At 8.15pm on Thursday October 9th 1952, Lady Derby was dining on her own and watching television in the Smoke room on the first floor of Knowsley Hall as her husband was out attending a dinner in Altcar, when the smoke room door opened and a footman came into the room. Lady Derby was somewhat irritated by this intrusion as the footman was distracting her from watching the programme and he rudely hadn’t knocked on the door before entering making her feel uneasy.
The annoying intruder was Harold Winstanley a trainee who had been on the staff for only a few months but had become a popular member of the workforce with both his colleagues and the Lady and Gentleman of the house He was 19 and had been invalided out of the Scots Guards with TB and was a tall,slim, handsome young man with a cheerful smile and always a willingness to help.
Lady Derby noticed that Winstanley had a fierce look on his face and had a cigarette hanging from his mouth. She asked him “What are you doing, what do you want?" She then noticed that he was pointing a pistol at her and Winstanley told her to turn around. She complied and there was a shot. Lady Derby fell to the floor having been injured in the back of the neck. Blood was trickling onto the carpet and she lay on the floor still but alive.
The Hall butler Walter Stallard entered the room and called out “Harold” to Winstanley who by now had moved into the library off the smoke room. He approached the butler from behind and there was a burst of fire from his automatic pistol and Stallard fell to the floor dead. Hearing the commotion the under butler Douglas Stuart then entered the room and as his eyes took in the unbelievable scene, his legs buckled from underneath him and he pleaded for his life promising the gunman that he would not tell anyone what he had seen. Winstanley walked towards Stuart who had crouched down behind the settee and shouted “No” when another burst of fire rang out. Stuart was wounded but managed to get to his feet and ran out of the room to an adjoining door which was locked. Winstanley followed and Stuart who was cornered again pleaded to Winstanley “my wife, my wife” Two more short bursts from the pistol and Stuart slumped to the floor dead.
Lord Derbys valet William Sullivan then approached the gunman and said “Whats happened, what are you doing with the gun?” Winstanley said “I will tell you when the girls come down”. Above them looking down were two young housemaids who refused to go anywhere near them. Sullivan suddenly turned heel and ran for his life and Winstanley followed him shooting Sullivan in the hand and also injuring Mrs Turley the housekeeper in the leg. Sullivan collapsed and Winstanley stood over him pointing the pistol at him until the brave intevention of the injured Mrs Turley who got between the men and said “Come on Harry, whats wrong? Would you like me to get you a cup of tea?” Mrs Turley later stated that “He didn’t seem to be his natural self at all, he had a wild look. His whole features had changed. His eyes were staring mad, his face had a greenish colour and he was getting into a frenzy”. Winstanley said to Mrs Turley “I wont shoot you, you have been so kind to me”. He also said “I have shot lady Derby. I am sorry I did not mean to hurt her. I think I have killed her ladyship, Mr Stallard and Douglas. There are a few of them dead in the smoke room”.
The gunman became calmer and had apparently lost interest in his violent rampage. He walked calmly and steadilly away from the scene and once in his room, reloaded the gun with a full magazine and pushed it down his trousers. He then put on his macintosh and went out of his room. The chef tried to detain Winstanley on the way out and wrestle the gun from him and after a spray of more bullets, Winstanley continued towards the entrance of Knowsley Hall at the side of the building and left the grounds at the Ormskirk Lodge exit. He then went to the Coppull House pub where he drank some beer and eat some crisps. After realising the enormity of what he had done Winstanley decided to give himself up to the Police. He took a bus into Liverpool and made a phonecall at 11.42pm from a phone box in North John Street. A Police car was despatched to the phone box and Constable Egerton, Donoghue and Mitchell detained him. Winstanley gave the pistol to Constable Egerton and a spare magazine and 130 rounds of ammunition were found in his pockets. He told the officers “ I don’t know why I did it, I want to tell you all about it. I suppose I will have to pay for what I have done”.
At Midnight Winstanley was taken to see Det Ch Supt Lindsay and Detective Inspector McCartney of the Lancashire Police and Det Ch Supt Balmer of the Liverpool Police before being taken onto Prescot Police station where he made a statement confessing to the crimes and was charged.
The pistol was an automatic Schmeisser that he had obtained along with 400 rounds of ammunition from a friend as a swap for £3 and a pair of trousers. He had also shown the gun to various members of staff at Knowsley Hall and wanted to go down to the cellar to set off some rounds.
Harold Winstanley was initially represented by Rex Makin and was tried at Manchester Crown Court on 16th December 1952 and was defended by Rose Heilbron. No motive was ever discovered for the crimes and Winstanley pleaded guilty to murder. A defence of insanity was put forward and the McNaghton rules were applied. He was detained at her majestys pleasure in Broadmoor.
Lady Derby later made a full recovery.
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