Hangman has slightly different connotations todayIt was not until December 1969 that the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 was finally passed by The House of Lords abolishing the death sentence as punishment for murder. The death penalty for other crimes was not officially removed from the statute books and formally abolished in the UK until 1998.

But did it make any difference to the level of serious crime in the UK and for those places that still pass the death sentence (American states including Oklahoma, Texas and California still have numerous methods of despatching the guilty and other countries include Singapore and Japan) has the prospect of dying for a crime stopped someone carrying out the offence?

The last people to be hanged in the United Kingdom were Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans on 13 August 1964 at Walton Prison, Liverpool and Strangeways Prison, Manchester respectively. Their crime was the murder of John Alan West in April that same year.

The event would have been very sombre with guards keeping a watchful eye on the condemned and the hanging would have taken place in the privacy of the prison yard. However it was not always so low key. Until the turn of the 20th century, a public hanging was used not only as a method of deterring people from committing crimes but it was a great public spectacle with visits to public houses and parties and the condemned may have even taken part in the celebration on their way to their execution!

Erecting the scaffold does not hold the same fear as it did 100 years agoErecting the scaffold does not hold
the same fear as it did 100 years ago

But the dawn of the Victorian age not only saw advances in technology, it also brought respect and compassion for the fellow human being and whilst corporal punishment had been around for centuries, executions became a little less of an exhibition. Between 1900 and 1949 there were 621 men and 11 women executed in England and Wales.

So was Henry I (1068-1135) right to reintroduce hanging to England? Does it make any difference to criminal activities? Put into a modern perspective, in December 2009, Briton Akmal Shaikh was executed in China for smuggling 4kg of cocaine into the country. He must have known the consequences of his action, but was that overridden by the benefits he hoped to gain?

According to a MORI poll carried out by Channel 4 in July 2009, 70% of British adults questioned think the UK should have the death penalty as the maximum penalty for at least one of twelve types of crime. It was a higher 73% who said the politicians are ignoring public opinion when it comes to passing sentences for serious crimes.

But even if our Government was to consider the possibility, when the UK acceded to the European 13th Protocol it stopped us from ever reintroducing the death sentence (unless we withdraw from the Council of Europe), so it is highly improbable it will ever happen.

But did it make a difference to the crime rate and were the abolitionists of the 20th century right or wrong in their quest to remove the death sentence from the statute books?

What do you think?

“Let The Punishment Fit The Crime” (Gilbert & Sullivan 1884)

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