Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans - Britain’s last hangings.


Gwynne Owen Evans was a short, wiry 23 year old who was known as “Ginger” and also as “Sandy” on account of his hair colour. His real name was John Robson Walby.  Peter Anthony Allen, was 6ft 2in tall and well built but not overly bright.  He was married to 21 year old Mary and they had two children.  The couple lived at 2 Clarendon Street, in Preston, Lancashire and Evans lodged with them.  Both men were known to the police as petty criminals. It is probable that Evans was also in a relationship with Mary.  Allen was in need of money to pay the rates on Clarendon Street and also to pay a fine.  Evans had once worked with 53 year old John Alan West, known as Jack, at the Lakeland Laundry and they decided to go and see him and borrow some money. Click here for photos of Allen and Evans and here for a photo of John West.

The crime.

On the evening of Monday the 6th of April 1964, Allen and Evans stole a Ford Prefect car registered NXC 771 from outside a pub in Preston to drive to Cumbria.  The car’s owner a Mr. James Cook had reported it stolen.

Mary Allen and her two children went for the ride but stayed in the car asleep, during the visit. They arrived in Seaton around 1.10 a.m. on Tuesday the 7th of April and Evans knocked on Mr. West’s door while the others waited in the car.  He was welcomed in and even offered refreshments.  It was suggested by Evans that Mr. West, who was a bachelor, was also homosexual and that he invited Evans to have sex with him.  Evans would tell police that ‘And I said “No”. I was going to ask him for £100 and told him I had a friend in the car outside.’  Evans also claimed that West summoned him into his bedroom in order to retrieve something from a cupboard.  Stupidly Evans left his raincoat in Mr. West’s bedroom.

Around 3 a.m. Mr. West’s neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fawcett, were woken by a commotion and thuds coming from the other half of the house.  Mr. Fawcett looked out of his bedroom window in time to see a car driving away.  Mr. Fawcett went next door to investigate but could get no reply so he went across the road to a neighbour who had a phone to summon the police.  Sergeant James Park and Constable John Rodgers responded to the 999 call.  “I saw the body of a man lying on the floor at the foot of the stairs,” Park recorded. “There was a large amount of blood on the floor, and the man was obviously dead.” Poor Mr. West had been battered about the head with a metal pipe and stabbed through the heart. Dr. J. S. Faulds, the Carlisle pathologist, who examined Mr. West’s body found thirteen individual injuries, including serious head wounds.  There were six grazes to the face and upper body, and six bruises elsewhere. The brain had suffered contusions.  There was also a stab wound on the left side of the chest, which had pierced the left ventricle of his heart. Dr. Faulds concluded that “In my opinion death resulted from haemorrhage and shock, caused by a stab wound to the heart and multiple head injuries.”

Police quickly discovered the raincoat and realised that it wouldn’t have fitted Mr. West.  Searching the pockets they found a medallion inscribed with G. O. Evans, July 1961. Also found, was a piece of paper with the name Nora O’Brien and an address in Liverpool written on it. When police interviewed 17 year old Nora, she identified the medallion and gave them the full name and address of Evans whom she had met in Preston when she had stayed with her sister the previous year.  She knew Evans as “Ginger”.

Allen and Evans had stolen Mr. West’s bank books from which they withdrew just £10 in Liverpool.  They made their way back to Preston and then Evans and Mary went to Manchester.

The stolen car was found in Ormskirk and when dusted for prints revealed those of Allen and Evans.  The knife was found in Windemere and had blood stains of blood group A, the same as Mr. West’s.  (Both Allen and Evans were blood group O)  By Wednesday the 8th of April both men were in custody.  Evans was arrested in Manchester in the company of Mary. When searched he was found to be in possession of a watch engraved J. A. West.  It had been presented to Mr. West as a 25 year service award by the laundry.  Evans claimed to have bought it earlier in the day.
Allen was arrested in Preston and taken to Workington for interrogation.  Evans gave a statement in which he admitted going to Mr. West’s home to borrow money.  He denied hitting Mr. West and blamed Allen for the attack.  At 1.15 a.m. on Thursday morning, both men were charged were charged with murder. Mary was not charged with anything.


Allen and Evans were tried at Manchester before Mr. Justice Ashworth on the 1st to the 7th of July 1964.  The prosecution was led by Joseph. D. Cantley Q. C., assisted by J. Bamber and the defence by S. G. Nance, J. Naylor, G. W. Guthrie Jones and Morris Jones. 

Both defendants testified and both blamed the other for the violence.


Mr. Justice Ashworth made it clear to the jury that they were not obliged to reach the same verdict on each of the accused if they did not believe that each had been involved in the killing.

On the 7th of July after a deliberating for three-and-a-quarter hours, a jury of nine men and three women unanimously found both men guilty of the capital murder of John West, in the course of robbing him in his home.

Mr. Justice Ashworth sentenced them to “to suffer death in the manner prescribed by law".  Their appeals were dismissed two weeks later.  In dismissing the appeal, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker commented “A more brutal murder it would be hard to imagine.”


Although neither man would admit that he was the one who had struck the fatal knife blow. Under the legal principle of "common purpose," it didn't matter, both would be deemed equally guilty if they had both intended to rob and kill or seriously injure Mr. West.  Murder committed in the course of robbery was a capital crime under the 1957 Homicide Act.



At 8.00 a.m. on Thursday the 13th of August 1964, Peter Allen was hanged by Robert Leslie Stewart, assisted by Harry Robinson at Walton prison, Liverpool and Evans was hanged at the same moment in Strangeways prison in Manchester by Harry Allen, assisted by Royston Rickard.

Allen had reportedly injured himself by throwing himself against the protective glass during a last visit by his wife the previous afternoon, cutting his wrist.  He is said to have cried "Jesus!" as he saw his noose dangling over the trap doors.  There were about 40 anti death penalty demonstrators outside Walton prison, but none outside Strangeways.


It was not realised at the time that these would be the last hangings in Britain, and there was very little press interest in them as they were two young men being hanged for a sordid and violent robbery murder.


Thus ended capital punishment in Britain, the remaining death sentences passed prior to November 9th, 1964 being commuted and the death penalty effectively abolished thereafter.

A further 17 men would be sentenced to death, the last being 23 year old David Stephen Chapman on the 1st of November 1965, for a murder committed during the course of a robbery.  On the 9th of November 1965, the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act suspended the death penalty for murder in Britain for a period five years.


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