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50th anniversary of last hanging in Britain is today

By NDJJosephW  |  Posted: August 13, 2014

TRIBUTE: The plaque commemorating the Bideford witches.

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TODAY is the 50th anniversary of the very last hanging to take place in the UK.

The last people to be executed were Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen, who killed a man in a botched burglary and were executed on 7 July 1964.

North Devon’s claim to fame in this barbaric regard is that the last witches to be hanged in the country were all from Bideford.

A plaque to commemorate Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles who were hanged in Exeter in 1682, was erected and can be seen on the corner of Bideford Town Hall.

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The long reign of capital punishment came to an end 283 years after this.

It ran from the creation of the state in 1707 until it was abolished with the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act in 1965, the year after the hanging of Evans and Allen.

The plaque to the women accused of being witches was organised by Bideford Town Councillor and historian Peter Christie and which cost £578, funded by Bideford Town Council.

Psychologist Dr Chris Nash, who used to live in Bideford, started a petition to get the witches pardoned.

She believes the women were victims of their time.

And there have been similar campaigns outside of the context of witchcraft paranoia.

Derek Bentley was hanged on January 28, 1953 for the murder of police officer Sidney Miles, committed during a burglary attempt by friend and accomplice Christopher Craig, who was 16 at the time.

A 45-year battle ensued to win Bentley a posthumous pardon, which was granted in 1998.

Bentley had been convicted as a party to the murder, by the principle of ‘joint enterprise’ as the judge interpreted an alleged instruction he gave to Craig – “let him have it" – as worthy of a death sentence.

The hanging led to the 45-year-long campaign and afterwards, a by then elderly Craig spoke of his relief of the decision to quash his old friend’s conviction for murder.

The last woman executed in the UK was Ruth Ellis, convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely.

Blakey had punched Ellis in the stomach while she was pregnant, resulting in a miscarriage.

Ellis had suffered abusive relationships working as a London nightclub hostess, and she shot Blakely dead on 10 April 1955, which was Easter Sunday.

This case is seen by many as a catalyst for the abolition of capital punishment around a decade later as it caused widespread controversy at the time.

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