Jonathan Jones

From the archives: “Capital punishment is absolutely indefensible”

Thanks to Guido and his co-conspirators, capital punishment is back on the political agenda. Here’s what The Spectator, under the editorship of Ian Gilmour, wrote about the hanging of Ruth Ellis — the last woman to be hanged in the UK — some 14 years before the abolition of the death penalty in Britain:

The execution of Ruth Ellis, The Spectator, 15 July 1955

It is no longer a matter for surprise that Englishmen deplore bull-fighting but delight in hanging. Hanging has become the national sport. While a juicy murder trial is on, or in the period before a murderer is executed, provided that he or she has caught the public fancy owing to there being a sexual element in the crime, even Test matches are driven from the place of honour on the front pages of the popular press. Anything to do with the extinction of a fellow human being has a fascination for the people of this country.

The execution of Mrs. Ellis has taken place without much disturbance. Mr. Lloyd-George, the Home Secretary, has now been responsible for the hanging of two women in the past eight months. This compares with the hanging of twelve women in the previous fifty-four years. Is this increase of something like 1250 per cent. the result of an outbreak of feminine terrorism? Of course not. It is merely the consequence of a weak Home Secretary. The decision to hang Mrs. Ellis was one of such obvious barbarity that it is difficult to believe that Mr. Lloyd-George came to it without considerable pressure from his advisers. (The fact that his chief adviser, Sir Frank Newsam, had to be summoned over the loudspeaker at Ascot Races for a short conference introduced a somewhat nauseating touch of ‘civilisation’: grey toppers and black caps go ill together.)

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