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Peter Anthony ALLEN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 7, 1964
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: April 4, 1943
Victim profile: John Alan West (male, 53)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Cumbria, England, United Kingdown
Status: Executed by hanging on August 13, 1964

John Alan West was a 53 year-old laundry van driver of Workington, Cumbria, England. His murder on 7 April 1964 was to lead to the last executions in Britain.

John West, who lived alone, had returned to his home on 6 April 1964. At about 3 a.m. the following morning his next-door neighbour was awoken by a noise in West's house and, looking out of the window, observed a car disappearing down the street.

The neighbour called the police who found West dead from severe head injuries and a stab wound to the chest. In his house, the police found a raincoat with a medallion and an Army Memo Form in its pockets.

The medallion was inscribed G. O. Evans, July, 1961 and the memo form had the name Norma O'Brien on it, together with a Liverpool address. Norma O'Brien was a 17 year old Liverpool factory worker who told the police that in 1963, while staying with her sister and brother-in-law in Preston, she had met a man called 'Ginger' Owen Evans. She also confirmed that she had seen Evans wearing the medallion.

48 hours after West's murder, Gwynne Owen Evans (1 April 1940 – 13 August 1964), 24, and Peter Anthony Allen (4 April 1943 – 13 August 1964), 21, were arrested and charged with the crime. Evans lodged with Allen and his wife in Preston, and was also found to have a watch inscribed to West in his pocket. Both had criminal records.

Although Evans blamed Allen for beating West, he admitted to stealing the watch and under further questioning it became clear that he had masterminded the whole incident. In his turn, Allen stated that they had stolen a car in Preston and driven over to West's house so that Evans could "borrow" some money from his one-time workmate.

When Allen and Evans were tried together at Manchester Crown Court in June 1964, the charge against them was capital murder because West's murder had been committed in the course of theft.

During the trial the judge asked the jury to decide if the murder had actually been committed by one of the two men alone, in which case the other would only be found guilty of non-capital murder at the most. The jury instead found both men equally guilty, and both were sentenced to death by hanging.

Gwynne Owen Evans was hanged by the executioner Harry Allen at Manchester's Strangeways Prison at 8.00 a.m. on 13 August 1964. At the same time, Peter Allen was hanged at Liverpool's Walton Prison by Robert Leslie Stewart. These were the final two hangings in Britain.


1964: Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Anthony Allen, England’s last hangings

At 8 o’clock in the morning this date in 1964, two gallows traps 50 kilometers apart opened simultaneously — dropping the last two men England ever hanged.

Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Anthony Allen couldn’t have been much smaller fare for a milestone as momentous as the last entry in England’s copious annals of execution.

The two twentysomethings had dropped by Evans’s former coworker’s place in the aptly-named port Workington to borrow money. Since the call was at 3 a.m. and the petitioners were armed, it might appear that they had in mind an offer that John Alan West couldn’t refuse. The reader is invited to fill in the rest: a quarrel, a murder, a stolen watch, a medallion dropped at the crime scene with one of the perps’ own names on it …

Three months later, they were on trial for their lives; a month after that, hanged by the neck until dead. If there is tragedy in these hapless thugs, it may be that either could possibly have saved the other by claiming sole responsibility for the murder; since each blamed the other, the jury ended up finding them equally culpable.

While the last hangings in Canada featured two unconnected men hanged together, the last in England had partners in crime hanged separately. Allen died at Liverpool’s Walton Prison; Evans was dropped at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison.*

And unlike the Canadian case, Evans and Allen didn’t die knowing they were likely the last.

Although hangings had slowed to a crawl in Britain — there were just two in 1963, and none in 1964 before this day — death sentences continued to be handed down. But the trend was toward abolition: the British Parliament suspended the death penalty for ordinary crimes late in 1965, and made the suspension permanent in 1969. The handful of exceptional crimes for which the gallows remained nominally available — treason, piracy, espionage — were never enforced as such before those statutes too were removed from the hangman’s jurisdiction by 1998.

* Evans’ executioner, Harry Allen — no relation to Peter Anthony Allen — also conducted the last hanging in Scotland.



