Last woman to hang in Britain was provoked
HALF a century ago, after a two-day trial, it took an Old Bailey jury 15 minutes to reach its conclusion that Ruth Ellis was guilty of the murder of her racing driver lover, David Blakely.
The nightclub hostess, immortalised in history as the last woman to be hanged in Britain, had laid clear her intent when she told the court in 1955: "It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him."
But yesterday, three court of appeal judges heard fresh evidence that she was a victim of "battered woman syndrome" when she shot him - and should never have been sent to the gallows. The appeal, launched by her sister, Muriel Jakubait, 81, aims to overturn her conviction for murder and reduce it to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation and/or diminished responsibility.
Michael Mansfield, QC, for the family, said the jury were never allowed to consider her defence of provocation.
This "substantial error" by the trial judge, Sir Cecil Havers -father of the late Lord Michael Havers, a former Lord Chancellor, and grandfather of Philip Havers QC and his actor brother, Nigel - had led to a miscarriage of justice which has lasted for 48 years, Mr Mansfield told the court.
The judge had been "wrong to withdraw her defence from the jury" and the "circumstances which might now be called provocation" should have been placed at the end of the evidence, he said.
The case was "skewed" by the fact the Crown, judge and defence were "labouring under a misconception and misunderstanding of the law as it then stood".
Expert analysis shows that Ellis was suffering from battered woman syndrome. Ten days before the shooting, Ellis suffered a miscarriage after Blakely punched her in the stomach, a fact not disclosed to the jury at the time.
Mr Mansfield said that two questions resulted from the new evidence: "Was this particular defendant’s action provoked?" And, if she was provoked: "Was she acting as a reasonable person?"
"The principal point here is that the jury should have had the ability to consider manslaughter," he told Lord Justice Kay, sitting with Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Leeveson.
He said that her reply to a question asked by the defence, after she confessed to having had "a peculiar idea" that she wanted to kill Blakely, had established that she had a "loss of control" - a key factor in any provocation defence. When asked: "When you said that you had a peculiar idea that you wanted to kill him, were you able to control it?" she answered: "No."
But Lord Justice Kay warned that the basis of a defence of provocation 50 years ago was a "sudden and temporary" loss of control whereas there was a 90 minute gap between Ellis having the gun and killing Blakely.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west