R v Craig and Bentley (1952) The Times, 10 December

Incitement to murder – Joint Enterprise – Equal Liability - Capital Punishment


Derek William Bentley (B), 19, and Christopher Craig (C), 16, attempted to burgle a warehouse. B carried a knife and a knuckle-duster, given to him by C, and C carried a gun. B was arrested, and while in the custody of the police he shouted “let him have it” to C, following which C entered into a gun fight with Police Constable Sidney Miles (M), who died as a result. C was convicted of murder and B was convicted as an accomplice to murder.


The issue in question was whether B could be convicted for murder as an accessory in joint enterprise, where he had not fired the fatal shot. B argued that there was no joint agreement to resist arrest by violence, but if there had been, he had dissociated himself from it.


A person who aids or encourages a crime can be held equally liable as the person who actually committed the crime. B was an accessory in the joint enterprise to the killing of M when resisting arrest, which was murder under the common law principle of constructive malice. The common law doctrine of constructive malice is now abolished under the Homicide Act 1957, which also introduced the defence of diminished responsibility, relevant to B due to the argument that he had an actual mental capacity of an 11-year-old.  C, being a minor at the time, was detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. B was hanged, murder being a capital offence at this time in England and Wales but now abolished under the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965. B was royally pardoned, however, in 1993, and his conviction quashed in 1998 due to the inconsistencies in evidence and misdirection by the judge at trial, however the principle of equal liability still stands.