On August 13, 1964, Peter Anthony Allen was led to the gallows at Walton Prison in Liverpool. They tied a noose around his neck and hanged him for his part in the murder of John Alan West.
Allen was the last person to be sentenced to death by hanging in the United Kingdom. Fifteen months later, capital punishment was abolished for murder, however, the death penalty remained legal for offences such as treason until 1998.
In the lead-up to Allen’s execution, and that of his accomplice Gwynne Evans, use of the death penalty had been in such decline the decision to sentence both men to death came as a surprise.
Today, the idea of bringing back the death penalty is not even worth considering. The United Kingdom, for all its recent missteps on the international stage, has progressed from the era of capital punishment.
It was the 13th protocol of the EU Convention on Human Rights which bound the UK to a directive which prohibits the restoration of the death penalty.
However, an interesting statistic emerged from 2016’s divisive European Referendum. Half of those who voted to leave the EU want to bring back the death penalty – as well as their precious blue passport covers.
Is this an issue that could raise its head once more in a post-Brexit Britain?
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 24:19 states:
And a man who injures his countryman – as he has done, so it shall be done to him [namely,] fracture under/for fracture, eye under/for eye, tooth under/for tooth. Just as another person has received injury from him, so it will be given to him.
An ‘eye for an eye’ and a ‘tooth for a tooth’, is a phrase many have interpreted as a justification to dole out punishment befitting of the crime. Which is ironic as in the same Old Testament, one of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou shalt not kill’, so let’s assume religion’s stance on the death penalty is a morally grey area.
The problem religion faces is texts are not updated; fundamentalists can utilise scripture to justify many acts that have no place in a modern and reasonable society. Check out Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and you’ll soon see what I mean.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said:
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
There’s something very archaic about the death penalty. I need to be careful about the words I use here because naturally, it’s a sensitive subject. Personally, I don’t like to say its implementation is barbaric, instead, I prefer to use the word ‘misguided’.
Just like those who voted leave, I don’t want to label them all as racist or ignorant – as it’s way too simplistic and sweeping. Instead, I prefer to think of them as misguided too.
Those who are scared of progress and feel the need to revert ‘back to simpler times’. A bit like Afrikaners who look back at apartheid with graduation goggles.
A survey run by YouGov right after the referendum polled both sides of the vote. It showed over half of those who voted leave were in favour of bringing back the death penalty.
— Joe Twyman (@JoeTwyman) March 29, 2017
Speaking to the BBC after the results of the referendum, Ben Shimshon, of Britain Thinks – a company which advises businesses and political parties on how to communicate with the public leave voters – said:
[Those who voted in favour of Brexit] tended to value things like order, stability and safety against things like openness, modernity and other social-liberal values that were more popular among Remain voters.
Often it’s about harking back to the past – sometimes a feeling that they don’t belong to the present.
The vast majority of those in favour of a return for the death penalty voted leave. But it is a nostalgia driven fallacy to draw lines between ‘we preferred life outside the EU’ and ‘life outside the EU permitted the death penalty’.
Regardless of the empirical facts it’s nonsensical and based on half-truths. That’s the problem with nostalgia, it’s like a placebo which numbs you to reality, and vague memories exclude the negatives.
A common argument among supporters is they don’t want to pay more taxes to house the UK’s most violent and notorious criminals. For them, bringing back the death penalty is an easier solution. They believe it’ll reduce tax costs and the number of inmates in overcrowded prisons.
However, an analysis of how capital punishment functions in America (where the death penalty is legal in 31 states) paints a picture which isn’t as black and white as supporters in the UK may have first believed.
A 2016 study by Dr Ernest Goss, professor of economics at Creighton University, calculated each death penalty prosecution cost Nebraska’s taxpayers roughly $1.5 million more, compared to an inmate serving ‘life without parole’.
He estimated, overall, court-mandated executions cost Americans an average of $23.2 million more per year than alternative sentences.
The increase in taxpayer expense is ultimately unavoidable down to the greater expense of capital punishment trials, automatic appeals, and the increased security on death row with lower staff-to-prisoner ratios.
If the UK government were to bring back the death penalty they would be putting the country’s already unsteady economy at risk. While at a glance the UK is still the third largest economy (behind France and Germany) their exit from the EU will effectively put them at the back of any trade deals with other countries. Whether the current government will admit it or not, Brexit has left the UK teetering in a precarious position.
With inflation rising at 2.4 per cent for the first time since November 2017, according to the BBC, and government cuts to police funding and the NHS, not to mention the never-ending price rises in the housing market, to bring back the death penalty would be detrimental to the nation’s coffers.
Supporters of the death penalty will argue its presence in the American judicial system will deter those of violent crime. However, this is another notion which has been disproved.
In the US, death-penalty states do not have lower homicide rates than those without it. Between 1990-1994, the murder rates in Wisconsin and Iowa (both non-death-penalty states) were half the rate of their death penalty embracing neighbour, Illinois.
In fact, statistics show, use of the death penalty could actually increase homicide rates.
From 2000-2010, FBI figures show the murder rate in states with capital punishment were, between 25 and 46 per cent higher, compared to states without it.
Police chiefs in America have openly stated the death penalty is the ‘least effective’ deterrent in battling violent crime, behind curbing drug use, putting more officers on the beat, increased prison time and stricter gun control.
It should be noted, however, for the first time since 2006, the USA was not one of the five leading nations for executions. They fell to seventh behind Egypt, according to Amnesty International.
From an economic and practical standpoint, bringing back the death penalty doesn’t make sense, and I could talk about the ethical reasons too but I would be screaming into an echo chamber, those who agree usually always did and most of those who don’t ‘aren’t for moving’ – kind of like what happened between the Leave and Remain campaigns.
Therefore, the only logical conclusion is to appeal to your pockets, bank accounts, pay slips and beneath the cushions of the sofa.
For those of you looking for an ethical reason as to why capital punishment is utter bullsh*t, I’ll leave you with this profound quote:
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.
Know who said it?
J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
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