Dennis Howard and the Homicide Act of 1957.
The Homicide Act of 1957 for the first time in British law distinguished between different categories of murder.
This act limited the death penalty to five
categories of what would be now known as capital murder, viz.
Murder committed in the course or furtherance of theft.
Murder by shooting or causing explosions.
Murder in the course of or for the purpose of resisting, avoiding or preventing lawful arrest or effecting or assisting an escape from lawful custody.
Murder of a police officer in the execution of his duty or of a person assisting him.
Murder by a prisoner of a prison officer in the execution of his duty or of a person assisting him.
Additionally, it allowed for the execution of a person who committed a second separate murder on a different occasion from the first.
65 people were sentenced to death for murders under the provisions of this Act between March 1957 and November 1965, of whom 29 men would be hanged. A few of these cases will be examined on this site, namely Vivian Teed, Dennis Howard, Ronald Marwood and Gunter Podola.
Dennis Howard became the second man to be
executed under the provisions of the new Act.
Unemployed 24 year old Howard from Lones Road Smethwick in what was then part of Staffordshire was
fascinated with guns and held quite a collection of them. He was convicted of
the capital murder of 21 year old David Alan Keasey
whilst trying to rob Keasey’s gentlemen’s outfitters
store. David Keasey
ran his business in
Howard was duly arrested and on the 24th of
May charged with capital murder under Section 5 of the Homicide Act of 1957, that had come into force in March of that year, as it
was a murder committed in the course or furtherance of theft and also with a
firearm. In a statement to the police he
said that he had cocked the pistol prior to entering the shop. He was remanded in custody and later
committed for trial at Worcester Assizes,
where he appeared before Mr. Justice Hinchcliffe
on the 17th and 18th of October. This
would be Mr. Justice Hinchcliffe’s second capital
murder trial under the new act that would result in execution. He was the judge who condemned John Wilson
Mr. G G Baker QC led for the prosecution, assisted by Patrick Medd, whilst Howard’s defence was in the hands of Mr. R G
The jury returned a guilty verdict and the judge told them that he concurred with this.
Lord Goddard was a notably robust and also very experienced judge and he and his brothers, as Lords of Appeal are known, dismissed this rather flimsy case, saying that there was “abundant evidence to justify the jury’s verdict.
On the 3rd of December it was reported that the Home Secretary, Richard Austen Butler, had declined to intervene and that the law would take its course. Harry Allen and Royston Rickard executed Howard at on the morning of Wednesday the 4th of December.
Was Lord Goddard right to reject Howard’s appeal and was the Home Secretary right not to reprieve. I think they were. If Howard had not intended to kill why had he put bullets into the gun before hand? For most of us having an automatic pistol pointed at one would ensure compliance with whatever the gunman instructed us to do. Howard could not have known that David Keasey would resist and sadly it was an act of courage that would cost both men their lives. Howard may or may not of known the details of the 1957 Homicide Act but he would have known that you could be hanged for murder. The 1957 Act de-capitalised some forms of murder but it did not add any new ones. In other words had the offence been committed a couple of years earlier the outcome would most probably have been the same.
With special thanks to Monty Dart for help in researching this article.