Death and Justice

There is a blogger, Paul Staines, who writes under the pseudonym of Guido Fawkes on the basis that poor old Guy, who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament along with all the MPs and lords inside it, was the last fellow to enter the palace of Westminster with honourable or honest intentions.

It’s a view I sort of agree with.

I’ve followed his blog for snippets of news for some years now. It’s not a blog for the faint-hearted. It’s deliberately scurrilous, insulting, cheeky, and pointed. Paul Staines likes to prick the vanity and pomposity of the ruling classes. So that’s another tick for me.

In the last couple of years he has done the country a service by helping bring about the reform of the more crass behaviour of our politicians. Only recently our politicians were able to fraudulently claim expenses they were not owed, they were allowed to take money to pay for new houses, supposedly in their constituency but often not, and took more money to run a London home. For some reason they’re still allowed hundreds of pounds for food. No one has explained why. Some would claim mortgages when they had none. Some claimed money for rental, when they were using a room in a sister’s house; many switched the house they called home for another, for which they claimed money in order to make profit. Many used public funds to renovate older houses, and then kept the profit when they sold them. And did so many times over five years.

Most such abuses have, thank God, been stopped.

Now Staines has moved on to another group for which he has no regard: journalists. It is his present campaign that has brought Piers Morgan to the fore in the scandal over phone hacking. Well, Piers Moron, as he has been known for some time by readers of Private Eye, can defend himself. I don’t propose to do so.

I appreciate much of what Paul Staines has done.

However . . .

Today he has begun a new campaign: to bring about the return of capital punishment to the UK.

I can remember many years ago sitting on a train next to a woman who was very chatty and happy. Her husband was a barrister, she said. I enjoyed a long conversation that ceased when I told her I supported the death penalty. As I do now – but, with one proviso.

For many centuries Britain had felonies that would inevitably be punished by death.

There was until recently, arson of the royal dockyards. A natural felony for a nation like ours that depended so heavily upon our navy. There was, of course, murder. There was treachery. Then again, there was, long ago, filching deer from a royal forest; theft of an item worth more than a shilling; declaring your support for the Catholic faith (or at a different time, declaring your Protestant faith). Lots of crimes deserved hanging.

We have hanged spies and cowards, we have beheaded traitors. All in the interests of good governance.

Tomb of Hugh Despenser, Hanged, Drawn and Quartered.

I have always supported the concept of execution for those guilty of the worst crimes. I believe that terrorists deserve the death penalty. Also those who are shown to be child-murderers, and possibly those who kill the police – although I am not convinced of that last. In Britain we always prided ourselves on the fact that we did not have a paramilitary police: we were policed by consent, and thus our police did not have any significant powers or protections over and above those of an ordinary citizen. Sadly this distinction has been eroded by successive groups of that elite undemocratic club, the Association of Chief Police Officers, but that’s no reason to make a law stating one group of adults is more deserving of revenge than any other. If police, why not gays and lesbians, or perhaps significant minorities? After all, police are allowed pepper sprays, CS gas, steel batons, and God knows what else which are routinely denied to the general public. They can protect themselves.

But I digress.

So, do I support Paul Staines’ latest campaign?


Because I have studied too many crimes in which it is clear that the wrong person was punished.

We have had too many Irish men imprisoned for years, for which they are now claiming compensation because they were released on appeal. The number of men who have been gaoled by incompetent or corrupt police officers is massive.

And there is one thing I am convinced of: if there has been a failure of our police or judicial system, which has led to an innocent person being imprisoned, it is better that they are released, than that they are subsequently pardoned after the state has executed them.

I have no idea how many murderers are walking free just now. And to be honest I don’t care. It was a Nazi policy that it would be better for ten innocents to be punished rather than permit one guilty person to go free. I reject that utterly. I believe that it is infinitely better that one ten guilty go free rather than one innocent should suffer the cruel and terrible punishment of imprisonment for a crime he never committed.

In Britain there is no vast pool of murders in any case. There is no need for additional deterrence. We rarely have police officers killed. Our murder rate has been remarkably stable for decades at 1.1 per 100,000 of population. That is about the same as Switzerland. Ignore knife crime, gun crime, or murder with a deadly blunt instrument (Dunblane was the first year in which murders committed with pistols had equalled the number committed with family cars). If a man or woman has a motive and opportunity, they will make use of whatever means comes to hand, be it a razor, a car, or a golf club.

