Murder of John Alan West

The murder of John Alan West on 7 April 1964 was the crime which led to the last death sentences carried out in the United Kingdom.

The victim, John Alan West, was a 53-year-old van driver for a laundry when he was killed by Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen who had gone to rob him at his home in Seaton, Cumberland. Both murderers were unemployed and had a history of petty crime; they were arrested and charged within two days of the crime. At trial, each blamed the other, but the jury by its verdict found both responsible. Use of the death penalty had been declining and the decision not to reprieve the two came as a surprise; their death sentences were executed on 13 August 1964, in prisons in Manchester and Liverpool. The death penalty was abolished 15 months later.

Gwynne Evans

Evans (left), Allen (right)

Gwynne Owen Evans was born in Maryport, Cumberland, on 1 April 1940 with the name John Robson Walby, the third, and eldest surviving, child of Thomas and Hannah Walby. While attending a secondary modern school in Maryport, he occasionally attended Dovenby Hall Mental Colony in Cockermouth. On leaving school at 15 he worked as a page boy at a hotel in Carlisle and an engine cleaner for British Railways, in between periods of unemployment. He was given a supervision order in 1957 and sent to a hostel in Bristol; later that year he enlisted in the Border Regiment but was discharged in March 1958 as "unfit under existing standards". He enlisted again in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in November 1958, being discharged in February 1959 for the same reason.[1]

At this point he took to using the name Owen Evans, and worked briefly for British Rail before again trying the armed forces. The Royal Air Force accepted him in July 1959, but discharged him after four months as "physically unfit for Air Force service". It was during a series of short-term jobs around Workington from September 1960 that Evans briefly worked for the Lakeland Laundry and came to know Jack West. He soon left and moved to Birmingham in October 1961 and there worked as a kitchen porter, driver and lift attendant.[2] On 5 April 1963 as Gwyn Evans he was convicted by Carlisle magistrates of larceny of 5s cash, and obtaining 16s cash and a railway ticket by false pretences. He was fined £5 with four days' detention in default; he chose to serve the four days.[3] He had stolen two half crowns from a friend while he was distracted, and obtained a 16s loan from a police station by claiming to have lost his wallet at his mother's funeral.[4] In the following month Evans was given three months' imprisonment at Dudley for driving a motor vehicle without a licence, and using a driving licence with intent to deceive.[5] Evans enlisted again, into the Lancastrian Brigade, in October 1963 but was discharged on 14 November 1963 when his criminal convictions and failure to disclose them came to light.[2]

Evans then moved to Preston where he lodged with Peter Allen and his wife. He worked for an agricultural trading society for about a month. On 21 January 1964 Evans committed his first crime with Allen, removing the lead flashing from an empty house. On 28 January the two broke open a cigarette machine and stole the contents; they then stole a car and a van, using them in burglaries of several other premises. An incompetent attempt to cover up the van's registration number led to their arrest and to fines of £10. From 5 March Evans was employed by a dairy; on 17 March, having only worked two days, he was dismissed for absenteeism. The robbery of West was intended to provide enough money to pay the fines.[6]

When he appeared in court, Evans spoke with a Welsh accent. He claimed that he had adopted the name Evans on finding out that his parents were German and that he had been born at Innsbruck.[7]

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