Last executions in the UK


No individual was the last person hanged in the UK, as the last executions took place at the same time but at different prisons: Peter Anthony Allen at Liverpool and Gwynne Owen Evans at Manchester Prisons. Both were hanged on 13 August 1964. Subsequent people were sentenced to death, but they were all reprieved.

The Case Details

A 53 year old laundry van driver called John Alan West, who had worked for his firm for over 25 years, was found dead at his Workington home on 7 April 1964. West, who lived alone, had returned as normal on 6 April. Later that night, at about 3am, his next door neighbour was woken up by the noise from next door. Looking out of his window, he observed a car disappearing down the street.

The neighbour called the police, and John West was found dead from severe head injuries and a stab wound in his chest. In the house, the police found a raincoat with a medallion and an Army Memo Form in the pockets. The medallion was inscribed "G.O. Evans, July, 1961" and the memo form had the name "Norma O'Brien" on it, together with a Liverpool address. Norma O'Brien was a 17 year old Liverpool factory worker who told the police that in 1963, while staying with her sister and brother-in-law at Preston, she met a man called 'Ginger' Owen Evans. She also confirmed that she had seen Evans wearing the medallion.

48 hours after the murder, two men had been arrested and charged with West's murder. They were Gwynne Owen Evans (real name John Robson Welby) and Peter Allen. Evans was found to have a watch inscribed to West in his pocket. Evans lodged with Allen and his wife in Preston. They were both below average intelligence and both had criminal records.

Although Evans blamed Allen for beating West, he admitted stealing the watch and it became clearer as the questioning went on, that Evans had masterminded the whole incident. In his turn, Allen stated that they had stolen a car in Preston and driven over to West's house so that Evans could borrow some money from his onetime work mate.

Allen and Evans were both tried together at Manchester Crown Court in June 1964, for the capital murder of John West (murder in the course or furtherance of theft). During the trial, the judge posed the question to the jury of whether it was Allen or Evans who committed the murder. The jury found both men guilty of murder, and they were both sentenced to death by hanging.

Gwynne Owen Evans was hanged at Manchester's Strangeways Prison on 13 August 1964. At the same time, Peter Allen was hanged at Liverpool's Walton Prison. So no one person can claim to have been the last person executed in the UK.


40th Anniversary of Liverpools last Judicial hanging

40 years on the 13th of August 1964, Walton Jail saw what was to be the last execution there. It's hard to imagine that the so called 'swinging sixties' saw one man swinging dead on a noose, as he was killed in Walton Jail. Walton is a Jail familiar to most local people, some people from Kirkby reside there now, and there will certainly be older readers who will remember being in prison in the 50's and 60's when an execution was carried out. 40 years ago the lads in the same cells would have likely been awake as the condemned prisoner was taken out. Although the prisoners would not see the condemned being taken on his final walk, it is likely some melancholy atmosphere would have shrouded the prison on such days. Obviously some hangings would elicit more sympathy from the 'cons' than others. You could imagine a sexual murderer or child killers hanging maybe being applauded. Between 1887 and 1964, 60 men and 2 women were hung in Walton jail. In 2004, some prisoners are serving less than 5 years for offences which would have seen them hang in 1964. This article is not about making a case either way for murdering people by execution, it simply looks at the hanging in Walton in 64' and at the wider issue of executions, prisons and why England eventually rejected hanging people.

On the fateful day of the 13th of August of 1964, 21 year old Peter Anthony Allen had been biding his time in Walton's condemned cell since the 7th of July 1964 after his conviction at Manchester before Justice Ashworth. He would have had time to think a lot, and by the 60's the treatment of the condemned would not be marked with brutality as in other Countries or in our own not so distant past. Peter, and a companion, had robbed and killed John West in Workington in April of 1964. Both Peter Anthony Allen and his 24 year old accomplice, Gwynne Owen Evans, had robbed the unfortunate John West in his home, were he was brutally battered about the head and body and stabbed to death by the intruders. Luckily for the police, and most unluckily for Gwynne Owen Evans, there was a coat found at the scene of the crime in the house. The name tag on the coat spelt out - 'G O Evans'. Back then, coats were often easy to identify as people would often put a name tag on what was often there only coat, nowadays there are rarely nametags, but DNA may well spell out your name in years to come. Also found was a paper identifying the address of a Liverpool woman who in turn led police to G O Evans, and in turn to his partner in the crime.

