Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Hanging Moratorium

There was an 18 month break in Capital Punishment in the UK between 1955 and 1957.  Some say the case of Ruth Ellis was one of the major factors that saw the suspension.  Others believe it was the Derek Bentley case.  Looking at the two cases, it is the Bentley case that certainly gave cause for major concern.  Admittedly not the killer of PC Sidney Miles, was under arrest, and on top of that, had the mental age of a child.  He was also unfortunate not to have the family connections that Ronald True had.  But in reality, debates in Parliament about Capital Punishment and calls for its abolition, had started in the late 1940`s.  Murder trials carried on as usual and guilty verdicts were routinely handed the death penalty.  But during the suspension, convicted persons were then reprieved and given prison sentences.  Compared to modern times, the time served in prison was ridiculously short.

    Fifty people were condemned to death during the suspension, with three women amongst them;  Anne Drinkall, Freda Rumbold & Maureen Hanrahan. Anne & Maureen`s executions were scheduled for Strangeways in Manchester, whilst Freda would have hanged in Holloway, where Ruth Ellis was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint.  The one big name condemned was that of Philip Ellul, convicted of the gangland murder of Tommy Smithson in 1956, a trial that featured in newspapers throughout the land.  The Death Penalty was reintroduced after June 1957, but now came under the 1957 Homicide Act, which made Capital Murder fall under five categories.  But scouring through newspaper archives, you will find examples that, for some reason, did not fall into the five categories, whilst others did.  In 1958, in two trials at the Old Bailey, two child killers pleaded guilty, whereas before, they would never have.  "It`s okay fellers, you won`t swing now. Put your hands up to it!"  

    But it all ended in 1965, then officially in 1969, but whilst all condemned cells and execution chambers were stripped of all equipment and refurbished, there was one kept, "just in case" and that is at Wandsworth Prison in London.  It is officially a storeroom but every couple of years, it was cleared out, and the trapdoor mechanism tested.  At present, I do not know if this procedure is still carried out.  Hanging is still carried out in the USA but only on the odd occasions.  Since the reintroduction in 1976, three have hanged; the most notable was child killer Wesley Dodd, who requested it.  I remember working when it was announced on the news spot on the radio that Dodd had just been hanged.  Sobering.