The John West Murder Case

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Gwynne Owen Evans (left), 24, and Peter Anthony Allen, 21. Prison Service Photos/Liverpool Echo | 14044

On 7th April, 1964, two unemployed men, who could not afford to pay £10 in court fines imposed on them for earlier thefts, murdered a man. Peter Allen, age 21, and Gwynne Evans, age 24, drove to the home of John West, age 53, a laundry van driver of Seaton, Cumbria.

Evans left Allen in the car while he tried to persuade Mr West to give them £10 in return for sex. Mr West declined. Evans went back to the car and fetched Allen. West saw Allen and asked him, “Who the bloody hell are you?” When Allen did not answer, West made a lunge at him. Allen panicked and hit West. Then Evans battered West with a bar.

Mr West’s battered and stabbed body, which was naked from the waist down, was found by Police one day later – 8th April, 1964. Police found Evans’ rain coat at the scene, and identified it as belonging to Evans when they found in one of the pockets, a medallion bearing Evans’ name.

Each man blamed the other for the violent murder.

Mr Justice Ashworth sentenced them both to death.

Their defence teams appealed. Lord Chief Justice Lord Parker, Mr Justice Winn and Mr Justice Widgery rejected the appeals of Allen and Evans, with the Lord Chief Justice saying: “A more brutal murder it would be difficult to imagine.”

Both Allen’s and Evans’ mothers petitioned then Home Secretary Henry Brooke for clemency. Clemency was not forthcoming.

Evans was hanged at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, by executioner Harry Allen (no relation) while Allen, who had trashed his cell when he realised that clemency was not forthcoming, was hanged at Walton Jail, Liverpool, by executioner Robert Stewart. Both men were hanged at exactly 8.00 am on August 13th, 1964.

In 1964 in Britain, homosexuality between men was illegal.

On 15th October 1964 Britain had a General Election which was won by the Labour Party. The incoming government had a reforming agenda and the death penalty for murder was temporarily suspended for a trial period by the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. The Act did not suspend the death penalty for other offences, which included espionage and piracy.

On 16th December 1969, Parliament reviewed the temporary suspension and voted to end the death penalty for murder by an overwhelming majority: 343 in favour, 185 against, a majority of 158.

At that point Evans and Allen went into the history books because they became the last people in Britain to be hanged. The case became known as the Allens and Evans case and their victim West became completely forgotten.

£10 may not seem like much money in 2014, but in 1964 it was more than the average basic weekly wage.

The death penalty was finally abolished in the United Kingdom in 1998 by the Human Rights Act and the Crime and Disorder Act.


SP

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2 thoughts on “The John West Murder Case

  1. They were not the last people to be hanged. The last person was a young man of about 21 who took part in a robbery with a younger teenager, who shot a policeman. As the younger one was under the legal age for hanging, the court sentenced the elder one to death, though he had never touched the gun.

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