Reading 8: CRIME & PUNISHMENT

Reading Exercise

Read the text and choose the correct answer A, B or C for each question.
Derek Bentley was sentenced to death and was subsequently hanged on 28 January 1953. He was 19 years old and had been found guilty of murder. However, many thought that his trial was a great legal tragedy and it served to help end the use of the death penalty in Britain a few years later.

So, why was he hanged?

It all began on a Sunday in November 1952 when Bentley attempted to carry out a burglary with his friend Christopher Craig. Whose idea the burglary was isn’t known for sure, although the personalities of the two men do suggest who might have been the leader. Craig was loud and had a high opinion of himself, whereas Bentley, in contrast, was quiet and reserved, and very much impressed by his younger friend’s confidence. Both were armed with knives, but Craig also had a revolver concealed in his jacket, something that Bentley almost certainly knew about. Bentley himself also carried a knuckleduster, a small metal weapon that could seriously hurt someone in a fight.

The two were on the roof of a building when the police spotted them. They had earlier been seen breaking into the building by a young girl whose mother had called the police, and now they were trapped. Two policemen chased them, and soon caught Bentley, but Craig decided to try and get away. He fired his gun, hitting a policeman in the shoulder. It was then that Bentley shouted to Craig, ‘Let him have it!’, words that would become famous as a key piece of evidence in the trial. Moments later, more police arrived and started to chase Craig up some stairs. He turned and fired, killing a policeman before jumping from the roof and breaking his back. He was then arrested.

Both Bentley and Craig were charged with murder, and both, at their trial, told the court that they were innocent. This was a mistake. There was so much evidence to prove that Craig had committed the crime that it would have been better for him to plead guilty. Unsurprisingly, it took the jury little more than an hour to find both men guilty, and Bentley was sentenced to death by hanging. Craig, however, was only 16, and avoided the same punishment.

The trial, and particularly Bentley’s sentence, shocked many people. In part, this was because of the prosecution lawyers’ arguments. Central to their case against Bentley was that he and Craig were equally responsible for the murder. The prosecution was able to prove to the jury that by planning a burglary, carrying a weapon, although not the murder weapon, and shouting ‘let him have it’ to Craig, Bentley was as much a murderer as his younger friend. However, the court didn’t consider it important that Bentley had a mental age of 11, that the phrase ‘let him have it’ could mean ‘shoot him’ but could also mean ‘give him the gun’, and the fact that, unlike Craig, Bentley was restrained, though not arrested, by another policeman at the time of the murder.

Forty-five years after the trial, following years of arguing, campaigning and protests by Bentley’s father and sister, the Court of Appeal finally ruled, admitting that the original sentence and verdict were mistaken. Sadly, neither his father nor his sister lived long enough to see Bentley’s name cleared.