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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Seaton murder that became milestone in UK history

As Maryport man Gwynne Owen Evans took his final steps to the gallows, no one had any idea that he was making history.

The 24-year-old and his partner in crime – 21-year-old Peter Anthony Allen, from the Wirral – were hanged 50 years ago today.

The pair had been convicted of murdering John Alan ‘Jack’ West at his home in King’s Avenue, Seaton, near Workington.

Evans had been lodging with Allen and his wife, Mary, in Preston. Both men were in financial trouble and needed £10 to pay off court fines imposed for earlier offences of theft.

Evans had known Jack West for a number of years, and they had worked together for a short period of time at the Lakeland Laundry in Workington.

Evans had told Allen there was money in the house, and that Mr West would be a soft touch.

On April 6, 1964, Allen and Evans stole a car and, joined by Mary Allen and her two children, drove through the Lake District to Mr West’s house, intent on robbing him.

They got there in the early hours of the next morning.

Reports in the Cumberland Evening News the following day reported that neighbours had heard a disturbance.

“An unidentified car was heard by Mr West’s next door neighbours, Mr and Mrs Joseph Fawcett, after they were disturbed by a ‘thumping noise’ in the adjoining house,” it read. “Shortly, the body of Mr West was found in the hallway with severe head injuries.”

A post mortem examination found that he had been killed by a single stab wound to the heart.

Pat Hall, 73, manager of Workington’s Helena Thompson Museum, lived in Seaton at the time. She recalls: “I didn’t know Jack West very well, but I remember him bringing the laundry to the house dressed in his khaki overalls.

“My sister knew him better; she bought his house from him in Coronation Avenue, before he moved to King’s Avenue.

“I remember he had three garages at the end of Queen’s Avenue that he used to hire out. We’d see him coming and going from time to time.”

Within hours of Mr West’s body being found, police launched a murder investigation. Officers went from door to door in Seaton, Camerton and Broughton.

Mrs Hall remembers the police coming to her home.

“That was the first we knew of the murder, or that something had happened, when the police came to the door asking us to look in our garage to see if our car was still there,” she says.

“I think they were looking to see if whoever had attacked Jack had stolen a car to get away.”

An appeal went out to the public, but it later transpired that the police already had an idea of who they were looking for. Evans had left his raincoat at the scene of the crime, with a medallion inscribed with his name. And so, within 36 hours, the pair had been arrested.

Charged at Workington magistrates court the next day, the pair appeared in a hearing which lasted just 10 minutes.

In a statement Evans said: “I would like to apologise for all the inconvenience I have caused and I am very sorry.”

The trial opened at Manchester Crown Court on June 23, 1964, with both men blaming the other for the murder. A key witness for the prosecution was Mary Allen, whose consistent account of events on the night of the murder was used to convict the men.

The relationship between the three was not as clear as it had first seemed.

The Cumberland Evening News covered the trial, reporting: “Mrs Mary Allen admitted that on one occasion she had stayed at the Camerton home of Evans’ parents and she gave the impression she was Evans’ wife and shared the same room with him. Mrs Allen told the court that she and Evans were not lovers.”

She had written Evans “affectionate” letters while he was on remand in Durham prison but once she knew he was trying to pin the blame on her husband she said she had “a deep, bitter hatred” for him.

On July 7 1964, after deliberating for three hours, the jury found both men guilty of capital murder and they were sentenced to death. An appeal was lodged two weeks later, and dismissed the following day.

At 8am on August 13 1964, the two men were hanged; Evans at Strangeways prison in Manchester, Allen at Walton Prison in Liverpool. There was a demonstration against the death penalty outside Walton prison but not at Strangeways.

Mrs Hall recalls how Seaton’s vicar, the Reverend Fred Moore, had been a friend of her family.

She said: “I remember him telling us that the worst experience of his life was having to sit with the mother of Gwynne Evans, just up the road at her home in Camerton, on the morning her son was hanged.”

The death penalty was suspended in 1965 for a trial year, and formally abolished completely in 1969. The result of the vote in the House of Commons was met with cheers from the public gallery.

Have your say

Should bring it back if no reasonable doubt and have DNA etc. And swiftly like back in the 50s 60s

Posted by sparky on 14 August 2014 at 15:22

Sorry last man from Carlisle to hang and at Durham Jail. Vickers was actually from Penrith just lived in Carlisle in lodgings near tait street where the poor lady Annie Ducket murdered

Posted by Kevin on 14 August 2014 at 13:09

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