How the Case of Derek Bentley HasBeen Presented in Two Media Sources

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On the 2nd November 1952, Derek Bentley and his friend Christopher Craig decided to break into the Barlow and Parker warehouse in Croydon. The police arrived and Craig got out a gun. DC Fairfax arrested Bentley and asked for the gun, Bentley shouted “Let him have it.” and Craig shot Fairfax in the shoulder. PC Miles turned up and was shot in the head and killed. He had a wife and two children. Both boys were convicted of murder. Craig was sent to prison as he was 16 years old but Bentley, being 19, was hanged.

I have looked at 2 separate media sources of information about the case of Derek Bentley, a Daily Mail newspaper article from 1952 and a film from 1992. Both are biased but very differently from each other. In this essay I will attempt to explain how they are biased.

In the Daily Mail article of the 3rd November 1952 the facts, as I have mentioned above, are presented in a very different way. Remember all non-fiction texts are biased, it is just how that’s important. This entire article is biased strongly against Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig. This is shown in many ways.

Firstly, there is quite a lot of important information left out of the article, which makes it very inaccurate. This, probably, is partly because it’s biased and partly because it was written only a few hours after the incident so the writer would not have known every detail of what happened.

One big thing that we don’t find out from the article is the ages of Craig and Bentley. As far as we know they are grown men, not stupid, unlucky boys. We are never told their names either so we can’t become associated with them or feel any sympathy for them, it’s never mentioned that only one of them had a gun and we never find out about Derek’s disease (epilepsy) or his mental age (11). It makes us feel that several evil, grown men were both shooting mercilessly at anyone they could and didn’t care if anyone was killed.

Some information is also generalised for effect, such as the information we are disclosed about PC Miles. In complete contrast to Bentley and Craig, we discover everything about him, from the fact that he had a wife and two children to the fact that he had served 12 years in division Z of the police. This is so that we feel like we know him and feel sympathy for him when we find out he was killed.

This vision of evil is also shown in the emotive language used throughout the article. The boys are referred to as ‘gangsters, bandits, raiders and gunmen’. This makes us think, again, of men who don’t care who they harm or kill.

Hyperbole is also used in the article to create the effect intended for the ‘gangsters’. The ‘exaggeration for effect’ is used in the sub-title when it says ‘Gangsters with machine guns’. The revolver carried by Craig obviously wasn’t a machine gun and there was only one gun. Hyperbole is also used in the phrase ‘seriously wounded’, which is describing DC Fairfax’s injury. The injury is bad but there are many more serious injuries than being shot in the shoulder, so these exaggerations give us the image of corrupt ‘bandits’ committing and heinous crime.

Many opinions are presented as facts in the article. These are to get us thinking like the writer of it, which is just what he (or she) wants. An example of this is in the very first paragraph when it says ‘The London crime wave reached a new peak last night’. This is an opinion in the form of a fact but is not necessarily a fact it is used, as I have already mentioned, to get us thinking like the writer.

The final technique used in the newspaper article is the structure of sentences for a desired effect. The desired effect can vary. In the article, during the paragraph about PC Miles’s private life (used for sympathy), there is a very long sentence explaining all the aspects of his life (his job, children etc) and immediately after that there is the sentence ‘He was killed’, just three words. The effect of this structure ensures that it is slightly shocking as it is so sudden to the reader.

If the newspaper article were the first piece of information I’d read on Derek Bentley then I’d think he and his associates were evil men and I’d think they should be hanged without hesitation. So the article gets the intended response from readers.

The film that I watched about Derek Bentley was called ‘Let Him Have It’, named after what Derek shouted to Craig causing him to shoot DC Fairfax. It is this phrase, incidentally, that was the biggest part of the case against Bentley and one of the main reasons why he was found guilty of murder and hanged. This film is biased, just as the newspaper article is, but how it is biased is completely different. Whereas the article was biased strongly against Bentley, the film is biased just as strongly so our sympathy is for him. After watching the film I felt very adamant that Derek definitely shouldn’t have been hanged or even convicted of murder. This is completely the opposite of how I felt after reading the article from the Daily Mail.

