[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Feb 12 23:25:25 CST 2006
Confessions of a Hangman----Albert Pierrepoint killed 600 people, and was
paid for doing it. With a movie of his life closing the Glasgow Film
Festival, Stephen Phelan examines the legacy of the Kings Executioner
Leaving law and morality aside, the best argument against bringing back
hanging is that the hangmen themselves are all dead. A final Home Office
list of official executioners was printed up in February 1964, and made
obsolete when capital punishment was suspended the following year. Those
six whose names appeared on it have long since gone to their own graves.
There is nobody left in this country with the relevant training or
experience to operate a gallows, which was in the end a more complex piece
of equipment than it looked.
Albert Pierrepoint was not on that particular list, having resigned from
his post as Official Executioner of Great Britain almost a decade before
the death penalty was last enforced at 8am on August 13, 1964, when 2 men
swung at the same time for their parts in a single murder. He was not,
then, The Last Hangman, which was the original title of director Adrian
Shergold's new film about him, until it was changed to the more succinct,
accurate, and eponymous Pierrepoint.
He remains, however, the most famous individual to ever tie a noose, and
this film, which will receive its British premiere at the Glasgow Film
Festival next week, can at least show you why.
"The fascinating thing about Pierrepoint," says Shergold, "has to do with
the idea that a person can disassociate themselves from the horror of what
they're doing. When Albert went into the death chamber, he wasn't Albert
any more. He was the King's Executioner."
Between 1931 and 1956, Pierrepoint carried out up to 600 judicial hangings
in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and post-war Germany, becoming the
most prolific executioner in history. Although he later expressed the
opinion that this tally in itself was "nothing to boast about", he was
proud of his speed and technique.
In refining the craft of the gallows to engineer "instantaneous death",
Pierrepoint made it his business to minimise the suffering of the
condemned. On one occasion at Strangeways Prison, he led a convicted
murderer through the process so quickly that the man, James Inglis, was
pronounced dead on the end of the rope within 7 seconds of leaving his
"It is I who have looked them last in the eyes," he wrote in his memoir,
titled Executioner: Pierrepoint. "There is only a final relationship which
matters: this is my brother or sister to whom something dreadful must be
done. I have tried always to be gentle with them, and to give them what
dignity I could."
At the time, there were legal codes which could explain why these men and
women had to die, but nothing to say that Pierrepoint had to kill them.
The job had been open, and he had applied for it. Like every other
executioner, he must have had his own reasons. Who were these men? What
were those reasons?
First published in 1974, nearly 20 years after he quit the job, and a
decade after capital punishment had been effectively ended by the Murder
Act of 1965, Pierrepoint's memoir remains the most profound available
insight into the mind of a hangman. And it closes with the conclusion that
all his work, and every one of those deaths, had been for nothing.
"All the men and women I have faced in that final moment," he wrote,
"convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single
murder. Executions do not solve anything. They are an antiquated relic of
a primitive desire for revenge."
That most professional of opinions, coming from a man of such experience,
might be considered the most damning testimony ever made against the death
penalty. Adrian Shergold, who is "utterly opposed" to capital punishment,
insists that his film is not about this issue itself.
When the floor was opened to questions after a screening of Pierrepoint at
last year's Toronto Film Festival, its makers were asked about the ethics
of executing war criminals, and the record of George W Bush, whose
enthusiastic rubber-stamping of lethal injections has made him the most
powerful modern-day equivalent of a hanging judge.
"Obviously, the subject has a certain political impact, but we didnt
really want to get into that," says Shergold. "This film is not about
that. Its about one man's emotional journey. And I would hope that anyone
who watches it will be horrified to see what he went through."
Timothy Spall is the perfect character actor for the part, conveying
fathomless kindness and sadness as he stares into the eyes of one
imminently doomed soul after another. All of Pierrepoints notable
executions are reconstructed here, against a moveable backdrop of British
social history - he reached the peak of his career, and the reluctant
height of his celebrity, when he was commissioned to hang the German
military prisoners, male and female, who had operated the Nazi death camp
at Belsen. Later, when the spirit of the Blitz had exhausted itself, he
came to be regarded with much greater ambivalence as a lethal symbol of
"Albert had always tried to keep his job under wraps," says Adrian
Shergold. "He was shocked when he became a hero for a time, then he was
equally surprised when the whole abolitionist movement swept the country
and made him into a hate figure."
