Derek Bentley was born in South London in 1933. He left school at an early age after failing to do well for his entrance examinations. He survived the World War despite having his house collapse on him during a bombing raid. That incident left him with head injuries and possibly affected his subsequent mental and physical development.
During his teenage years, Derek struggled to hold down a job. He mixed with bad company and flirted with petty crime. At 19 years old, he was illiterate and a medical examination for enlistment found him to be ‘mentally substandard’ and hence unfit for national service.
On 2nd November 1952, Derek and his companion Christopher Craig attempted to rob the warehouse of the Barlow and Parker Confectionary in Croydon. Christopher was 16 years old at that time, a tad younger than Derek. Despite being the elder of the two, Derek carried a knife and knuckle dusters provided by Chris, while Craig himself was equipped with a modified revolver.
The two were spotted climbing into the premises and before long the police arrived on the scene. Derek and Chris hid themselves behind the lift housing but the police closed in. In the melee that followed, Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax managed to grab hold of Derek.
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His team shouted for Christopher to surrender and to give up his weapon. A policeman approached Chris saying ‘Give me the gun, son’.
Let him have it, Chris
Derek, being held by the police, shouted out – ‘Let him have it, Chris’. Chris opened fire, injuring Sergeant Fairfax and subsequently killing Constable Sidney Miles with a bullet to his head.
In the subsequent trial that follows, Bentley claimed that he was encouraging Chris to give up the gun and to surrender himself. The prosecution took the opposite stance and argued that Bentley’s statement amounted to him telling Chris to fire at the police.
Christopher Craig apparently took it to mean the latter. Both of them were found guilty of murder. As Craig was below 18 when the crime happened, he is exempted from capital punishment. He served 10 years in prison before being released.
Derek Bentley was hanged on the 28th January 1953.
What we want to hear and what is really spoken
On hindsight, everyone would agree that the words could be interpreted very differently. Yet, in the heat of the moment, Christopher Craig heard what he wanted to hear and interpreted the words to mean what was already in his head.
As investors, we often fall into that trap. Consider the following statement.
Buyers market as property slump continues
Imagine you have intentions to get married and purchase your first property. Would you interpret it as a good time to buy, given that it is a buyer’s market?
What if you are actually holding on to an investment property and you are starting to have difficulty renting it out at the price you want. Would you be more inclined to sell your property upon encountering this report, for fear of the market getting from bad to worse?
How about: Gold loses its shine as investors switch to stocks.
Is it then a good time to buy stocks because stocks seem to be in demand, or would you load up on that gold now that it has come down to a ‘reasonable’ level? Depending on our circumstances, depending on who and what we are, the same statement can lead to totally different interpretations and actions.
We see things not as they are, but as we are
French author Anais Nin sums it up eloquently in her famous quote – We see things not as they are, but as we are.
The money decisions we make speak more about us ourselves than the market conditions and opportunities available. To be a better investor, the first step is to remove our tainted lens and see things as they really are.