Birth: May, 1931
Sister of Derek Bentley. She fought for many years to clear his name. Unfortunately, she died a year before the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction. Her ashes were placed on his grave, in an urn with the inscription, 'You will always be in my heart, your loving daughter Maria'. The epitaph in full reads 'Here lies DEREK WILLIAM BENTLEY, a victim of British justice. 30th. June 1933 - 28th. January 1953. Aged 19 years. Much loved son and brother. "THE TRUTH WILL OUT" - Iris Bentley. In loving memory of William George Bentley, a devoted husband and father. Born 3rd. May 1905, fell asleep 12th. July 1974. Lilian Rose Bentley, a loving wife and mother. Born 8th. November 1903, fell asleep 10th. October 1976. Albert Edwin Bentley, born 25th. March 1910, fell asleep 4th. March 1993. THEY FOUGHT TO THE END."
Croydon Cemetery and Crematorium
Plot: NN 38038
Derek Bentley case
Derek William Bentley
Born 30 June, 1933 (2009-06-30T19:33)
Died 28 January, 1953 (2009-01-28T19:54) (aged 19)
Wandsworth (HM Prison)
Derek William Bentley (30 June 1933 – 28 January 1953) was an Englishman hanged for the murder of a police officer, committed in the course of a robbery attempt. The murder was allegedly in fact perpetrated by a friend and accomplice of Bentley's, Christopher Craig, then aged 16. This created a cause célèbre and led to a 45-year-long successful campaign to win Bentley a (partial) posthumous pardon.
Bentley had a difficult upbringing. In April 1938, when the house he lived in was bombed and the bricks caved in on him, he received serious head injuries. This even apparently concussed Bentley, caused brain damage, and triggered epilepsy, which he suffered from for the rest of his life. His house was bombed twice during World War II, and he suffered serious injury from a V1 flying bomb as rubble and bricks fell on him in an air raid
He attended Norbury Secondary Modern school from 1944 after unsurprisingly failing the Eleven-plus, though he often played truant. He and another boy were sent to Kingswood approved school when Bentley was about to leave school, for theft. It has been claimed that Derek had a mental age of 11. He certainly was of lower than average intelligence, having scored 66 and 77 on two different IQ tests. At the time of his arrest in early November 1952, he was illiterate. Christopher Craig, who suffered from dyslexia, attended the same school, but they never met at the time, as Craig was almost three years younger than Bentley.
Bentley was released from Kingswood on 28 July 1950, and became a recluse for six months. In March 1951 he found a job working for a furniture removal firm, but injured his back in March 1952 and left. He worked for Croydon Corporation later that year as firstly, a Dustman, but his work was found unsatisfactory, and he was demoted to a roadsweeper, but he was sacked from that position also. On 11 February 1952 he was classed as Grade IV for his National Service exam, due to his EEG findings, and rejected.
2 November 1952
On the night of 2 November 1952, Christopher Craig and Bentley tried to break into the warehouse of confectionery manufacturers and wholesalers Barlow & Parker on Tamworth Road, Croydon, England. The two youths were spotted climbing over the gate and up a drain pipe to the roof of the warehouse by a nine-year-old girl in a house across from the building. She alerted her parents and her father walked to the nearest telephone box and called the police.
When the police arrived, the two youths hid behind the lift-housing. One of the Police officers, Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax, climbed the drain pipe onto the roof and grabbed hold of Bentley. Bentley broke free and was alleged by a number of police witnesses to have shouted the words "Let him have it, Chris". Both Craig and Bentley denied that those words were ever spoken.
Craig, who was armed with a revolver, opened fire, grazing Fairfax's shoulder. Nevertheless, Fairfax arrested Bentley, who is said to have told him that Craig had plenty of ammunition for his Colt New Service .455 Eley calibre revolver, for which Craig had a variety of undersized rounds, some of which he had had to modify to fit the gun. Craig had also sawn off half of the weapon's barrel, so that it would fit in his pocket. In his pocket Bentley had a sheath knife and a spiked knuckle-duster, though he never used either that night. Craig made the knuckle-duster himself and gave both weapons to Bentley.