Pierrepoint personally applied the noose and white hood at those notorious
executions which raised critical doubts about capital punishment through
the early 1950s. He hanged Derek Bentley, the mentally deficient teenager
who supposedly incited his friend Chris Craig to murder a London policeman
(Bentley was already under arrest when the fatal shot was fired, but Craig
was too young to be sentenced to death). He hanged Timothy Evans, who was
then posthumously proved innocent of killing his wife and daughter
(Pierrepoint subsequently executed the real murderer, Evans's landlord
John Christie). And he hanged Ruth Ellis, the young single mother who had
shot her abusive boyfriend, even while songs and howls of protest went up
outside Holloway Prison.
Popular films have been made about all of those cases - Let Him Have It
(1991), 10 Rillington Place (1971), and Dance With A Stranger (1986)
respectively - and Pierrepoint has appeared as a character in each of
them, if only for the final scene.
Now the same unfortunate figures play small but crucial parts in the
screen version of their executioner's own story. Bentley whimpers a
little, Evans pleads and Ellis gives an enigmatic smile as their last
moments are choreographed to Pierrepoint's routine.
"He was a fastidious man," says Shergold. "The particular way that he
would walk into the cell, spin the prisoner around, pinion them, and lead
them out to the gallows, became like a weird dance of death. There was a
music to it, a kind of waltz, which all became a part of our approach to
"In the first week of making the film we shot all the major executions.
For 5 straight days, we were basically hanging people at Ealing Studios.
It started to haunt me. I couldn't escape from it. And now I have very
mixed feelings about the real Albert Pierrepoint. I'm not sure whether I
like him or hate him."
As a work of biography, Shergold's film is relatively kind to its subject.
But it can barely even begin to explain why Pierrepoint, or anyone else,
would want to be an executioner in the 1st place.
Opinion polls vary. A Mori survey conducted last month indicated that at
least 23% of the British public would support the reinstatement of the
death penalty for murder, 38% for the murder of a police officer, and 43%
for the murder of a child. But even if those figures were higher - and
similar polls have more often put supporters in the majority - no UK
government could bring back hanging under prevailing legislation.
Suspended in 1965 and later limited to such archaic crimes as piracy with
violence and arson on the Royal Dockyards, the death penalty was finally
and formally abolished in this country on January 27, 1999, when Home
Secretary Jack Straw signed protocol six of the European Convention Of
Meanwhile, 86% of the worlds population currently live in countries where
local law still extends to the use of gallows, firing squads, lethal
injections, beheading swords, or other, more ad-hoc methods. In Yemen, for
example, the prisoner is laid on the ground and riddled with bullets by a
Peter Hodgkinson is director of the Centre For Capital Punishment Studies,
a London-based project with a remit to gather all available information on
the death penalty from those countries, and suggest "effective,
proportionate, and humane alternatives, which meet the needs of the
casualties of crime."
Everyone involved in judicial execution comes within the scope of the
centre's research - the victims, the condemned, both sets of families, and
agents of the state. "And of all those groups," says Hodgkinson, "by far
the least is known about the motivation of the executioners themselves,
and the effects of that work on their own lives and personalities. There
is anecdotal evidence of stress, disruption, and post-traumatic symptoms,
but there hasn't really been an empirical study."
Most of the Centre's data comes from the USA, where 38 of the 50 states
currently apply the death penalty, usually in the form of a lethal
injection, which is administered by prison guards on a voluntary,
rotational basis. Out of curiosity, says Hodgkinson, he once asked a team
of guards why they would put themselves forward for that duty. "I didn't
really get a straight answer, but I got the impression that it was just
another part of their prison experience."
In 2002, the US Supreme Court clarified the position of juries in capital
cases - only they can decide whether the maximum sentence is appropriate.
These "death- qualified" juries have since been less inclined to recommend
capital punishment, which may suggest the crucial difference between
supporting the death penalty in theory and enacting it in practice.
"In the visceral debate over this issue," says Hodgkinson, "you often hear
people say, 'I would pull the trigger myself'. Obviously, you have to
wonder if they could. To actually do the killing is an awesome
This is presumably what the Executioner means in George Bernard Shaw's
stage play Saint Joan, when he describes his work, or perhaps himself, as
a "highly-skilled mystery." It was a favourite line of Albert
Pierrepoint's, and he quoted it in his autobiography. But not all of his
predecessors were particularly skilful or mysterious. The ancient
historical line of British headmen and hangmen is for the most part a
gallery of sadists, show-offs, mercenaries and convicts with a licence to
murder. They threw their victims into bogs and quagmires in the
pre-Christian ages, administered slow deaths at spike-point in medieval
times, boiled criminals alive under Henry VIII and made messes with axes
as late as the Enlightenment.
