Front Page







World Summary

On Air

Talking Point


Text Only


Site Map

Monday, November 3, 1997 Published at 14:27 GMT


Bentley case breakthrough

Derek Bentley was hanged in January 1953

The family of Derek Bentley, who have been fighting for 44 years to clear his name, are hopeful their campaign will make a breakthrough this week.

Bentley was hanged in 1953 for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles at a sweet factory in Croydon, South London. His family have been waiting for a decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established in April to examine miscarriages of justice.

It is reported to have decided that his case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal.

'Let him have it, Chris'

The Bentley case is one of the most controversial cases in British legal history. On November 2, 1952 two youths were spotted breaking into Barlow & Parker, a wholesale confectioner's. The police were called and they arrived at about 9.25pm in a van and a car.

Bentley and a friend, Christopher Craig, spotted the police and tried to hide behind a lift-housing on the flat roof of the warehouse. DC Frederick Fairfax noticed a footprint on a window-sill and climbed a drain-pipe onto the flat roof. Fairfax called on the two to surrender but was met with a stream of defiance from Craig. He charged at the pair and grabbed the nearest figure, which happened to be Bentley. Bentley broke free and called to his partner, 'Let him have it, Chris!' Craig fired and wounded DC Fairfax in the shoulder. Fairfax caught up with Bentley and flattened him with a punch.

[ image: PC Sidney Miles - the officer shot by Christopher Craig]
PC Sidney Miles - the officer shot by Christopher Craig
DC Fairfax stripped Bentley of his weapons, a knife and a knuckle-duster. By this time armed reinforcements had arrived and surrounded the building. PC Sidney Miles, who had been in the first car to arrive, had located the manager of the building and had obtained the keys.

Miles entered the building and went up an interior staircase to the roof. He kicked open the roof door and stepped onto the roof. He fell dead, shot through the left temple. Craig continued to fire and scream threats at the police until he ran out of ammunition. He then leapt from the roof of the building, a drop of 27 feet. The fall broke his spine, breastbone and left wrist. In the meantime, Bentley had been escorted from the roof under arrest.

At their trial at the Old Bailey they were both charged with murder, even though Bentley was under arrest when Craig fired the shot that killed PC Miles. Craig, being 16 at the time, could not be hanged under English law.

There were many contentious points at their trial. The defence maintained that Craig had not been aiming at the policemen when he fired, but over their heads. A ballistics expert, Mr Lewis Nicholls, gave evidence that the gun, a sawn-off, First World War .455 Eley service revolver, was wildly inaccurate at distances over six feet. No-one was sure how many shots had been fired on the roof. Craig stated that he had reloaded the gun once and had fired eleven times, two of them being misfires. Police only found two bullets on the roof and one in Fairfax's clothing. No trace could be found of the bullet that killed Miles.

Many of the judge's continual interjections during the trial were damaging to the defence. The main point of the prosecution's case was based on the pair having a common purpose while the defence maintained that the 'joint enterprise' had ended fifteen minutes before PC Miles' death, when Bentley was arrested.

The jury considered their verdict for just 75 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on both youths, with a recommendation for mercy in Bentley's case. Bentley was sentenced to death. Craig, who the judge described as 'one of the most dangerous young criminals who has ever stood in that dock' was sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure.

Derek Bentley, aged 19, was hanged in Wandsworth at 9am on January 28, 1953. Craig was released from prison in May 1963 and settled in Buckinghamshire.

The fight to clear his name

[ image: Since Iris Bentley's death the campaign to clear her brothers name has continued]
Since Iris Bentley's death the campaign to clear her brothers name has continued
Members of Derek Bentley's family have campaigned for his pardon for over 40 years. Iris Bentley, Derek's sister wrote a book about her efforts to obtain a full pardon for her brother but died in January this year of cancer. Her daughter Maria has taken the case on and will hear this week the conclusions of the Criminal Cases Review Board.

The outcome of the Bentley case could have implications for the case of James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962 for the so called 'A6 murders'. Doubts over the safety of that conviction still remain and the case is likely to be examined again.

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Internet Links

The Derek Bentley Page

Derek Bentley's police statement

The BBC is not responsible for the content of these internet sites.
UK Contents