The Shooting of Father Butler

From Michael Yelton's "Outposts of the Faith" drawing on material from the Rev'd Reginald Nottage's 1930 book entitled "The Village Eucharist" and two articles from The Times newspaper dated 1st July & 7th October 1963.

In 1958 Father Butler was instrumental in the purchase of the former school, which had been closed as early as 1904, and an adjoining house, so that the school building could become the church hall and the house could be let out. This was to have important consequences for him later.

ln early 1963 Father Butler had a disabling attack of shingles and later that year he confronted the truth, writing in a letter that 'there is no congregation any more'. However, the end of his long ministry in the village was marred by sensational developments which made national news and added an unpleasant postscript to his years at Kettlebaston.

The cottage attached to the former school was let to a self-employed printer in his mid 30s named Desmond Ernest Stanley Jeffery, who had a Spanish wife about ten years younger, named Libertad. When the rector had had his problem with shingles, Mrs Jeffery assisted him on two occasions at his request by applying a powder to the affected areas. It was alleged by Mr Jeffery that on the second occasion an act of indelicacy or indecency occurred, although Father Butler strongly denied it. Mr Jeffrey was indignant about this and was alleged to have said to another villager that he would like to 'shoot the old bastard'.

On 30 June 1963 Father Butler was stooping over his table when he felt something sharp on the right side of his head. He found he was bleeding and telephoned the doctor who observed a bullet hole in the window. When he was taken to the hospital it was found that a bullet had entered his head just above the right eyebrow and had then travelled through the head to the left side the neck.

Desmond Jeffrey appeared at a special sitting of the Sudbury magistrates on the following day charged with unlawful and malicious wounding with intent to commit grievous bodily harm, Contrary to s18 of Offences against the Person Act, 1861. It was said that he had admitted he acted unlawfully but denied any malicious intention. He was remanded in custody.

The defendant appeared further before the Hadleigh Magistrates on 2 August 1963 charged not only with malicious wounding with intent but also with attempted murder and was Committed for trial in custody to Norwich Assizes. The prosecutor alleged that he had been out for a walk with his wife and had been carrying a 0.22 rifle which he used for shooting rabbits. He was also said to have drunk a bottle of rum and to have been ambivalent about whether the gun had gone off deliberately, on one occasion saving, 'I should have put the bullet between his eyes."

On 7 October 1963 a jury at Norwich acquitted the defendant of both charges, which tends to suggest that they were sympathetic to his allegations against Father Butler, which others who knew him thought were "far-fetched." They must have had doubts about the assertion that the rifle was fired deliberately, although the chances of an accidental shot hitting the rector, a man he disliked, were very slight indeed.

The following year, I964, the rector retired. Thereafter he lived an itinerant life in various hotels in the South of England. He died in Kent on 21 August 1969..............


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