In an unprecedented move, Jack Straw said he had reconsidered his two earlier rulings that Mr Bentley's family was not entitled to a compensation payment. Mr Straw was pressed into the change of mind following a court ruling last month that said he should re-consider whether there were exceptional circumstances in the case.
Mr Bentley's relatives, his brother Dennis and niece Maria Bentley-Dingwall, have been seeking compensation since the Court of Appeal quashed his murder conviction last July. The were said to be "delighted" at yesterday's announcement.
Mr Bentley was 19 when he was convicted of the murder of PC Sidney Miles in November 1952, and hanged just two months later on 28 January, 1953. The officer was shot dead by his accomplice Christopher Craig. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction on the basis that the trial judge's summing up and direction to the jury was flawed and had denied Mr Bentley a fair trial.
The payment will be determined by independent assessor, Sir David Calcutt QC. This is the first time compensation will have been paid following the execution of a prisoner. The assessor is likely to consider the pain and suffering of Mr Bentley before being hanged as well as compensation for loss of earnings.
Benedict Birnberg, the Bentley's solicitor since 1964 said last night: "[The Home Secretary] has done a U-turn and decided that the family get compensation. This is really quite an exceptional case." He said that the family wanted to set up a charitable scheme to look into other miscarriages of justice.
Mr Straw said there had been changes in the law since he made his original decision. They meant he should have taken into account errors made by the original trial judge, the former Lord Chief Justice Goddard. Mr Straw said: "Because of developments in the law, I have reconsidered [the] application for compensation in respect of Mr Bentley's wrongful conviction. I have decided that compensation is payable."
Mr Straw said a judgment of the Divisional Court, delivered after his earlier decision, prompted the family's solicitors to request that he looked again at that decision. The judgment of the Divisional Court on 19 April said that the Home Secretary should consider each claim on its merits and that judicial error may constitute an "exceptional circumstances" which would allow a payment to be made.Reuse content