Death and torture video is not nasty, censor says

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James Ferman, the film censor, yesterday defended his decision to grant a certificate to a video featuring real-life executions despite its withdrawal from sale by the newsagent, W.H.Smith. The film has sold 60,000 copies in three days.

Ferman, director of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said that much of the footage in the documentary-style work had been seen on television, but it was so dauntingly fact-laden that it was unlikely to be attractive to children.

"Nor is its subject matter treated with the sort of prurient attention which would appeal to sensation seekers," he said. Executions was a serious film and "not a video nasty".

John Menzies said it would also refuse to reorder the 56-minute film once stocks ran out, though other shops said that while they felt uneasy about 21 executions shown in the pounds 12.99 video, it had been given an 18 certificate by the BBFC and it was not their role to act as censors.

Scenes in the film show a naked woman being stoned to death in Somalia, beheadings in Saudi Arabia, the gassing of a convicted murderer in the US and the bodies of torture victims in the former Yugoslavia.

MPs attacked the BBFC decision to let the classification stand. Tory Nigel Evans, wrote to the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, demanding an inquiry into how the film was passed for general release. "The makers of the film have hidden behind the excuse that they want to portray the depravity of the death penalty. That sort of excuse could justify the making of any depraved documentary about any sick subject," he said.

The human rights campaign group Amnesty International said it had decided not to become involved with the project after it had been approached by the Northampton-based film company Eduvision late last year because it was uncertain that the producers would deal with the complexities of the issue in a sensitive way.

One of the film's researchers, James Hunt, dismissed claims of sensationalism and said the production team was "very disappointed" with W H Smith's decision. The producers claim the project was inspired by an opinion poll last year which showed more than 70% of the public backed capital punishment.

"People are speaking from a position of ignorance. We wanted to highlight what death is really about," The company plans to produce another 120,000 copies.