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The Case of Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley 1953
Danielle Wickhamon 5 November 2012
Transcript of The Case of Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley 1953
Both Craig and Bentley were charged with the murder of PC Miles. But should Bentley have been charged with murder at all? There were reasons for such a charge, but they took no account of his retarded mental state or the undisputed fact that he neither had possessed nor fired a gun.. They came to trial at the Old Bailey on Thursday the 9th of December 1952. t 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 to death.CONTROVERSIAL. What Happened?? The prosecution, despite on the surface it being relatively simple, as it progressed it became far less certain. This was because of the fact Bentley had the mental age of around 11. This caused great controversy and questioning of a miscarriage of justice when he was hanged in January 1953.
During the trial there were various appeals that brought the ambiguous evidence such as Bentley’s mental age and the fact that it was Craig who fired the fatal shot into question-however these were all rejected by the Home Secretary.
Upon hearing the news of Bentely’s exectution, crowds gathered outside Wandsworth Jail
Since Bentley’s execution in 1953, there was a feeling of unease amongst the public regarding this case. This led to a long campaign, led primarily by Bentley’s sister, Iris, which set out to achieve a posthumous pardon for Derek.
In August 1970, Lord Goddard told Yallop that he thought Bentley was going to be reprieved, and said he should have been. He then went on to attack Maxwell-Fyfe for allowing the execution. What Was the impact at the time? 1953 Royal Commission
The Royal Commission took around four years to compile and had the aim of considering not whether the death penalty for murder should be abolished but whether it should be ‘limited or modified.’
As a direct cause of the Craig and Bentley case, the concept of ‘constructive malice’ was thoroughly questioned with the recommendation that it should be abolished. Constructive malice, is the concept that if a person is killed when another crime is being committed e.g robbery or resisting lawful arrest, the killer can be guilty of murder although he or she may not have actually set out to kill. The abolition of this concept, therefore, would mean that the automatic link between the killing and the other crime would be broken and the jury would instead have to consider whether the accused was guilty when committing the other crime (whether they had intended to kill or not). This concept was evident in the Craig and Bentley case because it is arguable that they did not intend to kill (although they were both armed). What Change Did it bring about? What else was going on at the time of the crime? Where did we get our material from? SOURCES Homicide Act 1957
Diminished responsibility– Set out in Section 2 of the Act, when pleaded effectively it reduces a murder conviction to manslaughter. There are three requirements which are as follows:
There must be an abnormality of mental functioning
This abnormality of the mind must have been caused by a recognised medical condition
The abnormality of the mind must substantially impair the defendant’s mental responsibility
This is a direct result of the case because Bentley had the mental age of a 12 year old which would have substantially affected his attitude towards and during the crime, meaning that mentally he was actually younger than Craig who escaped capital punishment because of his age. Therefore it is highly likely that if the defence of diminished responsibility had existed during Bentley’s trial it is likely that his sentence would have been lessened and he would not have been hung. The Audience therefore were Australians who were interested in the case but removed from the situation, which is probably why Origin: Canberra in Australia – shows that the case evoked interest worldwide because it was controversial. the Tone of the case is fairly emotive (with the use of phrases such as ‘dramatic eleventh-hour battle’ and ‘pathetic pleas’) which adds excitement to the case. Mass public protest By law the house of commons could not debate an individual case until after the execution had been carried out Members of Parliament will stage a dramatic eleventh-hour battle in the House of Commons tonight in a bid to save the life of 19-year-old Derek Bentley, due to be hanged tomorrow morning for his part in the murder of a London policeman. They will try to get the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, to reconsider his decision not to advise the Queen to reprieve Bentley. Parents sent a pathetic plea by telegram to Queen Mary and another message to the Prime Minister… Telegrams have been pouring into the House of Commons pro-testing against the decision to go ahead with the hanging.
The Canberra Times
Wednesday 28 January 1953 Source 1 Which may be why the Tone of the source is fairly emotive, and supportive of the MPs, with phrases such as ‘last desperate bid…to save the youth’s life’ and ‘MPs pleaded.’ Origin: The Daily Express was a widely read, right-wing newspaper – therefore the views expressed were more likely to support that of the Conservative government. The Audience was widespread as the Daily Express held circulation figures of over 4 million at the time. Therefore the Purpose of the source was to inform about the case, however it was likely to support the government’s stance against the hanging… Mass public protest By law the house of commons could not debate an individual case until after the execution had been carried out 'Bentley must hang. That was the final the ultimate, the irrevocable decision by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe at ten o'clock last night after a last desperate bid by 200 M.P.s to save the youth's life. The home secretary's decision was delivered by his private secretary to the house of commons after six M.P.s, led by Aneurin Bevan pleaded with him in his room in Whitehall. As the home secretaries message arrived 200 young people were demonstrating outside the commons shouting ‘Bentley must not die.'
