Jane Rebecca Yorke (born 1872), a medium from Forest Gate in East London, was the last person to be convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735Sometimes dated 1736, an Act of Parliament that repealed the statutes concerning witchcraft throughout Great Britain, including Scotland..
By 1943 the authorities were increasingly prosecuting mediums for their exploitation of the bereaved during the Second World War. Undercover police officers were assigned to enquire at Jane’s séances about non-existent family members, about whom she would provide “elaborate details”, which she claimed were provided by her Zulu spirit guide. In one instance she told an officer that his non-existent brother had been burned alive on a bombing mission.
Jane was arrested in July 1944, but the Director of Public Prosecutions delayed taking her case to court until an appeal against the conviction of another medium, Helen DuncanLast person to be imprisoned under the Witchcraft Act 1735, in 1944., under the same Witchcraft Act, had been heard. The appeal being unsuccessful, Jane appeared at London’s Central Criminal Court on 22 September, coincidentally the day that Helen Duncan was released from Holloway Prison. Jane claimed that she had no knowledge of what she said while in a trance, and did not charge for her séances, the audience contributing whatever they wished in a suitably placed bowl.
Jane was found guilty, fined £5 and placed on good behaviour for three years, promising she would hold no more séances. The relatively light sentence – she could have faced a term of imprisonment under the Witchcraft Act – was due to her age; she was 72.