Last Updated: 31st July 1998
BENTLEY - JUSTICE COMES 45 YEARS TOO LATE
Bentley: The Hangman's Account
[31.JUL.98] Nearly 46 years after he was hanged for murder, Derek Bentley yesterday had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal. He had been convicted of killing PC Sidney Miles during a robbery, although the fatal shot was fired by his companion Christopher Craig. Craig, aged 14, was too young to hang. Bentley, a 19-year-old with a mental age of 11, went to the gallows. Today, the Guardian exclusively published the account of Bentley's final hours written by Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman, which has never before been made public.
When you go to hang a boy of 19 years old, it does not matter that he is tall and broad-shouldered, for at nine o'clock on the morning he is to die, he still looks only a boy.
And so did Derek Bentley, when the sickly green door of the condemned cell was abruptly whisked open for me on January 28, 1953. He sat at his prison table, watching the doorway.
When I walked in with my assistant and the group of silent prison officials crowding behind us, I believe that because we were all dressed so normally, in everyday lounge suits, young Derek Bentley thought then, at that moment, we had come with his reprieve.
His face glowed with an instant of eagerness. Then he saw the yellow leather strap in my right hand, and his eyes fixed upon it. The sight of this wiped all the hope from his expression. He stood up very slowly and clumsily. For all his youthfulness, he was the tallest person in that pale little room.
In some ways the wait in the Wandsworth death cell had been better for Bentley than for many murderers who went before him. Until the very last moment, a reprieve seemed possible.
The murder itself had not been a straightforward one. It may be remembered that Bentley had gone out thieving with a younger boy, Christopher Craig. Both had been pupils at Norbury Manor secondary school. But Bentley was burly and illiterate; Craig was young, quick and cocksure.
Upon this particular night, Craig carried a loaded revolver. Bentley had a knuckle-duster with a vicious spike upon it - in itself a lethal enough weapon. But when the two were observed on the roof of a warehouse, and police went up to get them, Christopher Craig fired shots, shouting to the police officers that he was only 14 - the significance of this being that he knew he was too young to be hanged for murder. One of his shots killed Police Constable Miles, who left a widow and children.
While Craig was cornered among the chimney-pots - hurling defiant threats at the crouching policemen, and punctuating each threat with a screaming bullet from the heavy revolver he carried - Bentley, who had been grabbed by another policeman, was pressing himself against the cold brickwork and praying that his pal's bullets wouldn't hit him.
The jury, who found both lads guilty of murder, added a recommendation of mercy for Bentley. So he became one of the few killers for whom such a recommendation meant nothing.
A storm of public feeling blew up. It increased as Bentley's last days slipped by, his appeal was dismissed, and protest marches by crowds, pleas in Parliament, went all unheeded by the authorities.
The storm was going on when I received the long grey envelope asking me to attend at Wandsworth Prison to hang Bentley. As I peered from the upper windows of the No. 77 bus which took me to Wandsworth the day before the execution, I saw newspaper placards along every street, proclaiming: "MPs Fight To Save Bentley."
So even 16 hours before the execution was due, there was still doubt that it would be allowed to take place.
My first glimpse of Bentley as he moved at his own pace around the inner yard of Wandsworth showed he was taller and more broad of shoulders than either of the two prison officers who guarded his last hours. His fair hair was blowing about in the cold wind.
In his grey prison clothes he looked like a schoolboy dressed for some classroom charade, despite the cigarette that drooped in his mouth. Each time the wind varied in the prison courtyard, he winced away from his own cigarette smoke, and blinked his eyes clumsily.
We expected trouble with Bentley. We knew he was physically very strong, and a little simple-minded. He had been so sure that he wouldn't hang. It did not seem logical to his uncomplex brain that - if Craig fired the murder shot and was not to be hanged - he should be executed.
His family shared his belief. They went further than just thinking he would not hang. They seemed to expect that he would shortly be released from prison.
When his family came to visit him at Wandsworth, the stark little interview room where they saw him had become almost a replica of their cosy family parlour in Norbury. Father, mother, 10-year-old brother Dennis and sister Iris, all laughing and making jokes, sharing fruit and cigarettes.
They laughed at Bentley's description of his death-cell as "my hotel room with bath". Several times he repeated a favourite joke - "I have beaten the warders at cards again today, but I still can't beat them to the door!"
When his sister Iris told him she had bought him a ticket for a New Year dance, his mother is reported to have said: "No, we'll have to ask the dance-hall manager to change it for another ticket next year, so Derek can have it when he comes out."