Daily express, Wednesday, January 28th 1953 Source 2 Mass public protest Headline: 200 MPs sign plea – ‘Don’t hang him’
‘The final decision was sent over to the Commons from the Home Office late last night, in a letter which the man with the power of life or death, Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe wrote in his own hand…A crowd of about 300 mostly young people staged a 'release Bentley' demonstration‘
Daily Mirror, Wednesday January 28th 1853, the source was accompanied by a photo of Bentley’s weeping mother and sister
Source 3 Origin: Although The Guardian is currently of centre-left political alignment, after the 2nd world war it was very anti-labour (in particular against Aneurin Bevan who was a key player in the campaign for Bentley’s reprieve). Therefore they were likely to have been less willing to support Labour and more willing to support the Conservative government. The Purpose of the source was to inform about the case and would have been likely to support the government’s stance for a reprieve – which it does through suggesting (in the last sentence) that there has been mass public support for a reprieve. It suggests a change in attitudes because it draws attention to labour MPs in particular and implies that they have a large involvement in the case, which is supportive of them. This reflects a change in attitudes because the paper supports them in this case even though it normally would not. At the time of the trial, therefore there was going to be a lot of press coverage/hype Mass public protest By law the house of commons could not debate an individual case until after the execution had been carried out Further efforts by M.P.s to persuade the Home Secretary to change his decision refusing a reprieve for Derek Bentley for his part in the murder of a policeman at Croydon failed late last night. The execution is due to take place this morning…Labour members reported last night that the flood of protests which they had received and which they believed to be quite spontaneous exceeded that of any public demonstration of which they had been made aware in recent years.
The Guardian, Wednesday 28th January 1953 Source 4 Books
Hanging in the Balance by Brian P Block and John Hostettler
Great crimes and trials of the twentieth century by Paul Begg and Martin Fido
Post war Britain was still suffering from widespread rationing, meaning that black marketeering, forged ration coupon trade, house break-ins and ration lorry hijacks were increasing rapidly around the country. In particular, London was experiencing an unprecedented increase in the use of firearms, notably by small, organised gangs that were flourishing with the post-war crime.
To cope with the rises in crime Ghost Squads, small teams of undercover detectives, were organised by the Metropolitan Police - although they denied their existence as they were never allowed to visit Scotland yard or appear in court to give evidence – to go undercover to obtain information.
A conservative government under Sir Winston Churchill 'A Victim of British Justice?' these were the words written on Derek Bentley's tombstone All four sources corroborate that MPs debated the case in order to try to convince the Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe to reconsider his decision to not grant Bentley a reprieve. This is significant because at the time, by law, the house of commons was not permitted to debate individual case until after the execution or final verdict. As a result, it shows that attitudes towards crime and punishment were changing within the government due to the case, because MPs were willing to debate a subject which they, by law, should not have so shows they were willing to contradict the law to support the case. This would not have happened if attitudes towards capital punishment were not changing, as the government acts to best reflect the views of the people.
The origins of the sources also support this line of argument, because the various newspapers – The Guardian, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express – followed different political alignments however they all support the case through their content or tone even if they would not naturally support the Conservative government whose MPs were debating against the hanging. For example, Source 3 by the Daily Mirror was generally left-wing therefore would not naturally support the government, however the source is supported by an emotive picture of the distraught family which would evoke sympathy for the case – suggesting that the general opinion of the paper was that the verdict was unjust.
Furthermore, from my own knowledge, I know that attitudes towards crime and punishment were changing in the political landscape because of the 1953 Royal Commission which acted to investigate whether the death penalty for murder should be ‘limited or modified.’ This reflects a change in attitudes against capital punishment, because for there to be a Royal Commission there must be the belief that there is something which needs to be modified. In addition, this change in attitudes is further supported by the Homicide Act of 1957 which saw the introduction of diminished responsibility, the circumstances for which - abnormality of mental functioning – were present in Bentley’s trial, as a defence capable of lessening murder to manslaughter. Whilst also abolishing the concept of constructive malice, this again was present in the trial of Bentley, which may have aided Bentley’s defence case as there would have been no automatic link between the killing of PC Fairfax and the other crime being committed (breaking into the warehouse) meaning that the jury would have to decide whether he was culpable for the killing when committing the other crime.
Overall, the sources and my own knowledge corroborate to suggest that the attitudes towards crime and punishment were changing within the government due to their content and origins, as well as the changes to the law which occurred as a result of the case. The Paragraph At the time of the trial, therefore
there was going to be a lot of
By law the house of commons
could not debate an individual
case until after the execution
had been carried out
Origin: The Daily Mirror was a widely read, left-wing newspaper – therefore the views expressed were more unlikely to support that of the Conservative government.
The Purpose of the source was to inform about the case,
however it was naturally unlikely to support the government’s
stance against the hanging. Therefore this source suggests
that the change in attitudes was widespread because
although the paper was generally against the government
it appears to be in agreement that the hanging is unjust
because… …although the Tone of the source is fairly factual and attempting to make the Home Secretary look bad (‘the man with the power of life or death Sir David Maxwell Fyfe wrote in his own hand’), the photo which accompanies it is highly emotive and would be presumed to evoke sympathy towards the case – suggesting that the general opinion of the paper was that the verdict was unjust.
At the time of the trial, therefore there was going to be a lot of press coverage/hype
At the time of the trial, therefore there was going to be a lot of press coverage/hype