Obituary: Judge Henry Elam

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The Independent Online
Henry Elam, judge: born 29 November 1903; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1927; Recorder of Poole 1941-46, Exeter 1946-53; Deputy Chairman, West Kent Quarter Sessions 1947-53, Court of Quarter Sessions, Inner London 1953-76 (a Circuit Judge 1971-76); married 1930 Eunice Matthews (died 1975; one daughter), 1975 Doris Horford; died 13 August 1993.

THE DEATH of Henry Elam in his 90th year will cause regret to a wide circle not only of fellow lawyers but also to those who down the years had come to value his geniality and kindness upon all occasions, especially after his official retirement from the Bench when he seemed glad to be called upon for advice, always generously given.

He was much in demand as a junior counsel for a number of years before he became a judge and at one time there hardly seemed to be a notable Old Bailey trial in which the name of Henry Elam as one of the participants did not appear. Associated less with defence than prosecution, he nevertheless represented such defendants as the Wolfe brothers in the spectacular Leopold Harris fire insurance fraud trial; appearing also both at the trial and later at the Court of Criminal Appeal upon behalf of the Broadmoor child murderer, John Thomas Straffen, in 1952. Earlier on, he was widely known best as a junior for the Crown, often led by more flamboyant counsel than himself.

Elam, however, earned respect and admiration in the long run as a formidable advocate who upon a number of occasions cross-examined such notorious defendants as the murderers Neville Heath (sadistic killer of Margery Gardner and Doreen Marshall); James Camb (the porthole murderer); and the unjustly convicted Timothy Evans, who went to the gallows for Christie's crimes before the latter was finally caught. Another of his cases was the sensational murder trial of Groudkowski and Malinowski - two Poles who were executed in 1946.

A case at Bristol Assizes in 1946 had Elam cross-examining Mrs Cornock, accused of murdering her perverted husband in a bath, which was when I saw Elam for the first time - gentle and persuasive to the accused when in the witness box, denying the charge before Mr Justice Croom-Johnson, a friend of the crime writer and distinguished novelist, F. Tennyson Jesse. Tennyson Jesse invited me as the theatrical director of her next play to accompany her - the judge's guest - knowing of my interest in such matters. After Cornock had been acquitted we both went 'backstage' to meet the judge in his disrobing room. The two legal luminaries made a widely contrasting pair; 'Little Croomie', as Fryn Tennyson Jesse called her friend the judge, was now wigless, talking to the tall, lean Henry Elam. Together they made a picture of tact, experience and charm with a formidable judge. By the time Elam retired in 1976 he had become one our most senior circuit court judges himself, with 23 years on the Bench.

Educated at Charterhouse and Oxford, Henry Elam, the only son of Thomas Henry Elam of Sackville Street, London, was called to the Bar in 1927 before spending many of his early years on the Western Circuit and subsequently appearing at the Old Bailey as a junior counsel 10 years later. During the war he served as Deputy Judge Advocate for the RAF and from 1941 to 1953 as Recorder of Poole; from 1946 to 1953 he was also Recorder of Exeter and from 1947 to 1953 Deputy Chairman of West Kent Quarter Sessions.

In 1953 he assumed the office of Deputy Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions, Inner London, where he was considered a humane judge with a sense of humour and highly popular with counsel who appeared before him. In the same year also he became Honorary Secretary of Our Society, formerly known as the Crime Club when founded by HB Irving in 1903. An actor-criminologist, 'HB' was the son of the actor Sir Henry Irving. From the beginning of his term of office with the society Elam held the reins up until the time of his death. When he retired as a judge in 1976 the meetings of the club became his favourite recreation; at the quarterly gatherings criminal cases could still be discussed and often chewed over and dissected freely by experts (judges, counsel, pathologists and others 'in the know') and interesting psychological, legal and criminological problems freely ventilated by the members after the quarterly paper had been delivered.

Elam kept his legal hand in by organising these functions and as a lay member myself, made eligible for membership by the large number of stage plays of a mystery and crime nature I had produced in the theatre - after being invited to deliver a paper on a noted cause celebre to the membership - it was for nearly 40 years an enjoyable experience for me to hear our popular Secretary regaling his fellow members during the evening with the words of a founding member of the club, George R. Sims, who once wrote before the First World War about Our Society: 'In memory of many delightful evenings, excellent dinners, atrocious crimes and good fellowship.' Sentiments echoed heartily and acted upon with good cheer by dear old compassionate 'Harry' Elam himself.

(Photograph omitted)