The public deserve a say on reintroducing the death penalty

There were a raft of liberal reforms sweeping through Parliament when Labour MP Sydney Silverman finally got his way in November 1965 and won backing for his private member’s bill to suspend the death penalty.

Since that time capital punishment has not been dispensed in the UK – regardless of the fact that this country, and the wider world, has changed beyond all recognition.

In 2012 the world is unquestionably a far darker, more dangerous and depraved place than it was 47 years ago.

In Britain, the numbers and rates of serious crimes such as murder have risen dramatically and so it remains one of the great mysteries of our democracy as to why old Sydney’s handiwork remains on the statute books.

Despite consistent majority public support over five decades for the reintroduction of the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes, those we have elected to serve us have not so much put the issue on the back-burner, they’ve thrown the idea out altogether.

It is just not on their radar.

There is simply no appetite for the debate among politicians afraid of being tarred with the brush of right-wing, tabloid newspapers.

What’s more, the abdication of powers to the European Union means that such a move is now more improbable than ever.

How strange then that in the wake of recent tragic events in Manchester and mid-Wales people are once again talking about the need for a death penalty.

Sentinel readers are writing in to the newspaper, stating the case for and against capital punishment.

It happens every time there is a brutal killing and every time a child is murdered.

Every time one of our police officers are killed in the line of duty this debate resurfaces. And so it should.

I listened intently to the broadcasts of the memorial services for PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone and the church service for missing five-year-old April Jones.

They were genuinely heart-breaking and the only solace I could find in any of it was a glimmer of hope that the perpetrators of the associated crimes would feel the full force of the law.
But what happens when the majority of us feel that the punishments available to our courts are quite simply insufficient?

By rights, what the decision-makers should do is properly re-open the debate about the death penalty both as a deterrent and as a solution to some of society’s ills.

Some – such as human rights organisations – will, of course, argue that capital punishment should never be reintroduced.

They will point to well-documented cases where convictions for very serious offences have been over-turned, sometimes many years down the line, and say that we would therefore run the risk of executing innocent people.

Others will argue that the death penalty is no deterrent to some people who are, for whatever reason, hell-bent on killing or committing some sort of atrocity.

I accept these arguments but the simple fact remains that the current system doesn’t work.

We have a situation where, in most cases, sentences of life in prison don’t actually mean ‘life’ at all.

We have a prison system which has spectacularly failed to reduce re-offending rates to any great extent in spite of successive governments pouring millions of pounds into rehabilitation programmes.

We have a situation where prisons in the UK are more akin to youth hostels – complete with TVs, internet access, video games and gymnasiums for the enjoyment of killers, rapists and traitors.

Thus the idea of prison itself being a deterrent or ‘much worse than to be executed’, as one eminent QC puts it, is surely out of the window.

Perhaps just a few of these low-lifes could have been dissuaded from their crimes by the knowledge that they could face capital punishment if caught.

Either way I don’t see why we should be paying to keep them. Why should the families of PCs Bone and Hughes or April Jones pay taxes to feed, clothe and entertain whoever was responsible for taking their loves ones away from them?

What use are such criminals? Forget Europe. What rights do we think such individuals should be entitled to when it is proven beyond doubt that they have committed heinous crimes and, in many cases, admitted to committing them?

As far as I’m concerned such animals waived any rights the moment their twisted consciousness sent them to destroy the lives of others.

They show no thought for other people or the consequences of their actions.

They show no mercy and, in my book, deserve none.

It is all well and good for liberal organisations to preach about forgiveness, understanding and rehabilitation. But some people are so evil, so remorseless, so beyond redemption and so dangerous that I would suggest that, for them, the death penalty is appropriate.

I am talking about people who will never, ever be released from prison and who will never contribute to society in any meaningful way.

Instead they will remain a drain on the public purse and a constant reminder to their victims, or their victims’ families, of their terrible crimes.

Personally I’d rather see them disposed of with minimum fuss and expense. They can be fed to tigers as far as I’m concerned.