Following the arrival of uniformed officers, a group was sent onto the roof. The first to reach the roof was Police Constable Sidney Miles, who was immediately killed by a shot to the head. After exhausting his ammunition and being cornered, Craig jumped some thirty feet from the roof, fracturing his spine and left wrist when he landed on a greenhouse. At this point, he was arrested.
Various medals were awarded to the several participating police officers, including one – posthumously – to Miles and the George Cross to Fairfax.
Craig would not have faced execution if found guilty, as he was below the age of 18 when PC Miles was shot. Bentley, on the other hand, was not. The trial took place before the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Goddard, at the Old Bailey in London between 9 and 11 December 1952. The doctrine of 'constructive malice' meant that a charge of manslaughter was not an option, as the "malicious intent" of the armed robbery was transferred to the shooting. Bentley's best defence was that he was effectively under arrest when PC Miles was killed; however, this was only after an attempt to escape, during which a police officer had been wounded.
As the trial progressed the jury had more details to consider. The prosecution was unsure how many shots were fired and by whom and a ballistics expert cast doubt on whether Craig could have hit Miles if he had shot at him deliberately: the fatal bullet was not found, Craig had used bullets of different under-sized calibres and the sawn-off barrel made it inaccurate to a degree of six feet at the range from which he fired. There was also the question of what Bentley had meant by "Let him have it", if indeed he had said it. Though in the gangster movies of the time the expression meant "shoot", it could also be construed as signifying that Bentley wanted Craig to surrender the gun.
The Principal Medical Officer responsible was Dr Matheson and he referred Bentley to Dr. Hill, a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital. Hill's report stated that Bentley was illiterate and of low intelligence, almost borderline retarded. However, Matheson was of the opinion that whilst agreeing that Bentley was of low intelligence, he was not suffering from epilepsy at the time of the alleged offence and he was not a "feeble-minded person" under the Mental Deficiency Acts. Matheson said that he was sane and fit to plead and stand trial. English law at the time did not recognise the concept of diminished responsibility due to retarded development, though it existed in Scottish law (it was introduced to England by the Homicide Act 1957). Criminal insanity – where the accused is unable to distinguish right from wrong – was then the only medical defence to murder. Bentley, while suffering severe debilitation, was not insane.
The jury took 75 minutes to decide that both Bentley and Craig were guilty of PC Miles's murder. Bentley was sentenced to death with a plea for mercy on 11 December 1952, while Craig was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure (he was eventually released in 1963 after serving 10 years' imprisonment and has been a law abiding citizen ever since).
Bentley's lawyers filed appeals highlighting the ambiguities of the ballistic evidence, Bentley's mental age and the fact that he did not fire the fatal shot. These efforts failed to reverse his conviction, however and the death sentence was mandatory.
David Maxwell Fyfe, who had helped to draft the European Convention on Human Rights, had become Home Secretary when the Conservatives returned to office in 1951. After reading the Home Office psychiatric reports he refused to request clemency from the Queen, despite a petition signed by over 200 of his fellow MPs.
Parliament was not allowed to debate Bentley's sentence until it had been carried out. The Home Office also refused Dr. Hill permission to make his report public.
At 9am on the morning of 28 January, 1953, Derek Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth Prison, London by Albert Pierrepoint. When it was announced the execution had been carried out, there were protests outside the prison and two people were arrested and later fined for damage to property.
 To Encourage the Others
In his 1971 book To Encourage the Others, David Yallop documented Bentley's mental deficiencies, inconsistencies in the police and forensic evidence and the conduct of the trial. He proposed the theory that PC Miles was actually killed by a bullet from a gun other than Craig's sawn-off .455 revolver. Yallop drew this conclusion from an interview with Dr. David Haler, the pathologist who carried out the autopsy on Miles, who Yallop reports estimated the head wound was inflicted by a bullet of between .32 and .38 calibre fired from between six to nine feet away. Craig had been firing from a distance of just under 40 feet and had used a variety of under-sized .41, and .45 calibre rounds in his revolver; Yallop asserted it would have been impossible for him to use a bullet of .38 or smaller calibre. Haler did not offer in his trial evidence any estimate of the size of the bullet that had killed Miles. Craig accepts that the bullet that killed Miles came from his gun, but maintains that all of his shots were fired over the rear garden of a house adjacent to the warehouse, approximately 20 degrees to the right of Miles's location from where Craig had been firing.
