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Famous cases: William Joyce's treason trial

Famous cases: William Joyce's treason trialWilliam Joyce was the last man hanged for treason in the UK. But what did he do and did he deserve such a harsh punishment?

Who was he?

William Joyce was a fascist, and broadcast Nazi propaganda to Britain during the second world war. In 1932 he joined the British Union of Fascists under the infamous Oswald Moseley, and spent many years opposing war with Nazi Germany and actively encouraging anti-Semitism.

Towards the end of the war he defected to Germany because he feared reprisals from the government. However, he was captured by a British unit at the end of the war and taken back to the UK to be tried for high treason.

The prosecution

It had already been proven that Joyce had broadcast propaganda and conspired with the enemies of the King. However, the case hinged on whether or not Joyce could be tried for treason specifically. The judge pointed out that the crucial matter was Joyce’s relation to the British King.

This was where things got a little complicated. Joyce was a US citizen, having been born there and held a US passport. He later moved to Ireland and, from there, to England, where he managed to obtain a UK passport by falsely claiming that he was born in the UK.

The ruling

It was eventually decided that Joyce’s passport meant he was British and hence could be tried for treason. There was some controversy about the amount of evidence against him – the case hinged on one witness, a police officer who had interviewed Joyce and seen his passport before he went to Germany. Nevertheless, Joyce was found guilty and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison in January 1946.