If the do-gooders and the law-makers and politicians of this country spent half as much time concerning themselves with the victims of crime as they do fretting over the rights of the perpetrators I dare say we’d all feel a lot safer.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Pound for Pound, we’re better off out of the Euro

The terrible violence in Greece brings home to us, if anyone was in any doubt, just how serious the global economic problems are.

Coupled with yet more bad news from the High Street in the UK – where more big names are facing oblivion – it makes for a pretty bleak outlook.

Some people may take the Little Islander view of ‘oh well, I’ll avoid Greece when choosing my holiday, then.’

But the fact is that the repercussions of allowing Greece to effectively go bust would be felt across the whole of Europe.

Thus, decisions taken in the coming days will affect us here in the UK – whether we like it or not.

By the same token, however, I’d rather be a UK citizen right now than a German national, for example.

The simple fact that we are not part of the ‘Euro-zone’ affords Britain a measure of protection from this perfect storm of economic chaos.

I’ve never been a fan of the Euro or the fundamentally-flawed attempt to suck all the countries of the continent into one amorphous blob – thereby diluting our heritage and afflicting us with the many disadvantages of other countries.

Let’s face it: As my late colleague John Abberley was oft known to state – the EU is corrupt and unaccountable.

We, here in Britain, get far less out of it than we actually put in.

It’s no wonder all those Euro-sceptics who fought so hard against the creation of a single European currency, are now saying ‘I told you so’.

Pound for Pound, we are certainly better off out of the Euro.

Euro-drivel shows how different we really are

It is fair to say that, like my late Sentinel colleague John Abberley, I have no great affection for the European Union.

With its straight bananas and accounting anomalies which dwarf our MPs’ expenses scandal, it is both absurd and corrupt.

What’s more, I fail to see the benefit we Brits actually gain by being part of this great bureaucratic blancmange.

In fact, it seems to me that we pour inordinate amounts of cash into an institution which exists only to line the pockets of politicians and prop up small countries with basket case economies.

If we are being honest we have absolutely nothing in common with our European counterparts – as evidenced so neatly by Saturday’s televisual treat, the Eurovision Song Contest.

If ever there was an advert as to why being part of the EU is a bad idea, Eurovision is it.

Conversely, if there was one thing that was guaranteed to cheer up crestfallen Stoke City fans after the anti-climax of the FA Cup Final it was this annual crime against music and decency.

Eurovision is billed as a celebration of all that is good about Europe: A meeting of minds and a blending of cultures.

In truth it simply serves to underline how different we are to every other country which is separated from us by the sea.

Yes, even Ireland.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely xenophobic.

In fact, I still have a poster of Port Vale’s Austrian international Andreas Lipa stuck up in my shed. (Although, to be fair, he was rubbish too).

I have also driven to France, wandered into a patisserie and murdered the French language by ordering a baguette.

In spite of these clear demonstrations of the entente cordiale, I just don’t feel European and, after sitting through the Eurovision love-in once more, I think I understand why.

This isn’t sour grapes, by the way. I never expected the United Kingdom’s entry to win – no matter how much Duncan James pouted at the cameras.

Granted, it didn’t help that their song was eminently forgettable, but the boys in Blue surely deserved better than to finish 11th behind such musical power-houses as Bosnia/Herzegovina and Greece.

For my money, all of the finalists in Stoke’s Top Talent are of a higher standard than many of the artists representing their nations at Eurovision.

Take, for example, Italy’s entry – The Madness of Love by Raphael Gualazzi.

It was, if I am being kind, music to shop by: The kind of tedious warbling and piano-twinkling you used to have to put up with when navigating the frozen vegetable aisle.

In spite of this, Raphael finished second. Enough said.

Then there was Moldova’s entry which consisted of a pretty girl dressed as an icicle and riding a unicycle surrounded by half a dozen blokes wearing Marge Simpson wigs screaming inanities and grinning maniacally.

All of which was better than Ireland’s entry.

I don’t know… we bail them out of an economic crisis and they give us Jedward.

Next year I may try to persuade Jonny Wilkes to have a go.

On second thoughts, our Jonny is way too good for Eurovision and, in any case, unless he entered on behalf of a former Soviet state he wouldn’t stand a chance – given the block-voting that goes on.

