Best of British Killers - Derek Bentley
Derek William Bentley
One of the most controversial cases in British legal history. On 2nd November 1952 two youths were spotted breaking into Barlow & Parker, a wholesale confectioner's. The police were called and they arrived at about 9.25pm in a van and a car. Bentley and Craig spotted the police and tried to hide behind a lift-housing on the flat roof of the warehouse. DC Frederick Fairfax noticed a footprint on a window-sill and climbed a drain-pipe onto the flat roof. Fairfax called on the two to surrender but was met with a stream of defiance from Craig. He charged at the pair and grabbed the nearest figure, which happened to be Bentley. Bentley broke free and called to his partner, 'Let him have it, Chris!' Craig fired and wounded DC Fairfax in the shoulder. Fairfax caught up with Bentley and flattened him with a punch.
DC Fairfax stripped Bentley of his weapons, a knife and a knuckle-duster. By this time armed reinforcements had arrived and surrounded the building. PC Miles, who had been in the first car to arrive, had located the manager of the building and had obtained the keys. Miles entered the building and went up an interior staircase to the roof. He kicked open the roof door and stepped onto the roof. He fell dead, shot through the left temple. Craig continued to fire and scream threats at the police until he ran out of ammunition. He then leapt from the roof of the building, a drop of 27 feet. The fall broke his spine, breastbone and left wrist. In the meantime, Bentley had been escorted from the roof under arrest.
At their trial at the Old Bailey they were both charged with murder, even though Bentley was under arrest when Craig fired the shot that killed PC Miles. Craig, being 16 at the time, could not be hanged. There were many contentious points at their trial. The defence maintained that Craig had not been aiming at the policemen when he fired, but over their heads. A ballistics expert, Mr Lewis Nicholls, gave evidence that the gun, a sawn-off, First World War .455 Eley service revolver, was wildly inaccurate at distances over six feet. No-one was sure how many shots had been fired on the roof. Craig stated that he had reloaded the gun once and had fired eleven times, two of them being misfires. Police only found two bullets on the roof and one in Faifax's clothing. No trace could be found of the bullet that killed Miles. Many of the judge's continual interjections during the trial were damaging to the defence. The main point of the prosecution's case was based on the pair having a common purpose while the defence maintained that the 'joint enterprise' had ended fifteen minutes before PC Miles' death, when Bentley was arrested.
The jury considered their verdict for just 75 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on both youths, with a recommendation for mercy in Bentley's case. Bentley was sentenced to death. Craig, who the judge described as 'one of the most dangerous young criminals who has ever stood in that dock' was sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure.
Derek Bentley, aged nineteen, was hanged in Wandsworth at 9am on 28th January 1953. Craig was released from prison in May 1963 and he settled in Buckinghamshire.
The above was taken from Ian Jennings' Best of British Killers. It's a local copy, because the site moved in 1997 and I couldn't find the new location. I am awaiting a new link so that I can stop using this copy.
Return to Derek Bentley Page