The death penalty rises


By Guy Dorrell @GuyDorrellEsq

This week’s reshuffle gained a huge amount of media and airtime, as it was surely meant to, and coincidentally prevented much coverage of the on-going investigation of paedophilia among the establishment and also prevented proper scrutiny of the DRIP intelligence intercepts legislation.

It was cast as a triumph for women in the Cabinet, though in reality there was an increase of a sole post going to a woman over that which we had back in 2010. Beyond the manufactured plaudits and preening for the cameras, the reshuffle introduced something that the country has not seen for some while.

Extremist views

In promoting Priti Patel in a Treasury, David Cameron rewarded someone who has views that many categorise as extremist. Priti Patel is an advocate for the re-introduction of the death penalty.

After starting her working life in Conservative Central Office as part of the Research Department, Patel moved into a succession of PR roles, culminating in a job at super-agency Webber Shandwick, where one of her client list was British American Tobacco. This later led to some controversy as to her impartiality on the decisions for plain packaging for cigarettes being put before the Commons.

In September 2011, on an appearance on BBC’s Question Time, she argued passionately for the re-introduction of capital punishment.

Background and influences

Her parents were Ugandan immigrants from Navsari in India, and were subjected to Idi Amin’s ill-treatment and subsequent expulsion of naturalised Ugandans originally from the Indian sub-continent. This expulsion was rapid, those being expelled being given only 90 days’ notice and sometimes brutal. It would be easy to write off Patel’s predisposition towards capital punishment as being a product of what she witnessed first-hand at this time, but her family’s transit to a new life in Britain was completed before she was 6 months old.

Her clash with Private Eye’s Ian Hislop is well documented and available on YouTube, where he comprehensively demolishes her arguments for capital punishment’s re-introduction. Yet her beliefs appear sincerely held.

If the right wing of the Conservative Party, this week markedly in the ascendancy, are resurgent, the death penalty will certainly be promoted as a policy.

Arguments against

So what are the arguments against its re-introduction?

Ignoring the obvious arguments of injustice, such as the Derek Bentley case, where the ambiguous plea to a co-conspirator to burglary to give up the firearm his accomplice was pointing at a police officer, of “let him have it”, was enough to see Bentley sentenced to death by hanging, the most compelling argument against the re-introduction of the death penalty comes from an unexpected quarter.

The 16th of December 1969 saw 185 MPs vote for the abolition of capital punishment with 158 voting against its being struck from the statute books. The final executions in the UK were those of Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans on 13 August 1964, for the murder of John West.

Fred West

Two years prior to the abolition, Frederick Walter Stephen West’s first wife introduced a friend, Anne McFall to her husband. McFall became inexplicably infatuated with West and became pregnant by him. In August 1967, McFall went missing. Her remains were not discovered until 1994.

So began a 20 year reign of terror, rape and murder at the hands of Fred West. Eleven known victims and thirteen probable victims of Fred and Rosemary West have been identified. Following the sexual exploitation of his own daughter and her complaints to friends at school, Fred West was investigated and arrested.

On New Year’s Day 1995, while on remand awaiting trial, Fred West committed suicide by hanging himself.

Harold Shipman

In an overlapping period, of between 1975 and 1998, Harold Shipman – a GP based in Hyde, Manchester began systematically murdering elderly and infirm patients that he was called to attend. He is on record as the most prolific of serial killers in the UK, with his victims simply being estimated at 250+, as he was able to kill and then certify their death through conceivable events himself.

At around 6:20am on 13 January 2004, Harold Shipman was found dead in his cell at Wakefield Prison, through hanging by a noose he had fashioned through bedsheets, tied to the bars of the window to his cell.

The Home Secretary at the time, David Blunkett, said of being notified of Shipman’s suicide, “You wake up and you receive a call telling you Shipman has topped himself and you think, is it too early to open a bottle? And then you discover that everybody’s very upset that he’s done it.” Justice and understanding of the motivation for the death of their relatives would be denied forever to the relatives of Shipman’s victims.

Fred West was on remand awaiting trial and was expecting a hefty prison sentence, while Harold Shipman had already received a whole-life term, meaning that he would never again be a free man. It is likely that Fred West would also have received a whole-life term, given the danger to the public that he represented. Neither man could live with either the guilt of reflecting upon their crimes, or the prospect of spending every moment of the rest of their lives incarcerated. For them, death by suicide was an easier and preferable option to prison; death no longer held the primary spot in their fears.

Celebrity endorsement

So, when a rising star of the Conservative Party’s right wing, a proponent of the death penalty is promoted despite having views that are at odds with the current judicial system and with the majority of the electorate, it is time to reflect on who we have representing us.

To have your policies endorsed, through action, by Fred West and Harold Shipman should bring your fitness to govern into question by your constituents.

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