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Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 20:05 GMT


Service 'closes book on injustice'

Derek Bentley was the last man hanged in Britain

About 250 people have attended a memorial service for Derek Bentley, who was hanged nearly half a century ago after being convicted of murdering a policeman.

Rita Manjardino: "Derek's family say they will still never come to terms with it"
They gathered at Southwark Cathedral in central London, 46 years to the day after Bentley was sent to the gallows.

Last July, the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction of murdering PC Sidney Miles after a campaign led by Bentley's sister Iris, who died in 1997.

[ image: The service took place at Southwark Cathedral]
The service took place at Southwark Cathedral
His niece Maria, who was one of the driving forces behind the campaign, gave a short Bible reading at the service.

It was held a day after the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, signed the sixth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights in Strasbourg which formally abolishes the death penalty in the UK.

It means that future governments will not be able to reopen the debate on hanging without denouncing the protocol and amending the Human Rights Act, which is now enshrined by British law.

[ image: Maria Bentley-Dingwall the day the conviction was quashed]
Maria Bentley-Dingwall the day the conviction was quashed
Bentley's brother Dennis, said his parents would have been pleased with the service.

"I can imagine my mother and father and my sister being very proud if they could be here today to see this," he said.

"I have been of the opinion that capital punishment is something that should be done away with many years before my brother's case. I do not believe that any individual or government has the right to take away anybody's life.

"I understand that Maria will continue to campaign for human rights and campaign round the world. Hopefully after today we can draw a line under all this and move on."

Actor invited

Actor Christopher Ecclestone, who played Derek Bentley in the 1991 film Let Him Have It, was invited and travelled from Manchester to be at the service.

The film examined how the 19-year-old, who had a mental age of 11, was hanged for supposedly inciting his accomplice to fire the fatal shot in 1952.

Mr Ecclestone said: "One of the main reasons I did the film was because I felt very strongly that an injustice had occurred."

He added that he had been "euphoric" when he heard the sentence had been quashed because he had almost given up hope for the family.

Opening the service, the Rev Canon Roy White, Vice Provost of Southwark, said the ceremony was to "close the book on a particular long-standing injustice".

He said: "We give thanks for the tenacity and the perseverance of Derek's family and of the individuals and agencies who have fought to overturn this miscarriage of justice."

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