On the night of 2 November 1952, Christopher Craig,
16, and Derek Bentley, 19,
tried to break into the warehouse of confectionery manufacturers and
wholesalers Barlow & Parker on Tamworth Road, Croydon, England.
The two youths were spotted climbing over the gate and up a drain pipe
to the roof of the warehouse by a nine-year-old girl in a house across
from the building. She alerted her parents and her father walked to the
telephone box and called the police.
When the police arrived, the two youths hid behind the lift-housing.
One of the
Frederick Fairfax, climbed the drain pipe onto the roof and grabbed
hold of Bentley. Bentley broke free and was alleged by a number of
police witnesses to have shouted the words "Let him have it, Chris".
Both Craig and Bentley denied that those words were ever spoken.
Craig, who was armed with a revolver, opened fire, grazing Fairfax's
shoulder. Nevertheless, Fairfax arrested Bentley, who is said to have
told him that Craig had plenty of ammunition for his
Colt New Service
.455 Eley calibre revolver, for which Craig had a variety of
undersized rounds, some of which he had had to modify to fit the gun.
Craig had also sawn off half of the weapon's barrel, so that it would
fit in his pocket. In his pocket Bentley had a knife and
knuckle-duster, though he never used either. Craig had made the
knuckle-duster himself and had recently given both weapons to Bentley.
Following the arrival of uniformed officers, a group was sent onto
the roof. The first to reach the roof was
Sidney Miles, who was immediately killed by a shot to the head.
After exhausting his ammunition and being cornered, Craig jumped some
thirty feet from the roof, fracturing his spine and left wrist when he
landed on a
greenhouse. At this point, he was arrested.
Various medals were awarded to the several participating police
officers, including one – posthumously – to Miles and the
George Cross to Fairfax.
Craig would not have faced execution if found guilty, as he was below
the age of 18 when PC Miles was shot. Bentley on the other hand was not.
The trial took place before the
Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales,
Lord Goddard, at the Old
Bailey in London between 9 December 1952 and 11 December 1952.
doctrine of 'constructive malice' meant that a charge of
manslaughter was not an option, as the "malicious intent" of the
armed robbery was transferred to the shooting. Bentley's best defence
was that he was effectively under arrest when PC Miles was killed;
however, this was only after an attempt to escape, during which a police
officer had been wounded.
As the trial progressed the jury had more details to consider. The
prosecution was unsure how many shots were fired and by whom and a
ballistics expert cast doubt on whether Craig could have hit Miles
if he had shot at him deliberately: the fatal bullet was not found,
Craig had used bullets of different under-sized calibres and the sawn-off
barrel made it inaccurate to a degree of six feet at the range from
which he fired. There was also the question of what Bentley had meant by
"Let him have it", if indeed he had said it. Though in the gangster
movies of the time the expression meant "shoot", it could also be
construed as signifying that Bentley wanted Craig to surrender the gun.
The Principal Medical Officer responsible was Dr Matheson and he
referred Bentley to Dr. Hill, a
psychiatrist at the
Maudsley Hospital. Hill's report stated that Bentley was illiterate
and of low intelligence, almost borderline
retarded. However, Matheson was of the opinion that whilst Bentley
was of low intelligence, he was not suffering from epilepsy at the time
of the alleged offence, that he was not a "feeble-minded person" under
the Mental Deficiency Acts and that he was sane and fit to plead and
English law at the time did not recognise the concept of
diminished responsibility due to
retarded development, though it existed in
Scottish law (it was introduced to England
Homicide Act 1957).
Criminal insanity – where the accused is unable to distinguish right
from wrong – was then the only medical defence to murder. Bentley, while
suffering severe debilitation, was not insane.
The jury took 75 minutes to decide that both Bentley and Craig were
guilty of PC Miles's murder. Bentley was
sentenced to death with a plea for mercy on 11 December 1952, while
Craig was ordered to be detained
at Her Majesty's Pleasure (he was eventually released in 1963 after
serving 10 years' imprisonment and has been a law abiding citizen ever
Bentley's lawyers filed appeals
highlighting the ambiguities of the
ballistic evidence, Bentley's mental age and the fact that he did
not fire the fatal shot. These efforts failed to reverse his conviction,
however and the death sentence was
David Maxwell Fyfe, who had helped to draft the
European Convention on Human Rights, had become
Home Secretary when the
Conservatives returned to office in 1951. After reading the
Home Office psychiatric reports he refused to request
clemency from the
Queen, despite a petition signed by over 200 of his fellow MPs.
