Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Murder in mind

Murder has been high up on the radar this past week. We've had three big trials come to an end and not surprisingly, someone's started a bandwagon rolling.

The Tories (yawn) were off the mark with their revelation that 13% of people charged with murder, although Iain Dale was quick to point the finger

That would be why his government is letting murder suspects
out on bail
There was a bit of yelping about this on the Today programme, with the Tory shadow minister Nick Herbert claiming that a 'large number' were free on bail. He did this solely on the basis that a whopping 13% of those charged with murder on the 31 January 2008 were out on bail. He has no idea about the individual cases which might mean that the judiciary have applied the law on bail correctly. There is an old adage that bad cases make bad law and the tragedy of the Gary Weddell case - where he murdered his mother-in-law while on bail for murdering his wife - should not cause us to make wholesale changes.

Anyway, the Sun has their own unpleasant little campaign running, including an entirely unscientific survey where 99% of those who could be bothered to ring in (at a cost of at least 10p) backed the return of hanging. This is out of kilter with real polling - a recent-ish YouGov poll put support for the return of hanging at below 50%, well down on the 1994 figures of 75% when the matter was last debated in parliament. Readers of Private Eye might note a sad little irony in the Sun's joyous coverage, as the paper's senior reporter, John Kay, killed his wife.

Unsurprisingly, as a card-carrying, bleeding-heart liberal conspiracist, I'm opposed to the death penalty for a range of reasons.

It isn't a deterrent. A survey of police chiefs in the US put the death penalty at the bottom of the list of seven measures. Reducing drug use, improving the economy and putting more cops on the street all came much higher.

Juries make mistakes, scientists cock up evidence, people lie. No matter how long we imprison somebody, we can always release them. In the West Midlands, we have cause to remember Stefan Kisko, the Carl Bridgewater case and the Birmingham Six. All featured innocent men who would have been hanged.

It is wrong. Few developed countries retain the death penalty - in fact bringing it back would put us outside the EU as scrapping capital punishment is a requirement for entry. Even the US is reviewing it. Do we really want to be bracketed with China, Iran and the Sudan? I think we have to leave the possibility for most people that they can change and turn their lives around.

It costs more. Curiously enough, Californians have paid $250 million for each prisoner executed - some $114 million more than it would cost to keep them incarcerated for life.

Good to see Boris Johnson posting on the Sun messageboard:

blondeplanet: We need to bring it back not only to punish these scumbags
but to reduce prison overcrowding

Not even Michael Howard suggested that solution. Speaking of wacky Tories, Widders and David Davis got in on the capital punishment act (and Iain had the temerity to accuse Gordon of blowing the dog-whistle on this)

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said he stood by his views that Britain should bring back the death penalty for serial killers. He faced a storm of
controversy in 2003 for suggesting its return. But he said: “I would bring back capital punishment for serial murderers. This is not a crime of passion – it’s premeditated and cold-blooded.” Former Home Office Minister Anne Widdecombe also wants a return. She said: “I believe it acts as a deterrent. It should be available in cases of premeditated murder.
The Sun have hijacked a serious issue to make a quick buck out of the 90,000 callers who each paid at least 10p to register their views in an entirely unrepresentative poll. They've also got quotes from the relatives of victims to support their 'campaign.' Quite apart from the skin-crawling unpleasantness of soliciting those views from people who have already had their lives shredded, of course they want to kill the people responsible. If one of my family was a victim, I know I'd want to tear the attacker limb from limb, but we have a justice system to protect us from ourselves.

Of the three high-profile killers jailed in the past week, two of them will never be released. They've joined a select group of three dozen who will see out their last days through a barred window. The other, who is 49, will serve at least 34 years in jail before he can even apply for parole and the odds are that he won't get it first time, as lifers rarely do. If he is lucky, he might celebrate his 85th or 86th birthday on licence, a 'free' man. Chances are, he'll die in jail too. I have no problem with that - that's what they deserve.

That's the other thing to remember - lifers may be released after thirteen or fourteen years on average, but they are on licence for the remainder of their life. That means that if they EVER break the terms of the licence or are considered to be a danger to the public - they don't have to commit a crime - back they go to jail. And they do go back.

1 comment:

snowflake5 said...

The Sun is going big on the "Revenge" theme (even they have conceded that the death penalty is not a deterrant to murder).

The problem with revenge is that justice is meant to be detached and base emotion like revenge shouldn't come into it. Secondly the sentence is meant to be a punishment - and all the evidence is that a life sentence is a better punishment than death.

Death is simply a state of nothingness that the murderer can escape into. A life sentence is a life lived confined behind bars, while you are fully conscious of what is happening and with plenty of time to contemplate how your own actions landed you where you are.

It's no accident that Harold Shipman and Fred West committed suicide. It was an easy escape. Shipman in particular was finding taking orders from prison guards who had half his education very stressful and couldn't bear the thought of a whole life doing that. Myra Hindley too seems to have found prison very stressful, campaigning relentless to get let out. She dies from stress-related heart problems.

I think these cases prove that a life sentence is a very onerous punishment indeed. The death penalty by contrast offers a quick escape into oblivion.

If people really wanted simply to punish murderers, then prison is clearly the way to go. I suspect though that what the Sun readers really want is to experience the sense of Power that taking a life brings, and they are trying to bring about judicial murder so that they can experience this power vicariously. This is quite a different thing from justice, revenge or punishment. It's more about the enjoyment of taking another life (something they have in common with the murderors they purport to hate).