Home Secretary

Photo of the Day

Police hold back the crowd who are trying to see the notice telling of the execution of Derek Bentley at Wandsworth Jail. (POPPERFOTO/POPPERFOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

Police hold back the crowd who are trying to see the notice telling of the execution of Derek Bentley at Wandsworth Jail. (POPPERFOTO/POPPERFOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

“Let him have it”

?Derek William Bentley

?The execution of Derek Bentley, a mentally handicapped 19-year-old who was falsely convicted of murder, was pivotal in bringing about the end of capital punishment in Britain

“A victim of British justice”

Derek Bentley was hanged on the 28th of January 1953, at the age of 19 and the above words appear on his gravestone.

The Bentley case is one of the most controversial cases in British legal history.

The story starts on 2 November 1952. Two teenage boys, Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley tried to rob a factory, Barlow & Parker a wholesale confectioner’s in Tamworth Road, Croydon.

Chris was 16 and spent his time watching crime movies and reading crime comics. In his mind he was an American hoodlum. By contrast Derek was aged 18 but had a mental age of about 8.

As a child he lived in Blackfriars and his home was bombed in the Blitz. Derek received head injuries and was also epileptic and illiterate. He found it hard to make friends and was bullied at school. When Chris began to take an interest in him, Derek became infatuated. He would do everything Chris told him to do.

They were both extremely inept criminals.

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Photo Of The Day

IMAGE: JAMES JARCHE/FOX PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES. The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (left, in top hat), during the siege of Sidney street in Stepney, East London, 1911.

IMAGE: JAMES JARCHE/FOX PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES.
The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (left, in top hat), during the siege of Sidney street in Stepney, East London, 1911.

The Siege of Sidney Street

A Ferocious Urban Gun Battle, with Churchill Himself

On 16 December 1910, a resident of Sidney Street in London’s East End heard mysterious hammering noises at a house nearby and notified the Police. This was the beginning of a bizarre incident in which the Home Secretary, Winston S. Churchill, would take a direct hand – incurring no little criticism and ridicule at the time, and for years afterward. It was, like several other Churchillian escapades, only partly understood and greatly misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it makes for an exciting story.

A gang of refugees from Russian Latvia were responsible for this and other sensational crimes in London during 1909-1911. There was the “Tottenham Outrage” of 1909, the Houndsditch murders of 1910, and the famous gun battle on New Year’s Day 1911, around the Sidney Street house in which two of the gang’s members were barricaded.

The story began with the “Tottenham Outrage.” On 23 January 1909, two Latvian refugees of London’s East End assaulted a messenger carrying the wages for a local rubber factory. In the course of the struggle shots were fired and overheard at a nearby police station. A police chase ensued, the armed robbers enjoying a substantial advantage initially, as the use of firearms by police or criminals was then virtually unknown. The police hastened to arm themselves, however, and ran the criminals to earth after a six-mile pursuit in which two people were killed and 27 injured.

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