The main reason why the death penalty should never be restored in the UK, without some boundaries

The Gallows

Why the debate?

As a liberal minded individual, when I was younger, I could never agree to the death penalty or Capital Punishment, as it is also called. Thirty odd years down the road my gut instinct still leans this way but with some reservations.

I recently wrote a Hub about a dear elderly local lady who was brutally beaten to death in her own home. Murder is always a nasty business but this lady's attacker was heartless and cruel. She suffered more than many and in such a terrible way. The devastating effects to her loved ones will be felt forever, I should think.

The perpetrator admitted his guilt and so had his sentenced reduced to a minimum of 22 years. The circumstances and admission of guilt leave me in no doubt that capital punishment would have been the only fair sentence for this crime.

Similarly the Yorkshire Ripper, who many years ago murdered many young men deserved the same fate. His guilt was never in doubt.

The little niggling doubts that I do have regarding capital punishment are because of those who were wrongly convicted. In many countries around the world people are wrongly committed and lose years of their life before justice prevails. Their life is often damaged beyond repair but at least they do still have life.

New today, 17th September 2009 in England prompted this debate to resurface in my mind again. Here is that news.

Teresa
Teresa
The body of David Lace is exhumed
The body of David Lace is exhumed
Robert Sean Hodgson on release, Sean is on the left. He is with his brother
Robert Sean Hodgson on release, Sean is on the left. He is with his brother

The rape and murder of Teresa de Simone in 1979

There have been so many of these cases down the years. The implications of convicting the wrong man or woman are huge. Lives ruined and those guilty left free to commit more crimes, is just part of the problem.

Teresa de Simone

Teresa was aged 22 at the time of her death and a clerk for the Gas Board. As an only child her loss would be even more painful, although any such loss is devastating.

Robert Sean Hodgson was sentenced for this crime in 1982 and he served 27 years in prison before the truth was finally revealed. The man now known to have been the actual killer was David Lace. This man confessed to this crime in 1983. This was the same year that Sean and his legal team launched an appeal against his conviction. Lace's confession was not revealed to the defence team.

In 1988 David Lace committed suicide. I guess the crime he had committed was weighing heavily on his shoulders. This also made me think that perhaps this man desired retribution. Perhaps, if he had served an appropriate sentence he would have lived. Who knows.

Of course this leaves one wondering why this confession was never revealed to those that needed to know. When Lace was dead perhaps it was deemed unnecessary but what about the years before this.

Here is another point. If we still had no DNA technology the true perpetrator of this crime would have never been discovered.

DNA has put a whole new slant on criminal detection.

David Lace was only 17 when he committed this rape and murder and so was a very young man. With his suicide the reasoning, if any behind his crime, became impossible to discover. However he may have just been a bad penny. Young Lace was described as an aggressive loner. When questioned about a series of burglaries in 1983 Lace stated that:-

"He could no longer live with what he had done and that he was better off in prison. He then submitted to a more detailed interview by officers from the murder investigation."

A record of the interview was made and below are details and the reasons why Lace was never recognized as a serious suspect:-

"A record of the interview made in September 1983 revealed that Lace said he had stolen a rucksack and cash from a meter at his lodgings in Portsmouth and walked to Southampton, where he saw De Simone being dropped back to her car by a friend.

After tapping on the car window and asking her the time, he had forced his way into the vehicle, locked the doors and used violence to subdue her.

"She struggled, he sexually assaulted her and strangled her using the passenger belt in the car. He admitted subjecting Teresa to a violent assault and sensed he had killed her"

He removed her cash and jewellery, leaving his victim across the back seat. "He hid for approximately 10 minutes before going back to Southampton railway station and catching a train back to Portsmouth."

But officers investigating the confession had decided it revealed "numerous and significant inconsistencies", including giving the wrong colour of the car, its number of doors, times, an incorrect description of De Simone's clothing and a description of violence that seemed inconsistent with her injuries."

So Lace was sent on his way which inevitably led to an innocent man serving 27 years in jail and a suicide.

This case is very strange as 7 men in all admitted carrying out this crime. These 7 included Hodgson as well as Lace. Why Hodgson had confessed I do not know. Police pressure? It could be any number of reasons and only Sean Hodgson will truly know why. It appears though that Hodgson had already confessed to over 200 crimes before this one as he was a pathological liar. Poetic Justice some may say? Not I though.I would say a person with problems.

In 1998 Robert Sean Hodgson appealed again against his conviction and this time vital DNA evidence went missing.

Early in 2009 a further appeal was launched by Hodgson and his team. With advances in DNA technology and database information a link between Lace and the murder was suspected. In March Hodgson was released from prison.