In Britain, that means most murders are committed in the home. Almost invariably, murder is a crime perpetrated by spouse against spouse. Yes there are gang killings, and yes, sometimes a drug dealer is killed for reasons of competition. However, these killings will always happen, with or without the death penalty.

There is no justification for returning to capital punishment until there is a failsafe system of proving guilt.

And no, that does not mean DNA. DNA is not proof of anything on its own, it is only corroborative evidence when a suspect has been isolated.

But that’s a subject for another item, I guess.

4 Responses to “Death and Justice”
  1. loren b says:

    i support the death penalty even though it takes years here in the U.S. for for a convicted murderer to be executed. i believe it has some geterrent value. i also agree it should only be in the cases where there is zero question of ones guilt. I.E. multiple witnesses. paul staines sounds like someone i’d agree with on many issues. may he champion british private gun ownership next!!!!!


    • I do agree, Loren. But for the death penalty to be valid, there must be certainty about the guilt of the guy involved. In this country, even murderers such as the M1 murderer and Christie are having their guilt reassessed. All too often poor police investigations (which is increasing because of the use of DNA as a “magic bullet”) and corrupt or utterly incompetent forensic work or pathologists who enjoy their moments of glory in court, will see the innocent convicted. At least in medieval times the conviction rate was pretty low. You don’t want to see your neighbour hanged, after all, when he’s the best guy for stacking stooks, or the fastest scythe in the west!
      But our police have far too much power without control. Hmm. Could be another blog there …


  2. Thank you, Mike, for the post.
    As a former police officer I tend to agree with you on most of your points.
    With regards to the police, I believe they lost their way some time in the early nineties. This was the time when the political elite took over the running of the police, dressed up as senior officers when they were really little more than social graduates with an agenda to change for the sake of change something that was admired pretty much the world over.
    There was a time when a ‘good policeman’ was defined by the arrests they made and the impact they made on the community. Then the goalposts were moved. Pro active officers became a nuisance to the service (force was a dirty word), and policing by consent, which is naturally the consent of the majority, became policing by consent of the loudest pressure group.
    Uniforms were discarded in favour of paramilitary jump suits and baseball caps and the compulsory four years of probationary learning on the job were dissolved in the name of equality – although I still do not understand who benefited from this apart from those who could not be bothered to learn their trade before going onto specialist units such as CID.
    As for capital punishment, my gut instinct is similar to yours in that there should be an ultimate recourse for those who commit the most heinous crimes. But due to changing values, incompetent police investigations, political will etc there is no longer a clear definition of what constitutes such an act.
    My only wish now is that the justice system was adequate to the challenge. That offenders should be imprisoned rather than left in the community, that sentences were reflective of the severity of the crime and the public’s right to go about their business knowing that those who have done wrong in their community are indeed being punished. You cannot police by consent when the public have no faith in the system designed for their protection – and when those who commit the crimes have no or little fear of retribution. That is the wider point.


    • Quite right!
      I have fond memories of older officers like Dave Stark. He worked in Horley, and he made a point of standing on a street corner for fifteen minutes every morning and evening, because that way the mothers taking kids to and from school could see a bobby on the beat. But his sort of commonsense policing has more or less stopped. Here in my village I see a police officer every six months or so.
      I do think that our police are alienated from the public now. They’re taught to distrust people. Wearing stab proof vests may be good once in a while, but not generally for walking our streets. But wearing them adds to the gulf between police and public, as does the sight of expanding batons, sprays and utility belts. The police have a monopoly on violence, pretty much, and the number of homicides committed by the police, while still mercifully low, is a sign of the growing culture or gun violence in the forces. I was horrified when I used to shoot against police competitively, and after two events, refused to shoot with the Met reps. They were dangerous and incompetent.
      Mind you, I was more horrified when I read “The Good Guys Wear Black”, a memoir of Steve Collins, a Met officer from SO19. He told how he joined the police because he witnessed a case of police brutality against a protester, and thought it looked like fun. He wanted to do that.
      I do believe that the Blairs, Tony and Ian, did a huge amount of damage to the police. I only wish there were more Dave Starks still around to train more recent recruits.
      And now – let’s see if this second attempt at a reply will load, or disappear like the first!


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