A RETIRED Bradford Crown Court judge who tried many murder cases has written a third crime thriller.

James Stewart QC was for many years a familiar face in Bradford Crown Court, where, after a long and distinguished career, he served as Honorary Recorder of Bradford.

Again using his background knowledge of murder trials, he has penned ‘Slaughter’, centred around the brutal murder of a wealthy family and rape of their daughter, who survives.

The book’s central character Detective Chief Inspector James Turnbull finds the evidence points to an escaped convict, but the case is anything but straightforward.

‘We definitely believe we have the right man,’ the Bradford Murder Squad detective confidently tells Captain Michael Clarke, of the Home Office.

But Cpt Clarke, who comes forward with an unexpected interest in the accused, throws umpteen spanners in the works. Suddenly, what looks like a home-and-dry conviction becomes a difficult case to crack.

During his career Bradford-born James was involved in many high-profile murder cases, both local and national including the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, the Strangeways riot murder trial, Bradford proptitute murderer George Naylor and the Zorah Shah arsenic poisoning case.

He thought about writing after retiring in 2012. “A friend had heard me sentencing in a high-profile ‘honour killing’ murder case and said what a super novel it would make, so I thought: why not?” he says.

‘The Honour Killing’, was written under the pseudonym J S Hamilton. His second, Missing, focusing on a teenage Sri Lankan au pair who vanishes, was published under his own name.

His in-depth knowledge of the legal system has been a huge influence in his novels and given his plots a more authentic path. “I have a lifetime of experience in murder trials,” he says. “My books are different because they all end in a trial. Most crime novels stop at arrest and assume conviction thereafter - that does not happen in real life. My trials are authentic for obvious reasons. Nothing in them would not happen in real life.”

Slaughter’s gripping tale is peppered with local references, reflecting James’s close connections with the district. The T&A gets a bit-part: ‘The press made a beeline for the door, Turnbull could imagine what a field day they would have with that cross-examination. He made a mental note to buy the Yorkshire Evening Post and Bradford Telegraph & Argus when he left court.’

Says James: “I was born in Bradford and love it dearly,” he says. “All the places and newspapers, like the Telegraph & Argus, played an important part in my life. I picture them as I write and it gives my books authenticity.

“I walked weekly, with my Dad, on Ogden Moors. I know the Yorkshire sites well. I have been involved professionally with the Bradford Police throughout my career and have the greatest respect for them. I started my career in Bradford and finished it there. A great place.”

He adds: “My family have always been staunch Bradfordians. My father, Henry Hamilton Stewart FRCS, was a Freeman of the City and my brother, Peter, was a consultant urologist at Bradford Royal Infirmary. My late brother, John, had a company - BRUDA International - in Bradford. My Grandpa and my uncle were both GPs in Thornton.”

James likens DCI Turnbull to Inspector Thursday in the ITV series ‘Endeavour’, rather than anyone he has come across in the course of his work. “I find Inspector Thursday very convincing and his family life very credible,” he says.

He sticks to a rigid formula. “ I start with the death, then the police investigation which leads to a trial, a verdict and, if convicted, sentencing.”

The detailed exchanges and complexities of court are laid bare, bringing the courtroom to the page. Conflicting statements and pieces of evidence are challenged, making DCI Turner’s job to convict the right man even more taxing.

‘A man came into my bedroom. He told me to turn the light on. I did and then I saw him. He was dirty, unshaven with long spiky, greasy hair. I’ll never forget his face…’ attack survivor Amy tells the packed courtroom.

Yet Ilkley landlady Edna Brewis describes the same man, who stayed at her boarding house, as ‘very smart and tidy’, a man who ‘took care with his appearance.’

James enjoys the novels of other crime writers, in particular Peter Robinson, P D James and Michael Connelly books. “Peter Robinson writes beautifully and I like the way he builds his characters,” he says.

After a demanding and fulfilling career, writing presents a new direction for James.

“I missed work, upon retirement. I had a very heavy workload and I found it difficult just stopping, so I looked for something to fill the gap. First, I was invited to become chairman of the Harrogate branch of the British Heart Foundation which this year celebrates being the most successful branch in the UK.

“But I needed more and when my wife wrote a book (Israelia by Deborah Rakusen), I decided to follow suit.”

He credits Rachael and Gwyneth at his publishers, Melrose Books of Ely, Cambridgeshire, with helping him to achieve his goal.

There isn’t a typical day to his writing. “I just write when I feel like it, more often in the mornings, sitting at my desk, looking out onto our garden, with Tommy, our cat, at my feet. He sits with me constantly.”

*Slaughter by James Stewart, is published by Melrose Books, priced £8.99, and is available to order from bookshops and Amazon.