Britain's last official hangings, 1964


Over the last few centuries the emotional temperature of human nature has risen and we’re less savage. In Britain it’s unlikely we’ll ever know murderers be hanged from the neck again. Therefore the two executions in the North West of England  - carried out at the same time on the same day in 1964 - were probably the last in Britain forever. Both executions occurred at exactly 8am so that no one person could be named as the last person executed in the UK. Here I am outside the prisons where these occurred on Thursday 13th August 1964. Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans were led from their cells to the gallows and dead within minutes. Allen hanged in Walton Prison in Merseyside and Evans hanged in Strangeways Prison in Manchester.


Both were friends and had stolen a car in Preston in Lancashire. They drove up to Workington in Cumbria to “borrow” money from an ex-colleague to pay off a court debt. They drove to up see a friend called John West who was a 53-year-old laundry van driver who lived alone following his mum’s death. Through the night a neighbour heard several loud thuds, a scream and the screech of a car being driven away. The neighbour alerted the police and they found John’s half-naked body dead at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood. He had been stabbed in the heart and had 13 head injuries.


Both Allen and Gwynne were arrested within two days and later tried at Manchester Crown Court in June 1964. Both men admitted they’d gone to rob John West but blamed the other for the fatal stabbing. It was probably Allen - he was much stronger, admitted beating the victim and his clothes were later soaked in blood (there was no blood on Evans.) The prosecution argued that the men were acting "in concert" and it didn't matter who delivered the fatal blow. The jury agreed both men were found guilty of murder. Allen was 21 and Evans was 24.


Minutes before 8am on 13th August 1964 in separate prisons each man was led to the gallows trap door and had a noose put round their neck. At precisely 8am both trap doors opened and the men fell through. Which man died first and became the last person to die of hanging in the UK is unknown however both became the last entry in Britain's copious annals of execution. Death sentences continued to be handed down by the judges but Parliament suspended the death penalty for ordinary crimes in 1965 (made permanent in 1969.). Criminals could still be executed at the gallows for treason, piracy, espionage but they were never enforced.


What happened to the bodies? Peter Allen who was executed at Walton Prison in Merseyside was taken across the road and buried in an unmarked grave in Walton Park Cemetery. Gynne Evans who was executed in Manchester was cremated at Blackley Cemetery in Greater Manchester and his ashes were buried in the grounds. They may have been put in a communal grave as about 100 people hanged at Strangeways Prison from 1869 to 1964 were transferred to unmarked communal grave in the cemetery.