On this day in history: 28th January 1953 – Derek Bentley is executed at Wandsworth Prison for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles….
Bentley was 19-years-old when he was hanged; he allegedly had a mental age of 11, was illiterate and suffered with epilepsy – probably resulting from a broken nose he received as a young child….
On the 2nd of November 1952 he and his 16-year-old friend, Christopher Craig, set out to commit a burglary on a warehouse in Croydon belonging to confectionary company Parker and Barlow…. However, while the pair were on the roof of the building they were spotted by a young girl living in a nearby house, who informed her mother – and she subsequently called the police….
Bentley was armed, with a knife and knuckle duster…. Craig too had a knife but he also carried a .455 Eley revolver….
A patrol car arrived with a uniformed constable and detective constable Fairfax – who proceeded to climb a drainpipe to get to the roof of the warehouse…. The would-be burglars attempted to run for it – but Bentley was restrained by Fairfax…. Craig shot the policeman, wounding him in the shoulder…. Notably, Bentley made no attempt to escape, he remained with the injured Fairfax….
Other police officers arrived on the scene….some were armed…. Craig, trigger-happy, was shooting haphazardly at any moving target…. It was as PC Sidney Miles reached the rooftop that the fatal shot was fired, hitting the constable in the head – he died instantly….
Craig, who had now run out of bullets, ran and threw himself off the roof of the building, landing some 30 feet below on a greenhouse – he broke his back….
Both Craig and Bentley were charged with murder…. At some point in all the shooting Bentley had supposedly uttered those fateful words “Let him have it Chris”…. Did he mean a bullet? Or was he in fact urging Craig to hand over the gun?
The controversial trial began on Thursday the 9th of December 1952, both Craig and Bentley pleaded ‘not guilty’…. It took the jury just 75 minutes to return a verdict of ‘guilty’ – but made the recommendation to mercy in the case of Bentley…. However, Judge Lord Goddard did not include this in his report to the Home Office…. Bentley was condemned to hang….
Due to his age Craig was spared the death penalty – instead he was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure…. He was released in 1963 after serving ten years….
Considering his mental age should Bentley have been sentenced as such? Yes, he had set out to commit a burglary and he was armed – but he was not the one who fired the gun….
An appeal hearing was held on the 13th of January – but the sentence was upheld…. A campaign was led by Bentley’s father – over 200 MPs signed a petition for a reprieve to be granted….
The night before the execution date crowds protested outside Parliament chanting “Bentley must not die”…. On the morning of the execution a large crowd gathered outside Wandsworth Prison, some sang the hymn ‘Abide With Me’…. Boos were heard when the notice it had been done was brought out….
Bentley’s sister, Iris, continued to campaign…. finally, in 1993, Home Secretary Micheal Howard, granted a partial pardon – saying Bentley should never have been hanged…. Later new evidence came to light that three officers had lied under oath about Bentley saying “Let him have it Chris”…. In 1998 the Appeal Court quashed Bentley’s conviction…. Sadly Iris did not live long enough to see this day….