Obituary: Iris Bentley - People - News - The Independent

Obituary: Iris Bentley

When 16-year-old Christopher Craig shot dead PC Sidney Miles in 1952, Iris Bentley's destiny was sealed. The shooting was the culmination of a failed burglary at a Croydon warehouse, and the following year her 19-year old brother Derek, an epileptic with a mental age of 11, was hanged for his part in the killing. Iris Bentley began a campaign for a posthumous pardon, a campaign whose momentum continues after her death.

At 16 Craig was too young to be executed. Imprisoned as a minor until 1963, he has since led an uneventful life as a plumber. The evidence against Bentley hinged upon the allegation by police officers that immediately before Craig shot Miles, he had implored his young accomplice to "Let him have it, Chris". The defence claimed that Bentley had been trying to persuade Craig to hand over his weapon, and Bentley's testimony and subsequent evidence from both one of the arresting officers and from Craig himself suggest that the words were never spoken. Despite the jury's recommendation for mercy, Lord Chief Justice Goddard sentenced Bentley to death. Iris Bentley unsuccessfully presented petitions to the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, for a reprieve, and her brother was hanged in Wandsworth prison in January 1953. Her career as a campaigner had begun.

The symbolism of the clock in her home, stopped permanently to show the time of her brother's death, cannot be understated. Iris and Derek Bentley were close - they had both been buried in the rubble of their south London home during the Blitz that killed their 12-year-old sister. Derek's death marked the blossoming of a resolute and skilled campaigner, who was always ready to present anti-death penalty arguments during the routine clamour for state vengeance that regularly blights British politics.

Yet for many years her efforts on behalf of her brother were ignored, before Derek Bentley's story seeped into the public consciousness via three books and a film, Let Him Have It (1991). Ably assisted by her daughter Maria, and despite failing health, she forced the police to reopen the case in 1992, resulting in the Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke's denying a reprieve. A year later, the Appeal Court ruled that Clarke had not fully considered all the options open to him, and his successor Michael Howard granted a partial pardon that upheld the conviction, while acknowledging that the execution had been wrong.

This was hardly enough to placate Iris Bentley's quest for justice, and she continued the fight. In April 1997 Derek Bentley's case will be reconsidered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and as the result of new evidence presented to the Home Office last September, it is possible that a full pardon could be announced before the commission hears the case.

Iris Bentley's very presence, amidst an increasingly punitive law-and- order debate that has raged across five decades, has served as a reminder both of the state's potential for barbarism, and the criminal justice system's inherent fallibility. Indeed, if amongst the frantic clamour for punishment that in contemporary society passes for a law-and-order debate, some moments of reflection are spent considering the last 44 years of Iris Bentley's life, a much wider definition of "victim of crime" becomes apparent.

Dick Hobbs

Iris Bentley, campaigner: born London 5 August 1931; died London 23 January 1997.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week