On 20 January 1949, the Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, announced to Parliament that the King had approved the setting up of a Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, under the Chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers.

The Commission, comprising 10 men and two women, had 63 meetings over four years. It took evidence from a wide range of people with expertise in the field of executions, including judges, prison governors and chaplains, medical officers and staff, and also the then principal hangman, Albert Pierrepoint. It also visited 10 British prisons, plus Broadmoor Hospital, and prisons in various European countries and the United States, in order to examine their capital punishment practices.

In 1950, Edward Glover presented a memorandum, followed by oral evidence to the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment on behalf of the Scientific Committee of the ISTD. Glover argued that early treatment rather than capital punishment was the best way to prevent capital offences. The Royal Commission did not accept the ISTD’s call for the abolition of the death penalty, and it was not mandated to do so.

It was a Conservative Home Secretary, Henry Brooke MP, who, in August 1964, authorised the final two executions carried out in the United Kingdom.

Abolition of the death penalty in Britain did not come about until the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965, which suspended and effectively abolished the death penalty for capital murder in England, Scotland and Wales.

Abolition was not the result of one single event, or for one reason alone. It happened because of a combination of sustained Parliamentary campaigning; public disquiet over three
controversial executions in the 1950s; botched reforms to the law of murder in the 1950s; and changing attitudes towards social and penal affairs, most of all, the acceptance by an enlightened majority of MPs, in a newly elected Labour government, that the state just ought not to be in the business of taking human life.


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