UK News Electronic Telegraph
Thursday 23 January 1997
Issue 608

Bentley's sister dies without winning pardon she fought for
By Ben Fenton

External Links

Capital Punishment in Modern British Law and Culture

Scandals in British Justice

IRIS Bently died yesterday without seeing a successful end to her 44-year campaign for a free pardon for her brother Derek, hanged in 1953 for the murder of a policeman.

Miss Bentley, 64, who had fought cancer for 20 years, had been hoping to hear her brother's case considered by the newly-established Criminal Cases Review Commission. It was due to be dealt with in April. The Home Office is also considering the possibility of a pardon based on new evidence presented by Miss Bentley's solicitors last September.

Sources said yesterday that a decision on that would be announced before the commission heard the case. Derek Bentley was 19 when he was hanged for his part in the murder of Pc Sidney Miles in 1952 during a burglary that went wrong. Christopher Craig, his accomplice, fired the shot that killed Pc Miles after Bentley had been detained by another officer.

But Craig, then 16, was too young to be hanged and at the Old Bailey trial officers testified that moments before the fatal shot Bentley had called out to his accomplice: "Let him have it, Chris."

The jury recommended mercy for Bentley, an epileptic with a mental age of around 11. Despite this, Lord Chief Justice Goddard, the trial judge, sentenced Bentley, from Collier's Wood, south-west London, to hang.

Iris Bentley led petitions to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, then Home Secretary, for a reprieve, but Bentley was hanged in Wandsworth prison on Jan 28, 1953. Penelope Dening, a journalist who co-wrote Miss Bentley's story of her campaign, said yesterday: "It is very sad, but if, as I expect, the commission finds that Derek should be pardoned, it will have come eight weeks too late. Her solicitors had told the commission that she was dying, but it seems they did not bring the case forward."

In 1992 Kenneth Clarke, then Home Secretary, had refused a pardon for Bentley, but a year later the Appeal Court ruled that he had not considered all the options open to him. Miss Bentley said after Mr Clarke's decision: "I won't give up. No way. Not until the day I die."

Weeks later, Michael Howard, Mr Clarke's successor, granted a partial pardon that upheld the conviction while denoting that the hanging had been wrong. Miss Bentley had suffered from bowel cancer and later cancer of the spine which first affected her in 1974. Her death in St George's Hospital, Tooting, came 36 hours after she underwent a major operation.

Campaigners for Bentley's pardon always claimed that he had not been guilty of the killing in any way. There was no doubt that he was involved in the shooting, but they claimed that the police had concocted the story of his alleged encouragement to Craig.

Craig himself was detained as a minor and was released in 1963. In recent years he has broken his silence on the case to allege that he never heard Bentley use the words which did so much to lead to his conviction. Miss Bentley, a former cinema usherette told journalists in 1953 that she would "devote the rest of my life to fighting for the reform of the criminal law".

She spoke of her unending desire to clear her brother's name earlier this year despite her knowledge that she might not have long to live. "I won't be ready to go until I have Derek's [full] pardon," she said. "I want to be buried with the pardon, to take it to Mum and Dad."

23 August 1996: Final words on why Britain's last hangman quit in anger

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