A Welsh MP is calling for a posthumous partdon for a Welsh miner hanged after the Merthyr Rising 185 years ago.
Stephen Kinnock led a group of campaigners to the Ministry of Justice to deliver a 600-signature petition calling for Dic Penderyn to be pardoned.
Dic Penderyn , also known as Richard Lewis, was a labourer and coal miner who was found guilty and hanged for the stabbing of a soldier with a bayonet during the 1831 riots that gripped Merthyr.
Some 11,000 people signed a petition protesting Penderyn’s innocence at the time and it was widedly suspected that he was hanged because of a desire to punish a scapegoat.
Campaigners say that a confession made 40 years later by another man, combined with a later admission by a witness that he had lied at trial, shows that Penderyn should be posthumously cleared.
Merthyr has held a music festival in recent years called first the Penderyn Festival and more recently Merthyr Rising. It is held in Penderyn Square.
Aberavon MP Kinnock said: ‘Penderyn was the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice.
“He maintained his innocence to the very end and years later evidence came to light casting serious doubts over his conviction.
“The fact that this injustice took place nearly 200 years ago does not make it any less important.
“His descendants and campaign groups from Aberavon and Merthyr have fought tirelessly to clear his name.
“They were with me when we delivered the petition and our message to the Lord Chancellor is simple: we will not let this rest, we will not let this injustice continue, we will carry on with this fight until we have secured a posthumous pardon for Dic Penderyn.”
He was speaking after a reception was held to commemorate the Welsh working class martyr in Parliament.
The reception was attended by Dic Penderyn’s descendants, representatives from the Dic Penderyn Society and Port Talbot and Merthyr Trades Union Councils, with contributions from Steffan ap Daffydd, Sally Jones, Robert King and Viv Pugh.
The soldier who was stabbed, Lance Corporal Donald Black, survived and did not identify either of the men accused of the attack, Penderyn and his cousin Lewis Lewis.
Penderyn, who was brought up in Aberavon before his coal miner father moved to Merthyr for work, is buried in St Mary’s Church in Aberavon.
He was 23 years old when he was convicted and sentenced to death.
He was hanged in public in St Mary Street, Cardiff on 13th August 1831.
His last recorded words are reputed to have been: “Oh Lord, here is iniquity”.
Not all believe Penderyn is innocent
Former South Wales Police detective Gerry Toms believes Dic Penderyn was guilty.
In a Crimesolver programme broadcast on BBC1 in 2006 he investigated the case.
He said that after studying the evidence, he was convinced of his guilt.
Mr Toms said at the time: “Being able to read the original handwritten transcript of the court case from the time was fascinating.
“I believe the popular belief that Dic Penderyn was innocent is based on misinformation and a misconception of what happened in Merthyr Tydfil on that day and in the subsequent trial.”
However he added that through studying the case he had become aware that Penderyn had become a symbol of all those who stood up for a basic standard of living for workers.
This is the full text of the letter submitted by campaigners to the Ministry of Justice.
“Richard Lewis, aka Dic Penderyn, was born and spent his childhood in Aberavon.
He is also buried in Aberavon, having been involved in the Merthyr Uprisings and subsequently put to death by the authorities on the basis of a trial that is widely believed to be a tragic miscarriage of justice.
“The Merthyr Uprising was triggered by worker anger with the terrible conditions at the Iron mines. Thousands of workers mined the iron and were paid a pittance, their living conditions were shameful. Demanding a living wage and improved living conditions in return for their labour there was a popular uprising, looting and riots. The army were called in and confronted the workers outside the Castle Inn. When the crowd charged, the soldiers began to fire on them, killing 27 workers. No soldiers died, nor was any soldier charged with killing the 27 workers, but Dic Penderyn was charged for allegedly having stabbed Lance Corporal Donald Black.
“On the 14th July 1831, Richard Lewis, 23 years old, was tried at the Cardiff Assize before Mr Justice Bosanquet and a Jury for having, during the Merthyr Uprising on 3rd June 1831, stabbed Donald Black, then a Lance Corporal in the Army, with intent to wound, contrary to 12th Section of the 9th Geo 4 cap.31.
“His trial lasted one day. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged in public in St Mary Street, Cardiff on 13th August 1831. Thousands walked with his body from Cardiff to his final resting place in St Mary’s churchyard, Port Talbot.
“Penderyn maintained throughout his one day trial and incarceration period that he was innocent, that far from being at the front door of the inn where the Lance Corporal was stabbed, he had in fact left via the back door and had been seen at the back of the building by up to two witnesses. There were also witnesses to the scuffle he had had with prosecution witness James Abbott previously.
“Dic Penderyn’s last recorded words were: “Oh Lord, here is iniquity”. Just over forty years later a man named Ianto Parker confessed to the crime, and the only witness at Dic Penderyn’s trial admitted having lied under oath.
“Dic Penderyn was an innocent man and therefore we are seeking the full pardon of Richard Lewis, a “Martyr of the Welsh Working Class”.
“This pardon should be granted on the grounds of the written evidence from 23 witnesses which would have exonerated him while Ianto Parker’s confession, James Abbott’s false evidence and the lack of recourse to appeal the verdict at the time are all important considerations. In addition to this, Dic Penderyn’s trial was held in English despite him being a welsh-speaker.”