Bentley granted limited pardon: Sister vows to fight on after Home Secretary concedes that man hanged in 1953 should have been reprieved. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
DEREK BENTLEY was yesterday given a limited posthumous pardon over his death sentence for the murder of a policeman 40 years ago. But his sister Iris last night vowed to fight on to prove his innocence.

A tearful but triumphant Miss Bentley welcomed the decision by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to grant the limited pardon, but said she would still press for the case to be referred to the Court of Appeal.

Miss Bentley, 61, said she was left 'shattered and shaking' by a decision which restored her faith in justice. She added: 'I have got somewhere at last but the fight goes on. I still want a complete pardon because my brother was not guilty of murder.'

Mr Howard's decision - the first time such a limited pardon has been made - follows a landmark ruling in the High Court earlier this month which criticised his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, for conceding the death sentence on Bentley was wrong, but making no formal acknowledge ment of the fact.

Last October, after considering a petition calling for Bentley to be pardoned, Mr Clarke said that, personally, he considered the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, should have granted a reprieve but there were no new grounds establishing his innocence. Official papers released by Mr Clarke showed that Sir David had rejected the advice of his senior civil servants in upholding the death sentence.

Mr Howard said yesterday he agreed Bentley should have been reprieved but that had no bearing on the separate issue of a free pardon, which remained 'inappropriate'.

The High Court had asked him to consider whether the Prerogative of Mercy could be exercised in a manner which reflected its conclusion that, 'even by the standards of 1953, the then Home Secretary's decision not to reprieve Derek Bentley was clearly wrong'. Mr Howard said: 'Having taken account of the court's judgment, I have decided in the wholly exceptional circumstances of this case to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen that a pardon limited to sentence should be granted.'

Miss Bentley, who has campaigned for 40 years to clear her brother's name, heard yesterday's news while at a hairdresser's in south London. She will receive the official pardon document, signed by the Queen, today.

She said: 'I will take it with me when I die. I want it to be buried with me. I had no idea this was going to happen today. I had a strange dream last night. I saw Derek standing at a distance. I had never seen him like that before. He said to me: 'Not long now, sis'. It is really amazing.'

Benedict Birnberg, solicitor for the family, said in a statement: 'Only a court can determine whether Derek was rightly convicted. The case for a review by the court of Derek's conviction is a strong one. His trial and conviction . . . was a travesty of justice even by the standards of 1953.'

Mr Birnberg said the bias of the judge, Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice, was apparent during the trial and in his subsequent communication to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, urging the death penalty be carried out. Additionally, Bentley's mental state was not considered and he was badly defended by his counsel. He added: 'We now intend to prepare a detailed dossier for Mr Howard and ask him to refer the case to the court. Until Derek has been cleared of the conviction the campaign which Iris has waged for 40 years will continue.'

Bentley, 19, but with the mental age of 11, was hanged at Wandsworth prison in 1953 for the murder of a police officer during a break-in at a warehouse in Croydon, south London. Bentley was arrested, but Christopher Craig, 16, his accomplice and the dominant partner, fired the fatal shot.

At the Old Bailey trial, it was claimed Bentley was guilty because he uttered the infamous and ambiguous words 'let him have it' before the shot was fired. Lord Goddard told the jury that when two people embark on a criminal enterprise which ends in murder they are both guilty in law, whoever actually fired the shot. Craig was reprieved because he was only 16. He served 10 years.

New evidence rejected by Mr Clarke included the statements of both a police officer and Craig who disputed whether the crucial words had been said. It was also disputed whether Bentley had known that Craig was armed and whether his mental state allowed him to take responsibility for the other's actions.

(Photograph omitted)

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