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PC's killer may appear at Bentley appeal
By Duncan Campbell, Crime Correspondent
The man whose fatal shooting of a policeman led to the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1953 may give fresh evidence at Bentley's appeal, it emerged yesterday.
The Court of Appeal was told that Christopher Craig, who shot dead PC Sidney Miles during the robbery of a warehouse in Croydon, Greater London, in 1952, was available to be called to give evidence. Craig, aged 61, would be asked about evidence he did not give at his trial on the advice of his counsel. He was released from jail in 1963 and has worked as a plumber and farmer.
The court was also told that the jury had been "poisoned and pressured" by the trial judge. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, had acted with "blatant prejudice" against Bentley and deprived him of a fair trial.
It was suggested that police officers could have invented the now-famous words "Let him have it, Chris" because they would have been familiar with the phrase from a similar case in which a police officer had been shot.
The appeal against Bentley's conviction for PC Miles's murder follows a referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission. PC Miles was shot by Craig, but at 16 he was too young to hang. Bentley had already been arrested at the time of the shooting but was convicted on the grounds that he had knowingly taken part in a joint enterprise.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Bentley, told the Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham, sitting with Lord Justice Kennedy and Mr Justice Collins, that the case had provoked much public disquiet, for good reason. A young man with a mental age of 11 had been convicted, had his appeal dismissed and had been hanged in the space of three months. Such punishment was "nothing short of cruel".
Mr Fitzgerald said Bentley was convicted on the basis of having incited Craig with the words "Let him have it" long before PC Miles was even on the scene. Bentley always denied saying the words, and Craig has continued to deny they were said.
There was good reason to doubt that they were ever spoken, said Mr Fitzgerald. Other incriminating statements attributed to Bentley were examples of classic police "verbals".
Referring to the other case of a police officer who was shot, in which an accomplice called Appleby was alleged to have used the same words, Mr Fitzgerald said it was "too striking a coincidence" that Bentley, aged 19 and of limited intelligence, should use the same words as had caused the conviction of Appleby for the murder of a policeman 10 years earlier.
"It is far more likely that the police attributed to him words that would have been well-known to all members of the force to damn him."
The trial judge had behaved outrageously, said Mr Fitzgerald. His summing up had been in "the language of an advocate and an intemperate advocate... He did not make one single point in the defence's favour."
The judge denounced Bentley's claim that he did not know Craig had a gun as incredible: "Can you believe for a moment that if Bentley had gone on this expedition with this boastful young ruffian... he would not have told Bentley he had a gun?"
The judge had also told the jury that the police officers concerned "showed the highest gallantry and resolution; they were conspicuously brave. Are you going to say they are conspicuous liars?"
Mr Fitzgerald said: "The whole summing up was so weighted as to be unfair. The jury were being poisoned and pressured." Bentley, far from encouraging Craig to shoot, had been docile and co-operative after his arrest. "Putting it bluntly, it was a trial that was blatantly unfair."
The case continues today.
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