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Righting the Injustices of the Past: The Case of Alice Wheeldon

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).

Right – left: Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason, Hettie Wheeldon and a guard, taken when on remand in 1917. © Alice Wheeldon Campaign.

History matters in the context of criminal justice; it matters that our criminal justice system lives up to standards of justice and upholds due process in respect of the past. The strength of support for this view is, for example, shown in the successful campaign to pardon men executed by British Forces during the First World War (the Shot at Dawn campaign).

Miscarriages of justice cases, such as those of the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, also illustrate the importance of righting the wrongs of the past when it comes to crime. One hundred years ago today another such injustice occurred and efforts are now being made to right this wrong.

At the Old Bailey on March 10th 1917 Alice Wheeldon, her daughter, Winnie Mason, and her son-in-law, Alf Mason, were convicted of conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George along with the leader of the Labour Party Arthur Henderson and other persons unspecified. Alice was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude, with Alf receiving 7 years and Winnie 5. Their efforts to appeal were rejected and so they were sent to prison. Alice went on hunger strike, was released early due to ill-health but died of influenza in 1919. Alf and Winnie were released unexpectedly at the end of the war. Continue reading

Commemorating Conchies: A time to remember the men who rejected military conscription in WW1

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).*

Telling Tales cover_A hundred years ago general military conscription was introduced into Britain. The Military Service Acts of 1916 meant that men aged between 18 and 41 were deemed to have enlisted and decisions as to what happened to them were now in the hands of the state. However, in a controversial and seemingly contradictory move, the Act allowed men to be exempted from military service on the grounds that they had a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service. These conscientious objectors (COs) deserve to be commemorated – and that is precisely what a series of events around the country are seeking to do.

Although no exact figures exist, Cyril Pearce, the brains behind the marvellous Pearce Register of British World War One Conscientious Objectors, estimates that there were 20,000 COs – a very small number as compared to the around 5 million men who joined the military, most of whom were conscripts. Objectors were a diverse group. Their widely varying perspectives on the Act and their consciences led them to take very different courses. What is clear though is that they displayed remarkable conviction and courage, both as individuals and collectively. Continue reading