The standard Metropolitan Police pistol at the time was the .32 Webley automatic, a number of which were issued on the night, although it was claimed that they arrived on the scene after Miles was killed and that the only ammunition not returned was two rounds fired by Fairfax. At least one witness, however, claims to have seen armed officers on the scene before Miles was shot. In his book The Scientific Investigation of Crime, the prosecution's ballistics expert Lewis Nickolls stated that he recovered four bullets from the roof, two of .45, one of .41 and one of .32 calibre. The last was not entered as an exhibit in the trial, nor mentioned in Nickolls' evidence to the court.
When Yallop telephoned Haler the day after the initial interview, he reportedly confirmed his estimate of the bullet size. Shortly before the publication of Yallop's book, Haler was provided with a transcript of the interview, and Yallop says Haler again confirmed as accurate. After the subsequent broadcast of the BBC Play for Today adaptation of To Encourage the Others (directed by Alan Clarke) and starring Charles Bolton, Haler sought to deny that he had given any specific estimate of the size of the bullet that killed Miles beyond being "of large calibre".
Following the execution there was a public sense of unease about the decision, resulting in a long campaign, mostly led by Bentley's sister Iris, to secure a posthumous pardon for him. In March 1966 his remains were removed from Wandsworth Prison and reburied in a family grave. Then on 29 July 1993 Bentley was granted a royal pardon in respect of the sentence of death passed upon him and carried out. However in English law this did not quash his conviction for murder.
Eventually, on 30 July 1998, the Court of Appeal set aside Bentley's conviction for murder 45 years earlier.
Though Bentley had not been accused of attacking any of the police officers being shot at by Craig, for him to be convicted of murder as an accessory in a joint enterprise it was necessary for the prosecution to prove that he knew that Craig had a deadly weapon when they began the break-in. Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham of Cornhill ruled that Lord Goddard had not made it clear to the jury that the prosecution was required to have proved Bentley had known that Craig was armed. He further ruled that Lord Goddard had failed to raise the question of Bentley's withdrawal from their joint enterprise. This would require the prosecution to prove the absence of any attempt by Bentley to signal to Craig that he wanted Craig to surrender his weapons to the police. Lord Bingham ruled that Bentley's trial had been unfair, in that the judge had misdirected the jury and, in his summing-up, had put unfair pressure on the jury to convict. It is possible that Lord Goddard may have been under pressure while summing up since much of the evidence was not directly relevant to Bentley's defence. It is important to note that Lord Bingham did not rule that Bentley was innocent, merely that there had been defects in the trial process. Had Bentley been alive in July 1998 or had been convicted of the offence in more recent years, it would have been likely that he would have faced a retrial.
Another factor in the posthumous defence was that a "confession" recorded by Bentley, which was claimed by the prosecution to be a "verbatim record of dictated monologue", was shown by forensic linguistics methods to have been largely edited by policemen. Linguist Malcolm Coulthard showed that certain patterns, such as the frequency of the word "then", and the grammatical use of "then" after the grammatical subject ("I then" rather than "then I"), was not consistent with Bentley's use of language (his idiolect), as evidenced in court testimony. These patterns fitted better the recorded testimony of the policemen involved. This is one of the earliest uses of forensic linguistics on record.
In a case with similarities to the Bentley case, a House of Lords judgment of 17 July, 1997, cleared Philip English of murdering Sergeant Bill Forth in March 1993, the reasons being given by Lord Hutton. English had been handcuffed before his companion Paul Weddle killed Sgt Forth with a concealed knife. The existing joint enterprise law allowed the conviction of English for murder because they had both been attacking Sgt Forth with wooden staves, making English an accessory to any murder committed by Weddle as part of that assault. Lord Hutton made the 'fine distinction' that a concealed knife was a far more deadly weapon than a wooden stave, so that proof of English's knowledge of it was necessary for conviction. The appeal may have influenced the allowing of a posthumous referral of the Bentley case.
Lord Mustill had asked for new laws on homicide when setting out his reasons at the time of Lord Hutton's ruling on English's appeal. However, Lord Bingham's ruling blamed Lord Goddard for a miscarriage of justice without making further alteration to the law on joint enterprise. The English judgment, delivered just over two months after the Labour government took office, remained the most recent precedent in joint enterprise law, though the Bentley verdict attracted far more media attention.