Parliament was not allowed to debate Bentley's sentence until it had
been carried out. The Home Office also refused Dr. Hill permission to
make his report public.
At 9am on the morning of 28 January, 1953, Derek Bentley was hanged
Wandsworth Prison, London by
Albert Pierrepoint. When it was announced the execution had been
carried out, there were protests outside the prison and two people were
arrested and later fined for damage to property.
To Encourage the Others
In his 1971 book To Encourage the Others,
David Yallop rigorously documented Bentley's mental deficiencies,
inconsistencies in the police and forensic evidence and the conduct of
the trial. He proposed the theory that PC Miles was actually killed by a
bullet from a gun other than Craig's sawn-off .455 revolver.
Yallop drew this conclusion from an interview with
Dr. David Haler, the pathologist who carried out the autopsy on Miles,
who Yallop reports estimated the head wound was inflicted by a bullet of
between .32 and .38 calibre fired from between six to nine feet away.
Craig had been firing from a distance of just under 40 feet and had used
a variety of under-sized .41, and .45 calibre rounds in his revolver;
Yallop asserted it would have been impossible for him to use a bullet of
.38 or smaller calibre. Haler did not offer in his trial evidence any
estimate of the size of the bullet that had killed Miles. Craig accepts
that the bullet that killed Miles came from his gun, but maintains that
all of his shots were fired over the rear garden of a house adjacent to
the warehouse, approximately 20 degrees to the right of Miles's location
from where Craig had been firing.
The standard Metropolitan Police pistol at the time
was the .32 Webley automatic, a number of which were issued on the
night, although it was claimed that they arrived on the scene after
Miles was killed and that the only ammunition not returned was two
rounds fired by Fairfax. At least one witness, however, claims to have
seen armed officers on the scene before Miles was shot. In his book
The Scientific Investigation of Crime, the prosecution's ballistics
expert Lewis Nickolls stated that he recovered four bullets from the
roof, two of .45, one of .41 and one of .32 calibre. The last was not
entered as an exhibit in the trial, nor mentioned in Nickolls' evidence
to the court.
When Yallop telephoned Haler the day after the
initial interview, he reportedly confirmed his estimate of the bullet
size. Shortly before the publication of Yallop's book, Haler was
provided with a transcript of the interview, and Yallop says Haler again
confirmed as accurate. After the subsequent broadcast of the BBC Play
for Today adaptation of To Encourage the Others (directed by
Alan Clarke) and starring Charles Bolton, Haler sought to deny that he
had given any specific estimate of the size of the bullet that killed
Miles beyond being "of large calibre".
Posthumous pardon and appeal
Following the execution there was a public sense of
unease about the decision, resulting in a long campaign, mostly led by
Bentley's sister Iris, to secure a posthumous pardon for him. In March
1966 his remains were removed from Wandsworth Prison and reburied in a
family grave. Then on 29 July 1993 Bentley was granted a royal pardon in
respect of the sentence of death passed upon him and carried out.
However in English law this did not quash his conviction for murder.
Eventually, on 30 July 1998, the Court of Appeal set
aside Bentley's conviction for murder 45 years earlier
Though Bentley had not been accused of attacking any
of the police officers being shot at by Craig, for him to be convicted
of murder as an accessory in a joint enterprise it was necessary for the
prosecution to prove that he knew that Craig had a deadly weapon when
they began the break-in. Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham of Cornhill
ruled that Lord Goddard had not made it clear to the jury that the
prosecution was required to have proved Bentley had known that Craig was
armed. He further ruled that Lord Goddard had failed to raise the
question of Bentley's withdrawal from their joint enterprise. This would
require the prosecution to prove the absence of any attempt by Bentley
to signal to Craig that he wanted Craig to surrender his weapons to the
police. Lord Bingham ruled that Bentley's trial had been unfair, in that
the judge had misdirected the jury and, in his summing-up, had put
unfair pressure on the jury to convict. It is possible that Lord Goddard
may have been under pressure while summing up since much of the evidence
was not directly relevant to Bentley's defence. It is important to note
that Lord Bingham did not rule that Bentley was innocent, merely that
there had been defects in the trial process. Had Bentley been alive in
July 1998 or had been convicted of the offence in more recent years, it
would have been likely that he would have faced a retrial.
