Sunday, 26 October 2014

Morality 20: History if Capital Punishment in the UK

Higher RMPS Podcast
Capital Punishment - History if Capital Punishment in the UK

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

Hanging was the traditional form of capital punishment in the UK, used by the Saxons in the 5th century till its abolition in 1965.  In 1401 a law in England made burning the penalty for heresy.  In the 16th century during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558) nearly 300 Protestants were burned to death in England; burning as a punishment was abolished in Britain in 1790.  A common misconception was that Witches were burned, they instead were hanged.  The punishment for treason was hanging, drawing and quartering.  The person was drawn on a hurdle pulled by a horse to the place of execution.  They were hanged but when they were still alive and sometimes conscious they were cut down.  The executioner cut open their stomach and 'drew out' their entrails.  Finally the person was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters.

Hanging was the most common method of execution in both England and Scotland.  At first the criminal stood on a ladder, which was pulled away, or on a cart, which was moved.  From the 18th century he stood on a trapdoor.  During the early 19th century the number of crimes punishable by death was greatly reduced; after 1861 capital punishment was only retained for 4 crimes: murder, piracy, arson, and high treason.

From the 1930s opposition to capital punishment grew.  In 1950 Timothy Evans was hanged for having murdered his wife and baby daughter; in fact it was later found out that a man named John Reginald Christie murdered them and several other women.  The last woman to be hanged in Britain was Ruth Ellis in 1955 for shooting her lover David Blakely. 

The death penalty for murder was abolished for an experimental period of 5 years in 1965.  The last person to be executed in Scotland was Henry John Burnett, aged 21, on 15 August 1963 for the murder of seaman Thomas Guyan.  It was finally abolished in 1969.  Free votes were held on the restoration of capital punishment in 1979 and 1994 but both times it was rejected by MPs.  Capital punishment could in theory still be used for other crimes, such as treason.  In 1999 Jack Straw, the then British Home Secretary, signed the 6th protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights; in 2003 David Blunkett, the then British Home Secretary, acceded to the 13th Protocol which then prohibits the death penalty under all circumstances, formally ending the use Capital Punishment.

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