“Let him have it, Chris!”
At 9.15pm on Sunday 2 November 1952 Derek Bentley, a youth with a low mental age, and Christopher Craig, a young thug, broke into Barlow & Parker’s wholesale confectioners’ warehouse in Croydon, Surrey. Bentley had a knife and Craig, whose elder brother was serving a 12-year sentence for armed robbery, a revolver. They were seen breaking and entering and the police were called.
When they arrived, the youths were trapped on the roof. Detective Constable Frederick Fairfax climbed up and arrested Bentley. The police claimed that Bentley, while in custody, shouted, “Let him have it, Chris!” and Craig fired a revolver, wounding Fairfax and shooting PC Sydney George Miles, 42, through the head.
Barlow & Parker’s, 27-29 Tamworth Road, Croydon, Surrey, England
9.15pm Sunday 2 November 1952
In a trial lasting two and a half days (9-11 December 1952) at the Old Bailey, before Lord Chief Justice Goddard, Bentley’s mental state (he had a mental age of 11 and an IQ of 66) was not revealed. He was sentenced to death after the jury spent 75 minutes deliberating. The jury recommended mercy for Bentley, and Craig (who was under 18 at the time) was sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty’s Pleasure. He was to serve ten and a half years (being released in May 1963 and marrying two years later). The Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, refused to recommend that the Queen exercise the prerogative of mercy.
Bentley was executed at Wandsworth Prison at 9am on Wednesday 28 January 1953 as an angry crowd waited outside. His older sister Iris began a campaign to clear his name. In 1966 Bentley’s corpse was disinterred from the grounds of Wandsworth Prison and reburied in Croydon cemetery on Friday 4 March. Initially a headstone was not permitted but the government changed its mind in July 1994 and the tombstone bears the words “A victim of British justice”. On 29 July 1993 the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, granted a partial pardon, which admitted it had been wrong to execute Bentley but maintained the guilty verdict. Five years later and a year after Iris’s death, Derek Bentley’s conviction was quashed on 30 July 1998. There is now some dispute as to whether anything at all was shouted by Craig, let alone the contentious words that sentenced Bentley to death. The Barlow & Parker factory was demolished in 1977 and replaced by houses.