Jack Ketch, Official Executioner in the reign of Charles II, would often
take up to 5 strokes to cut a head off, and his name became synonymous
with Satan. William Calcraft, the longest-serving hangman in history,
spent the majority of the 19th century using the old "short-drop"
technique, a relic of the days when a noose was primarily a torture
device. Prisoners would take long minutes to die by strangulation, and the
hangman was entitled to keep and sell their personal effects on top of his
standard fee of 10.
Calcraft was among the last executioners to be drawn from the prison
population - such a volunteer would usually be granted a reprieve from
their own sentence of death or transportation to Australia. He was the
last to make money on the side, and the last to perform in front of a
(Charles Dickens, among others, had campaigned to move executions inside
prison walls, arguing that such scenes were a danger to the public health,
creating "no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness;
nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness and flaunting vice
After 1868, executions became private events, the noose became a clinical
instrument, and the pay-scale never really improved. The hangmen who
followed were therefore both more professional, and more inscrutable. As
one prison governor said to the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment in
1949, "a man who wants to be an executioner must be in a class by
Dr. David A Holmes, a criminal psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan
University, has studied the profiles of past and present executioners, and
identified 3 basic types.
"There is a general assumption that such people would have to be
psychotic," says Holmes, "but thats not usually the case. Some might be
somewhat cold and militaristic, perhaps not fully sentient. They might
just as easily be working in an abbatoir, where a certain insensitivity
goes with the job. Then there is an interesting group who might view it
almost heroically, as a duty to the country, like someone working down a
sewer, or on the front line of a military operation.
"It's the 3rd sort that I worry about," he continues. "The ones who think
of themselves as skilled technicians, or even as artists. They are
obsessive, they are perfectionists, they know all their weights and
measures as a matter of pride and joy."
Holmes might just have described Albert Pierrepoint himself. If the
gallows developed over the centuries into a highly advanced delivery
system for sudden death, then Pierrepoint saw himself as the human end of
that process: the perfect hangman.
Previous executioner William Marwood had already developed the "long drop"
technique, which broke the neck inside the noose. His successor James
Berry had devised a "table of drops," which calculated the necessary
length of rope on the basis of the convicts height and weight (although
several prisoners were decapitated in the course of trial and error). But
Albert Pierrepoint could take one look at a man or woman sentenced to
death, and know the precise measurements required to exert 1260 lbs of
"striking force" on their 2nd and 3rd cervical vertebrae, severing the
spinal cord and producing painless, unconscious, almost instantaneous
He may also have benefited from a more direct and genetic inheritance -
Albert was the third Pierrepoint of Clayton, West Yorkshire to appear on
the Home Office list of executioners. He started his career as assistant
hangman to his uncle Tom. And his father Henry had himself been Official
Executioner of Great Britain, having worked his own way up the list, and
encouraged his son to follow him into the business. When that Royal
Commission On Capital Punishment asked Albert how he had ended up a
hangman, he offered the most obvious explanation: "It's in the family,
As a child he had read Henrys own memoir of the trade, My Ten Years
Experiences, which seemed to explain his father's "mysterious apartness,"
and convinced him that "death was adventure, and execution was romance."
Henry Pierrepoint was, however, driven to drink by the profession, and
eventually fired for turning up for a hanging at Chelmsford Prison in
1910, "considerably the worse for wear." His assistant, John Ellis, later
In being only human, it seems, these men were unable to carry on like grim
reapers. And in Albert's own years of experience, colleagues regularly
quit after their 1st hanging. Pierrepoint himself kept going, commuting
far and wide to the gallows at Wandsworth or Barlinnie for the old
tokenistic fee of 15 per hanging, then returning cheerfully home to his
wife Anne. They ran a busy pub called Help The Poor Struggler, and Albert
sang songs with the regulars (one of whom, James Corbitt, he was to hang
for murder in 1950).
What does all of this say about the pathology of the hangman? "Possibly,"
suggests David A Holmes, "that he was perfectly healthy. A person who does
not seem to suffer from any kind of post-traumatic stress disorder may be
a completely normal human being, who is simply able to control or
compartmentalise their emotions. They can go home and be loving and
empathic with their wife even if 7 hours before they were placing a noose
around someone's neck."
