31/10/2008

Campaigners Call For Witches Pardon

A petition calling for a posthumous pardon for men and women executed during the UK witch trials is to be handed to the English and Scottish government.

Campaigners in London planned to petition the government's on Friday, saying Hallowe'en was a good time to highlight the "grave miscarriage of justice" suffered by men and woman accused of being witches.

Campaigners said more than 2,000 people in Scotland were executed and 400 in England, for alleged witchcraft. The 1735 Witchcraft Act abolished the crime of being a witch. However, many still faced persecution for other crimes, such as fraud.

The campaigners bid comes after the Swiss government granted an official pardon to Anna Goeldi, earlier this year. Beheaded in 1782, she was regarded as the last person executed as a witch in Europe.

The family behind costume firm Angels came up with the idea for the petition.

Dr Callow, editor of Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe said it was time to identify the witch trials were "most dangerous and tragic" fabrications.

Dr Callow said: "Today we are well aware that these individuals were neither capable of harmful magic nor in league with the devil.

"At the time, poverty was endemic - charity was breaking down and aggressive begging, accompanied by threats or curses, was common."

He added: "Crops failed, butter failed to churn or cattle sickened and the blame was often settled on witches. Against such background, judiciaries across the British Isles were compelled to Act.

"The results were perjury and delusion on a grand scale, resulting in nothing less than legalised murder."

Campaigners are to hand the petitions to Justice Secretary and his Scottish counterpart Kenny MacAskill.

"The granting of a free pardon is extremely rare," a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said. "It is for courts to decide guilt and innocence.

"To achieve a Royal Pardon, the test is a high one. It is not enough that the conviction may be unsafe - the applicant must be technically and morally innocent."

(JM)

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