Straw urged to pardon witches for Halloween

A petition calling for the pardon of the men and women put to death for witchery in Britain has been handed to justice secretary Jack Straw today.

Prior to the 1735 Witchcraft Act, charges of witchcraft caused more than 400 people to be executed in England. More than five times that many were killed in Scotland.

The founder of the campaign, Dr John Callows, calls this period of witch persecution “nothing less than legalised murder”.

During a time when poverty and disease plagued communities throughout England, those who allegedly practiced witchcraft were easy targets and scapegoats.

“The results were perjury and delusion on a grand scale,” Dr Callows said.

“Today we are well aware that these individuals were neither capable of harmful magic nor in league with the devil.”

It is unclear if the evidence provided by Dr Callow’s campaign is conclusive enough to ensure pardon.

“To receive a royal pardon the test is a high one. Evidence must prove conclusively that no offence was committed or that the applicant did not commit the offence,” a Ministry of Justice spokesman told

“The applicant must be technically and morally innocent.”

While the Ministry of Justice does not comment on individual cases, the spokesman did say free pardons are extremely rare because guilt and innocence are for the court to decide.

The campaign’s appeal includes eight examples of notorious witch cases resulting in executions, which he calls “miscarriages of justice”.

One example tells the story of Ursula Kemp, a woman who often offered special ‘cures’ for bizarre ailments. Said to have been very cunning, Ms Kemp was accused of witchcraft when her remedies offered fickle results – often after her patients refused to pay her.

Ms Kemp was hanged after her own family was forced to testify against her.

Notorious ‘witch finders’ also exacerbated the anti-witch crusade, with fanatics like Matthew Hopkins using torturous methods to force confessions. He forced an 80-year-old religious enthusiast John Lowes to walk without rest for days on end, until he was so desperate he no choice but to ‘confess’.

A similar campaign in Switzerland recently resulted in a government pardon of Anna Goeldi, the one who is thought to be the last person to be executed for witchery in Europe.

“The Swiss have led the way on this one and I really hope that we can encourage our government to follow suit,” Dr Callow said.