As Adrian Shergold's film about Pierrepoint makes explicit, the cumulative
effect of all those damned eyes on him would genuinely seem to have
changed the man's mind about capital punishment. Some showed fear, but in
most cases he was "amazed by their courage." "The thought kept occurring
to me later," he wrote, "that the existence of the death sentence had not
deterred them, and the immediate prospect of death had not consumed them
When he actually resigned in 1956, however, it was apparently over a pay
dispute, prompted by the continued refusal of Strangeways Prison to
provide late-cancellation fees when death sentences were reprieved by the
Home Office at the last minute. Shergold believes that this was just a
convenient excuse for Pierrepoint to quit. "The truth is that he was shot
to pieces by the shock and horror of it all."
The man himself never admitted any such thing. Pierrepoint died in 1992 at
the age of 87, apparently believing that the job had been ultimately
meaningless, but also entirely satisfied that he had at least done it to
the best of his ability. On the last page of his memoir, he wrote that the
argument against the gallows was fundamentally political.
"The trouble with the death sentence has always been that nobody wanted it
for everybody, but everybody differed about who should get off." As for
himself, he went on to conclude that: "I have always believed I was sent
on this earth to do this work, and that same power told me when I should
Who is to say where that voice came from? It could have been his God, his
genes, or his own humanity. Or it might have been Death itself.
Pierrepoint will be the closing film of the Glasgow Film Festival on
Sunday, February 26, at Cineworld, 7.30pm. To win tickets to this and
other GFF screenings, see the competition in news.
(source: Sunday Herald (UK)
An unjust solution in any country----Australia should do more to save its
citizens from the dealth penalty overseas
Increasingly, Australian citizens have faced the prospect of capital
punishment in South-East Asian countries for alleged drug trafficking. If
proved, serious crimes have been committed. The community overseas and in
Australia is entitled to expect that those offences will be punished.
But is the death penalty for the usually young Australians who have
carried commercial quantities of illegal drugs an appropriate or just
solution? By February 14 we will know the fate of those members of the
Bali nine deemed by the Indonesian prosecution to be the ringleaders who
should be executed.
It is a credit to the civility and responsibility of the mainstream
parties in this country that the question of capital punishment has not
been placed on the public agenda since the hanging of Ronald Ryan in
Victoria on February 3, 1967. An emotional response moved the nation. Some
had read George Orwell's 1931 essay A Hanging: "It is curious, but till
that moment I had not realised what it means to destroy a healthy,
conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid a puddle, I saw
the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness of cutting a life short when it is
in full tide."
The case against judicially authorised killing as a penalty has been well
argued by the abolitionists.
Even putting aside the humanitarian critique of writers such as Orwell,
Charles Dickens, Clarence Darrow, Albert Camus and Arthur Koestler, it has
been widely recognised that: the case for the death penalty as a deterrent
has no adequate foundation in the available statistics; errors can be made
in even the most scrupulous of judicial systems, and in that event,
mistaken findings of guilt cannot be rectified; the death penalty has a
differential impact upon ethnic and other minority groups; community
concern and any arguable need for retribution, is dealt with by long terms
of imprisonment, including a life sentence; real deterrence lies in the
prospect of detection, charge and due process.
Those who underestimate the punitive effect of long periods of
incarceration fail to appreciate the stark reality of such a sanction.
Thus, despite the subsistence of capital punishment in some states of the
United States ( "a cruel and unusual punishment" according to one bench of
the Supreme Court of the US), in China and in other nations, our country
is free of it.
Should we, therefore, be concerned about Australian citizens being the
subject of death penalties in overseas courts?
One argument is that these sovereign states are entitled to run their own
justice system without interference from those abroad with different
views. Against that is the well recognised obligation of countries to
protect their citizens who are dealt with by foreign courts. The notions
of consular visits, legal assistance and intergovernmental representations
are well established.
It would be proper for the Australian authorities to seek leave to
intervene in other jurisdictions where proceedings place Australians in
jeopardy, especially where the death penalty is a real possibility.
Questions of clemency, mitigating factors and even policy could be
presented to those courts. Furthermore, there could be nothing untoward
about the Australian authorities making representations through
appropriate diplomatic channels to the executive governments of foreign
states seeking the exercise of residual prerogatives of mercy. Such
representations could be made respectfully and with vigour. Moreover, the
convicted person could be removed to the place of citizenship to be dealt
with in accordance with domestic law. That approach would balance an
acknowledgement of the right of other nations and a principled opposition
to capital punishment.