And at Christmas in the Bentley home, those few weeks before he was to die, the family placed two neatly wrapped parcels upon the Christmas tree. One was a silk tie, the other a box of chocolates. Each was inscribed: "To Derek with love - and the best of luck."
But Derek, of course, never did go home to unwrap those two parcels.
It was nearly dark upon that January afternoon when I walked up to the fortress-like gates of Wandsworth Prison.
I reported to the governor, and found him strained and restless. He advised me that it was possible we might have trouble next day. For after the appeal had been turned down, the gay atmosphere had gone from the family visits. They had ceased to be pleasant parties in the prison interview room, and there had been no more morale-lifting jokes. Instead, Bentley murmured repeatedly: "They can't hang me - can they?"
The day before his execution, he walked about the condemned cell, stumbling for words while the warder sat with pencil and drab-coloured prison notepaper to write a letter for him.
In that letter, there were such phrases as: "Don't let my cycle frames get rusty, they might come in handy some day... keep my mac clean and my tie..."
That night in my room at Wandsworth Prison - after checking Bentley's weight, height and physical structure, making my calculation for length of drop, and the routine test of all the apparatus - I sat drinking a bottle of beer and listened to the radio. Parliament was at a late session and 200 members had signed a petition demanding mercy for Bentley. The motion for a debate had been rejected, but the possibility of a last-minute reprieve still hung in the air, stronger than I have ever known it on any other execution eve.
I must say that my own thoughts were not concerned with any private sympathies for Bentley. I was occupied with the thought that he was 6ft tall, a weight-lifter and boxer with a brain younger than his body.
Only when he actually saw me coming towards him to pinion him would Bentley fully begin to realise that he was to die. And as one grey-haired prison officer mumbled to me: "If that boy does blow his top tomorrow, Albert, you're going to see the toughest five minutes you've ever had."
Next day I woke early, did my morning test of the apparatus, and found all in order. I ate my usual Wandsworth breakfast of fried plaice and potatoes, and studied the newspapers for any last-minute news of a reprieve - just as Bentley's friends and family were presumably studying theirs.
Bentley's father had led a protesting crowd to the block of flats in Great Peter Street where the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, lived. They had shouted: "Bentley is not sleeping tonight and neither shall Maxwell-Fyfe."
But the morning papers carried headlines saying only that there was to be "No Reprieve for Bentley" and I knew I would have my job to do.
With my assistant, Harry Kirk, I reported to the governor. He was pale and obviously forcing himself to be very calm. He spoke in a low voice. "Good morning Albert - I see that it has got to be done," he said.
"That's all right, sir," I told him. He led the way to the condemned cell, and we waited half a minute until the governor gave the signal, at 60 seconds to 9am.
Then the door was hastily opened. I went in as quickly as I could without seeming to hurry, and Harry Kirk, who was a burly man, was just behind me.
Bentley had jumped at the sudden opening of the door. Now he slowly rose. The prison officers on each side of him came quickly to their feet.
The boy's crisp, brushed-back fair hair was inches taller than everybody else in the room. I went round the table after him, took his arm without a word and very carefully, so there was no jerk that might trigger off his resistance, I put the pinioning-loop upon his wrists and suddenly made it tight.
I am sure he still had not properly weighed up the situation. He was still uncertain what was happening. He moved his shoulders wonderingly, but did not say anything.
I whispered "Just follow me, lad" and added soothingly: "It's all right, Derek - just follow me."
He started to move and his body caught the edge of the table. He appeared not to feel this, although the table shook. He followed me unaided into the adjoining execution chamber and stood on the chalk-marks upon the wooden floor.
I put the white cap over his head, and the noose with it, and heard the familiar click of belt and buckle as Harry Kirk swiftly pinioned his legs, then flung his arms back in a gesture of completion.
The controversy from that instant became purposeless, for Derek Bentley was dead.
© The Guardian
NEW PRISONS MINISTER
Lord Williams of Mostyn QC
[30.JUL.98] Lord Williams of Mostyn QC, until recently the Home Affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, has been appointed as the new Prisons & Probation Minister after his predecessor, Joyce Quin, was moved to the Foreign Office.
Lord Williams was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office on 5 May 1997. Gareth Wyn Williams was born on 5 February 1941 and educated at Rhyl Grammar School and Queens' College Cambridge. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Williams of Mostyn of Great Tew, Oxfordshire in 1992. He was called to the Bar, Gray's Inn in 1965, took Silk in 1978 and became a Bencher in 1991. He was leader of the Wales and Chester circuit from 1987 to 1989. He has been a member of the Bar Council since 1986 and was Chairman in 1992. He is married with three daughters and one son.
