The murder of Thomas O’Halloran an 87-year-old grandfather in Greenford, West London shocked the country. A man who played the accordion to raise money for charity was stabbed to death. Lee Byer has been charged with his murder, and we assume his innocence until proven guilty. We also have had to deal with the heart-breaking murder of 9 year old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, shot as thugs entered her home.
The murders of 10-year-olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in 2002 had a similar visceral reaction, as Ian Huntly was found guilty and is serving a life sentence with a minimum 40-year tariff. Similarly terrorist attacks bring out memes of ropes and guillotines on social media.
So, is it time to review bringing back the death penalty for the most heinous of crimes?
My non-scientific, dubious methodology poll, but 3,000+ votes, found a clear majority in favour.
Yes, but beyond any doubt: 52.6%
The Big State hardly fills you with confidence. The ability that one can delegate your life and death to the state is disturbing. As my follower @wolsned on Twitter said: “Would you want such power in the hands of our current national and global leadership?” Quite.
The death penalty in Great Britain was abolished in 1965, and 1973 in Northern Ireland. Even the government admits its abolition led to an increase in murder. The murder rate in 1964 was 0.63 per 100,000 and peaked in 1999 at 1.45. Today’s figure is 1.2, although I would add that with the advances in surgery and technology mean more people are surviving bullet and knife wounds.
The most persuasive reason not to have the death penalty is if someone is innocent. I mentioned Northern Ireland did not end capital punishment until 1973. The last person to be sentenced was Liam Holden in 1973 for the murder of a soldier. His conviction was subsequently quashed as the evidence was obtained by torture.
In November 1974 two bombs exploded in crowded pubs in central Birmingham, killing 21 people. The “Birmingham Six,” Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were convicted and spent 16 years in jail for a crime they did not commit. Almost certainly they would have been hung if the penalty was available to the judge. Their convictions for murder were quashed by the Court of Appeal at the Old Bailey in London on 14 March 1991.
As English jurist and judge Sir William Blackstone observed in 1769 that “the law holds that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that 1 innocent suffer (innocent person be convicted).”
The Biblical principle of an eye for an eye is about the limits of restitution, not about revenge. No doubt someone who has lost loved ones may get solace from the murderer being executed. The question I would pose to anti-capital punishment proponents, would you have advocated life sentences at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945/6. In 2019 Usman Khan an Islamic terrorist killed two people at London bridge and wore a fake suicide vest. Khan was wrestled to the floor; armed police asked the members of the public to stand back. What followed, one could allege, was a state execution as they opened fire.
Other arguments for and against might include the cost of keeping a prisoner, currently about £45,000 a year. In sentencing should a guilty plea preclude the death penalty? It might save hours of anguish for witnesses, relatives and friends. However, some may feel this is coercive. Britain would have to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, although many would see this as a good reason to reintroduce the death penalty. Another argument is that there is no chance of a prisoner reoffending. About 1% of the population are psychopaths, and if they do not have intensive treatment, could well reoffend. Ministry of Justice data says in the last 10 years, 129 people have committed a second murder after being released from prison.
The purpose of the essay was not to have an opinion but to discuss the arguments for and against. Please catch up with me on Twitter, @daveatherton20 and Gettr @DaveAtherton and continue the discussion.