Derek Bentley Hanged
The 28th of January 1953 AD
On the night of November 2 1952 Derek Bentley, aged 19, and his 16-year-old friend Christopher Craig, broke in to the warehouse belonging to confectioners Barlow and Parker in Croydon . They were spotted by a young girl, whose father rang the police to report the crime.
Seeing the police arrive, Bentley and Craig tried to hide behind lift housing on the roof of the building. DS Frederick Fairfax climbed to the roof and grabbed Bentley, who resisted him and broke free. It was at this point that Bentley was alleged to have shouted "Let him have it Chris."
Fairfax arrested Bentley, but when PC Sidney Miles clambered to the roof he was shot in the head, dying instantly.
At the subsequent Old Bailey Trial, which lasted just three days in mid-December 1952, both Craig and Bentley were found guilty of murder. Craig never denied his actions, but as he was under 18 he could not be executed. Bentley was found guilty of joint enterprise in the murder, in spite of having been under arrest at the moment PC Miles was slain.
The trial was surprisingly quick, and facts such as Bentley's mental incapacity - he was said to have a mental age of 11 - were not put to the jury, which only took 75 minutes to reach its decision.
At 9am on January 28 1953, less than three months after the crime was committed, Bentley was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Wandsworth Prison, in spite of public petitions and the protests of 200 MPs, demands for clemency from various sides, and demonstrations outside both Parliament and Wandsworth Prison.
After the trial a campaign to clear Bentley's name was carried out over many years, his sister Iris becoming a well-known figure to journalists and politicians alike as she dedicated her life to the task. The campaign did bring many facts about the case to light: a forensic linguist showed Bentley's supposed verbatim confession had at the very least been edited by the police. The bullet that killed PC Miles was never recovered, but analysis is alleged to have shown it was far smaller than the .455 Colt revolver used by Craig could take, and that the wound was consistent with a shot fired from about six feet away, whereas Craig was some 40 feet from the victim, the suggestion being that it was a stray shot from a .32 police automatic that accidentally killed the constable.
Bentley and Craig always denied the words "Let him have it" were used, and it has been suggested that this was a fabrication to ensure a conviction, given the understandable outrage at PC Miles's death. PC Bob Jaggs, one of those honoured for capturing the pair, died a hopeless alcoholic haunted by what he told a colleague was the secret he knew about the case.
In 1993 then Home Secretary Michael Howard granted a posthumous pardon to Bentley. In 1998 the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction against Bentley for murder, on the grounds that the jury should have been told at the original trial that in order for joint enterprise to be upheld Bentley must have been shown to have known Craig had the pistol, which had not happened.
In all the debate about the case, and the very reasonable doubts about how it was handled, poor PC Sidney Miles has far too often been forgotten. Craig served 10 years and on his release lived as a law-abiding citizen, deeply sorrowful about his part in the affair.
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