Harry Allen (executioner)

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Harry Allen
Born Harold Bernard Allen
(1911-11-05)5 November 1911
Denaby Main
Yorkshire, England
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Lancashire, England
Nationality British
Occupation Executioner, bus driver, publican
Employer HM Prison Service
Spouse(s) Marjorie Clayton (1933 to 1958)[1]
Doris Dyke (1963 to 1992)[2]
Children 2
Parent(s) James Allen and
Emma Allen, née Burns[3]

Harry Bernard Allen (5 November 1911 – 14 August 1992) was one of Britain's last official executioners, officiating between 1941 and 1964. He was chief executioner at 41 executions and acted as assistant executioner at 53 others, at various prisons in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and Cyprus. He acted as assistant executioner for 14 years, mostly to Albert Pierrepoint from 1941 to 1955.

In October 1955 Allen was appointed as Chief Executioner alongside Pierrepoint, although he did not execute anyone in this role until 10 May 1956, when he hanged two EOKA members in Cyprus. Pierrepoint was no longer available because he had resigned in February 1956. Allen's most controversial hanging came in April 1962, when James Hanratty was hanged for murder, despite efforts to clear his name. Allen also assisted in the execution of Derek Bentley in 1953, and he performed one of the last two executions in Britain, in 1964.

Early life

Born in Denaby Main, near Conisbrough in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 5 November 1911,[3] Allen was brought up in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire,[4] and was educated at St Anne's Roman Catholic School in Burlington Street, Ashton. His first job was in the Transport Department at Park Bridge Iron Works, before he became a bus driver with Ashton Corporation, a job he continued to hold after he became an assistant hangman in 1941.[5][6]

Career as an executioner

Allen applied for a job in the Prison Service in the 1930s but was turned down. He successfully applied to be put on the Home Office list of executioners and was often employed as an assistant executioner to Tom Pierrepoint, the uncle of Albert Pierrepoint.[7] As a preliminary step, he witnessed his first execution at the age of 29 – that of William Cooper – on 26 November 1940 at Bedford prison, describing it as a "very good, clean job, not as gruesome as I expected".[8]

Allen became a publican in Farnworth, Lancashire in the 1940s, combining his role as executioner with running the pub, which he ran until the early 1950s when he took over another pub, the Junction Inn, on Higher Lane in Whitefield.[4]

In 1945, five German prisoners of war were hanged for murdering a fellow German soldier Sergeant-Major Wolfgang Rosterg[9] whom they suspected of having betrayed their escape plan. It seems to have been a crime and ultimate execution that made the deepest impression on Allen. He wrote, "It was a foul murder. They staged a mock trial, kicking the victim to death and dragging him by the neck to the toilet where they hung his lifeless body on a waste pipe. These five prisoners are the most callous men I have ever met so far but I blame the Nazi doctrine for that. It must be a terrible creed." A 21-year-old, Erich Koening, was the first of the soldiers to be hanged at Pentonville Prison, swearing allegiance at the last to Nazi Germany.

On 28 January 1953 Allen assisted at the controversial execution of Derek Bentley, who was hanged for a murder committed by a friend and accomplice during an attempted robbery, and for which Bentley received a posthumous pardon 45 years later. Contrary to some accounts Allen was not present at the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, in 1955: the assistant to Albert Pierrepoint on that occasion was Royston Rickard.

Following the resignation of Albert Pierrepoint and the death of Stephen Wade in 1956, Allen and Robert Leslie Stewart jointly became Chief Executioners. However, the Homicide Act 1957 reduced the number of condemned criminals by 75%, from an average of fifteen a year in the early 1950s to about four a year in the late 1950s. As Chief Executioner, on 11 July 1958 Allen hanged American-born Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel at Barlinnie prison, Glasgow.[10] He also hanged Guenther Podola on 5 November 1959, a German-born petty thief, and the last man to be hanged in the UK for killing a police officer.[11]

His most controversial case was that of James Hanratty, hanged on 4 April 1962 at Bedford prison for the "A6 murder" case. Efforts to clear Hanratty's name continued until 2001, when DNA testing matched Hanratty to the crime scene.

Some newspapers claim that Allen's son Brian assisted his father at five hangings, a claim which is rejected by Allen's biographer Stewart McLaughlin. In Charles Duff's book A Handbook on Hanging, an article in the Daily Sketch (26 May 1960) quotes Brian as saying that he had quit as assistant hangman because his fiance would not marry him "unless you stop helping to hang people". Brian Allen said "I'd been in two minds about quitting the job, but when Angela asked me to drop it, that decided me ... Of course, Dad and I don't talk about the hangman's job. I know it is supposed to run in families, but I've decided it is "out" for me – though someone has to do it". However, a report in The Spokesman Review (8 May 1961) headlined "Hangman Quits To Save Lives" stated that he had quit because of a "conflict of loyalties" – he had recently qualified as a mental health nurse and had taken a vow to "do all in my power to save and preserve life".

