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2009-11-09 - 23:09:00 - by AlisonW - Topic: Personal: Law | Television |

Earlier this evening I watched a powerful drama on Channel 4. The Execution of Gary Glitter was – in its final outcome – expected from the very name of the programme. A superbly made film, with an absolute tour-de-force from Hilton McRae in the lead role, it was disquieting and terrifying in the possibility that state-sanctioned murder could ever come back to this country.

The ' death penalty' (ie Judicially-sanctioned murder) does not work - just look at the countries which still have it and note how often those crimes which get 'death' as the punishment still happen regularly. It has no deterrent effect whatsoever and instead, just as this film showed, we end up with a population in a state of 'excitement' of mob rule and their belief that they should have their way. A (fictional) Home Secretary saying that a decision was based on the desire of the people to have a killing is not an acceptable way for the elected government to act. Death, for practical purposes of the person found guilty, is no different from a whole-life sentence served behind bars, yet just as we abhor death by terrorists so we must find state-sanctioned murder no better.

In many ways we are all children of the modern era, in that most of us - thankfully - rarely see death in front of our eyes. We watch hundreds of fake deaths daily on television and in films, yet news programmes ensure they do not show the act of violent death when reporting from war zones or relaying film from al-Qaeda showing another captive being beheaded – little different to the effect of a hanging. Cowboys and Indians as children again make us learn that death is an impermanent state of being and little happens to change that early view. Even in the case of this dramatisation the executive producer, Samir Shah, has said "The director Rob Coldstream felt we had to show enough to convey the grim reality of the execution but it would have been gratuitous to show more."

That some comments on the Channel 4 website have said things such as "that drama put a smile to my face. bring back the death sentance (sic) and hang huntley and glitter. they won't be smiling then", and "The only dissaponting (sic) thing about this programme is that it wasnt for real" makes me feel very sad and disappointed, not to say very worried.

For the state to accept mob rule and fail civilisation in killing offenders for the fun of the few should never be acceptable. That polling suggests 54% of the UK adult population want the 'death penalty' returned shows both that there is a lack of education about what it really means, and – arguably – that the result of any polling is questionable, based on the way a question is asked ( Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister comes to mind) and how inaccurate electoral polling often is.

Whilst some may believe in the (Judeo-Christian) bible's "an eye for an eye" approach, I believe we have moved on. Even Gandhi noted "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" and we no longer permit many activities sanctioned in the bible and to kill someone because they did something we find totally, utterly, and completely reprehensible makes us as bad as them.

clip from Yes, Minister

"Are you worried about the number of young people without jobs? … Are you worried about the rise in crime amongst teenagers? … Do you think there is a lack of discipline in our comprehensive schools? … Do you think young people would welcome some authority and leadership in their lives? … Do you think they'd respond to a challenge? … Would you be in favour of re-introducing national service?"

"Are you worried about the danger of war? … Are you worried about the growth of armaments? … Do you think there is a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill? … Do you think it is wrong to force people to take up arms against their will? … Would you oppose the re-introduction of national service?"

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