This week marked the 50th anniversary of the last time anyone in Britain was hanged. Surveys conducted ever since have shown that a majority of people in the UK are in favour of the death penalty for the most serious of crimes, although this number is decreasing each year.
That in itself is no surprise. To anyone under 60, the concept of someone facing their own execution at the end of a trial is alien. Our experience of capital punishment comes either from horror stories abroad (a stoning to death for adultery, a botched process in a US prison) or from school history lessons.
The most recent survey conducted for the anniversary by YouGov showed that 45 per cent of the public are in favour of capital punishment, with 39 per cent against. The numbers of those in favour are higher amongst the older voters. A similar poll four years ago found that 51 per cent of the public favoured the reintroduction of capital punishment.
Ukip MEP Louise Bours used the anniversary to call for the reintroduction of the death penalty, saying there was no “ethical reason” for child-killers or police-killers to be kept alive. “The death penalty won’t bring back a tortured and murdered child, but it seems natural justice that the family will know the killer has paid the ultimate price and isn’t still breathing when their child is not” she said.
Personally, I have my reservations about the state having the power to end someone’s life. The case of Derek Bentley highlights how the wrong decision can be made, even with a series of safety measures put in place to prevent this.
The judge presiding over his trial for murder in 1952, Lord Goddard, said in the 1970s that he thought Bentley, who had not fired the shot which killed the policeman he was charged with murdering, would have been reprieved. Bentley suffered from what we would now call learning difficulties and had a low IQ and probably suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following the Blitz, when the house he was in collapsed around him.
Add to that the disputed words, “Let him have it, Chris” – which could be taken as an instruction for his weapon-possessing partner to hand over the gun, not shoot the policeman – and it looks, even to the untrained eye, like an unsafe conviction. With the death penalty, any pardons can only be posthumous. There can be no return to freedom and liberty of the kind that we have seen with overturned prison sentences.
But for me the issue doesn’t just end there. Ukip believes in direct democracy: that is, letting the people decide. Last year there was a petition led by the Guido Fawkes blog which got 26,350 signatures. The aim was to secure a debate in Parliament on restoring capital punishment. But the point it entirely missed was that this decision, as with so many of the important decisions over Justice and Home Affairs, has been taken away from Parliament and the British people.
For some people that is a reason why they support the European Court of Human Rights and our membership of the EU. These pieces of legislation stop the death penalty returning to our statute books. But even as someone who would vote against the reintroduction of capital punishment – not because I think everyone is fundamentally good but because I don’t want the state to decide life or death – it is a basic issue of sovereignty which I believe should be decided by the people and not bureaucrats.
I am no shoo-in for Thanet South
My phone was rather busy the other day when one of the members of Ukip’s Thanet South branch decided to tell a newspaper that I was standing in that constituency in 2015. The situation is that there will be a hustings in the constituency the week after next at which the branch will decide who they wish to represent them.
I have thrown my hat in the ring, but so have others, including a top-class barrister and friend of mine. It may seem silly to some that the leader of a party would have to go through the process of being approved and selected but, I assure you, rank means nothing in Ukip.
Just as I applied to stand again as a Ukip MEP and went through the same assessment as other candidates and faced the vote of the membership with everyone else, I believe that the power to select the person they will be pounding the streets in all weathers for lies with the members of the branch themselves.
Of course I think I stand a good chance of winning. I have fought the seat before and it is in my home county of Kent and an area I have represented in the European Parliament since 1999. But with Ukip members, nothing is ever for certain. And that’s just fine by me.