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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK


Bentley family gets compensation

Maria Bentley Dingwall at her uncle's grave

Relatives of Derek Bentley, who was hanged in 1953 for the murder of a policeman, are to get compensation following a u-turn by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

Maria Bentley-Dingwall: "The sad thing is that it will not bring my uncle back"
Mr Bentley, who was 19 when he went to the gallows, had his conviction quashed last year following a long campaign by his family.

Last month, Mr Straw announced Mr Bentley's brother Dennis and niece Maria Bentley Dingwall were not entitled to financial compensation.

He said the case fell outside the statutory compensation scheme and he would not authorise a discretionary payment.

'Developments in the law'

But on Wednesday, Mr Straw said: "Because of developments in the law, I have reconsidered their application for compensation in respect of Mr Bentley's wrongful conviction.

[ image: Derek Bentley: Controversy over his execution led to a film]
Derek Bentley: Controversy over his execution led to a film
"I have decided that compensation is payable."

Mr Straw said: "A judgment of the Divisional Court, delivered after my earlier decision that compensation was not payable in this case, prompted the Bentley family's solicitors to request that I look again at that decision."

Ms Bentley-Dingwall said it would be up to independent assessors to judge how much they were entitled to.

Jane Peel: "The trial judge is said to have displayed gross bias"
She said the money would not bring her uncle Derek back and she wished the courts had done the right thing back in 1953.

Dennis Bentley said he was delighted by Mr Straw's U-turn but said: "No amount of money will bring back my brother or erase the pain and suffering my family has experienced."

Mr Bentley said: "I thought common sense would prevail eventually but not as soon as this."

No plans to celebrate

He said there were no plans to celebrate and added: "When my brother's name was cleared I didn't celebrate. There isn't anything to celebrate about families suffering pain and devastation.

[ image: Denis Bentley: Condemned last month's decision not to award compensation]
Denis Bentley: Condemned last month's decision not to award compensation
"It was an awful tragedy what happened on that night all those years ago and I, like the rest of the family, have never lost sight of the fact that a police officer lost his life."

Mr Straw said he was duty bound to look at his decision again in light of the judgment of the Divisional Court in the case of Regina v Home Secretary ex parte Garner and others.

He said: "The court in this new case held that the fact that judicial error or misconduct has rendered a conviction unsafe by no means necessarily constitutes grounds for a case to qualify under the ex-gratia scheme.

"But that I should, in deciding eligibility for compensation, consider whether judicial errors are 'of such quality' and 'so gross as to give rise to exceptional circumstances' under the scheme."

Ex-gratia payment

He said he had decided to make an ex-gratia payment to Derek Bentley's relatives as compensation for his conviction in 1952.

Mr Bentley was convicted of shooting PC Sidney Miles although the trigger was pulled by his co-defendant Christopher Craig. As a juvenile, Craig was ineligible for the death penalty and was sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's Pleasure.

Part of the case against Mr Bentley was based around the infamous phrase "Let him have it" which he allegedly said to his partner moments before PC Miles was shot.

His lawyers claimed at his trial he was urging Craig to give up his gun, but the prosecution claimed he was inciting him to shoot.

Since Mr Bentley's death several witnesses, including Craig, have denied he even uttered the infamous phrase.

Forty-five years after his death, the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction on the basis that the trial judge was biased.

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