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Mel Stride

Capital Shame

Mon 7 Nov 2011

By Mel Stride

There was much in the press over the late summer regarding the execution of Troy Davis in the United States and a renewed debate about Capital Punishment. On which subject let me share with you two striking personal stories that appeared in the same issue of the Guardian newspaper this time last year.
One chronicled an attempt in Ohio to execute a prisoner by lethal injection. It made the news because of the execution team’s inability to raise a vein in the prisoner’s body sufficient to insert the needle. Considerable pathos was added by the prisoner’s attempts, over a two hour period, to assist by moving position and flexing his muscles. An act that led the prison governor to commend him for the consideration with which he treated those who killed him. The other article? I’ll come back to that in a moment.
I find several arguments against Capital Punishment overwhelming. Firstly, the view that a society is significantly morally diminished when it gets into the business of executing people - even if after the most careful judicial process.
Secondly, there must be a possibility that those facing trial for which guilt will lead to death will receive unduly lenient judgement. At the margins of judgement am I not likely to be sitting on the jury erring on the side of acquittal unless I am extraordinarily sure of guilt? Even if I think the man facing me undeniably guilty do I not perhaps think about the kind of world he grew up in? Who did what to him in turn somewhere along the road? In short, do I not start to make allowances? And are those allowances not more likely to be considerable when I am faced with the terrible realisation that his life rests momentarily in my hands?
Thirdly, there is the tricky issue of manslaughter versus murder. Manslaughter (perhaps the battered wife who after years of incessant abuse plunges the bread knife into her husband after his final violent assault) will probably (depending upon the system of justice employed) be a non capital offence. For some cases it will be a difficult call between the two. The risk of a poor defence lawyer is there in all cases of course but when it comes to capital crimes the consequences can be somewhat final. Which brings me to the second Guardian article and the obvious and most deadly nail in the whole miserable gallery of rope, syringe, shoot ‘em up and plug-in chair.
The other story? Yes you guessed it – bit of a judicial slip-up your honour. Sean Hodgson spends 27 years in prison after wrongful conviction for rape and murder. His innocence proved through DNA test on exhumed body. The final words of the statement of this man who spent the prime of his life incarcerated for something he never did were rather prosaic given the enormity of what had been done to him. He said simply, ‘you cannot undo what has already been done.’ Quite.
Sapere Aude

24 new Free schools have just opened – these are free from local authority control and the national curriculum. They determine their own school hours, policy on uniforms, discipline and much else. They are being opened by parents, faith groups and others – all of whom are concerned that education should be improved locally. One such school, The West London Free School has been created by parents led by the journalist Toby Young - whose offering is devoid of what he calls “politically correct gobbledygook”. His school will teach compulsory Latin until the age of 14, major on academic subjects, insist upon smart uniforms and that pupils stand when adults enter a class. Like all free schools it will be non-profit making, state funded and live or die by whether it attracts pupils.
What Toby and others are doing represents the breaking of a monopoly – a monopoly that says that unless you are wealthy enough to send your children to a private school or lucky enough to live in the catchment area of a good state school (of which Devon is fortunate to have a number of outstanding examples) you will just have to take what you are given.

One of my last encounters with Toby was 30 years ago when one of his friends pulled me off a bar as I made an acceptance speech after an election. I was lucky not to have broken my back and I always think of that incident when I see him on Question Time or read his articles. Luck was on my side then - I slid off the bar and hit the floor curiously unscathed. I hope that luck is with him now – he deserves success and has already aspired to his school’s motto – ‘Sapere Aude’ or ‘dare to be wise’.


Other columns by Mel Stride

Busy right across the constituency - Tue 9 Nov 2021
Investing in local public services - Mon 2 Aug 2021
Corona - A year on - Mon 14 Jun 2021
Supporting our Local Communities in difficult times - Mon 1 Mar 2021
The PM’s first year - Thu 1 Oct 2020
Quizzing the PM - Tue 7 Jul 2020
It’s the economy, stupid! - Tue 11 Feb 2020
Vision for the Future - Mon 2 Dec 2019
Into the Cabinet - Thu 1 Aug 2019
Local Apprenticeships Matter - Fri 3 May 2019
Huge shot in the arm for our High Streets - Thu 24 Jan 2019
Reading - Thu 8 Nov 2018
EU - In or Out? - Mon 11 Mar 2013
Opportunity. - Tue 22 Jan 2013
Where do we begin? - Tue 13 Nov 2012
To Infinity and Beyond - Wed 5 Sep 2012
Working in Westminster - Sun 1 Jul 2012
A Better Balance - Thu 5 Jan 2012
Olympic Feat... - Sun 11 Sep 2011
The Coalition - A year on - Mon 11 Jul 2011
Labour Dreams - Sun 17 Apr 2011
Now we really must mean Business - Thu 10 Mar 2011
Freedom and Responsibility - Sun 9 Jan 2011
A leader for Labour - Thu 4 Nov 2010
Education and Freedom - Mon 6 Sep 2010
Tradition and Words - Mon 6 Sep 2010
Mel Stride - Early Days in Westminster - Tue 6 Jul 2010
Mel Stride Conservative Parliamentary Candidate on The Big Society - Mon 3 May 2010
A look back over my years as Conservative parliamentary candidate and contributor to The Cottage - Sun 28 Feb 2010
Building the homes of the Future means giving Power to the People - Thu 3 Dec 2009
Early memories... - Wed 4 Nov 2009
As General Franco lay dying... - Tue 20 Oct 2009

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