1953 Events leading to Homicide Act 1957

19-year-old mentally handicapped and epileptic Derek Bentley was hanged for the murder of a policeman he did not kill. He was party to a burglary of a factory in Croydon with a 16-year old delinquent call Chris Evans. When they were discovered and cornered Evans’s shot a policeman.

Both were convicted of murder, Bentley was sentenced to death and Evans to life imprisonment (in view of his age). This obvious injustice was not rectified by the Home Secretary and there was a public outcry.

Sir Denis Hill, the professor of psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital examined Bentley in prison and urged a reprieve for Bentley because of the young man’s mental conditions. The official disdain for Hill’s evidence led Sir Denis to be a champion of forensic psychiatry.

Bentley was pardoned in 1998.

The same year the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment reported recommending raising the age limit for capital punishment from 18 to 21 years, and this was done after Bentley was hanged. It also recommended introducing a verdict of diminished responsibility on account of mental abnormality or psychopathic personality.

This led to the Homicide Act of 1957.


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