As Halloween arrives, could Portsmouth ‘witch’ Helen Duncan soon be pardoned?

Helen Duncan
Helen Duncan
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A campaign is under way for a posthumous pardon for Helen Duncan, who became the last person in Britain to be convicted of witchcraft after a wartime seance in Portsmouth.

The Scottish spiritual medium, a mother-of-six, held the seance at the Master Temple Psychic Centre - a room above Homers drug store at 301 Copnor Road, Copnor - in November 1941.

HMS Barham

HMS Barham

During the event she indicated that HMS Barham had been sunk and that she had been contacted by one of the 800 sailors who perished.

She was right about the Barham, for on the morning of November 25 the Portsmouth-based ship was hit by three torpedoes from U-Boat 331 and sank taking 862 men with her in just three minutes.

But to mislead the enemy and protect morale the government withheld this information until January 14, 1942.

A few days later the police raided the temple while she was conducting a séance and arrested her.

Helen’s trial took place at the bomb-damaged Old Bailey and the jury took just half an hour to find her guilty under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. She was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.

The Act was repealed in 1951 and now campaigners are saying the new “Turing law” should clear her name.

They say that the case of Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing was given a posthumous Royal pardon in 2013 after being found guilty of gross indecency in 1952 means Helen Duncan should now also be pardoned for a crime since struck from statute.

Graham Hewitt, who is leading the campaign for a pardon by Helen’s grandchildren, told the Dundee-based Sunday Post: ‘The ‘Turing law’ has set a precedent for Helen’s pardon to come.

‘And it’s one her family will welcome. The circumstances are almost identical. Like Alan Turing, Helen was convicted under legislation now long repelled.

‘There is a precedent and we are writing to the Scottish Government demanding they do the same.

’Justice has been a long time coming for Helen.’

The Scottish Government says ministers have a power to consider a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and that any application received on behalf of Helen Duncan would be given due consideration.