A campaign has been launched to clear the name of the last three people executed for witchcraft in England 330 years ago.
The three women – Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles – were hanged in August 1682.
Lloyd was arrested first after she was accused of communicating with the devil and using witchcraft to cause a woman to fall ill.
Local constables in Bideford, Devon, then held Trembles and Edwards – who lived with Lloyd and begged for food with her.
The three women – known as The Bideford Witches – were hanged at Exeter Prison in Devon a month later.
They died just as the 17th century witch-hunts came to an end and were the last three people hanged in England for witchcraft.
But writers at the time said they were the victims of ‘hatred and ignorance” and were targeted because they were old and suffered dementia.
Now a new campaign has been launched to have them absolved of being witches and officially clear their name.
Dr Chris Nash, an author who has previously written a book about them, wants the women to be pardoned by the Government.
Dr Nash, a psychologist formerly of Bideford and now living in Canada, needs 100,000 signatures to support the posthumous pardon.
She said: ”They did nothing wrong. They were victims of circumstance, as were most of the people who accused them.
“They should be pardoned, if only as representatives of the over 450 people who died as witches in Britain.
”The story of how they came to the gallows is a tragic one that serves as a dark reminder of England’s past.”
The women’s ordeal began on a Saturday in July 1682 when Thomas Eastchurch, a local shopkeeper, told the town constables that he suspected Lloyd of using witchcraft to cause the illness of a local woman.
Lloyd was arrested and charged with suspicion of using magical arts upon the body of Grace Thomas and to have communicated with the Devil.
Another witness Anne Wakely claimed Lloyd had told her she was sometimes visited by a bird that changed into ”the likeness of the black man”.
One witness also said he heard Lloyd confess that the man had persuaded her to go to Grace Thomas’s house to ‘pinch and prick’ her.
Two more women, Grace Barnes and Dorcas Coleman, also claimed to have suffered tormenting pains from Lloyd’s witchcraft.
Trembles and Edwards, who lived with Lloyd, were then denounced by their neighbours and arrested and incarcerated with her.
Lloyd was sent to Exeter gaol on July 8, 1682 and was joined by Trembles and Edwards on July 19.
They awaited trial for over a month until the justices arrived at Exeter and a baying mob protested outside demanded they be hanged.
The presiding judge, Sir Thomas Raymond, found the suspects guilty of all charges.
They tried to appeal but the Secretary of State ruled if they were acquitted there was a risk of civil unrest.
Their deaths took place on 25 August 1682 at Heavitree just outside Exeter.
The story of the trial was recorded in the Book of Bideford, written in 1792 by a local historian named John Watkins.
He believed that the women were the victims of ”hatred and ignorance”.
Watkins wrote: ”There was always some poor devil, either on account of an unlucky visage, sour temper, or wretched poverty, set up as the object of terror and universal hatred.
”It is certain that most of the evidence that condemned the women consisted of malicious rumour and hearsay.”
By the late 17th century the witch-hunting craze had died down in England and most witch trials after the Restoration in 1660 ended in acquittal.
But the trial of the Bideford Witches was exceptional for that time because it ended with their execution.
It was also remarkable because it occurred in a relatively sophisticated provincial town as most witch-hunts occurred in isolated rural villages.
A plaque commemorating the tragic deaths of the Bideford witches can be viewed on the wall of Rougemont Castle in Exeter.
Anyone wishing to support Dr Nash’s campaign can sign the e petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.