Ruth Ellis: Villain or victim? — (BBC News)

SSRI Ed note: Abused woman, addicted to antidepressants, shoots and kills lover. She is charged, convicted and executed. Impact of meds on mental state not considered.

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BBC News

Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 12:27 GMT

The vigil outside Holloway Prison for Ellis’s execution

The name Ruth Ellis is guaranteed a place in the history of British crime. In 1955 she became the last woman to be hanged in the UK. But now her family is claiming the authorities should look again at the case, writes Jonathan Morris.

Ruth Ellis is being portrayed as a victim of a cruel boyfriend who abused her, and a cruel legal system that hanged her.

Ellis’s sister, Muriel Jakubait, 77, wants her conviction reduced to manslaughter.

She says the jury was never told that David Blakely treated Ellis violently and caused her to miscarry by punching her in the stomach.

The jury was also not told that she had been raped by her father as a child, and was addicted to anti-depressants.

Ms Jakubait believes that her mental state at the time meant she should never have been convicted of murder.

If found guilty of manslaughter, Ellis would probably have received a prison sentence totalling a few years, instead of the capital punishment of hanging.

Ellis, 28, was hanged after killing her lover Mr Blakely outside a pub in Hampstead, north London, in 1955.

Mr Blakely and Ellis formed a passionate and tempestuous relationship after they met in a London night club which Ellis managed.

Ellis suspected Mr Blakely was having an affair with a friend’s nanny and in a pique of jealousy and rejection, she went to Hampstead where she lay in wait outside the Magdala public house in South Hill Park.

Mr Blakely came out of the pub with a friend and Ellis shot him five times, the last shot from point blank range, as he lay wounded on the ground.

Other drinkers came out of the pub to see what had happened and Ellis was arrested, still holding the smoking gun, by an off-duty policeman.

Platinum blonde

Her trial opened on Monday 20 June 1955 in the Old Bailey’s Number One Court.

Ellis wore a black two-piece suit and white blouse, her hair re-dyed to her preferred platinum blonde.

The image – hardly one of the poor downtrodden woman – was her defence team’s idea.

She pleaded not guilty, but when prosecuting counsel, Mr Christmas Humphries asked her “Mrs. Ellis, when you fired that revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely what did you intend to do,” she replied: “It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him.”

The jury found her guilty after deliberating for only 14 minutes.

Ellis spent just three weeks and three days in the condemned cell at Holloway Prison.

When she was executed about 1,000 people stood silently outside the prison waiting for the execution notice to be posted outside the gates.

The case has inspired several books, television programmes and the 1985 film, Dance with a Stranger, starring Miranda Richardson.

It is the latest in a long line of celebrated legal cases which come under close scrutiny. Derek Bentley, who was wrongly hanged in 1953, had his conviction quashed in 1998.

Earlier this year it was announced that the Court of Appeal will review the case of James Hanratty, executed in 1962 for the notorious A6 murders.