derek bentley uk justice

by David Breakspear

It wasn’t until February 2016 when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, in a criminal case under the doctrine of ‘joint enterprise’ (JE), decided that intent and not just foresight would need to be proven to find a secondary suspect guilty of a crime, such as murder.

One of the most famous JE cases saw, at 9am on January 28th, 1953, 19-year-old Derek Bentley hung, at the hands of Albert Pierrepoint at HMP Wandsworth in London. Before I continue, please bear in mind that the person who “let him have it,” the one who pulled the trigger that killed the policeman Sidney Miles, Christopher Craig, was released in May 1963. Ten years after Derek was hung. Three years before Derek’s remains were removed from the prison burial ground to a family grave. Two lives were taken, one by Christopher, one by the state.

What followed from Derek’s hanging was a 45-year campaign by his family to clear Derek’s name. The campaign was started by his mum and dad, alive to see his remains transferred in March 1966; however, they sadly passed in the 1970s. Derek’s sister Iris took over the fight. On 29th July 1993, Derek received a royal pardon that commuted his death penalty but did not quash his conviction. This was the last success Iris would see before dying in 1997. The campaign baton was picked up by Maria, daughter to Iris, born ten years after Derek’s death and on an emotional day, nearly 5 years from his pardon, on 30th July 1998, the Court of Appeal quashed Derek’s conviction for murder.

In the successful February 2016 Supreme Court appeal, which involved JENGbA (see below), the case was held jointly with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which also used the same judges. (Ruddock v The Queen [2016] UKPC 7). This was a JE case from Jamaica, a member state of the Commonwealth. In fact, we share similarities with most countries who have also adopted the doctrine of joint enterprise into their respective criminal laws.

In the UK, we have a grassroots organisation called JENGbA (Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association) created by mums, sisters, dads and uncles in sitting rooms, conservatories and kitchens, up and down the country. It was created to take on the might of the system by a caring group of like-minded people who refuse to allow the continued injustices that surround JE. Only one conviction has been overturned in the three years since the 2016 ruling. Figures that JENGbA are desperate to see improved, and significantly so ASAP.

I am personally involved in a campaign to release a prisoner who is serving time in Texas, USA. In Texas, joint enterprise is known as the Law of Parties. In 1997, Kenneth was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in a murder, even though the state acknowledged Kenneth was factually innocent. The killer, Mauriceo Brown, was executed in 2006 for the murder of Michael LaHood. SIX hours before Kenneth was due to be executed by lethal injection – don’t forget, for a crime the state acknowledged he was not guilty of – Governor Rick Parry, under immense public pressure, commuted Kenneth’s death penalty to LWOP, life without parole. Real justice has still yet to be achieved for Kenneth, who is now due for parole in 2036. And like those at JENGbA, we will not give up until it has been achieved, not just for Derek, but for everyone.

kenneth foster texas

Kenneth Foster in 2013, from

A theme, I hope, you have picked up through my piece has been one of unities. Change is a difficult process to take on, and one that is made more difficult when being taken on by only a few. History shows us that real change, change that has an effect on us as individuals as well as a collective, can only be achieved in numbers. Encyclopaedias, school text books, government archives and so on, all littered with historic moments of change. Influenced not by the ‘few but by the many’, to paraphrase a much loved and well-known Churchill quote. Can the fight against the injustice brought about by the doctrine of Joint Enterprise/Law of Parties go down in history as another victory for common sense and communal society?

Together we can!

For more on JENGbA follow this link: and for more on Kenneth Foster please follow this link:

Featured image via British Executions

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