Hanged man's sister on verge of victory in fight for pardon: Iris Bentley's long, determined search for justice may soon be over, writes Adam Sage

Click to follow
The Independent Online
'I'M NOT the sort of person who gives in.'

When Iris Bentley spoke these words nine months ago, most observers dismissed them as hollow defiance, the statement of someone who could not accept defeat.

Miss Bentley appeared to have reached the end of the road when Kenneth Clarke, then Home Secretary, refused to grant a pardon for her brother, executed 40 years ago for the murder of a policeman. But now, she is on the point of victory.

Following the Court of Appeal judgment in London yesterday, it seems likely that the present Home Secretary, Michael Howard, will grant a pardon; at the least offering official recognition that Derek Bentley should not have hanged, possibly accepting that he should not have been convicted at all.

That conviction, at the Old Bailey in December 1952, came just over a month after Bentley, then 19, and another teenager, Christopher Craig, were disturbed by policemen as they prepared to burgle a confectioner's warehouse in Croydon.

Bentley offered no resistance and was arrested, but Craig produced a pistol and shot one policeman dead and injured another.

At trial both were convicted of murder, Craig because he had fired the fatal shot and Bentley because he had been armed with a knife and knuckleduster and because he was alleged to have spoken the sentence: 'Let him have it'. The defence said this could have meant, 'Give him the gun'; the prosecution said it was an incitement to kill.

Craig was 16 and too young to hang, but Bentley, despite a plea for mercy from the jury, was condemned to hang. The Home Secretary of the day, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, despite thousands of letters, protests from MPs and advice from at least one official, insisted on Bentley's execution.

For four decades, and despite suffering from cancer, Iris Bentley fought to show that both the trial judge, Lord Chief Justice Goddard, and Sir David, had been wrong.

Last October, Mr Clarke said there were no grounds for pardon - it could be granted only if moral as well as technical innocence had been proved, he said. Yesterday, at long last, the legal system threw its weight behind Bentley's sister.

(Photograph omitted)