Another factor in the posthumous defence was that a "confession"
recorded by Bentley, which was claimed by the prosecution to be a "verbatim
record of dictated monologue", was shown by forensic linguistics methods
to have been largely edited by policemen. Linguist Malcolm Coulthard
showed that certain patterns, such as the frequency of the word "then",
and the grammatical use of "then" after the grammatical subject ("I then"
rather than "then I"), was not consistent with Bentley's use of language
(his idiolect), as evidenced in court testimony. These patterns fitted
better the recorded testimony of the policemen involved. This is one of
the earliest uses of forensic linguistics on record.
In a case with similarities to the Bentley case, a
House of Lords judgment of 17 July, 1997, cleared Philip English of
murdering Sergeant Bill Forth in March 1993, the reasons being given by
Lord Hutton. English had been handcuffed before his companion Paul
Weddle killed Sgt Forth with a concealed knife. The existing joint
enterprise law allowed the conviction of English for murder because they
had both been attacking Sgt Forth with wooden staves, making English an
accessory to any murder committed by Weddle as part of that assault.
Lord Hutton made the 'fine distinction' that a concealed knife was a far
more deadly weapon than a wooden stave, so that proof of English's
knowledge of it was necessary for conviction. The appeal may have
influenced the allowing of a posthumous referral of the Bentley case.
Lord Mustill had asked for new laws on homicide when
setting out his reasons at the time of Lord Hutton's ruling on English's
appeal. However, Lord Bingham's ruling blamed Lord Goddard for a
miscarriage of justice without making further alteration to the law on
joint enterprise. The English judgment, delivered just over two months
after the Labour government took office, remained the most recent
precedent in joint enterprise law, though the Bentley verdict attracted
far more media attention.
Bentley (aged 19) and Christopher Craig (aged 16) broke into a London
warehouse on 2 November 1952. Craig was armed with a revolver. The 2
youths were seen entering the premises and the police were called.
Bentley and Craig then went on to the flat roof of the building (Barlow
& Parker's Warehouse, Tanworth Road, Croydon) and hid behind a lift-housing.
Sergeant Frederick Fairfax climbed on to the roof, and managed to grab
Bentley. Craig shouted defiantly at the detective and Bentley managed to
break Fairfax's grip. At this point, Bentley is supposed to have shouted
"Let him have it Chris". Craig then fired the gun grazing the police
officer's shoulder. Despite being wounded Fairfax continued after
Bentley and managed to finally arrest him. Bentley told Fairfax that
Craig had a Colt .45 and plenty of ammunition.
the arrival of more police officers, a group were sent on to the roof.
The first policeman to appear on to the roof was Police Constable Sidney
George Miles (age 42). He was immediately shot dead by Craig; being hit
in the head. After exhausting his supply of ammunition, Craig leapt from
the roof on to the road 30 feet below. He landed badly, fracturing his
spine and left wrist. Craig was then arrested.
For his gallantry in pursuing Bentley and Craig, Fairfax was awarded the
George Cross. In addition Police Constables Norman Harrison (London
Gazette 6 January 1953 Page 167) and James McDonald (London Gazette 6
January 1953 Page 167) were awarded the George Medal, Police Constable
Robert Jaggs the British Empire Medal and Police Constable Miles was
posthumously awarded the Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry.
It was clear
that even if Craig was found guilty of murder, he could not be sentenced
to death; being 16 he was below the minimum age of 18 for execution.
