Documents detail trial of St Neots man who shot former PM in 1812

In the archives of the House of Commons are the documents which detail the trial of St Neots born John Bellingham, the man who in 1912 became the only person to assassination of a British prime minister. Copies of the documents have been passed to The Hun

In the archives of the House of Commons are the documents which detail the trial of St Neots born John Bellingham, the man who in 1912 became the only person to assassination of a British prime minister. Copies of the documents have been passed to The Hunts Post by Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly. Here we take a look at Bellingham's story.

JOHN Bellingham's anger with the British government was sparked by a four-year prison term.

He had been working in Archangel in Russia around 1800 as an agent for importers and exporters, but had his travelling pass withdrawn because of a debt.

He was sent to prison and was angry that the British consulate had not taken up his case.

When he returned to England in 1809 he petitioned the government of the day for compensation. However, by then, diplomatic relations had been broken off with Russia.

He renewed his appeal unsuccessfully in 1812. On May 11 that year, he went to Parliament, waited in the lobby until the prime minister, Spencer Perceval, appeared and then shot him in the heart.

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Bellingham was tried two days later at The Old Bailey when he said he would have preferred to kill the British Ambassador but that he was entitled, as a wronged man, to kill the representative of those he saw as his oppressors.

"My family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval's pleasure that justice should not be granted," he said.

Bellingham also claimed that Mr Perceval had believed that no retribution would reach him. "When a minister sets himself above the laws, he does it as his own personal risk."

An account of his trial and subsequent execution in The Gentleman's Magazine of 1812 was seen by Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly during research into the circumstances of the only assassination of a British Prime Minister.

One of Bellingham's prosecutors at his trial on Friday, May 15, 1812, was William Garrow - the subject of a BBC TV dramatisation of his early years at the Bar - who was probably Solicitor General at the time. By chance, that may be the post to be occupied by Mr Djanogly, who is currently Shadow Solicitor General, after the next General Election.

Defence counsel said Bellingham should not be allowed to plead because he was insane - but then failed to provide much evidence to support the claim.

The report contains no direct record of the court's ruling on insanity, but presumably sided with the Attorney General, who was chief prosecutor, because the trial continued with evidence of the killing, and the accused himself referred to the setting aside of the plea.

Bellingham addressed the court for two hours, explaining his grievances in some detail and adding that he had no personal enmity towards Mr Perceval. He would have preferred to have killed those he held directly responsible for his plight, in particular Lord Leveson Gower.

Nonetheless, he told the court, he should be adjudged innocent of the murder of Mr Perceval because wilful intent had not been proved - even though he had been wearing a bespoke coat with pockets specified to the size of his pistols.

He concluded: "If I am destined to sacrifice my life, I shall meet my doom with conscious tranquillity."

The judge said there had been not a scrap of evidence to prove that the accused was disordered in his mind, and it took the jury just 10 minutes to convict after an eight-hour trial.

He urged Bellingham to make his peace with God in the short time available to him in this world.

In his brief stay on death row he continued to defend his crime, according to The Gentleman's Magazine,

Immediately before his execution, on the Monday after the trial, he declared: "Had my petition been brought into Parliament, this catastrophe would not have happened. I am sorry for the sufferings I have caused to Mr Perceval's family and friends."

Bellingham is reported to have "ascended the scaffold with a cheerful countenance and a confident and calm air".

This summer, a plaque was put up on the house where Bellingham was born in Huntingdon Street, St Neots.

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