justice Oliver, had taken something of a shine to Ella Grundman
“Mrs. Ella Grundman, 39, was told by a judge yesterday: ” I shall not send you to prison. I think you have suffered a great deal more than you deserve.” The judge, Mr. Justice Oliver, gave Mrs. Grundman an absolute discharge at Cambridgeshire Assizes on a charge of assaulting her employer, Mr. Charles Alexander West, 59, a farmer.”
The Daily Herald loved every moment of it:
Amidst all the knockabout farce, there were human beings and their feelings involved, and the piece concluded on a melancholy note. This, again, from a national newspaper:
Mr West went home with the elder of his two sons. He said:
“I still love Mrs Grundman, but after this I feel we can never meet again. Through my solicitor, however, I shall continue to do all I can for her. I am glad she got off.”
Mrs Grundman, mother of two children, stayed last night with friends at Wisbech.