HIV IN PRISONS
FIRST STUDY OF HIV PREVALENCE IN PRISONS OF ENGLAND AND WALES
[20.JUL.98] Study results announced this month indicate that prisoners in England and Wales are nearly FOUR TIMES more likely to be infected with HIV than the overall UK population; women prisoners are over THIRTEEN times more likely to be infected.
patients cannot skip doses or take doses late
some drugs are taken after fasting and some must be taken with high-fat food
one protease inhibitor necessitates drinking at least 1.5 litres of water every day in order to avoid the side effect of kidney stones
another protease inhibitor must be kept refrigerated
In strict prison regimes with staff shortages due to overcrowding, it may be difficult to ensure these requirements are met.
The National AIDS and Prisons Forum is a voluntary association established in 1989 to formulate, recommend and promote good policy and practice related to prisoners, ex-prisoners and HIV/AIDS. The forum brings together individuals and organisations from the statutory and voluntary sectors involved in HIV/AIDS work in or with prisons.
The abstract and poster from the Geneva conference are considered to be preliminary results; a full report, also including statistics on the prevalence of hepatitis among prisoners, is expected to be published in several months.
NATIONAL AIDS & PRISON CONTACTS:
Gordon Lakes, Chair: 01204 888 815
Stephanie Sexton, Convenor: 01273 700 160; mobile: 0802 811 306
Simon Bulpin: 0171 564 2180
Silvia Casale: 01753 884 839
Rachel Maddow: 0171 503 9683
'Not Me Guv'
HISTORY OF YOUNG OFFENDERS
BBC Radio 4 Saturday 25th July 1998, 8pm
Written & Presented by Mark Leech, Editor of 'The Prisons Handbook
[8.JUL.98] An hour-long radio programme on the history of Young Offenders, written and presented by Mark Leech, Editor of 'The Prisons Handbook', is to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Saturday 25th July 1998.
Speaking today Mr Leech said:
"When you look back at the various ways we have sought to tackle the problem of young offenders in the 20th century, there is an obvious and continuing confusion of what to do next. Examining how the penal pendulum of public opinion has swung back and forth across the years, between the reformist approach of Paterson one end of the century and the austerity of Howard at the other, it is clear that what is proffered as the latest panacea, is in truth little more than a repackaging of failed policies of the past.
"The 'Short Sharp Shock' introduced by William Whitelaw in the 1980's was in fact not a new idea at all, the BBC did an hour-long programme on it in 1965. The 'Incentive and Earned Privleges Scheme' introduced in prisons in 1996, was called the 'Stage System' when it was introduced in 1948, and according to Hobhouse & Brockway in their 1922 penal epic "English Prisons Today", incentives were first used as a method of encouraging co-operation by prisoners in 1916.'
" Trawling through the BBC Archive I discovered that a recurring attitude towards youth crime has been the entrenched belief that being 'sent away' to a penal institution will, somehow, deter the criminal - despite a catalogue of evidence that it will do entirely the opposite. The criminal, young or otherwise, is not deterred by the prospect of harsh sentences or austere conditions, for the simple reason that when he goes out to commit crime, he doesn't believe he will be caught."
PRISON OMBUDSMAN: 1997 ANNUAL REPORT
[2.JUL.98] Sir Peter Woodhead, the Prisons Ombudsman, published his Annual Report today (Thursday). The Report reviews the Ombudsman's work during 1997: the number and nature of the complaints made, the outcome of his investigations and the problems he has identified in the prison system.
Sir Peter was appointed Prisons Ombudsman in 1994, to investigate complaints made by prisoners about their treatment in prison. The appointment arose as a result of a recommendation of the inquiry into the prison disturbances of April 1990 led by Lord Justice Woolf. The Ombudsman is appointed by, and reports to, the Home Secretary but is wholly independent of the Prison Service.
Speaking about the report, Sir Peter said;
"This is my third Annual Report and it is disappointing that I am continuing to deal with many of the same type of grievances as in previous years. I am still upholding almost half of the complaints I investigate and am increasingly concerned that the Prison Service does not seem to be learning from its past mistakes.
"I also have serious concerns about the operation of the Prison Service's internal complaints system. It, too often, fails to investigate complaints adequately and is taking far too long to deal with relatively simple grievances. Moreover I find it surprising that the Prison Service is not even able to say how many complaints it deals with and what the outcomes are. The Prison Service ignores at its peril the finding of Lord Woolf, in his inquiry into the prison disturbances of April 1990, that one of the root causes of the riots was that prisoners believed they had no other effective method of ventilating their grievances".
