London, Oct.15 : A campaign has been launched in Britain to seek a posthumous pardon for men and women who were executed as witches centuries ago. According to The Telegraph, a set of eight grave "miscarriages of justice" have been collected and forwarded to Justice Secretary Jack Straw for redressal.
More than 400 people were put to death in England for alleged witchcraft, and over 2,000 were executed in Scotland, before the 1735 Witchcraft Act put an end to the trials, they said.
Their bid to obtain justice for the victims follows an official pardon granted earlier this year by the Swiss Government to Anna Goeldi, beheaded in 1782 and regarded as the last person executed as a witch in Europe.
The family behind Angels, the Halloween costume supplier, came up with the idea for the petition and turned to historian Dr John Callow to collect some of the victims' stories.
Dr Callow, editor of Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe, said it was now time to recognise the witch trials as "most dangerous and tragic" fabrications.
"Today we are well aware that these individuals were neither capable of harmful magic nor in league with the devil. At the time, poverty was endemic - charity was breaking down and aggressive begging, accompanied by threats or curses, was common. Crops failed, butter failed to churn or cattle sickened and the blame was often settled on witches," he said.
"Against such a background, judiciaries across the British Isles were compelled to act. The results were perjury and delusion on a grand scale, resulting in nothing less than legalised murder," he added.
Notorious cases mentioned in the petition include that of Agnes Sampson, executed in East Lothian, Scotland, in 1591.
Considered a healer, she acted as midwife to the community of Nether Keith but following a near shipwreck involving King James VI of Scotland, became one of many Scottish women accused of witchcraft.
Although she initially resisted torture, even before James VI at Holyrood House, she finally confessed and was burned at the stake.
In another case, 80-year-old clergyman John Lowes was forced to conduct his own funeral service before he was hanged in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 1645.
The octogenarian was seen as too attached to the Catholic religion in a strongly Reformed area and was forced to walk for days and nights by he witch hunter Matthew Hopkins until he confessed.
The campaign aims to make people realise that witches never really existed, and the fears of the past - such as criticism of Halloween as a sinister celebration of the occult - deserve no place in the present.
The petition, officially launched tomorrow, will be presented to the Ministry of Justice and its Scottish counterpart on Halloween.