Hanged for murder: Fiftieth anniversary of last people to be executed in UK

An unheralded walk to the gallows that proved a milestone for justice

When, at 8am on 13 August 1964, Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans took a short walk to the gallows to be hanged for murder, the deaths of two hapless petty criminals were little mourned and little noticed.

The executions merited only a few lines in a couple of daily newspapers. Everyone expected more hangings would follow.

Instead Allen and Evans became the last people to be executed in Britain. Wednesday this week will be the 50th anniversary not just of their deaths, but of a major milestone in the history of British justice.

The death penalty for murder was suspended for a trial period the year after they were executed. In 1969 it was abolished altogether by a vote in the House of Commons, which won an overwhelming majority and loud cheers from the public gallery.

So a killing characterised more by incompetent desperation than anything resembling cold-blooded calculation acquired a significance few could have imagined at the time.

Needing money to pay off magistrates fines of £10 imposed on them for earlier thefts, the two jobless men had driven to the home of Evans’ former workmate John West, 53, in Seaton, Cumbria, to request the loan of “a few quid”.

Mr West refused to give them any money. His stabbed and battered body was found the next day. Tracing the two suspects was hardly difficult. Evans had left his raincoat at the scene, with a medallion inscribed with his name.

Letters from both men’s mothers begging the Home Secretary Henry Brooke to grant clemency had no effect.

At Strangeways, Manchester, Evans, 24, was led from his cell by Harry Allen, who always wore a bow tie for the job as a sign of “respect” and once claimed he “never felt a moment’s remorse” for his executions.

Thirty-five miles away in Walton Jail, Liverpool, Allen, 21, shouted “Jesus” as he was led to the gallows by his executioner Robert Stewart.

Former prison officer George Donaldson who witnessed the execution, told the makers of the ITV documentary Executed: “At the last minute he seemed to make some sort of effort to throw himself, but he didn’t get the chance. The lever dropped, the door opened and down he went. It was all over. “

From murder to double execution had taken just 18 weeks. It was too late for Evans and Allen, but an abolitionist campaign that dated at least as far back as the formation of the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty (NCADP), in 1923 – after the dubious execution of Edith Thompson – was beginning to bear fruit. It was fuelled by cases like that of Derek Bentley, a 19-year-old with a mental age of 11 who was hanged in 1953 for the murder of a policeman, despite not having fired the fatal shot. The officer had told Bentley’s accomplice to hand over the gun, and the teenager had uttered the highly ambiguous phrase: “Let him have it.”

Also in 1953 it was discovered that the Rillington Place serial killer John Christie had been the real murderer of Beryl Evans and her baby daughter Geraldine. Mrs Evans’ husband Timothy had been wrongly hanged in 1950.

Mr Evans’ sister Maureen Westlake told the Executed documentary, to be broadcast on Tuesday night: “The last time I saw him, he did look like a 10-year-old. His face was all pale. He waved and said, ‘cheerio’.”

“It’s the Government that murdered Tim. Not killed him. Murdered him.”

In January this year, a poll found that 54 per cent of British people want the return of the death penalty.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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 General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album