The Report summarises a cross-section of the near 2,000 complaints which Sir Peter dealt with during 1997. While praising the good work which takes place in many prisons, and pointing up the generally positive relationships between staff and prisoners, Sir Peter highlights a number of cases in his foreword to the Report which caused him particular unease:
"Case No 11923/96 - Ms X complained that she had been held for 48 hours in an unfurnished cell in the female segregation unit and, apparently on the instructions of a particular named officer, had been refused all food and drink for at least 24 hours because she would not wear the canvas 'strip' dress she had been given in place of her own clothes. She claimed to have been given no opportunity to wash, or to use a toilet, throughout the 48 hours. I was distressed to find that her account was borne out by the evidence.
The segregation unit's record-keeping was seriously inadequate, but prison staff had contemporaneously recorded that the named officer had directed that Ms X should not be given food. Nor were the accounts of members of staff, about the weekend, borne out by the evidence: for instance, staff claimed to have been in the segregation unit more frequently than the unit's daily logs showed.
I was also saddened to find that a member of the Board of Visitors had visited Ms X on the Sunday, but had not brought an end to her detention in intolerable conditions, and had apparently been unaware that the cell in which she was held had no sanitation. I would have recommended to the Secretary of State that the Board of Visitors re-familiarise itself with its responsibilities in such cases but for the Board's own decision, on seeing a draft copy of my report, immediately to arrange re-training for its members.
I upheld Ms X's complaint, and recommended that she receive an apology from the Director General of the Prison Service, and that an investigation of the actions of the staff involved be carried out, with a view to establishing whether disciplinary charges should be laid. I was disappointed, however, that the Area Manager, rather than the Director General, wrote the letter of apology.
When I complained about this it was stated the Prison Service considered that apologies from the Director General himself should be reserved for only 'the most exceptional circumstances'.
Given the shocking nature of my findings in this case, and the fact that it was the first time I had recommended that disciplinary action against staff be considered, it is difficult to see why this case was not considered exceptional by the Prison Service. I was further disappointed to find that no subsequent disciplinary action seems to have been taken against the named officer."
The Ombudsman was also unhappy, in some other cases he had dealt with, that the Prison Service was not always handling issues surrounding strip searching appropriately. In one case a prisoner had been strip searched twice within a matter of minutes of his arrival at the prison, contrary to the laid down procedures. In another a prisoner had been charged with disobeying an order for refusing to conduct what effectively amounted to an intimate internal search on himself. The Ombudsman's view, having taken legal advice, was that such an order was likely to be unlawful but the Prison Service nevertheless rejected his recommendation in this case.
Sir Peter said;"I fully agree that strip-searching is necessary for the security and safety of establishments and individuals but it does need to be carried out sensitively and in as humane a manner as possible".
Sir Peter Woodhead, Prisons Ombudsman: 0171-276-2850
CLICK HERE FOR OMBUDMANS FULL REPORT
HM.CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PRISONS
ANNUAL REPORT 1997
[2.JUL.98] Sir David Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, today published his 1997 Annual report In his Annual Report, published on 24th June 1998, raises a number of important issues.
"Too often we have found treatment and conditions for prisoners to be something of a lottery depending on the part of the country and the particular prison in which they are confined."
On Work and Education:
"If any aspect of the inspection process depresses my inspectors it is the number of times that they have to report the effects of cuts in work and education in prisons, meaning that prisoners are left locked in their cells because there is nothing for them to do. When I asked the previous Home Secretary what he expected conditions to be in the prisons that I was to inspect he replied 'Decent but austere, with a progressive regime for tackling re-offending, based on the opportunities for work and education'. This is, in fact, a direct quote from the White Paper 'Custody, Care and Justice'.
"Cuts in work and education have not resulted from a deliberate policy imposed by Ministers or Prison Service Headquarters, who I know regret them as much as anyone. But they are the inevitable result of imposing cuts on Governors of prisons, who have to make the choice between staff or activities which rapidly need to be brought into effect and having no other options available.
"The result is the clearest possible indicator of the need for more precise definition of what is expected of a prison, costed so that decisions as to what may be left out or reduced are made not by the Governor but by the Minister authorising the cuts. This is the procedure that I grew up with in the Ministry of Defence, and I am surprised that it does not apply in the Prison Service."
CLICK HERE FOR CHIEF INSPECTOR'S FULL REPORT
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