Thanks to a Welshman, Britain has no Death Penalty

Posted: July 31, 2013 in Victorian Life


On February 17, 1956, the Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, after a long and often acrimonious debate, voted to abolish the Death Penalty. Even though post war crime rates had been soaring and a new criminal element, not averse to the use of murder as a weapon, was surfacing in British cities. Parliament had been heavily influenced by a single book arguing against the Death Penalty, even for heinous crimes. Michael Eddowes, a well-known criminal lawyer, wrote the book, The Man in Your Conscience. Its subject was a Welshman who, the author argued had been wrongly hanged for murder.

Timothy Evans was born in Merthyr Vale, South Wales, in 1924. He could not read or write and had trouble finding employment. Moving to London with his wife to try to better their lives, he had the misfortune to seek lodging at 10 Rillington Place, North Kensington, an address that was later to become one of the most infamous in the annals of British crime. This was the home of John Reginald Christie.

The police picked up Mr. Christie as he walked over one of the Thames’ bridges one calm day in the summer of 1953. Quiet, unassuming, looking more like a timid bank clerk than one of the biggest mass murderers in British history, Christie had been the subject of a massive manhunt after body after female body had been found in his house in Rillington Place. Three years earlier, Mr. Evans had been hanged on a charge of strangling his wife at the same address. He had bitterly protested his innocence. When Christie eventually came to trial, he confessed to murdering poor Mr. Evans’s wife, one of the victims he had lured into having sex before strangling.

After Christie’s execution on July 15, 1953, the Evans case was raised in fierce debate in the House of Commons. Abolitionists saw in the case their great hopes from success in getting rid of Britain’s Death Penalty, but a parliamentary inquiry; “The Scott Henderson Report” stated that there were no grounds for believing that a miscarriage of justice had occurred in the Evans case. Many considered it a whitewash. A second debate was then called for. It was then that the bombshell of the book appeared. The publication of The Man in Your Conscience began a crusade for justice. The amendment to abolish the Death Penalty was carried by a majority of 31 votes. It has never been restored in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Sadly, the bill came too late to save the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Ruth Ellis, born in Rhyl, North Wales, had been executed in 1955 for fatally shooting her lover, racing driver David Blakey.


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