DONNING his wig and robes and presiding over many of the most high profile and gruesome crown court cases is Charles Gratwicke’s day job.

During his 16 years at Chelmsford Crown Court, Recorder Gratwicke has sentenced hundreds of criminals to years behind bars for horrific acts.

How has he kept sane amidst this depravity?

But taking a flight of fancy to a world far away in Sawson’s Quest.

Sawson’s Quest is the name of his first book which has been a nine year labour of love and which he has just had published.

His book has been a long project, a mixture of handwritten and typed (quite slowly using two fingers).

He said: “The problem, is to be frank, with this job you are pretty tired at the end of the day and so I did lots of it at weekends and on holiday and that’s why it took so long.

“There was no pressure to get it published.

“If I was trying to earn a living as an author that would have been different.”

Just some of the big cases Judge Gratwicke, a recorder and Chelmsford’s resident judge since 2012, has overseen include the murder trial of Michael Beckwith, killed in Harwich in 2016, and the attempted murder of John Sales in Colchester in 2017.

He once famously allowed a defendant to bring his cat into court to help him stay calm.

Taylor the cat watched proceedings from a wheeled shopping trolley, poking his head out of the top to see what was going on and to be continually stroked by the defendant as the hearing unfolded.

However, many cases have hours at a time where court is adjourned while juries deliberate to determine defendants’ guilt or innocence.


Judge Gratwicke admitted he has been partial to writing the odd paragraph of Sawson’s Quest during work breaks.

“Now and again I would do that if I had a spare half an hour or so and was up to date with things.

“It is therapeutic, it is also completely different.

“There is no input from anyone else and you can really let your imagination run riot.

“There must be one reference to a lawyer in the book but law doesn’t come into it.”

The married grandfather-of-one lives in Blackheath, London, but during his working week resides closer to Chelmsford.

His law career dates back to 1974 when he qualified a barrister and worked his way to the top of chambers before he decided to become a judge.

His experience also means he can generally switch off from his job.

“You are trained at the bar to really absorb a case and then let it disappear.

“But, of course, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have emotion about a case but you don’t let that affect you,” he added.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising then Sawson’s Quest is set far away telling the adventures of a pauper who goes to sea.

Its main character Edward Sawson is shipwrecked, captured by pirates and sold into slavery before eventually making his way back to England.

Judge Gratwicke, 67, said: “I have always been quite interested in history and just have imagination and am very keen on London and sea.

“One day I was by the river and trying to imagine what it was like 200 years ago.

“It started and evolved and part of it is set near Gozo, near Malta and thereafter the plot just evolved really.

“It is not a book meant for small children but young adults and adults.”

Judge Gratwicke opted not to seek the help of an agent to get Sawson’s Quest published.

“I thought ‘Hang on a minute, they are going to start telling me to change things’.

“I just want to get this published. I was lucky.”

He approached London’s Olympia Publishers who, after proofreading, gave it the thumbs up and the 252-page book is now on sale including from Waterstones and Amazon.

He added: “I have got an idea for a sequel but I will wait to see how this goes and have started another book but I have only written a couple of chapters of it.”

Judge Gratwicke, it seems, may be used to throwing the book at guilty criminals but could get more used to writing them.