JS Tip 451: Problems in Communication II

From the Communication Workshops: Problems in Communication, Part I

Sounds like the title of an upper-level college course, doesn’t it? 

A Definition

Let’s define communication as “the intact transfer of an idea from one person to another.”

Simple. Straightforward.

A Case Study

London, 1952. Two petty burglars, nineteen-year-old Derek Bentley and sixteen-year-old Christopher Craig, broke into a warehouse. Bentley carried a knife; Craig carried a revolver.

The police, alerted by a neighbor, arrived and confronted the two. Craig pulled out his revolver. Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax told Craig, “Hand over the gun, lad.” Unsure of what to do, Craig turned to the older Bentley. 

Bentley shouted, “Let him have it, Chris!”


Craig fired every round in his weapon. He shot Detective Fairfax. He shot Constable Sidney Miles in the head and killed him. The police quickly overwhelmed the two. Both were charged, tried, and convicted of murder. Craig, a minor, was sentenced to prison; Bentley, an adult, was hanged.

A Discussion

What was Bentley’s intended idea? Shoot the policeman? Or hand over the weapon? The courts argued the differences for years.

In 1998—thirty-five years after Bentley’s execution—The Court of Appeals set aside his conviction. The central issue: Determining his intent. What did he mean by his communication? That was the problem.

We’ll explore another example next week. 

Mark Brooks