Sir Ludovic Kennedy dies at the age of 89

Sir Ludovic Kennedy has been described as the man who put an end to capital punishment.

Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a distinguished broadcaster and author, has died at the age of 89.

Sir Ludovic published a steady stream of books from 1961 about crime, the law and miscarriages of justice. He held strong convictions and believed the main problem in nearly all these cases was the "extremely childish" British system of adversarial justice in which "each side does its best to vanquish the other and truth falls by the wayside"

Some of you may think that some of the problems associated with our legal system are new.  Not so, it was Sir Ludovic who identified some of these concerns many years ago.  He, like many others, found it difficult to understand why we did not have a separate government Department having responsibility for our legal system.  For many years he advocated for the establishment of a Ministry of Justice including a change to a system more like the French inquisitorial system.  

Although we have not adopted such a procedure, it could be said that with the modern trend of very elaborate comprehensive disclosures of evidence and trials with members of the jury often visiting crime scenes, we have moved towards a system where there is a search for the truth, as opposed to an approach where a successful prosecution must be achieved at any price.

Sir Ludovic's career, in which he championed the cause of the wrongly convicted, began after 18-year-old Derek Bentley, the last man in Britain to be hanged,  was sentenced for shooting dead a policeman even though someone else pulled the trigger.  Sir Ludovic and the survivors of the Bentley family were eventually rewarded with a posthumous pardon for Derek Bentley, who had been hanged in 1953 for the murder of the policeman, even though he was being restrained by police when an accomplice shot dead PC Sidney Miles.

10 Rillington Place, was probably his most famous book and caused some notoriety when Sir Ludovic argued in his work that another executed man,Timothy Evans, did not murder his baby daughter.

Sir Ludovic maintained that the serial killer John Christie, was responsible.  A police inquiry was held and as a result of the inquiry, Evans was granted a posthumous pardon.  Sir Ludovic's book was turned into a film starring John Hurt in 1970.

Sir Ludovic's open letter to The Times back in January 1961 has been archived and may be viewed as a link to this article.  It is fascinating to note Sir Ludovic's direct and eloquent language when he wrote 'this is the story of two men: the one an ex-police officer who became a necrophiliac strangler; the other, a 25-year-old youth with a 10 1/2 year-old brain, and of the unique and terrible thing that happened to him'.

The article reminds us that Sir Ludovic firmly declared to the then Home Secretary 'I myself am wholly convinced of Evan's innocence' having seen nearly all the people connected with the case who were still alive.   It was not until years later that a pattern of events could be found with miscarriages of justice, namely, damning confessions, subsequently withdrawn, followed by protests of innocence, the presence of new forensic evidence which was not available at the trial and the lack of any real attempt by the police to challenge and continue with investigations after they had thought they had got their man.

By this time Sir Ludovic had the audacity to take on the FBI by opening up one of the most notorious cases in US criminal history.  Sir Ludovic advanced the argument that Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed in 1936 for the kidnap and murder of the baby son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh, was innocent.

Sir Ludovic did not stop there but decided to go public and into print.  In 1985 he published The Airman and the Carpenter, in which he argued that Bruno Hauptmann was innocent of kidnapping and murdering Charles Lindbergh's baby.  The book was made into a film starring Isabella Rossellini in 1996.

Finally, returning to the point that we sometimes may be excused for thinking that some issues are a product of our own generation, Sir Ludovic was also a former president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.  Now there's an issue which has concentrated legal minds very recently, so much so as to require Keir Starmer QC to publish an interim statement as to the circumstances when someone assisting in the death of someone could expect to be prosecuted.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying - as it is now known- has made it known that the organisation was saddened to hear of Sir Ludovic's death, adding 'He was a passionate advocate of assisted dying for terminally ill people, whose compassion and vigorous intellect were an asset to the organisation'.

We may not always agree with the views of others but hopefully there are others out there still searching for the truth.


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