Bentley case goes back to appeal court 44 years on

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The case of Derek Bentley, who was hanged 44 years ago for the murder of a policeman during a bungled robbery, is to be referred back to the Court of Appeal. The decision, writes Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, is a major victory for the Bentley family.

More than four decades after Derek Bentley was convicted of murder he is likely to be cleared of the charge posthumously.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, set up earlier this year to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice, announced yesterday that it was sending the case back for the appeal court judges to reconsider.

The commission concluded that there were several potential areas which suggested the conviction was unsafe.

The Bentley family have always maintained that Derek, 19, should never have been executed for his part in the killing of Constable Sidney Miles during a break-in at a warehouse in Croydon, south London in 1952.

PC Miles was shot dead by Bentley's accomplice, Christopher Craig, 16, after he confronted them on the warehouse roof.

At the teenagers' trial three policemen alleged that immediately before the murder Bentley shouted to him: "Let him have it, Chris".

Lord Chief Justice Goddard told the jury that when two people go out on a criminal enterprise which ends in murder, both are guilty in law, whoever fired the shots.

Craig, who was too young to hang, was jailed and served 10 years, but Bentley was sentenced to death. The jury was never told that he had a mental age of just 11.

Following his execution at Wandsworth Prison in January 1953, Bentley's sister, Iris, mounted a lifelong campaign to clear his name.

In 1993, Iris Bentley won a partial victory when Michael Howard, the then home secretary, granted a limited posthumous pardon, accepting that her brother should not have been hanged while maintaining his guilt.

She was finally allowed to erect a headstone over her brother's grave, 27 years after getting his body moved from Wandsworth prison to Croydon cemetery.

However, she died last January of cancer. Since then the campaign to win a full pardon has been led by her daughter, Maria Bentley-Dingwall.

The solicitors for the Bentley family argued yesterday that the material that persuaded the Criminal Cases Review Commission that the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal was "virtually identical" to one presented to the Home Office in October 1996, but no action was taken.

Ms Bentley-Dingwall, said she was "absolutely ecstatic" at yesterday's decision.

"But I just wish my mother was alive to see this day. It was what she fought for so long and she would have been so happy," she added.

"My family has had to go through so much and knowing your son or brother has been hanged is terrible."

Among the reason for the commission referring the case back to the appeal court included a medical report not disclosed at the time of the trial showing Bentley was "feeble-minded" and the suggestion that his statement was taken incorrectly by the police.

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