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William Donaldson, Brewer's Rogues, Villains Eccentrics. An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages, Cassell, London 2002 

capital punishment. Homo sapiens is the only animal to experience a desire for revenge. This is frequently exercised at the expense of self-interest. Sometimes it can only be satisfied by killing another person, and with a high sense of self-righteousness –as it is in acts of capital punishment. The source of this emotion remains a mystery, since it has no survival value in evolutionary terms. Some have argued that it is a gift of God – one of the many from that source that lift man above the animal kingdom. A short history of capital punishment in Britain:

 

1671. The Coventry Act made it a capital offence to lie in wait with intent to disfigure someone’s nose.

 

1699. The Shoplifting Act made it a capital crime to steal from a shop goods valued at more than 5s. In 1722, James Appleton was hanged at Tyburn Tree for the theft of three wigs. In 1750, Benjamin Beckonfield was hanged for stealing a hat.

 

1723. The Waltham Blacks Act was passed to combat the increasing amount of poaching and damage to forests and parks owned by the nobility. The act increased the number of capital crimes from approximately 30 to 150.

 

1782. A 14-year-old girl was hanged for being found in the company of Gypsies.

 

1810. There were by now 222 capital crimes. These included rape, sodomy, burglary, horse stealing, forgery, adopting a disguise and stealing.

 

1816. Four boys aged between 9 and 13 were hanged in London for begging.

 

1835. Sacrilege, letter stealing and returning from transportation before finishing a sentence ceased to be capital crimes.

 

1861. The Criminal Law Consolidation Act reduced the number of capital crimes to four: treason, piracy, mutiny and murder.

 

1868. The Capital Punishment Within Prisons Act put an end to public execution. On 26 May Michael Barrett was the last man to be publicly hanged.

 

1875. The hangman William Marwood introduced the ‘long drop’.

 

1908. People under 16 could no longer be executed.

 

1931. Pregnant women could no longer be hanged.

 

1948. Suspension of capital punishment for experimental period of five years approved by the House of Commons, but this was reversed by the House of Lords.

 

13 July 1955. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

 

March 1957. The Homicide Act limited capital murder to five categories: murder in the course or furtherance of a theft; by shooting or causing an explosion; while resisting arrest; murder of a policeman or a prison officer; two murders committed on different occasions.

 

13 August 1964. Last British hangings: Peter Anthony Allen and his accomplice Gwynne Owen Evans for murder in the course of a theft.

 

9 November 1965. The Abolition of the Death Penalty Bill Act suspended capital punishment for murder for a trial period of five years.

 

December 1969. Parliament confirmed the abolition of capital punishment for murder.