I will now explore how the film manipulated my response by pinpointing areas where bias has been shown. The most obvious area is the introduction of Derek Bentley himself. Before we meet the main Derek (19 years of age), there are 2 short scenes at the very beginning of the film in which we see Derek as a young boy. Firstly, we see him being rescued from his accident during the war, in which he received a head injury, and then we see him having an epileptic fit when he’s caught vandalising someone’s house. Immediately we can tell that this isn’t a film about a raging criminal, it’s a film about an unlucky, troubled boy. We then find out that he’s been put in a reform school and is only let out when he’s eighteen. We feel sympathy for Derek right from the start and this manipulation of our feelings continues as the nineteen-year-old Derek is introduced. We discover that he’s been too afraid to leave the house since his release from the reform school in case he’ll get into more trouble. Derek has a good relationship with his family, particularly his sister, and he keeps lots of pets. All this shows, again, that he is a kind, caring, ordinary nineteen-year-old boy.

Now that we know Derek as the type of person who’d never commit a crime without being forced, it’s time for the introduction of Christopher Craig and this is done in a very different way. The first image we get of Craig is him standing on a street corner with his arms crossed wearing gangster-style clothes and chewing gum. To add to all this, a bell chimes as the camera pans past him to add the sense of danger. To inform the viewers of Craig’s personality, he has to meet Derek and he does so in a very odd way; by pushing a gun against his back and threatening to kill him. He then laughs and tells Derek that the gun isn’t loaded, but it is real. This shows us that Craig has no respect for anyone, has a bit of a sick sense of humour and wants to be a gangster as he has seen too many films. All this gets us thinking that whatever Bentley did, he was influenced by Craig and that Craig is really the evil one.

Sticking with making Christopher Craig look bad, the director then shows us a lot of information about his bad background. We meet his brother who is nicknamed ‘The Velvet Kid’, again like a gangster. Craig seems in awe of his brother as he has lots of money and loads of girls go out with him. Despite this, all he and his brother do is fight, with his brother usually winning. This shows his brother is a bit of a bully and Christopher is slightly scared of him so it’s not surprising that Christopher is a bit like him. This is in complete contrast to the relationship between Derek and his sister, they are so close and the Craigs aren’t. There is also a scene in Craig’s school where two boys (one of them being Craig) are swapping guns. Craig is a bit of an expert and we discover that he collects them. It then turns out that nearly all the boys in the class own guns, which they keep in their desks. This shows us what teenagers had access to back in the 50’s. These, along with all the swearing from him, are to turn us against Craig and feel that Derek shouldn’t become his friend.

Although he’s seen the things Craig does, Derek does become his friend and the friendship is very negative on Bentley. An example of this is when Derek has another epileptic fit in a taxi with Craig and, although the taxi driver tries to help him, Craig runs away. This shows that the friendship is slightly one-sided and that, although Derek knows it, he can’t just stop being Craig’s friend as he hasn’t got the will power. This is yet another point to make us feel sympathy for him.

After the main event of the film, the robbery during which DC Fairfax was wounded and PC Miles was killed, there is the court case. At the start of the court case, the camera pans round everything in the room. We see Derek looking extremely nervous, Craig acting like he doesn’t care and Derek’s family crying. This is continuing the techniques used in the film to make us sympathetic towards Bentley and make us hate Craig. During the court scene we see the defence and prosecution state their cases. This is so we can see that Derek shouldn’t be convicted but also so that we know all the reasons why he was. During the scene, Craig shows no signs of remorse and he seems proud of what he’s done whereas, in complete contrast, Bentley is very worried and the director makes it very clear that he almost had an epileptic fit, even though he didn’t actually have one. It’s also made very clear that virtually all the spectators of the case think Bentley is innocent. This is shown when the judge asks DC Fairfax what he thought Bentley meant by “Let him have it” and Fairfax says “Shoot”, the spectators all groan and shout “No”. The judge and jury even suggest mercy for him.