(source: Sydney Morning Herald (This is an edited version of a talk given
by Jeff Shaw, QC, former NSW attorney-general, at the round table on
capital punishment arranged by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties at the
Sydney University Law School)
Bali Nine's day of reckoning
9 young Australians face massive jail sentences in Bali if convicted of
heroin smuggling - 2 could get the death penalty.
Some say they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others are
contrite, begging for mercy while claiming they had no choice.
The 2 main players in the so-called Bali 9 say they had nothing to do with
the attempt to smuggle heroin out of Bali.
Many have turned to God for their salvation, finding solace in the Bible.
One has attempted suicide, several have had a tooth removed, and most have
They have forged alliances and found new friends. They have started
learning a new language and acclimatising to life within the confines of a
Starting tomorrow, the Bali Nine will learn how long they must remain
behind that wall. 2 will discover if their stay ends in a lonely midnight
death by a firing squad.
In the next 3 days, 14 judges of the Denpasar District Court will hand
down their verdicts in the Bali 9 cases.
If they decide that the 2 alleged ringleaders - Sydney men Andrew Chan,
22, and Myuran Sukumaran, 24 - deserve the death penalty, it will be the
1st time drug criminals appearing before the court have been given the
In recent history, the only other death penalties came in 2003 when 3 of
the Bali nightclub bombing terrorists got the "hukuman mati".
It was the High Court that handed down the only other death penalty.
Sierra Leone man Emmanuel Ejerika received a life sentence from the
District Court, which was upgraded to death when he appealed his
conviction for carrying heroin.
Local newspapers have speculated on whether the District Court will be
"brave enough" to give some of the nine Australians the death penalty. The
answer will come on Tuesday when the Chan and Sukumaran verdicts are due.
Of the 9, prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for 2, life
sentences for 6 and 20 years for the sole woman, Renae Lawrence. While the
prosecutors' demands are not binding on the judges, they are considered a
good guide. Many of the sentences end up being lower.
But in the Bali Nine cases, which have run since October, 5 of the accused
have not done themselves any favours by stonewalling, failing to admit to
things that are black and white and refusing to testify in the trials of
their co-accused. Some have given convoluted and conflicting testimony.
Prosecutors have urged the judges to show no leniency, especially to Chan
and Sukumaran. In the case of the four "mules", prosecutors have urged the
judges to disregard the defence's claim that they were threatened with
certain death and the death of their families if they failed to play their
In their closing addresses, prosecutors argued that the actions of the
Bali Nine were contrary to Indonesia's tough anti-drugs regime. Many
lawmakers believe drug abuse is out of control and have declared war on
the insidious trade, which they say kills 15,000 teenagers a year.
The prosecution's case is that the nine were members of a secretive,
military-style international drug network that conspired to traffic 8.2kg
of heroin from Bali to Australia.
According to the prosecution case, Chan and Sukumaran organised and paid
for the travel expenses of the group, bought them mobile phones to keep in
contact, and gave the orders. They were also accused of strapping the
heroin to the bodies of the 4 mules.
Prosecutors allege that Chan recruited syndicate members in Sydney and
took possession of the heroin when it was delivered to Bali by a Thai
The third alleged cog in the wheel was Brisbane baker Tan Duc Thanh
Nguyen, 23, who is accused of helping to recruit two mules from his home
The group's journey began on April 17 when, in a sting operation, 5
Australians were arrested at Bali airport as they prepared to catch a
flight to Sydney.
Renae Lawrence, 28, from Newcastle, Martin Stephens, 29, of Wollongong,
and 2 Brisbane 20-year-olds Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj, had a net total
of 8.2kg of heroin strapped to their legs and waists. Chan, too, was
arrested at the airport, but he was not carrying drugs.
The 4 mules said they took part because of death threats from Chan and
Sukumaran and were unaware of the true nature of their expenses-paid trip
to Bali until the last minute.
About the same time, the remaining 4 - Sukumaran, Nguyen, Si Yi Chen, 20,
and 18-year-old Matthew Norman - were arrested after checking into the
Melasti Beach Bungalows in Kuta.
Prosecutors allege they were waiting for a 2nd heroin shipment so they,
too, could bring it to Australia.
Inside the hotel room, police found a suitcase containing 350g of heroin,
which was forensically linked to the heroin found on the mules, and
another bag with the remnants of the tape and strappings that had been
used on the mules.
The families of the nine have started arriving in Bali to support their
children as they count down the hours to their verdicts. No one doubts it
will be a horrible few days in Kerobokan Jail.
(source: Sunday Times)
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