No pardon likely for Admiral Byng -- or Anne Boleyn, Joan of Arc...

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The memorial in a Bedfordshire church bristles with outrage: "To the perpetual Disgrace of Public Justice," it claims of the man it commemorates, Admiral John Byng, executed on the quarterdeck of his ship 250 years ago yesterday for failing to engage the French in battle with sufficient enthusiasm.

He was, it adds, "a Martyr to Political Persecution...when Bravery and Loyalty were Insufficient Securities for the Life and Honour of a Naval Officer."

Or, as Voltaire put it more coolly and cynically in his contemporary novel Candide: "In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others."

Last night, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said Byng could not receive the sort of pardon that ministers granted last year to men shot at dawn during the first world war -- basically because there is no one alive who remembers him.

The MoD said there had been specific reasons for the first world war victims to be pardoned: "There are people alive who knew them. There was a feeling that a wrong had been done. It was a personal matter rather than something lost in the mist of time." The Byng episode, the spokesman said, was accepted past history and a pardon would set a precedent. Who next? Anne Boleyn or Joan of Arc?...

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