Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Move to Quash Verdict on Ellis

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Move to Quash Verdict on Ellis

Article excerpt

Byline: By Mike Taylor And Stephen Howard

The judge who sent Ruth Ellis to the gallows for murdering her lover 48 years ago had wrongly deprived her of her only line of defence, it was claimed in the Court of Appeal yesterday.

Sir Cecil Havers barred the jury from considering whether Ellis had acted under provocation and might therefore be guilty of manslaughter rather than the capital offence of murder.

The judge's ruling was based on a "misunderstanding of the law" and led to a miscarriage of justice which had lasted for nearly 50 years, said Michael Mansfield QC, appearing for Ellis's 81-year-old sister Muriel Jakubait.

He told three appeal judges that fresh expert evidence would show that Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, was suffering from "battered woman syndrome" when she shot her lover dead.

It was accepted at the trial that she had been "disgracefully treated" by him and that this could have left her in an intensely emotional state.

But Mr Justice Havers and the six very experienced prosecution and defence barristers involved in the case at the Old Bailey were "labouring under a misconception of the law", said Mr Mansfield.

They believed that, to establish provocation, the defence had to prove the killing was not motivated by malice - that what happened was in the "passion of the moment" without any intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

That was wrong, Mr Mansfield argued. The correct construction of the law on provocation as it then stood was that there was an intent to kill, but that it arose out of a "passionate" loss of control and provocative conduct.

At her trial, Ellis was asked only one question in cross-examination.

Prosecuting counsel asked what her motivation was and she replied: "It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him. …

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