In August 2009 David Lace's body was exhumed and finally the truth was known. His DNA was a perfect match.

This has left Teresa's elderly parents facing more anguish.

Robert Sean Hodgson has since been released from prison and is living in respite care for now whilst receiving psychiatric treatment.

You may have many differing opinions in this case.

Sure Hodgson was wrong to confess but how come the police took his confession seriously, with such a track record.

He could have been a free man much sooner if in 1998 the DNA evidence had not been lost.

With 7 confessions it makes you wonder if these confessions were extracted unlawfully.

Times change and DNA is a wonderful discovery but what if David Lace had been cremated? Also as this case shows vital DNA can be lost.

All of this only makes me more cautious about restoring the death sentence. Many innocent people have wrongly served time, and they did not confess. Hodgson's only link to this crime was a shared blood group that was also shared with 30% of the population as a whole and a dodgey confession.

As technology moves on we may one day find that we can sentence a person knowing with 100% certainty that they are guilty. Presently human error, corruption and more can play a part. Until 100% is achievable the death sentence could only ever be restored given certain circumstances.

So, where do you stand in the debate?

Should we still have the death sentence

  • Yes
  • No
  • In some cases
  • For all murders
  • Don't know
See results without voting

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Comments 30 comments

barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Another case among so many, in the United States as well . Great hu.b


Josak profile image

Josak 4 years ago from variable

It is important to remember that confessions are not slam dunks as far as guilt, testing has revealed that using traditional police interrogation techniques about 70% of people will confess to a crime they did not commit (regardless of the gravity of the crime) if interrogated for long enough.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Ethel....a wonderful read. My husband and I have been closely involved with WNYers Against the Death Penalty. It is an issue we have researched and studied well...and have been politically active in these matters. We are associates of David Kaczynski (brother of the Uni-Bomber) Thank you for your insight. Voted up and interesting.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 5 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Chatkath sorry for the late reply. Yes it is a difficult one. So easy for us to have an opinion when we have never been in these shoes. Let's hope we never will be


Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 5 years ago from California

Fascinating! A few years ago I went to listen to several speeches on the topic, and it is no doubt controversial. One meeting I attended at Stanford University was hosted by the Nun who Susan Sarandon played in "Dead Man Walking" with Sean Penn. She is vehemently opposed to the death penalty as I have always been however, at the end when they had questions, a woman in the audience respectfully got up and told the story of her son's murder and that she had always opposed corporal punishment too but since her son's death she has changed her views. Can't say I blame her!?


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Very difficult Katie but I agree with you


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

As long as an innocent person could be put to death is it worth it? Hard topic!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Thanks for your input Habee. There is no easy answer to any of this


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I'm against the death penalty for several reasons. Great hub!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Thanks for sharing your opinion springboard. It is a minefield of a subject. Assessing guilt 100% must be the first target before a death penalty is even considered.

That said some dreadful crimes need capital punishment


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Certainly one of those standout cases which shows that, for all the best of intentions, no system of laws is without flaws. We have to recognize that in any logical discussion about how we deal with those who break the law, ESPECIALLY in a case like this where a man's life could be at stake.

Nevermind why a guy would admit to a crime he didn't commit...but people do.

I've long held that the death penalty should be lawful the world over. BUT, there need to be a long list of conditions which must be met when applying it. DNA evidence, of course, would have to be a large part of the determination as to a person's absolute guilt.

Perhaps there is another point to be made about ours and the UKs legal systems, and that's that perhaps we need a 3rd party unbiased arm to reopen investigations of SOLVED cases where life sentences or death sentences have been passed down in the same way an audit might take another look at the accounting books in a business to make sure everyone is on the same page with regard to the numbers. When a person's life is at stake, someone ought to be double checking the right person is behind bars heedless of what a court ruled.

To take 27 years to figure it out is unacceptable IMO.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Well sufi and tony there have been plenty of wrongful convictions in the UK. There are still many corrupt police officers and other problems.

Current sentencing is often far to lenient though for those who have brutally killed.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

A very good Hub - thanks, Ethel. I am definitely against the death penalty. I think it is a brutal, retributive act which does nothing for anyone, but further brutalises society. There is little evidence that it actually prevents crime and as Sufi says, the possibility of just one innocent person being judicially murdered is sufficient reason to ban it.

Love and peace

Tony


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

I am with Habee on this one - DNA testing is not 100% accurate and there is still the possibility of human error affecting the results. It is then in the hands of the lawyers - unfortunately, juries tend to believe that scientific evidence is irrefutable, when it is not.