Even after the jury’s decision, the entire country is behind Derek Bentley. Many, many petitions are made and his family receives letters of sympathy every day. The family also asks local MP’s for support and they all agree. Even PC Miles’s wife doesn’t think the hanging should take place. The support of the country is shown because the director wants us to feel the same way.

We’re also reminded that Derek is someone’s son and there are people who care about him by seeing his family’s reaction to the jury’s decision. They are, of course, extremely grief-stricken and they try everything to clear Derek’s name, with the massive support of almost everyone in the country. There’s lots of crying and the segment of the film in-between the court case and the hanging is very emotional. This is to stir up our own emotions and it does so very successfully.

Sadly, even though the entire country was against it, the hanging took place. It is the final scene in the film and is done very quickly. You even get the impression that the man doing the hanging doesn’t want to do it as he says “Don’t worry son, it’ll be alright.” They give him a drink and tell him to drink it quickly. It’s all done very rapidly so that Derek doesn’t have time to think or panic. It’s a very depressing scene, mad even more depressing by the fact that Derek is breathing heavily, which shows extreme fright or nervousness and by the fact that straight after we see Derek’s family all hugging each other and weeping as they know their son is dead. The last image we see is of the family’s clock chiming nine (the time of the hanging) and, also, the chiming reminds us of the first time we saw Christopher Craig so we can think back to where all the trouble began. This is a final attempt at stirring up our emotions as the credits roll with slow, sad music.

As this is a film about Derek Bentley and the injustice and tragedy that befell him, some information is deliberately skipped out in the film. This information is about PC Miles. His death is very sudden and he’s killed after only 10 seconds and one line in the film. His funeral is about a minute long, his wife gets about 30 seconds dedicated to her and we never even find out about his 2 children. All this information is left out because, as I have said, this is a film about Bentley and what happened to him. It’s also because, as this film is biased towards Derek, the director doesn’t want us feeling any sympathy for PC Miles as that might turn us against Bentley.

Bias is present throughout the entire film and this is most obviously shown in the presentation of the boys, Derek and Christopher. They are presented very differently during the film and this is yet another way in which the director is manipulating us.

Derek is presented as a kind, caring, unfortunate, nervous young man when we see that he has pets, showing kindness and care, he has a good relationship with his family, showing love, and that he hasn’t left the house in a whole year, showing nervousness. He has two epileptic fits in the space of the film and nearly has a third one in court. All this makes us feel sorry for him, which is just what the director wants.

Christopher Craig is completely in contrast to Bentley. He is shown as hateful, disrespectful and a bit of a bully. He collects guns, showing he wants to be a gangster, he and his brother fight all the time, suggesting hatred, and he joke around with his guns threatening to kill people, showing disrespect.

Again, this is all manipulation by the director, but it is based on fact so there must be some truth in it.

At the end of the film, because of the ways in which the information is presented, you feel sorry for Derek and place the blame for his death on Christopher Craig, who is made out to be the bad guy in this film. Derek couldn’t help being influenced by him and he forced Derek into bad things like robbery and vandalism and this is very clearly shown. As I mentioned at the very start of this essay, after watching the film I felt that Derek’s death was unlawful and just plain wrong and I place all the blame for it entirely on Craig so obviously this is what the film is trying to do, which is, again, manipulation.

So there we are, the article or the film? My personal view is that the film is a lot more truthful, even if some bias is still present in it, so that’s the piece of information I prefer. The article is biased strongly against Derek and they way it does this is by missing tonnes of information out. Although the film misses out some slight bits of information, nearly all of it is there, even if it is presented in a manipulative way.

To conclude, I would like to remind you that all non-fiction texts are biased but to find out how, you need to read between the lines and find out what the writer is thinking and what he is hiding.

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