Gary Rycroft column

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Lancaster Solicitor John Douthwaite who died in World War One, which began 100 years ago, and I gather the radio snippet about him which I flagged up will be broadcast later this year.

Meantime, this week marks another grim anniversary, being 50 years since the last murderers were hanged in the UK.

It is a story local to the North West of England.

The victim of the crime was Jack West, a van driver from Seaton near Workington, killed in a bungled robbery by two men from Preston, one of whom knew Mr West and who said he had gone to borrow money from him.

After years of controversy and increasing public disquiet about capital punishment the story of the last men to hang was not sensational or remarkable, just very sad.

Two petty criminals went to borrow or most likely steal a small amount of cash and an innocent man died.

If it had not ended up being the last time a Judge donned a black cap, it would likely be forgotten apart from by those directly affected.

Lancaster nearly featured in the story as the trial of the accused - Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen - had been due to take place at Lancaster Assizes, but in the end it took place in Manchester and the condemned men were hung in Liverpool and Manchester respectively at 8am on August 13, 1964.

Evans was aged 24 and Allen 21, so if they had not hung, but rather had been reprieved and their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, it is conceivable they would both still be alive today, released from prison.

Certainly, it is understood that the police at the time thought they would escape the noose, as after a change in the law in 1957 out of 48 death penalties passed 19 had been reprieved.

As it is Evans and Allen are in an unmarked grave outside the prison walls and are a footnote in legal history as the last state execution before Harold Wilson’s Government introduced the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965.