England could still give out the death penalty up until 1998, though this was only possible using military law. The Government had introduced a late amendment to the Human Rights Bill in October 1998 that removed the death penalty as a possible punishment for military offences under the Armed Forces Acts. The last execution under military law was in 1942.

Hanging was, in the latter part of the past century, England's official method of execution, with the 'long drop' method of hanging having been favoured over the slow hanging, were victims were literally left to hang until dead, not the most pleasantest of sights for onlookers at times. Before the long drop - the condemned would suffer all manner of inhumane torture, with women traditionally suffering being burnt to death. Sometimes the executioner would strangle them with rope as the flames were lit, if he could get close enough that is. There are many accounts of executions, many will have heard of hanging drawing and quartering were the victim was hung till he or she struggled, then taken down, alive!, sometimes to be 'gutted' and the guts drawn out before the victim. The actual 'drawing' was the first sequence in the events as the victim was drawn by cart or being tied and pulled, to the chosen execution ground. Then he or she was hung, and finally quartered.

For Peter Anthony Allen, Walton Jail was to be the last place he saw on this Earth. Isolated from his fellow prisoners, eating in his cell under careful watch, he had 4 months in Walton or so, just over 100 days of the Summer of 1964, in a place were the sun does not shine. Suicide would have been almost impossible for the condemned man. Many would have contemplated cheating the hangman but an 8 to 10 man team of selected prison officers working 8 hr shifts in pairs, prevented suicide. In the condemned cell, the light was on 24 hours a day, as stated, the prison officers kept guard and would also chat to the prisoner. The condemned shift would be made up of men or women, depending on who was waiting for the hangman.

1964 was an age when England was seeing great changes and the abolition of the death penalty was being spoken about openly. 'The Times', as Bob Dylan sang in his hit record 'are a changing'. However, for Peter Anthony Allen, times were not changing fast enough. Time was not on his side, and at 8.00am on the 13th of August 1964, with the noose around his neck, his hands tied, and the hood over his head, both him and his accomplice in murder and robbery were to pay the ultimate price for there crimes.

It takes less than a second, about a quarter second or third of a second, for the length of rope to be fully extended, and the weight of the victims rapidly falling body to exert the massive force which causes death. A brass eyelet is positioned on the noose in a position that causes the body to jerk back-wards; this will dislocate the cervical vertebrae and cause severe damage of the spinal cord.

The rope used is always hemp, which you may be surprised to learn is actually made from the fibres of the cannabis plant. The hemp rope may be woven with other materials; Italian silk is one such material used and produces a smoother finish. A protective cover is put around the noose itself, the State ever concerned that as little marking or evidence of any ugly death was left, this was a remarkable turn around from the days when the State wanted death by execution to be seen as pretty gruesome and often hung up the remains for people to see. This hemp rope is stretched the night before the execution by using a weight of approximately the same weight as the intended victim. This is to prevent slack in the rope from exerting less than the required force. The victim actually dies by suffocation, but if the hanging is carried out correctly, the victim is thought to be deeply unconscious from the moment the 'neck' snaps.

Once dropped, there are no known cases of survival by the long drop with a secure noose. In Islamic Counties, there have been cases were victims have been pulled off the noose alive after several minutes, they use the old fashioned strangulation method there but under Sharia law (Islamic religious law) the murdered victims family can ask that the execution be stopped at any time, there is no such chance once the trap doors open in the old 'long drop' hanging.

Brain death occurs in a matter of minutes, and because UK hangings have doctors and officials in attendance to confirm death, plus a quick autopsy, there is much documented and verifiable evidence which shows 'total death' to occur anywhere between 3 minutes to 25 minutes or so at the extreme. Not 'instant' death really, but the procedure was a lot quicker than the main USA method of State executions today which is now by lethal injection and is a pretty long winded way to actually kill someone. Do you think it is particularly easy to lie strapped on a gurney whilst several needles are inserted and fixed? Reports of the executed just 'slipping away' by this method are not quite the whole truth. Bear in mind that one of the poisons injected actually stops your muscles working; this means that the executed could well be unable to indicate any pain and discomfort. Albert Pierpoint (one of England's better known hangmen) would have got the job done with considerably more speed.

