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Thursday, July 30, 1998 Published at 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK


Bentley judge attacked

Derek Bentley: Victim of an unfair trial

Appeal Court judges who quashed the conviction of Derek Bentley have criticised the former trial judge for preventing a fair trial.

BBC's Daniella Relph on Appeal Court's damning verdict of Bentley trial
Lord Bingham said in the court's judgment, the summing-up in the case by the original trial judge, Lord Chief Justice Goddard, "was such as to deny the appellant that fair trial which is the birthright of every British citizen".

Earlier, Edward Fitzgerald QC for Derek Bentley, told the court that the judge had been blatantly prejudiced and misdirected the jury on points of law.

Benedict Birnberg, a long-time lawyer for the Bentleys said the judgment was also a condemnation of the Home Office which refused to re-open the case.

He told the BBC: "None of the fresh evidence which was put to them had any bearing on the matter.

"This was consistent with the attitude all the way through."

Anthony Samuelson: Judge more frightening than Judge Jeffreys
Anthony Samuelson, who attended the trial as a young QC, remembered Lord Goddard as a formidable figure in the trial.

He said: "It is not a question of whether he was the most frightening judge in this century. You have got to go back to Bloody Judge Jeffreys to find his like."

The case against Bentley turned on a single sentence.

[ image: Christopher Craig: Fired fatal shot]
Christopher Craig: Fired fatal shot
Three police officers testified that when they called on Bentley's accomplice Christopher Craig to give himself up in a raid on a Croydon warehouse in 1952, Bentley called out: "Let him have it, Chris."

The remark was interpreted as an encouragement to Craig to commit murder.

When the pair stood trial before Lord Goddard at the Old Bailey, the judge told the jury that, in law, Bentley was equally guilty of firing the shot.

There was contradictory evidence as to whether Bentley knew that Craig was carrying a gun.

[ image: Lord Chief Justice Goddard: More frightening than Judge Jefferies]
Lord Chief Justice Goddard: More frightening than Judge Jefferies
But Lord Goddard's summing up left the jury with little option but to convict Bentley.

No mention was made of Derek Bentley's mental condition, leaving the jury in total ignorance that they were sending to the gallows a man with the mind of a child.

Exceptionally in such a case, the jury added a plea for mercy along with the guilty verdict.

But the greatest doubt revolved around the "let him have it" remark.

[ image: Crime scene: The Croydon warehouse]
Crime scene: The Croydon warehouse
One policeman who was at the scene later said that Bentley said no such thing, and at the trial, Bentley himself denied having used the words.

Craig, who now lives quietly in a Bedfordshire village after serving a 10-year sentence, also denied Bentley said them, despite it being to his advantage to show that he was incited to murder.

He was too young, at 16, to hang.

There was also controversy over the meaning of the words.

Many have argued that far from urging Craig to shoot, Bentley was begging him to surrender the gun.

Others said the words did not ring true, because Bentley never called Craig "Chris", but "Kid" or "Kiddo".

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