Tuesday, March 21, 2006


A couple of nights ago I read the autobiography of Albert Pierrepoint, who was the UK's most prolific executioner. His total hangings numbered around 450, and the most in one day was 27 war criminals, as just after the second world war business was booming. His father and uncle were both hangmen and he decided to go into the neck stretching business when he guessed what his father did. He called his work The Craft and believed he had been destined to become one by a higher power.

Pierrepoint comes across as a strangely humane and highly intelligent man whose chief concern was giving the condemed a swift and dignified death. He resigned in 1956 after an argument with his employer about his fees. He'd gone to a prison to hang someone who recieved a reprieve and they offered him £1 of his usual £15 fee.

In his 1974 autobiography Executioner: Pierrepoint he comes out against capital punishment, saying -

I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people...The trouble with the death penalty has always been that nobody wanted it for everybody, but everybody differed about who should get off.

He wrote that the vast majority of those he executed went to their deaths, if not exactly bravely, with a degree of self enforced dignity, and as many were domestic murders committed in the flames of passion, he reckons that the death penalty was a waste of time. He also points out the arbitary nature of public opinion. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and her sentance had a huge public response, and at the time of her hanging had a wave of protestors outside the prison; but a week previously when he executed another woman, no one was interested. Ellis was an attractive nightclub hostess, whereas the women a week before was a dowdy female with no one behind her to raise the flag of public awareness, so she was swept aside and forgotten.

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