Generally the condemned would be whisked from there cell to the gallows in a matter of seconds as the condemned cells were, in later times, positioned close in most prisons to the room or shed were executions took place. There would be the upper level with a trap door, this would be bare and brightly lit, clean and polished. Accompanied by the hangman and his assistant would be the prison warder and the guards. Under the trapdoor lay the pit were the condemned would fall down into. This would be a tiled room, bare, with a small window through which others could observe. A doctor would be waiting outside to perform his duties after the condemned had dropped. The hangman himself would be keen to 'get it over with' and generally the later hangmen prided themselves on there reputation to quickly dispatch of the victim in as painless a manner as possible. As the media took great interest in publishing all the details, this was an added incentive to get things done right.

In earlier times, hangings and executions would be more lax, and allow for a drunken party like atmosphere, with the condemned sometimes stopping off at an Inn to have a drink. Public executions were the Governments way of instilling fear into people in local areas. Without TV, they needed to put on a show as it were to prove that crime was being dealt with and to protect themselves from the ever present riotous mobs and determined political opponents who saw violence and robbery of the rich as a legitimate form of protest. The rich and landowners were content when England's gallows 'groaned' with the massive numbers of working class strung up for what we now call petty crimes. Throughout the not too distant past history of this Country, the gallows could see a boy hung for stealing a loaf of bread.

No doubt many who hung were hardly the sort of people you would want in the community, but we still had people prepared to kill even when you could be literally chopped up piece by piece in public for such crimes. A lot of murders were crimes of passion or 'accidents' which we would now call manslaughter. For many poor people in England, life was miserable and the gallows was not a deterrent to the many young men and women whose social circumstances were more likely to bring them to the hangman's noose. Many of the murders we can read of in history books were committed by people who were obviously psychopaths. The word may not have been in use much in the 17th, 18th and 19th and 20th centuries, but rest assured that these people were very much in existence. Unfortunately many of them were in power.

Dick Turpin reputedly stopped off at an Inn and drank a good serving of wine before he was carried in the execution cart. Some famous, or infamous condemned persons, both men and women, showed remarkable courage in there final hour or so. The term 'gallows humour' comes from the banter during some executions, both guards and the condemned may use this to try to break the obvious tension which may otherwise exist. Turpin is reported to have chatted and joked with the hangman for a good half an hour before taking a short drop. Sometimes condemned persons would make great speeches, some confessing and asking the crowd present to find it in there hearts to forgive them. Depending on the condemned persons crime, the crowd may well have applauded and found the occasion to be an emotional one. Some of the victims drawn before crowds were obviously terrified, some were defiant and a few would have pleaded innocence to the last. There were many people condemned for political agitation. Sometimes an unpopular death sentence could whip up the people of England, our rulers were terrified having seen the Royals and rich of other Countries and our own , targeted by the growing numbers of working class who were filling up the Cities and beginning to get more educated. The noose, and other means of execution, were a political tool used at will by the rulers of the times. The later method of private judicial hangings was bought in after mobs became dangerous when a public hanging was unpopular. The mobs at the time would lay waste to property and vent there fury on authority. The police kept well away once public opinion turned into an armed angry mob. This was why hangings were carried out in prisons for the later years but even prisons have been burnt and laid to waste by the mobs of workers and peasants.

On 31st October 1831 in Bristol, a large crowd protested against the decision of the House of Lords to defeat the Reform Act by burning down 100 houses, including the Bishop's Palace, the Custom House and the Mansion House. The 'Reform act' was an act of Parliament bought in to help working class to be included in voting. The Reform act was passed in Parliament but the Tories in the House of Lord blocked it. Back then the working class took no crap and we were out in the streets. The people opposed to the Tories looted and burnt the houses of the rich and released prisoners from the gaols. Eventually the Army was called in, and the Dragoons attacked the crowd leaving hundreds severely wounded and many killed.

