In 1981 I was called to jury service at Aylesbury Crown Court where we tried three drug smuggling cases. In the first case we found the accused innocent, in the second one was found guilty and one innocent, in the third we returned a guilty verdict. ALL were guilty but cases prepared by UK Customs were just not strong enough.
In that third case one jury member was arguing reasonable doubt but I launched into fierce declaration of guilt and changed the sway of the jury. The accused went to prison. Had capital punishment been in force would I have set myself up to change the jury verdict in the way I did ?
YOU WILL BE TAKEN FROM THIS PLACE TO THE PLACE FROM WHENCE YOU CAME AND THEN TO A PLACE OF LAWFUL EXECUTION WHERE YOU WILL BE HUNG BY THE NECK UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD. MAY THE LORD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL.
The only words a judge was allowed to speak when passing the death sentence in a British court.
As a teenager my father knew a man, Sir Donald Finnemore, who was a high court judge and had spoken those words several times. I remember Sir Donald coming to our home and walking into the sitting room where I was doing my homework. I was in awe. No I was scared, scared stiff. Here was a man who held the power of life and death over criminals. I stood up and stuttered as I spoke.
As a teacher at Leon School I had an extended essay project I ran debating the death penalty with students in my English
classes. We studied cases where an innocent person was executed.
Timothy Evans was hung by the neck until dead for the murders Reginald Christie committed.
Derek Bentley was a young vulnerable adult who fell in with an under eighteen year old criminal Christopher Craig. Together they robbed a warehouse, Craig had a gun. When the police arrived and told Craig to drop the gun Bentley said: LET HIM HAVE IT CHRIS. Bentley shot and killed a police officer. The prosecution said those words meant shoot him. The defense said it meant hand over the
gun. Both were found guilty of murder. Bentley was executed but because Craig was under age he served a prison sentence.
In my book The Case Files of Dave McDermott a fictional criminal is fascinated by locations of past crimes. One of these is the A6 Murder which took place between Bedford and Luton. I remember this case as a young lad. It was a major news item.
James Hanratty was found guilty and executed in Bedford Prison. There have always been doubts as
to his being guilty.
So if the death penalty were still in force and I was again doing jury service how would I feel about my vote taking away a person's life ?
Would I have made the impassioned appeal to fellow jury members as I did and changed their minds to bring in a guilty verdict ?
How would I feel if I were part of a jury that found someone guilty, that person was executed then subsequently found to be innocent ? How did the jury members in Timothy Evans case feel ?
I was in San Francisco some years back when a convicted murderer was executed in the gas chamber. The press and media coverage before and after the execution was OBSCENE !
Margaret Thatcher's government gave parliament a free vote on the restoration of the death penalty. Parliament voted not to bring it back. What is your opinion ?
I began by saying the three cases I tried as a jury member were drug smuggling. All involved bringing cannabis (A
Class B drug) through Heathrow Airport. If there was a referendum today to bring back the death penalty for dealing Class A drugs I would vote, indeed I would campaign, for all convicted drug dealers at any level to face those words: YOU WILL BE TAKEN FROM