Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Call for royal pardon for witches

Illustration of a witchmaster general
About 2,400 people were accused of witchcraft and executed

Petitions calling for the pardon of those executed in the UK's witch trials are being handed to the UK and Scottish governments.

About 400 people in England and 2,000 in Scotland were executed following accusations of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The crime of being a witch was abolished by the 1735 Witchcraft Act.

A London firm began the campaign after Switzerland pardoned the last person executed as a witch in Western Europe.

Campaigners will hand the petitions to Justice Secretary Jack Straw and his Scottish counterpart Kenny MacAskill.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The granting of a free pardon is extremely rare. It is for the courts to decide guilt and innocence.

"To receive a Royal Pardon the test is a high one.

"It is not enough that the conviction may be unsafe - the applicant must be technically and morally innocent."

'Legalised murder'

Costume retailer Angels said they moved the motion following the Swiss Parliament's official pardon to Anna Goeldi, who in 1782 was the last person to be executed as a witch in Western Europe.

Earlier this year campaigners submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the last woman convicted under the Witchcraft Act to be pardoned.

Helen Duncan spent nine months in Holloway prison after being found guilty at a trial in 1944.

Angels launched the latest petition with historian John Callow, who said the executions were "nothing less than legalised murder" as they targeted vulnerable people.

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