UK News Electronic Telegraph
Tuesday 21 July 1998
Issue 1152

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Bentley was hanged after 'a grossly unfair trial'
By Terence Shaw, Legal Correspondent

External Links

Derek Bentley Archive

Criminal Cases Review Commission - Home Office

Press releases - Criminal Cases Review Commission

Capital punishment in modern British law and culture - Abolition Now

Scandals in Justice [British edition]

DEREK Bentley, who was hanged 45 years ago for his part in the murder of a policeman, was convicted on "highly suspect" evidence and subjected to a "grossly unfair" trial, the Appeal Court was told yesterday.

Derek Bentley: hanged in 1953
Edward Fitzgerald, QC, his counsel, was opening an appeal in which he is urging Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with Lord Justice Kennedy and Mr Justice Collins, to quash Bentley's conviction as unsafe. Bentley, then aged 19, was convicted in December, 1952, of murdering Pc Sidney Miles while he and Christopher Craig, an accomplice, were trying to break into a confectionary warehouse in Croydon, south London.

Bentley's appeal against his conviction was dismissed the following month and he was hanged in Wandsworth prison on Jan 28, 1953. Craig, who was 16 and fired the fatal shot, was also convicted of murder but was too young to hang. He was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, was released in 1963 and now lives in Clophill, Beds.

After a long campaign by his family and friends, Bentley was granted a limited posthumous pardon in 1993 by Michael Howard, the former Conservative Home Secretary, saying that his hanging was wrong. His conviction for murder was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the newly-established Criminal Cases Review Commission in November.

Opening the appeal hearing, which is expected to last five days, Mr Fitzgerald said there was "good reason for the great public disquiet" over Bentley's execution. He told the judges: "Here was a simple-minded boy of a chronological age of 19, but with a mental age of 11, and within three months he was charged with murder, tried, convicted, his appeal dismissed, his pleas for clemency rejected and his execution carried out." His execution was "nothing short of cruel, given his mental age and mental defects and epilepsy".

Mr Fitzgerald said Bentley was convicted primarily on the basis of the allegation by police that he used the words "Let him have it" to Craig before Pc Miles was shot. But, Mr Fitzgerald said, there was the "gravest doubt" as to whether those words were ever spoken and "good reason to doubt the veracity" of police officers in the case.

Outlining the other grounds for appeal, Mr Fitzgerald said Lord Goddard, the former Lord Chief Justice, who presided at Bentley's Old Bailey trial, had acted with "blatant prejudice" and had misdirected the jury in such a way that the conviction should not be allowed to stand. He said Lord Goddard had misdirected the jury on the burden and standard of proof and on the law of joint enterprise and constructive malice in murder cases that applied at that time.

He also said Bentley had been deprived of a fair trial because of improper comments by Lord Goddard and his "unbalanced" summing up to the jury which had commended the police evidence and been a "sustained exhortation to convict". Mr Fitzgerald said the judge never directed the jury to give Bentley the benefit of any doubt and, in a case where the jury was clearly troubled and the prosecution's case was seriously flawed, the "absence of the mandatory direction must be fatal to the safeness of the conviction".

2 November 1997: Bentley murder case set to be reopened
21 October 1997: New ruling is expected on Hanratty hanging
1 February 1997: [etcetera] Iris - the whole truth
23 January 1997: Bentley's sister dies without winning pardon she fought for

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