Killing in the name of column inches

Whenever there are terrible events like the murder of two police officers in Manchester this week, some people can go straight into emotional overdrive and self-righteous outrage.  Take South Shields’ Cleadon and East Boldon councillor Jeff Milburn, who told the Shields Gazette:

“I think the death penalty should be brought back and murderers put on death row like in America.”

“They could be on there for six, maybe 10 years, giving enough time for any information showing they were wrongly convicted to come to light.

For an experienced politician it seems a very immature and poorly considered response.  The US justice system is hardly a shining beacon for the rest of the world to follow, and its penal system is littered with miscarriages of justice ending in the executions of innocent people.  People with learning difficulties, mental illness and those convicted as children have been executed by a legal system that thirsts for vengeance.  There is no solid evidence to suggest that capital punishment has any impact in reducing murder rates.  So much so that execution is little more than a cynical political opportunity to satisfy public blood lust.

“We should get rid of people that murder.”

We should carry on imprisoning them.  The UK’s own past with capital punishment is a shameful one.  The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six: all examples of a justice system which failed, all examples of people who would have been victims of the hangman’s rope if capital punishment had not been repealed.

Death is the ultimate sanction.  A pardon after a trip to the end of the hangman’s rope is merely a gesture, and utterly meaningless to the victim.

It is impossible to have a legal system where the right person is convicted every time, or that a convicted person receives the right sentence.  A judicial system that uses capital punishment will at some point execute the wrong person, no matter how many genuinely guilty people are executed.  That is not justice, nor is it civilised.

I do agree with Coun Milburn on one thing though:

“Police officers do an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances. These two officers were no exception and their loss is a real tragedy.”

However, there is some irony at play here.  Coun Milburn is a member of the Tory party, which in government is cutting police numbers, whilst freezing their salaries and reducing the value of the pensions that police officers can expect at retirement.  In this context, such a tribute to public servants reeks of a politician’s hollow sincerity.


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