With the execution of Troy Davis in the early hours of the morning, we should remember that supporters of the death penalty in Britain are currently running their most high-profile campaign in years. The e-petition from the so-called “restore justice” campaign currently stands at 21,000 signatures.

We know from history the inevitable consequence of reintroduction of capital punishment: that, sooner or later, innocent people will be killed by the British legal system. Below are five cases in which the convictions of hanged suspects were subsequently thrown into doubt, with many officially exonerated.

Derek Bentley was hanged in 1953. In a robbery during which Craig was carrying a gun, Bentley, who had a mental age of 10, shouted “Let him have it!” to his friend who then shot PC Miles. Bentley’s defence claimed he meant for Craig to give miles the gun, but the prosecution alleged he meant to shoot him. He was posthumously pardoned in 1993, and his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1998, after a long campaign by his sister Iris. Unfortunately, she did not live to see it.

Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be executed in England for the murder of her lover, David Blakely, at Holloway Prison in 1955. The jury took just 14 minutes to find her guilty.  Ellis did not appeal against her conviction. Ellis’ family campaigned for her murder conviction to be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation. They argued Ellis was suffering “battered woman syndrome”. She had suffered a miscarriage just 10 days before the killing after David Blakely had punched her in the stomach. The defence of diminished responsibility did not then exist.

Timothy Evans was hanged in 1950, convicted of the murder of his wife and daughter, later found to have been actually committed by his neighbour, the serial killer John Christie. In an investigation marked with poor practice, the police failed to find other human remains in Christie’s garden, and were alleged to have coerced a false confession from Evans. He was granted a royal pardon (posthumously) in 1966, but despite an attempt to have the conviction quashed in 2004, judges refused on grounds of cost- although they accepted he hadn’t been guilty.

George Kelly was hanged in 1950, convicted of the murders of Leonard Thomas and John Catterall in a burglary of the Cameo Cinema in Liverpool. The investigation led to Kelly as a small-time criminal active in the area. Kelly’s conviction was overturned in 2003, after it came to light that Merseyside Police had ignored reports of an apparently genuine confession from another man.

Mahmood Hussein Mattan was a Somali national hanged in 1952 for the murder of Lily Volpert. He was arrested and charged by police after testimony from another suspect in the case, which more closely matched another suspect, not Mattan. Evidence was also omitted from court of an eyewitness identification which seemed to exonerate Mattan. His case was the first to be reviewed by the new Criminal Cases Review Commission, and in 1998 the Court of Appeal found the case was “demonstrably flawed”.

Do we really want to join the ranks of China, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia?


  1. Siôn Eurfyl Jones says:

    If the death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent, why do people like Fred West and Ian Huntley try to kill themselves all the time (and in West’s case, succeed). An indefinite future of miserable incarceration holds far more terror form me than a swift, humane end to life. Hanging is too good for them!

  2. Flashing Blade says:

    “Do we really want to join the ranks of China, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia?”

    Iran kills more of its citizens than the US or Iraq. Do we really want to join the ranks of China, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia

  3. “Iran kills more of its citizens than the US or Iraq.”

    The US kills more of other countries’ citizens that Iran or Iraq… etc.

  4. Another reason why the death penalty ‘deterrent’ argument makes no sense…. The US have the death penalty, has crime fallen there? Of course it hasn’t, it’s not like those committing murder are thinking “well it’s a good job we don’t have the death penalty here in the UK”.

    The Troy Davies killing was what’s called a LEGAL LYNCHING!!

  5. Nice try – but 2 of the people listed were guilty by the standards of the day. Bentley and Ellis were both guilty and were hung as was the law at the time. With regard to Bently the change in the law surrounding accomplices not being guilty when they have engaged in a joint venture is wrong.

    Bring back hanging and start with the population of the house of commons

  6. 3 out of 5,
    Not very intelligent are you? The standards of the day were FLAWED, and police proceeduires were inadequate. Innocent people were murdered by a state appointed gultess POS called the executioner. Given that standards of the day were flawed, please explain to us how thnigs have been imporved to the point that prosecutors cannot, either through incompetence or deliberate action, cause the death of an innocent person. Yes, lets bring back capital punishment and put idiots like you first in line for termination.

  7. Tina Davies says:

    I am sorry to disagree but today we have dna which we did nt have then . So there is little chance of wrong exucutions these days. I believe in never to harm anyone but it is a joke, these days the prisons are bursting at the seems anyone can do what they want and get away with it or be put under maximum security or hospital because they cant remember what they done with so many psychologists on their side. the likes of child killers for instance the one who killed Arpil Jones dont deserve to be on the same planet as decent law abiding people the familys are the only ones who suffer for life knowing the shit who killied their child is still alive. Hanging should be for people who killed without a shadow of doubt. The death penalty should only be for calous muderers, rapists and torturers but not for people who kill defending themselves so a line should be drawn, just get rid of shit like the yorkshire ripper, rose west ian brady etc and the likes of them to leave more room in jails for other criminals who cant get into prison because they are to full. The moment these poeople do what they do all rights should be taken from them . We will never be like iran etc as we are a fair minded country so dont compare the death penalty with other countrys thats nonsence, there are to many do gooders at present i would like to see if their view would change if something was done to their child or family.

