Peace at Last for the Hanged Man

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LONDON: They say the wheels of justice turn slowly, and it's true in Britain (remember the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, languishing in jail for decades after being wrongly convicted of IRA bombings?) But the Derek Bentley case may be the most extreme illustration of that adage. More than 45 years ago, Bentley, a 19-year-old epileptic with a mental age of 11, was hanged for a crime his partner committed. Christopher Craig, 16, shot a policeman and was too young to be executed; Bentley went to the gallows for shouting "Let him have it, Chris." As Bentley's family pointed out in their ceaseless efforts to clear his name, that could just as easily mean "Give him the gun" as "Shoot him." After all, the policeman's last words had been a request for Craig's weapon.

Finally, on Thursday, justice relented. "It must be a matter of profound and continuing regret that this mistrial occurred and that the defects we have found were not recognized at the time," mumbled the Court of Appeals in a mammoth 52-page ruling. It's a shame the same court didn't notice back in 1953, or that nobody knew that the judge in the Bentley case claimed to enjoy handing down the death sentence so much that it apparently brought him to an orgasm. What's more, the main Bentley campaigners -- his mother, father and sister -- are all dead now, and only Derek's niece was around to open the bottle of Moët & Chandon they kept on ice for 40 years, awaiting a posthumous pardon.