The year is 1953. The place is Croydon. Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) is 19 years old but has the mental capability of an 11 year-old. Unable to hold down a job and judged unfit for the national service, Derek drifts into a gang led by 16 year-old Christopher Craig (Paul Reynolds). When Derek and Craig are caught burglarizing a warehouse, it leads to a tense rooftop confrontation between Craig and the police. Derek has already been captured by the time that the police demand that Craig hand over his gun. Bentley shouts, “Let him have it, Chris!” Craig opens fire, killing one officer.
Because he’s a minor, Craig is only facing a prison sentence for killing the police officer. But, as a legal (if not mental) adult, Derek will be hung if he’s found guilty. Under the common purpose doctrine, it doesn’t matter that Derek didn’t actually shoot the gun. The only thing that matters is what Derek meant when he said, “Let him have it, Chris!” Derek says that he was telling Craig to hand over his gun. The Crown says that Derek was ordering Craig to open fire.
Let Him Have It is based on a true story. The case of Derek Bentley was one of the many cases that eventually led to the death penalty being abolished in the UK. Let Him Have It was released at the height of a long campaign to secure a pardon for Derek. That pardon was finally issued in 1998, though it was too late to help Derek Bentley.
Let Him Have It is a powerful and angry docudrama, one that reveals in searing detail how Derek was railroaded by the British legal system. In his film debut, Eccleston gives a powerful performance as Derek and he is ably supported by both Paul Reynolds and, in the role of Derek’s father, Tom Courtenay. Let Him Have It leaves little doubt as to why the case of Derek Bentley remained a cause célèbre for 45 years after his initial trial.