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James Hanrattys Case

  • Category(s): Death Penalty Essays
  • Created on : 03 August 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


When a truly abhorrent crime has occurred no accused will ever confess to it. e.g. Those indicted for the Carl Bridgewater murder in 1978 and the single accused of the A6 murder which happened in 1961. These were both non-political crimes. It matters not how long afterwards, the accused will always deny such a terrible atrocity. It is too shameful to confess to it. The same goes for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six multiple murders by bombings – political crimes. Hanratty did not get the chance to protest his innocence after trial. Perhaps that is the sentimentality of those who defended him later. He could not do it so they did it for him. There is no honesty in such a sentimental approach to a convicted and executed murderer.

1. Introduction

This murder by .38 revolver (hand gun) took place on Wednesday 23 August 1961 in the early hours on the A6 in Bedfordshire. The deceased was Michael Gregsten who was in his late 30’s. He had been shot twice in the head from behind by the murderer in what appears to have been a botched hijacking, kidnapping and lastly a rape. Finally this homicidal maniac shot the mistress of the murdered man five times she survived. Her name was Valerie Storie. Both Storie and Gregsten (the driver) were in the car when they were overpowered by the gunman in Bucks. This gunman acted alone in this terrible crime, so the Crown case went.

2. What May I Say About This Appalling Shooting?

It must have caused great consternation at the time. James Hanratty was aged 25 years when arrested on the 11 October 1961 for this premeditated killing. He was tried on 22 January 1962 and the trial lasted 21 days at Bedford Assizes. The leading Crown Counsel was Geoffrey Lane QC AFC who went on to be Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales. Hanging was still on our statute Book to be finally abolished in 1968 a few years later.

We had a Conservative Administration under Macmillan during the trial. It was Labour under Wilson who put the death Penalty into “cold storage”, before legal abolition after the October 1964 general election which the Labour Leader won. I argue the Death Sentence (discretionary) would have been fully justified for this murder by firearm if that regime reigned. As it was a Capital murder in 1962, the Defendant had to receive the Death Sentence at the hands of the Trial Judge. That was compulsory for this kind of murder. Such preparation in obtaining the gun and ammunition, and carrying the firearm with the clear intent of discharging it to cause at least grave injury and even death, called for the Death Penalty in an accused aged 25 years as it did then. It should do now if our Criminal Justice was properly equipped for these murders. Hanratty did not raise his own mental health as an issue.

3. The Facts Of The Case

These facts have been much debated and the story is a little complex in its full account. The identification evidence appears to have gone against Hanratty when parade procedures could be effective, but probably did not attain modern standards. It was the witness Valerie Storie who identified Hanratty by his voice and appearance. Hanratty was then charged with this murder. Hanratty clearly did not help his case by changing his alibi to Rhyl in North Wales from Liverpool at the start of the defence case. This would be the stage to adduce his alibi. Clearly he had given the false alibi details to the police in questioning. Thus his credibility in cross-examination was destroyed. Nevertheless a false alibi does not prove guilt, but it does go to the reliability of the accused. That was absolutely vital to Hanratty who was saying he was not at the crime scene at all.

4. The Verdict And Execution

The Trial Judge was the Rt. Hon. Mr Justice Gorman and the murder verdict was unanimous after nine hours deliberation. Gorman was obliged to pass sentence of death. The hanging was on 4 April 1962 in Bedford Gaol in accordance with precedent, the hangman being Harry Green.

5. The Sequel

There has been a great challenge to Hanratty’s guilt of murder in this crime so heinous and soon before abolition. The Appeal Court thought posthumously there was “certain proof of guilt” in 2002. This was 40 years after the trial. A so-called “A6 Committee” endeavoured to rustle up support to overturn this Hanratty Capital trial conviction for murder in the 1960’s. Some new evidence was discovered but this meddling with justice after the event was useless. Nothing is perfect with man’s justice: The trial jury got the right result as Lord Chief Justice Woolf stated in 2002. There was concentration on an individual called Alphon by Hanratty’s supporters who apparently had confessed to this A6 murder. He even confessed to the World’s media. I would say Alphon was an attention seeking figure who derived a weird satisfaction from incriminating himself for a very serious crime with the turmoil so resulting. No one should have paid more than cursory attention to what he chose to say. This saga was a clear red herring to the trial itself in 1962. Alphon’s confession came after Hanratty’s trial.

6. The Conclusion And Lesson Of This Case

No one rejoices in a man being hanged. It is a grave end to that man or woman’s life. Do we have the nerve to support murder trials that may result in the Death Sentence being passed and carried out? We used to have that confidence. Have we lost that composure? If so can we regain that confidence in the trials leading to the Final Penalty? Is it all too much trouble and effort to undergo such criminal trials and cases with the media spotlight upon the police, the Judges, Defendants and Counsel and solicitors? Some, indeed many, would say don’t make problems for the Judges and our legal profession and the police. Forget the whole idea, we are well out of the Death Sentence scenario is the siren call. On the contrary we will wreck our criminal justice if we listen to such siren voices.

The position we are in of neutral justice calls for real aggression against these enemies of our revered criminal law and its process. But be cautious, let the position go on and we will be shipwrecked. See the essence and seize the chance to alter course before it is too late. Hanratty was rightly convicted and so have many others since then been found guilty of murder. Almost all, save Hanratty, have been able to live on thereby giving his particular case undue attention and wrongful analysis. Our justice has smouldered on with no flame of true prudence. Let us not weaken but ignite that flame. It would be very unwise to not only drop our guard and still go into a real contest in Court. The time is coming; I am sure, to put my words to the test. Only a fool will ignore the advice of our forbears so wise and redoubtable.