Allen performed the last execution in Northern Ireland in December 1961, when he hanged Robert McGladdery at Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast. He also performed the last hanging in Scotland, when Henry Burnett was hanged at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen, on 15 August 1963 for the murder of Thomas Guyan, and hanged Russell Pascoe – one of the third-last prisoners to be hanged in a British prison – at Bristol's Horfield Prison on 17 December in the same year. He also performed one of the two final executions in the UK, when at 8am on 13 August 1964 Gwynne Owen Evans was hanged at Strangeways Prison in Manchester for the murder of John Alan West. This occurred simultaneously with the execution of Evans's accomplice Peter Anthony Allen, who was hanged at Walton Gaol in Liverpool by Robert Leslie Stewart.

Allen always wore a bow tie during executions as a sign of respect.[7][12][13] Of his job, Allen said, "I never felt a moment's remorse and always slept peacefully on the nights before and after a hanging."

Executions performed by Allen as head executioner

The gallows at the Central Jail of Nicosia, which is now a museum.

In addition to these, Allen also performed the 9 executions of EOKA members which took place at the Central Jail of Nicosia, Cyprus in 1956 and 1957.[14][15] The remains of the hanged men are buried within the walls of the prison, in the "Imprisoned Graves" section. Their names are:

Following the Independence of Cyprus in 1960, Allen performed the final three executions at the Central Jail of Nicosia for the new Cypriot government, assisted by John Underhill.[18] All 3 executions took place on 13 June 1962:

  • Hambis Zacharia - killed a man in a Limassol vineyard in 1958
  • Michael Hiletikos - shot a man dead outside a Limassol nightclub in 1961. Fled to UK and was extradited to Cyprus to stand trial
  • Lazaris Demetriou - shot a man dead outside a Limassol nightclub in 1961. The accomplice of Michael Hiletikos

Personal life and diaries

Allen's first wife was Marjorie Clayton whom he married in 1933.[1] She left him on the day that he was hanging Peter Manuel.[19] Allen's second wife was Doris Dyke, whom he married in 1963.[2] In September 2008 a new book, Harry Allen: Britain's Last Hangman, about the man and his executions was published.[3] In October 2008 it was revealed that Allen had kept a diary which included a precise log of the prisoners and how they died. He recorded each prisoner's age, weight, height and calculations for the length of rope needed to hang them. The diary and other belongings were sold at auction in Knutsford, Cheshire on behalf of his widow[7][8] in November 2008 for £17,200.[20]

Allen always publicly maintained that hanging was a "swift and humane business". In his diaries he revealed that the execution of one prisoner, Peter Griffiths, who was convicted at Lancaster assizes of murdering a three-year-old child, June Anne Devaney, in the grounds of Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn on 15 May 1948,[21][22] took 30 seconds, which would have been the time from Allen's entering the condemned cell to the moment of the drop. Many other executions were faster than this, but death itself was always practically instantaneous. Griffiths was 22 years old, 5 feet 10" tall, weighed 148 lbs, and was given a drop of 7 feet 6 inches on 15 November 1948 at Walton gaol.[23] Of another hanging he noted, "Very good job, but should have had another two or three inches – very strong."[10]

His granddaughter Fiona Allen is a comedienne and actress, who rose to fame on the comedy sketch show Smack the Pony.[8] She said of him, "It's as if I had two grandfathers. One was the sweet, lovely man who took me for walks on the beach, bought me sweets and toys and always had me laughing and giggling. The other one was the man employed to take lives for the Government. When I was a kid, everyone in the area knew what he did. I remember going round to my first boyfriend's house for the first time and I tried to impress his dad by telling him I wanted to go on the stage. He looked up from his paper and said, 'Going on the stage are you, lass? Well keep away from the trapdoor!'".[10]

Later life

Under the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, capital punishment in the UK for murder was suspended, before finally being abolished in 1969 (It was abolished in 1973 in Northern Ireland). Although the death penalty remained for other crimes such as treason and piracy with violence, no further executions took place in the UK, although a working gallows was kept in service and regularly tested at Wandsworth Prison until 1998. It was dismantled when the death penalty for treason and piracy was abolished by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

Allen moved to Fleetwood with his wife Doris in 1977, to escape the continued publicity, and worked there as a cashier at Fleetwood Pier. He died on 14 August 1992, just a month after Albert Pierrepoint, who had died on 10 July in Southport.[7]



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  9. http://www.highlandstrathearn.com/content/case-feldwebel-sergeant-major-wolfgang-rosterg
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  13. http://forums.canadiancontent.net/news/78371-revealed-macabre-diaries-death-penned.html
  14. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3078337/Macabre-photo-album-shows-Britain-s-executioner-Hangman-Harry-work.html
  15. http://cyprus-mail.com/2015/09/30/colonial-executioners-personal-items-acquired-by-cyprus-for-museum/
  16. CYPRUS: Deepening Tragedy, Time Magazine, Monday, 21 May. 1956.
  17. CYPRUS: Deepening Tragedy, Time Magazine, Monday, 21 May. 1956.
  18. http://www.truecrimelibrary.com/crime_series_show.php?series_number=13&id=681
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