The slogan this year was ‘Feel your heart beat’.

I dare say Terry Wogan’s heart almost gave out when he saw the Ukraine garner 10 points or more from each of its neighbours – Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and mother Russia.

Let’s face it, the Eurovision Song Contest is 30 per cent surreality and 70 per cent fix.

I reckon the other countries take it in turns to keep the top prize away from the UK amid the kind of voting shenanigans which go on when FIFA is deciding where to stage the World Cup.

So determined are the Eurodrivel power-brokers that the country which gave the world Buck’s Fizz is never again to hold the crown that they have started giving it away to places which aren’t even in Europe – such as Israel.

I have nothing against Saturday’s winners – Ell/Nikki from Azerbaijan who amassed an impressive 221 points.

But I just can’t see their song making Q magazine’s top 100 anytime soon. The only saving grace was that it was in English.

Eurovision’s own website bills it as “without doubt Europe’s favourite TV show”.

Only because they can’t get Corrie in Azerbaijan.

Their England is not one I either want or recognise

The flag of St. George.

The flag of St. George.

I’ve often heard the movers and shakers in the Potteries wish that Stoke-on-Trent had a similar profile to the likes of Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham.

At the weekend that wish came true, after a fashion, when Stoke-on-Trent followed in the footsteps of those cities and endured its first English Defence League (EDL) protest.

There were 17 arrests, six police officers were injured and city centre traders were left seriously out of pocket at a time when they can ill-afford it.

It could have been worse. Much worse.

All in all it was an expensive farce which prevented thousands of Potters going about their business up ’Anley.

However, it wasn’t the end of the world and no – it doesn’t mean that our city has suddenly become a pariah.

After Saturday, it would be easy to tar all the EDL demonstrators with the same brush and label them yobs and fascists.

But, as The Sentinel’s own reporters discovered, the inconvenient truth is that far from being entirely composed of shaven-headed Nazis and unemployed louts, the protesters on Saturday were a mixed bag of locals and outsiders, teens to people in their fifties from all walks of life.

Whatever their reasons for being in the city centre on Saturday no-one could possibly argue that they were all there seeking violence or indeed that they are all fascists.

It would be a bit like arguing that because a certain football club has a few followers who enjoy a ruck then all its supporters are hooligans.

While it is absolutely fair to say that elements of the EDL showed themselves up to be bigoted morons bent on provocation and confrontation, it seems a large number of the protesters were simply disaffected, disillusioned and misguided – none of which are crimes.

Whatever their motivations, these kind of people have every right to hold a peaceful public protest.

Sadly, a peaceful protest is not what we got.

“Saturday made me ashamed to be English,” wrote one reader on The Sentinel’s website, somewhat melodramatically.

Well it didn’t make me ashamed to be English because the EDL doesn’t represent me and it is not campaigning for an England that I either want or recognise.

If the EDL genuinely wants to affect change in this country then I would suggest to its leadership that there are far better ways of doing it – such as becoming a legitimate political party or lobbying decision-makers.

Bringing a busy shopping town to a standstill on a Saturday afternoon, intimidating the locals and wearing scarves and masks while shouting “ban the burkha” is patently not the answer.

The fact is the organisers of this gathering knew there would be trouble and that’s exactly what we ended up with.

Unfortunately, as our economy continues to struggle and the mainstream political parties shy away from tackling the thorny issues of immigration and the UK’s membership of the EU and its ramifications, these kind of demonstrations will continue – along with a growth in support for right wing parties.

To use a word popular with modern soundbite politicians, many ordinary people feel disenfranchised by the mainstream parties and are looking elsewhere for someone to give them a voice.

The EDL should have done its homework, of course. Stoke-on-Trent has a proud history of tolerance and integration and a few placards and a bit of lairy behaviour one afternoon is hardly likely to shake our city to its foundations.

This year we mark the centenary of the Federation of the Six Towns and we have plenty to celebrate.

In a few weeks’ time the Staffordshire Hoard comes to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and over the coming months we will all be enjoying numerous events to coincide with the 100 years which will put our city on the map for all the right reasons.