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Thursday, 18 September 2014

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Book highlights story of last man to hang

MORE than 40 years ago the sound of whining police sirens and the hustle and bustle of forensic teams could be heard on a sleepy street in Workington.

It is 44 years since Workington man John Alan West, a laundry van driver, was brutally murdered at his house on Kings Avenue.

His murder is unlocked in a new biography, Britain’s Last Hangman, which focuses on Lancastrian executioner Harry Allen who sent one of Mr West’s killers, Gwynne Evans, to his death.

Evans was the last man to hang at Strangeways prison in Manchester on August 13, 1964. The case also became a landmark for the end of hanging in this country.

The night before the two suspects went face to face with the hangman, anti-capital punishment protestors sat vigilant outside Walton prison with banners saying “No more hangings” and “Why take another’s life?”.

In the early hours of April 7, 1964, Mr West, a 53-year-old bachelor, was pounced on in his home by two shadowy figures.

He was found naked and slumped at the bottom of his staircase.

He died from multiple head injuries and a three-inch stab wound to the chest which was inflicted on him during the vicious attack.

At 3am his next-door neighbours awoke to strange noises and loud thuds coming from Mr West’s house.

They alerted the police after seeing two figures fleeing the scene and speeding away from Kings Avenue in a stolen vehicle.

Workington police officers and forensic teams soon swarmed around the house of the victim and found damning evidence, which would send the two men to the gallows.

As police searched the upstairs bedrooms they found a gold medallion inscribed with the words “G.O. Evans, July, 1961.”

Alongside it a scrap of paper lay with a name and address of a woman who would lead police to one of the suspects, Gwynne “Sandy” Evans.

Evans, 24, and his accomplice Peter Anthony Allen, 21, who had fled the scene of the crime, were questioned by police officers at Workington police station.

Both men tried to pin the crime on each other and as a result their trial began at Manchester Crown Court on June 19, 1964.

The complexity of the trial and the holes in both men’s defence statements led them to the hangman’s noose.

Britain’s Last Hangman helps to shine more light on the Kings Avenue murder and the controversial issues surrounding it.

The victim was accused of being a homosexual and instigating sexual relations with Evans for money which resulted in his murder.

The wife of Peter Allen, who was present at the time of the murder, was accused of having an affair with Evans.

The case of the last men to hang can be found in Harry Allen: Britain’s Last Hangman, by Stewart McLaughlin.

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