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Bill that will finally abolish spectre of capital punishment: Tony Farragher looks at the controversial history of the death penalty on the Isle of Man

(First Edition)

THE AUTOMATIC sentence of death for murder will be removed from the Isle of Man's statute book later this year, subject to the support of the Manx parliament.

When the first murder trial the island has witnessed in a decade opened a fortnight ago, the Chief Minister, Miles Walker, announced that the ancient penalty is to be abolished under a new Bill.

It is the last place in the British Isles to repeal capital punishment. When Britain did so in 1965, neither the Isle of Man nor the Channel Islands brought their legislation into line.

As both retained independent legislatures, and are responsible for domestic laws, hanging not only remained an option for courts but was mandatory. The Channel Islands repealed theirs in 1986.

Murders are infrequent on the 227-square mile Isle of Man, and the fact that its laws on capital punishment were going to cause a problem did not arise until 1972.

That was when the manager of a fast-food restaurant in Douglas was battered to death with a fire extinguisher by his head chef. The 'Golden Egg murder' gained notoriety not so much for the crime, but the sentence.

When the murder charge was proved, the judge - known as a Deemster on the island - found he had no choice but to order the death penalty.

It created a legal precedent when the Queen exercised her Royal Prerogative and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

It happened again in 1982, when a 28-year-old father beat his baby son to death in Douglas. The same procedure followed and the death sentence was overturned.

That was the last murder proved in a Manx court until yesterday. Now the royal solution is sure to be taken again.

The last execution to take place on the island was more than a century ago. A farmer's son, living in a croft in the hills above Sulby, became exasperated with his father's continual winding of their grandfather clock and stabbed him. He was hanged.

The Manx parliament, Tynwald, has also kept corporal punishment on its statutes but local magistrates have been given firm advice not to order birching after the European Court of Human Rights judged it to be 'cruel and unusual'.

While there is no sign of change on this issue, there are other indications that the small Crown dependency is bending to the will of the rest of Britain and Europe.

A Bill legalising homosexual acts between consenting adult males in private was finally given Royal Assent on Tuesday.

Now the local Minister for Home Affairs has written to Mr Walker describing the death penalty as 'a pointless mandatory sentence which cannot be imposed'. A Bill to repeal it has been prepared for introduction into the House of Keys in the autumn.

'It seems right to put the judiciary in a position where they have to give considered thought to the sentence,' Mr Walker said. 'At the moment it's all rather cut and dried.'

The last executions to take place in the UK were in August 1964, when two men were hanged, simultaneously, in Strangeways, Manchester, and Walton, Liverpool, for the murder of a milkman in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Hanging can still be ordered for a series of offences including treason, the murder of the monarch, offences against the royal family, piracy and certain acts of misconduct in the armed forces.