  8. If we brought it back, there’d be less wrongful executions as we have DNA knowledge these days and advanced forensic techniques.

  9. We think we are so advanced with our technology. DNA is not conclusive as you may think. It can get mixed up, it can get carried by other people, it can be planted etc. No evidence will ever be infallible. You can get 10 people to witness an incident and you will get ten different observations. Does it matter if the odd innocent person gets executed every now and then, because so called conclusive evidence which could prove inconclusive by new technology at a later date, proven human error, police corruption, witness lying, contaminated evidence etc the list goes on. You can not bring back the executed.
    Revenge is not a valid motive, it’s an emotional response. If some one tortured my family or friends. I might buy a gun and kill them. That is my choice whether right or wrong.
    What if the killer admits to the crime, would it be wrong to assist voluntary death penalty ?
    Some people are genuinely evil, some are genuinely sick, psychopath’s lack emotion due to parts of the brain not developing, they are just different, or an integral part of our evolution ? Many psychopaths are in high role jobs, leaders.
    I consider myself lucky, I do not lack emotion, I have no lust for minors and would not want to kill another human being. There must be many people out there that have to control these desires and emotions and not commit offences. So be happy the way you are ‘wired’.

  10. Go back a little further– the “execution” of Charles I was a judicial murder by an illegal court. History can be combed for many more of these. Civilised countries should not have the death penalty.

  11. DNA isn’t as conclusive as you think. In that case have the DNA test done by several different labs, maybe 5 . All 5 have to come to the same conclusion. Eye witnesses, if there’s 5 then all 5 have to have the same story within reason. If there’s 20 witnesses then a large percent must have the same story then each witness is to be thoroughly investigated to see if they are reliable or not. Put the suspect on trial and the evidence and the witnesses then put the DNA lab on trial as well as the lab techs. It would cost a fortune but when you get to the stage where you say” explain to me how he’s not guilty” and you just get a blank look, that’s when you string him up. Hanging should be for murderers not rapist and child molesters. If you molest a child and know your going to get caught then you kill the child, hide the body and that’s 2 crimes you didn’t get caught for. In for a penny, in for a Pound. Of course if you get away with it once you’ll get away with it twice or three times. Then obviously it’s a message from God to continue your work(peter sutcliff ) and you carry on till you accidently get caught.

  12. I am a ‘Mr Lloyd E Jones’ who was basically completely wrongly medically certified as dead when I eventually came-around from my either ‘5-or-7wk long’ complete medical coma during which I was all connected up to an ok fully successful ‘Life-Support’ machine. But and ‘no-offence at all’ really should his wife at that time back-then who was employed there as a ‘Plaster Technician’ have actually-&-factually been legally allowed to basically criminally steal all seven yes ‘7’ pieces of my worn at that time personal pierced ‘Body-Jewellery’ that I absolutely definitely quite literally physically wearing at that time as it were?”

  13. I, for one, am extremely glad that capital punishment was abolished. Who are we to decide who lives and who dies? It is absolutely astounding that so many people would consider bringing back the death penalty. Not only is it uncivilised and inhumane but, as we have seen in the past, this form of punishment should not always be used for cases like Derek Bently’s. Capital punishment in the UK was stopped for a reason. Do we really want to go back to our old, illogical ways?

  14. Kenneth Sharman says:

    Capital punishment was rightly stopped, it achieved nothing but revenge and hasn’t stopped murders. Only one being can decide who should live or who should die and that’s our maker. We should make punishments that fit the crime, our penal institutions should be harsher, to hell with “public rights” a person looses that if he or she takes the life of another. When a life sentence is issued/ awarded so be it, life in solitude with no remission at all.

  15. One miscarriage of justice causing the death of another human being should be sufficient to ban capital punishment.
    One capital punishment mistake is one mistake you can’t put right.
    I once heard a prominent, and still, member of parliament campaigning to bring it back, when questioned about miscarriages of justice, say the police would take extra care to make sure mistakes weren’t made – as if.
    Realistically its a moral argument, do we as a society want to be remembered as state sponsored murderers. I know I don’t.

  16. David Luxton. says:

    Bringing back capital punishment in the U.K. Means having trust in the police force say no more!

  17. It wasn’t that long ago that children were imprisoned for stealing food, in other uncivilized countries men and women are still stone to death, and they are supposed to be guilty. What if we adopted that system here?

    Surely we will be stepping back in time.

    It is also estimated that in the US approximately 4% of innocent people are executed, with some on death row occasionally being released on a regular basis.

    Some have argued that it cost too much to feed and house them, but never complain of all the money that is wasted elsewhere.

    We are supposed to be a civilized country so what sort of message does that relay
    to the more enlightened ones?
    We need to look to the future not the past, so let’s give these people some useful work to do instead of destroying them.

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