Marking the centenary of a Dickens of a legal figure

Blackpool Coroner John Budd in 1983 and, below, Louisa Merrifield in 1953

Blackpool Coroner John Budd in 1983 and, below, Louisa Merrifield in 1953

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Today marks the centenary of one Blackpool’s most distinguished legal figures, John Budd, who could well be described as a Dickens of a lawyer.

As Coroner for two decades it was a role that regularly thrust him into the national spotlight.

Mrs Louisa Merrifield, who was hanged for the murder of her employer Sarah Ann Ricketts

Mrs Louisa Merrifield, who was hanged for the murder of her employer Sarah Ann Ricketts

Born in the resort on July 19, 1913, John Budd was educated at Blackpool Grammar School before being articled to a local firm of solicitors, W H Hodgson and Co.

Local historian Kenneth Shenton, who has been researching John Budd’s life and times, says: “ For six years, between 1940 and 1946, he served in the RAF rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant and being mentioned in despatches for services to Walcheren Island.

“Returning to found his own firm, John Budd and Co, among his many high profile clients was local woman Louisa Merrifield who, in 1953, having been found guilty of murder, became the last woman to be hanged at Strangeways Jail.

“Appointed Blackpool’s Deputy Coroner in 1964, four years later he became Coroner for Blackpool and the Fylde.”

Over the next 20 years he would handle many famous cases.

These included the shooting of police officer Gerald Richardson, the murder of three children at Victoria Hospital and the death of seven German aircraft technicians, passengers in an executive jet which, in attempting to take off from Squires Gate, ploughed into the chalets at the nearby Pontin’s Holiday Camp.

Kenneth says: “One of his saddest cases took place in 1983 with the deaths of four people, three of them police officers whom John Budd knew personally. On a wild January day, they perished in rough seas as they attempted to rescue a 25-year-old Glaswegian holidaymaker who had got into difficulties trying to rescue his dog.

“The tragedy, making both national and international headlines, precipitated the largest inquest the town had ever seen.”

Kenneth says: “Away from the somewhat sombre nature of his work, few realised that under the nom-de-plume of Julian Prescott, John Budd was also a highly successful author of novels and short stories.

“Very much in the manner of his great hero, Charles Dickens, the successful Casebook Series colourfully depicted life in a solicitor’s office in an unnamed seaside town.

“Amid a remarkable eye for detail, these 11 novels regularly intertwined Budd’s twin passions of the law and the turf.

“An immensely popular and generous man, John Budd helped many aspiring lawyers over the years, not least his successor as Coroner, Samuel Lee.

“He was also the first to recognise and encourage local boy, George Carman.

“Married for 58 years, he died, aged 84, in March, 1998.”

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