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Sunday, July 19, 1998 Published at 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK


Let him have justice, say campaigners

Bentley: the last man to hang in Britain

Bentley's neice, Maria Bentley Dingwall: 'Ours is the strongest case'
An appeal to try to clear the name of Derek Bentley, the teenager who was hanged 45 years ago for murdering a policeman, is getting under way in London.

The case has always turned on the famous phrase he allegedly uttered shortly before his accomplice shot dead a policeman: "Let him have it".

This week, 45 years after the hanging, the Court of Appeal is looking at new evidence.

The Crown alleged at Bentley's trial in 1952 that the crucial words were those of an angry young man urging his accomplice to shoot a policeman.

The BBC's Jane Peel: 'New evidence suggests Bentley had a mental age of about ten'
The jury apparently accepted the inference although they made a plea for mercy, which was ignored.

Bentley's defence lawyer pointed out he was already under arrest when he supposedly made the remark and said he was simply exhorting Christopher Craig to hand over the weapon.

Did he say it?

Campaigners seeking a pardon for 19-year-old Bentley have always insisted he never uttered the crucial phrase.

Bentley himself always denied having said it.

[ image: Bentley's sister Iris: never gave up]
Bentley's sister Iris: never gave up
If his name is cleared it will come too late for his sister Iris, who campaigned on his behalf for 44 years. She passed away last year.

On 2 November 1952, Bentley and Craig were robbing a confectionery warehouse in Croydon, south London when they were discovered by a police patrol.

Bentley was apprehended on the roof. He had a knife and a knuckleduster but used neither.

As he was being held by Detective Constable Fred Fairfax he supposedly called out to Craig: "Let him have it Chris".

Craig shot DC Fairfax in the shoulder. Several minutes later PC Miles was shot dead as he climbed up onto the roof.

[ image: Craig shortly after his arrest]
Craig shortly after his arrest
When Craig ran out of bullets he jumped off the roof, was injured and arrested.

Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth prison on 28 January 1953 after the then Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyfe, rejected a last minute plea for clemency.

'Made an example of him'

It later transpired the Conservative government, worried by growing violence in the post-war period, had decided to "make an example" of Bentley.

Craig, who was described by the judge at his trial as "one of the most dangerous men in Britain", only served 10 years in jail. He was 16 at the time of the offence and was too young for a death sentence.

The appeal is based on new evidence which casts doubt on the key words being used as well as questions about the judge's directions to the jury and the issue of Bentley's mental age.

Inadequate character

He was an illiterate epileptic with a mental age of 10.

His former teacher Hugh Maw, 77, who later became a child psychologist, says: "If there was a fight he was a coward, which always brings me to the crucial words at his trial: 'Let him have it, Chris.' This was typical - Give in and not kill him."

[ image: Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth jail in London]
Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth jail in London
There were disturbances outside Wandsworth jail when Bentley was executed. The uproar which followed his death triggered MP Sydney Silverman's campaign to ban capital punishment, which was finally achieved in 1964.

Long wait for justice

When the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in November 1997 it was the longest gap between a conviction and an appeal in British legal history.

Bentley's sister kept a bottle of champagne in her home for 44 years, hoping to break it open when her brother's name was finally cleared.

In the event it will be left to her daughter, Maria Bentley-Dingwall, 35, to pop the cork.

If the conviction is overturned it will also mean Bentley's relatives will be able to rebury him in consecrated ground.

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