The 'mob' or spontaneous uprisings in England were always made up of the local people and would include many workers. The mob was seen as a perfectly legitimate form of protest and had popular support, nowadays we hear of the term 'mob' used to describe some criminal activity. Back then the 'mob' was seen as common sense in ganging up against the enemy. As seen in Bristol the target of the Mob was the people who locals saw as being somehow to blame for there position. The mob often had reasonable requests on local issues of grievance and as seen in Bristol, they were organised. The noose could not stop the rise of the working class; this is the real reason for the State not using it anymore, they could not hang us all, and had they tried we would have surely hung them first. Other methods of social control were needed.

By 1964, the procedure for hanging was well practised with every tiny detail having been perfected over the years with particular care made to make the process of getting the condemned from the cell to the gallows as speedy as possible. The condemned would be told 3 weeks beforehand of the execution date being set and then would occupy the condemned cell. In the 20th century up until 1964, around 50% of men sentenced to death were reprieved but would have spent some time believing they were to be hung. Women had a massive 90% rate of being reprieved, which shows you that sexism was sometimes a life saver, for women at least. Ironically, the prisoners reprieved from a death sentence would often go on to be forgotten and serve perhaps 10 to 15 years at most. The Justice system was in chaos and the public were not informed as to why people were reprieved. Then, as now, the public began to feel that the justice system was making little sense. Many of those men who faced the 50/50 chance of hanging after the initial sentence, were deeply affected and were not put back into the normal prison population until they recovered from what was a most harrowing ordeal.

In Walton Jail, the hangman at this last ever execution in Liverpool, travelled from Scotland and he would have, at some point, taken a good look at the person he was to hang, this was to assess how the hangman would secure the prisoner, and to size up in particular, the condemned persons neck and general physique. The weight and height of the unlucky person would determine how much of a length of a rope was needed. The hangman will have inspected the gallows and tested the actual mechanism of the trap doors with a weight. Maybe a few squirts of oil on the hinges of the trap door springs and lever would have been standard procedure as the gallows was only used in 8 out of every 10 years in Walton Jail.

The time it took for the prisoner to walk from the cell would be timed on a stop watch. No eventuality was left unprepared for. If the prisoner would not come of his or her own accord - restraints would be placed on him or her immediately. If the prisoner could not walk - they would attach him to a chair or some such device, and carry him or her. Struggling would not really prolong the victim's short time left on Earth, and no condemned prisoner had been rescued by a mob for a century or so.

Once the victim entered the gallows room, the hangman and his assistant would immediately go about there work in an efficient work like manner, taking care to be considerate and polite. Once the prisoner is taken from his cell, no order for the hanging is needed from the Prison Warder or any other authority. The hangman needs only wait for the second hand of the clock to move that slight space downwards once it reaches the top of the hour. For most condemned, the chance of a stay was hopeless and they knew it. It is likely that the last man to have been executed in Walton Jail would have seen his plight as hopeless and as the hours approached towards his execution maybe he prayed. After all, he was going to find out soon enough whether there was indeed a God.

We can wonder did he sleep on the last night. Did many of the condemned actually sleep knowing that there final hour was upon them? Maybe he spoke to the guards who would have been assigned the duty of guarding the condemned cell. The guards also were affected by the experience, sometimes the prisoner may have been likeable and relationships were formed. You'd like to think that both the killers perhaps repented, perhaps penned letters that they passed to family and friends, maybe the family of the victims. The prison guards were instructed to take note of everything the condemned man said, sometimes a confession may be given, and the State itself would be keen to have the condemned admit to there crime. Either way these notes would become State property and not generally released to the public.

As the trapdoors opened and Peter dropped into oblivion, or to meet his maker, his accomplice in Strangeways Jail in Manchester, at the exact same moment, was also dropped down on his noose. Robert Leslie Stewart from Scotland was the hangman for Peter and Gwynne Owen Evans was hung by Harry Bertrum Allen from Manchester. As the law and tradition dictate: both of the bodies were examined by a doctor at intervals until no heartbeat is detected and the person can be declared officially dead. The body is left hanging for one hour.

And so, there in Walton Jail, 40 years ago to the day, we saw another chapter closing in the history of Liverpool and the UK.




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