I feel that it is only a matter of time before somebody is incorrectly put to death. That is without even broaching the moral issue, especially where mental illness is concerned.

An excellent and thought-provoking Hub - Thumbs up!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

It is a difficult one to call. Having had some contact with relatives of murdered people in my town, I am unsure how I feel. A lot depends on whether the guilt is certain. I am starting to think that when it is, euthanasia would be kinder for all concerned. Jail sentences in the UK are usually inappropriately short.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I'm a moderate conservative, but I oppose the death penalty. I don't feel that we have the right to play God. Lock them up for life with no chance of parole - but no death sentence. Great hub!


christalluna1124 profile image

christalluna1124 6 years ago from Dallas Texas

Great article Ethel,

As you know I am also saying that its not so much that the death penalty is used. I just feel it should be on a case by case basis and not as we in Texas do, indiscriminately. The recent execution of an accomplice who was executed while the actual shooter got life and will be eligible for parole in forty years. Where is the justice in that? Even the Board of Pardons and Parole made a recommendation to commute the sentence to life, which for them is very rare. Gov. Perry rejected it and executed Robert Thompsom in 45 minutes. That's what I call swift injustice. As usual looking forward to your next article.

Warmest regards, christal


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

It sure is Amanda.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK

I'm on the fence on this issue. I believe that taking a life puts us on the same level as the murderer. I know that the Bible says 'an eye for an eye, etc. but I don't feel comfortable with the idea of a modern society handing out death sentences. At the same time, however, I wonder whether incarcerating a man for the rest of his life is in anyway more 'humane' than the alternative. It's a very thorny issue.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

I agree Careck. I understood Diane's feelings, see comments, though as she lost her dear Aunt in such a barbaric murder. Unfortunately though not all crimes are so cut and dried as far as the perpetrator goes.


careck 6 years ago

Thank you Ethel for writing this great article! I am a firm believer that the death penalty should be abolished world wide and I find it barbaric that it is still being practiced in some so called civilised societies.

Surely outrage is great over hideous crimes and the world would be a safer place if we could get rid of pathological murderers. But exactly as you have shown with the story of Robert Sean Hodgson the truth is often elusive.

And exactly that, that a government which is elected to protect it's people should ALWAYS give the benefit of the doubt exactly because there's no way to rule without error.

Sheesh, it's so easy: "Thou shalt not kill" and I'm not even a Christian!!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

I agree Diane. No person should ever leave this world as your poor aunt did.


Diane 7 years ago

I'm not sure anyone (I certainly didn't) can ever realise how hard it is on the families/friends of murder victims. BUT, I totally agree that an 'across the board' death sentence isn't right either. That's why I said 'where the guilt is totally irrefutable'...and even that makes me a little uncomfortable. But we do need to do something to halt this tidal wave of violent killings for sure.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

I know this is a hard one for you Diane. I do agree though that in such cases, were there is no doubt, the death penalty is the only appropriate course of action. In the same way a rogue animal is put to sleep it would be kinder to all concerned.

Its just a carte blanche death sentence makes me uncomfortable due to cases such as the one detailed here and those in the past, such as Stephan Kiskow.


Diane 7 years ago

Knowing details of the guilt of my Aunt's killer (see Ethel's reference to her murder) - including DNA at the scene and on the bottle that he used to repeatedly smash her face in with - I have to say that in cases such as this one where the guilt is totally irrefutable.......we should bring back Capital Punishment. Not as revenge - but as justice and to prevent the likes of him from ever walking the streets again to destroy other lives.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Thanks waren. These days I know capital punishment is sometimes the only fair judgement. My hub re Joan Charlton shows why sometimes the death penalty is the only just one.


Waren E profile image

Waren E 7 years ago from HAS LEFT THE BUILDING............

I get what you're say ethel smith,I hope that day comes soon!!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Wes and Rnmsn I agree with part of what both of you say. I have to disagree about not going back re old convictions. If a loved one was serving a long sentence for a crime they did not commit I would want justice. Plus the real criminal needs stopping. There have been too many of these cases in the UK.

Hopefully one day someones guilt will be proved 100%. Till then it is open to corruption and incompetence.


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

yes, I would absolutey say yes to death sentence and no coddling of the inmates either...but I am glad for DNA evidence of today as well...but do not think going back and reopening old cases is the best use of time or resources until there is much less crime on our streets/I agree with wesley/it can be a determent to crime


wesleycox profile image

wesleycox 7 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

I definitely believe we should have the death penalty, and should use it when appropriate. It would put a hold on crime I should think.

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