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Derek Bentley

From Academic Kids

Derek Bentley (30 June, 1933 - 28 January, 1953) was hanged at the age of 19 for a murder committed by a friend, creating a cause célèbre and leading to a 45-year long successful campaign to win him a posthumous pardon.

Bentley had a difficult upbringing during which he suffered serious injury from a V1 Flying Bomb and developed epilepsy. He was of limited intelligence (mental age of 11), highly impressionable, and illiterate when, together with Christopher Craig, aged 16, he broke into a warehouse in Croydon, South London, England on 2 November 1952. Craig had a revolver. The two youths were spotted and the police were called.

When the police arrived, the two boys hid behind a lift-housing. Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax climbed onto the roof and managed to grab Bentley. Bentley managed to break free and was said by a number of police witnesses to have shouted "Let him have it, Chris". Craig opened fire with his revolver, grazing Fairfax's shoulder; nevertheless Fairfax managed to arrest Bentley, who told him that Craig had a Colt .45 and plenty of ammunition.

Following the arrival of more policemen, a group was sent onto the roof. The first policeman to reach the roof was Police Constable Sidney Miles, whom Craig immediately shot dead with a bullet to the head. After exhausting his ammunition, Craig jumped some 10 metres from the roof, fracturing his spine and left wrist, at which point he was arrested.

It was clear that even if he was convicted of murder, Craig would not face execution as he was below the age of 18. Bentley on the other hand was over 18, although much less mature. The case was a relatively simple one for the prosecution, which took place before the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Goddard, at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court, in London), although as the trial progressed the prosecution case seemed far less certain -- the police seemed unsure how many shots were fired, and by whom; a ballistics expert failed to show that it was Craig's gun that had fired the fatal shot; what did Bentley mean by "Let him have it", if indeed he had said it? Was Craig to give the policeman the gun, or shoot the officer? It was clear that Bentley was illiterate and mentally subnormal, and ill-equipped to undergo cross-examination at the trial.

The jury took just 75 minutes to decide that both Bentley and Craig were guilty of the murder of PC Miles. Bentley was sentenced to death, while Craig was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure (he was eventually released after serving 10 years imprisonment).

Various appeals highlighting the ambiguous evidence, Bentley's mental age, and the fact that he did not fire the fatal shot did not secure a reprieve, and on 28 January 1953 Derek Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth Prison, London, by Albert Pierrepoint.

Following the execution there was a long campaign, usually led by Bentley's sister Iris, to secure a posthumous pardon for him. Eventually, on 30 July 1998 the Court of Appeal overturned Bentley's conviction for murder 45 years earlier. In an unprecedented and damning attack, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, ruled that his predecessor and Bentley's trial judge, Lord Chief Justice Goddard, had denied Bentley "that fair trial that is the birthright of every British citizen." In a 52-page judgment, Lord Bingham placed the blame for the miscarriage of justice with Lord Goddard. Describing Lord Goddard as "blatantly prejudiced", Lord Bingham concluded that he had misdirected the jury and that in his summing-up had put unfair pressure on the jury to convict.

The 1991 movie Let Him Have It, starring Christopher Eccleston as Bentley, relates the story, as does the Elvis Costello song, Let Him Dangle.

External link

Internet Movie Database entry for the 1991 movie (http://us.imdb.com/Details?0102288)

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