However, Derek Bentley was over 18 years' of age and could be sentenced
appeared to be a relatively simple one for the prosecution. However, as
the trial progressed before Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard at the Old
Bailey, the prosecution case appeared far less certain. The police
seemed unsure how many shots were fired and by whom. A ballistics expert
failed to positively identify Craig's gun as the weapon that fired the
bullet that killed PC Miles. Also what was meant by Bentley's phrase "Let
him have it Chris"? Did he mean that Craig was to give the gun to the
officer and surrender? Did he mean that Craig was indeed to shot the
clear was that Derek Bentley was illiterate and mentally subnormal. He
was ill prepared to undergo cross-examination and did not present a 'good
image' to the jury; not surprising considering his mental age of 11.
took just 75 minutes to find both Craig and Bentley guilty of PC Miles'
murder. Due to his being below 18 at the time of the offence, Craig was
sentenced to being detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Bentley was
sentenced to death.
appeals highlighted the ambiguous evidence, Bentley's mental age and the
fact that he did not fire the fatal shot, were all rejected by the then
January 1953, Derek Bentley was hanged at London's Wandsworth Prison.
Craig served 10 years in prison before being released.
Bentley's execution in January 1953, there have been numerous campaigns
to obtain a posthumous pardon for Bentley. In 1991 observers were
surprised when the Home Secretary of the time, Kenneth Clark, rejected a
report by the Metropolitan Police stating that there were "reasonable
doubts in this case" for a review.
30 July 1998, the Court of Appeal overturned the controversial
conviction of Derek Bentley who was hanged for the murder of a policeman
over 45 years ago. In an unprecedented and very damning attack, the Lord
Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, ruled that his predecessor and Bentley's
trial judge, Lord Chief Justice Goddard, had denied Bentley "that
fair trial that is the birthright of every British citizen." In a
52-page judgment, Lord Bingham placed the blame for the miscarriage of
justice with Lord Goddard. Describing Lord Goddard as "blatantly
prejudiced", Lord Bingham concluded that he had misdirected the jury and
that in his summing-up had put unfair pressure on the jury to convict.
The Derek Bentley site gives a very detailed account of the case
including background material. It also includes various accounts about
the campaign to overthrow the conviction.
William Fairfax was born in Westminster, London, on 17 June 1917.
Fairfax was a Detective Constable in the Metropolitan Police Force. He
later became a Detective Sergeant.
evening of 2 November 1952, two armed youths (Derek Bentley and
Christopher Craig) were seen to climb over the side gate of a warehouse
at Tamworth Road, Croydon, and to reach the flat roof of the building
about 22 feet above. The alarm was given and Detective Constable Fairfax,
together with other police officers, went to the premises in a police
van. One of the youths fired at the detective constable and wounded him
in the right shoulder, but he did not give up the chase. Several more
shots were fired at the police officers as they tried to corner the two
men on the roof, and Police Constable Miles was shot dead. Despite his
wound Detective Constable Fairfax continued to lead the chase until both
men were captured, and repeatedly risked death in so doing.
The award of
the George Cross to Fairfax was published in the London Gazette on 6
Craig's relief at Bentley pardon
Thursday, July 30, 1998
Christopher Craig has spoken of his
relief after the Court of Appeal decision to quash Derek Bentley's
conviction for murder.
Derek Bentley were convicted of the murder of a policeman in a burglary
on a south London warehouse in 1952.
The Court of Appeal on Thursday quashed the
conviction of 19-year-old Derek Bentley who was hanged in 1953 and
Craig at the age of 16, was too young to hang.
This is his full statement:
"Today, after 46 years, the conviction of Derek
Bentley has been quashed and his name cleared. While I am grateful and
relieved about this, I am saddened that it has taken those 46 years for
the authorities in this country to admit the truth.
"I am truly sorry that my actions on 2 November 1952
caused so much pain and misery for the family of Pc Miles, who died that
night doing his duty.
Also, for the Bentley family, I regret that Iris,
Derek's sister, who fought all those years for Derek's pardon, died
recently before this appeal was concluded.
Finally, I apologise to my family, who have had to
endure Press attention over the years.
"At the end of the day, the lawyers decided it was
not necessary for me to give evidence at the appeal hearing but I was
ready and willing to do so in the interests of justice.
"A day does not go by when I don't think about Derek
and now his innocence has been proved with this judgment.
"Now at last this case is over. My gratitude goes to
those who have fought so tirelessly for justice."