- Education and Science
Gwynne Evans & Peter Allen: The Last People to be Hanged in the UK
A strange murder and a double hanging
Neither of the men you see pictured above could exactly be called the last man hanged in Britain because although the events took place in different prisons, they were both executed on the same day at exactly the same time. This was eight in the morning of August 13th., 1964.
Gwynne Evans (left in the image) and Peter Allen had committed a violent - and senseless - murder and despite the fact that their hangings were a turning point in British history, their names are little known.Many people have heard about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK. The case of Derek Bentley and Chris Craig is equally well-known because the wrong man was hanged.Another Evans, this time Timothy, was also an innocent man who met his legal, judicial death because of the murders committed by another - John Christie.
But Evans and Allen is a little-known combination. Yet the story of the pair should have been sensational, involving as it did a menage a trois, a badly bungled crime and a man with few intellectual powers.
Evans & Allen
Evans and Allen were, respectively, twenty four and twenty one years old when they were hanged. Both could be described as petty criminals. Evans was a loner who had never been able to hold a job for long.He had enlisted in the army but had been dismissed. Like Timothy Evans, several years before, he was unable to hold a job down for more than a few weeks. With no prospects or skills, and minimal intelligence, it was easy to turn to petty crime.
Peter Allen had had a little more success in life - but only just. He too was unable to keep a job for long periods of time but at least he was married and led a more settled life, albeit including a life that included petty thievery.When Evans, who was something of a drifter, moved to Preston in Lancashire, he found lodgings with the Allen couple. A criminal partnership - and a menage a trois - was born.
The murder of John West
John, usually known as Jack, was a middle-aged, single man who worked as a truck driver. Believed to be homosexual, he was visited one night by a man he knew slightly, Gwynne Evans.Evans had arrived in a stolen car in the company of Peter Allen and his wife and two young babies.
The men went into the house and, although the exact events will never be fully known, West was battered by an iron bar and stabbed in the chest.Neighbours who heard the noise of the scuffle and the sound of the car screaming away down the residential street, called the police who found West's body.They also found plenty of clues.
The menage a trois
What on earth was Mary, Peter Allen's wife, doing in the car with her husband and lodger that night? Well, 'lodger' isn't quite the right description, as she and Gwynne Evans had embarked upon an affair.
She admitted their relationship during the murder trial and was known to have written him 'affectionate letters' when he was in jail, after the court case whilst the men were awaiting their execution ... or reprieve.
Investigation and arrest
Showing a perfect example of his lack of mental bility, Gwynne Evans left his overcoat in the murdered man's home. All the information the police needed was right there.In the pockets of the coat were an army medallion - inscribed with Evans' name, a note from a girlfriend - including her address and the garment even had a name label. Add this to the fact that the abandoned, stolen car was quickly located and the two men were soon arrested.
In court, there was no doubt of their guilt. Unlike the cases of Ruth Ellis, Derek Bentley and Timothy Evans there was no question about the murder itself and who the perpetrators were.After a short trial, they were both sentenced to death.
There was no question that the men were guilty. Jack West had been bludgeoned and stabbed by Evans and Allen - their meagre spoils being a watch and two bankbooks.But as the two men languished in jail, no-one expected that their fate would be that of hanging.
Capital punishment had long been debated and it was well-known that very few murders were executed at that time. Indeed, everyone knew that the death penalty would shortly be abolished. The previous year had seen only two hangings and people who had committed brutal murders had had their fates reprieved so that they faced life imprisonment.
Everyone, including the two prisoners, expected that this too would be their fate. But it turned out that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many area authorities, knowing that the death penalty would be abolished, no longer hanged their murderers. But this wasn't the case in Lancashire.
The day before the arranged execution date, Mary visited her husband in jail and told him that time had run out - there had been no reprieve.So on that summer morning in 1964, the two men were hanged at exactly the same time. The death penalty was abolished the following year.
Recommended. Find out more
There are no books available regarding the hangings described above, presumably because the events didn't capture the imagination of the public.
On the other hand, the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in the UK, was a cause celebre. But did she really shoot her lover?Today this would be regarded as a crime of passion - that did not apply in those days. A fascinating read.
Capital punishment in the UK
Although the story of the two people who were the last to be hanged in the UK is largely unknown, there had been three cases in the few years previously that had changed public opinion. See details here.
Since the 1950s it has been generally accepted that Timothy Evans, an illiterate young man, was not the killer of his own wife and child.
Even though he was hanged for the crimes, a fellow-tenant in his shabby London home,later confessed to those crimes and the murders of several other women, including his own wife.But which was the true version?
One of today's legal experts discusses the case in the video below. Interesting.
There is no current book in print about the affair of Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig. The two teenagers were apprehended by police when committing a minor robbery.
Craig, who was sixteen at the time, was armed. Bentley, a couple of years older, was not. Craig shot and killed a police officer. So why was Bentley hanged even though he wasn't armed and didn't commit the crime? Why was Craig not hanged?