The Death Penalty

This morning we visited New Milton’s Birchfield Dental Practice, where Mr Hefferan relieved me of one of my choppers which was rather loose. His painless technique was a little more sophisticated than the application of my mother’s fingers many decades ago.

My Dad was a fan of the novelist Edgar Wallace. This is what prompted me to buy a second-hand copy of ‘The Flying Squad’ a good thirty or more years past. A recent exchange with Brian, LordBeariofBow, prompted me to get around to reading it. I finished doing so in the waiting room while Jackie was having her less drastic treatment.

A fairly standard early 20th century detective thriller that would seem tame if translated to today’s TV series, so often penned by women, my copy was the 1940, 13th edition of the 1926, work. Produced during the time of the Battle of Britain, this book has survived longer than would a modern counterpart. A hardback, suffering a little foxing and browning of paper, it is still quite durable. I know it has been read previously for there were one or two minor stains and the occasional crumb lodged within.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Wallace’s novel is it’s constant reference to the death penalty of which the villains were in fear. Had I committed murder before I was almost thirty, I could well have been hanged.

It was not until the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 that the death penalty for murder was abolished, although it was to survive in Northern Ireland until 1973. Wikipedia  tells us that ‘the Act was introduced to Parliament as a private member’s bill by Sydney Silverman MP.’ It provided  ‘that charges of capital murder at the time it was passed were to be treated as charges of simple murder and all sentences of death were to be commuted to sentences of life imprisonment. The legislation contained a sunset clause, which stated that the Act would expire on 31 July 1970 “unless Parliament by affirmative resolutions of both Houses otherwise determines”.[3] This was done in 1969 and the Act was made permanent.’

On 13 August 1964, Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, were executed for the murder of John Alan West on 7 April that year. They were the last of such UK executions.

Perhaps better known victims of the hangman were Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged, and Derek Bentley who had met a similar fate two years earlier.

Film, TV, and stage productions have recounted the story of Ruth Ellis who died in 1955, and Derek Bentley, the subject of a 1991 British drama film directed by Peter Medak and starring Christopher Eccleston, Paul Reynolds, Tom Courtenay and Tom Bell.

The Bentley case led to a 45-year-campaign to win him a posthumous pardon which was granted in 1993, A further campaign resulted in the quashing of his murder conviction in 1998.

The gun that killed PC Sidney Miles had been fired by Bentley’s companion, 16 year old Christopher Craig, who was too young to hang. The finding of guilt hinged on the interpretation of Bentley’s cry, ‘Let him have it’. The jury interpreted the phrase to mean ‘Kill him’. The defence view was that he meant ‘Hand over the gun’.

Those two 1950s executions stayed in the memory of this then young boy.

Late this afternoon I wandered around the garden.

Bee? in flight

When I recently photographed an insect such as this one making a bee-line for euphorbia, I described it as a wasp. I don’t think it really can be. A bee, or a hoverfly, perhaps?


I photographed this rhododendron in bud a day or two ago;

Cherry flowering

as I did this flowering cherry.


The erigerons outside the back door are recovering well from their severe haircut.

This evening we dined on shepherds’ pie, carrots and cauliflower. Jackie drank more of the Côtes de Gascoigne, and I drank Lion’s Lair Shiraz 2013.


  1. The last person executed in NZ was hung in 1957. The two political parties chopped and changed the law for a couple more decades before popular opinion won out and the party that was initially for it, went agin it. I remember the story of Ruth Ellis and was so shocked that she was actually executed. I couldn’t believe a civilized country would do that – it was at that point i learned a little about our own history!

    Your mystery insect looks more like a bee than a wasp, which has a bisected body. But as i often am, this could be wrong 🙂 It is a most splendid capture!!

  2. I enjoyed Edgar Wallace’s ‘Sanders of the River’ books, although the rampant colonialism would receive a dim reception these days. Sanders would matter-of-factly hang leaders of rebellions, which also ties in with your observations about his references to hanging.
    As a writer, his output was phenomenal. With the help of a secretary, he produced books in a matter of two or three weeks. My record for a first draft is three months.

    1. Thanks very much, Leslie. That possibly explains why ‘The Flying Squad’, although competent enough, was a bit like some of today’s routine, although entertaining, TV crime stories. We wondered whether Wallace was the first to write such phrases as ‘stick ’em up’ 🙂

      1. I rather suspect that the latter came from the cowboy era and literature, but I am sure many of Wallace’s terms would have found their way into general language.

