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Witches pardon petition launched

27 October 08 10:29 GMT

A national petition has been launched to get royal pardons for those executed in Britain during the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The crime of being a witch was abolished by the 1735 Witchcraft Act but did not grant posthumous pardons.

About 400 people were executed in England following accusations of witchcraft and about 2,000 in Scotland.

The petition, organised by a London-based firm, will be given to Justice Minister Jack Straw at Halloween.

Costume retailer Angels decided to launch the campaign after the Swiss Parliament recently granted an official pardon to Anna Goeldi, who in 1782 was the last person to be executed as a witch in Western Europe.

'Legalised murder'

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.

Emma Angel, head of Angels Fancy Dress, said: "We were gob-smacked to discover that though the law was changed hundreds of years ago and society had moved on, the victims were never officially pardoned.

"The Swiss have led the way on this one, and I really hope that we can encourage our government to follow suit."

Angels has teamed up with historian John Callow to launch the petition.

He said: "At the time, poverty was endemic - charity was breaking down and aggressive begging, accompanied by threats or curses, was common.

"Against such a background, judiciaries across the British Isles were compelled to act. The results were perjury and delusion on a grand scale, resulting in nothing less than legalised murder."

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