John Wilson Vickers started petty thieving when he was 11. When he was 22 he chose to target Miss Jane Duckett’s corner grocery store in Tait Street, Carlisle. It cost him his life.

Believing that Miss Duckett was deaf, Vickers decided that her shop – a short walk from his home in Aglionby Street – was easy pickings and he broke in during the night of Monday, April 15th, 1957. But Miss Duckett wasn’t that deaf. Awakened, she went to investigate, and when she confronted Vickers he punched her and kicked her to death.

It was then that the politicians became interested. There had been no executions since August, 1955. The Homicide Act, which became law on March 21st, 1957 – three weeks before the killing – retained the death penalty for certain categories of murder, including murder committed in the furtherance of theft. But the new Act seemed to indicate that without malice aforethought it could not be murder. So did Vickers intend to kill Miss Duckett? His defence was that he did not have that intention.

“Surely,” argued prosecutor Jack di V. Nahum QC, addressing the jury, “if a man of 22 kicks and punches an old lady of 73 he intends to cause her grievous bodily harm. If you are satisfied that Vickers did this, then he murdered her during the commission of a theft.”

The jury agreed, and Vickers was sentenced to death. Home Secretary R. A. Butler refused a reprieve, and when Vickers was hanged at Durham Prison on JULY 23rd, 1957, a crowd of 6,000 people stood outside the gates in silent protest. Capital punishment was finally ended altogether in November, 1965.