  3. I didn’t know about the history of the death penalty and it’s abolition. Thanks for sharing. I’m moved by the determination of the campaigners for Bentley – 45 years! There must have been numerous opportunities to give up. I imagine that the drama film must be interesting.

    1. Thanks very much, Timi. The campaign was led by Bentley’s mother and sister. Mrs. Bentley died a few months before the pardon came through. The film is brilliant, with a good cast and fine performance by Christopher Ecclestone as the doomed epileptic and mentally disabled Derek.

  4. I was too young to know about the debates at the time but later, when Dad went on about how they should bring it back it felt wrong; I was pleased, later in life when he finally changed his mind, convinced of course by my compelling arguments…!

  5. The US still has the death penalty for a few federal crimes, and some states still have it, as well. I’m sure our current president and his supporters approve. It’s barbaric.

    Hope your mouth is not too sore from the tooth removal, Derrick!
    The flowers are beautiful!

    1. Barbaric, indeed. I live in a country that argues whether I should have birth control, but retains its right to execute people who might later be proven innocent.

  6. The only thing wrong about the death penalty is that it is terminal but that’s what it has going for it. The way we throw asylum seekers into concentration camps off shore, indefinitely, is less humane. Maybe that’s why our government wants to turn those leaky boats filled with homeless people back into the open sea so that politicians can sleep well at night, feeling their hands washed.

  7. What a cheerful post, Derrick. Well, your garden pics at least. 😉 I remember there being part of an old gallows about a mile from where I lived as a small child. My sister and I used to shudder as we rushed past on our way to the Co-op. 😯

  8. The one I feel more sorry for was poor Timothy Evans, hanged for killing his wife and daughter, when they were actually killed by his landlord John Christie, who later confessed to the murders before Mr Pierrepoint sprang the trap.

    Albert was probably the greatest executioner England ever had, well Derrick excluded; and in one execution the condemned was dropped just 7 seconds after meeting Mr. P.

    Mr Pierrepoint was a strong advocate for the removal of the death penalty as a punishment.

    I’m sure Messrs Bentley and Evans were delighted when they were eventually pardoned for the murders that they did not commit .

    1. Excellent addition to the story, Brian. Thanks. I hadn’t wondered about including our Albert – but then I’d probably have rambled on about ‘im and the lion. 🙂

  9. I enjoyed this immensely which is not to say that I enjoy the thought of someone hanging but rather that your deceptively simple words regarding Ellis and Bentley bring a chill. I am not certain I shall read the book and I hope that your mouth heals well.

  10. I think it’s a wasp. With the death penalty, I don’t agree with it, but I would want to see life mean life, not fifteen years or whatever. And I don’t hold with the holiday camp approach either. DVD players, computer games, TV and so on. It should be like being imprisoned in a one star hotel where the TV’s broken.

  11. Interesting piece! We still have the death penalty here; although, many states refuse to employ it, while others execute dozens each year. We Americans seem to enjoy killing one another.

  12. Your beautiful garden is taking shape, and the breathtaking flowers were a fitting ending to your harrowing tale about the last people who were put to death in the U.K. I have mixed feelings about the death penalty and admire how you broached such a controversial subject. Bless any soul who experiences such a violent means of execution.

  13. I think when I was a child, the French still beheaded people with a guillotine. I am of French extraction so I can say that. It is It is all barbaric. My sister and I were talking today about “people” (and I’m using that term lightly) who use animals for experimentation, often repeating the same horrible act, over and over for pointless decades. What is even crazier is that these people are applauded for their heinous acts in the name of science. I’m late in reading your posts and I missed a bunch. I realized today I had marked my favorite blogs as spam.

  14. Derrick, in 2012, a girl was raped for hours by six men including the driver in a moving bus in Delhi. She was ravaged and brutalised in every possible manner. After the act, her entrails were pulled out with a crow bar through her private parts so that she could die, which she did. The cruellest of the butchers was a so-called ‘minor’ who is freely roaming the streets today. Abolition of death penalty can be an ill-conceived utopia in violent, decadent societies.

    Thank you for letting me hover in your magical arbour, and savour your reflections.

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