Anyone caught the recent spate of documentaries on Channel Four featuring Death Row prisoners in the United States?
An interesting, and quite typical insight into how America puts out its garbage. But what about here, in Britain? Is it the British people that do not support capital punishment, or just the British Government that doesn't? Anyone who believes the two operate in harmony, by the way, are deluded! Immigration, and our EU membership are but a couple of the many issues demonstrating just how detached the British Government is from the people it purports to serve, regardless of who it is today that is prancing around Downing Street and who it has been over the past 30 odd years; about the time when it all started going Pete Tong. My own mind on capital punishment is mixed; I'm a confused bunny. Depends on what day of the week it is and whether the moon is full or quarter as to whether I'm in favour of it or not. What a juvenile mindset to have on an issue as serious as life or death of another human being. I recognise that, and I'd like to return to my juvenile mindset later on, if I may. Just as well I'm not the Governor of Texas, I suppose, those death row inmates wouldn't know if they were coming or, quite literally, going. Neither would the voters come to think of it, and that just wouldn't do.
The Channel Four documentaries... well, the two I watched focused on a couple of death row inmates: Hank Skinner and Linda Carty. They're both innocent victims facing execution at the hands of an unjust and fatally flawed US justice system, so say Skinner and Carty, naturally. More about them later. Thankfully, one of the programmes was made by the rather excellent German film maker Werner Herzog. The main reason I say thankfully isn't just because of his talent in documentary making (his progs have cropped up several times on British TV over the years) No, I say thankfully because Mr Herzog, unlike British documentary makers who dash across the pond every once in a while to film America's condemned, always remains pretty much neutral on the subject, agenda less, you might say, other than his desire to show us what his camera has managed to capture. It's true that his narrations are quite morose, but it adds something to his programmes, considering the subject matter. He's not making a documentary to judge, he's going to let us, the viewer, do that, he's filming something simply to show us something, and that's all. He's neither condemning the executioner (the United States Government) nor agreeing with it - neither believing or disbelieving the protests of innocence that pour out of the stars of his films (death row inmates). I like his style. I imagine him with his family on Christmas day passing around the turkey – that voice -“and here, we see, the green of, the mint sauce, with its earthly glow, glide along the, spoon's edge and onto a plate, this plate, my plate.” I'm certain he's a decent German.
When a British documentary is made about America's use of capital punishment it is presented with an agenda, not even sometimes, but always. Look at these crazy Americans and how they're stuck in the dark ages with their gassing and electrifying and lethal injecting of criminals. It's the same when the British media reports on the subject, and when UK politicians speak about it. Where outright condemnation is resisted (rarely) sarcasm takes its place, along with those other superstars of the British psyche... finger wagging, tut tutting, eyes rolling. Patronising the Americans regarding their justice system makes us Brits feel just great about ourselves, doesn't it? What is with America and its insistence on state sanctioned murder? Are they barbarians over there or what? A ghastly business in which we do not partake. Well not any more we don't. I don't think I have ever watched a British made programme or British news report to do with America's use of capital punishment that hasn't contained either unashamed condemnation or, at best, a condescending tone. An opportunity to finger wag at the Americans must always be seized. Another chance to feel superior over our cousins across the pond with the funny accents and big cars. The agenda. Personally, I despise it. Thank God for the German.
What's it say about us, all this finger wagging and tut tutting, that we're better? We know best? That the British justice system is superior to that of America's? Yeah, OK then. Anyone who believes that is also deluded, quite seriously so, if you ask me. Before going anywhere near the capital punishment issue we can find a whole lorry load of examples where the British justice system is quite inferior to that of America's. So let's have a quick look at two of them...British judges are not elected, American judges are. Why's that important? The elected judge must keep a keen eye on the decisions he or she makes in the courtroom, and an even keener eye on the mood of the community in which he or she serves, failure to do so will almost certainly lead to the judge not being a judge any more come election day. Elected judges have to earn their jobs. The community must have faith in them. There's a partnership at work - the judge and the community. The vast majority of American communities, and I'd like to believe British communities too but I'd never put money on it, are not made up of limp-wristed, tree hugging do-gooders that believes every criminal is either innocent, or shouldn’t be punished but instead given “support” and “understanding.” No, they want, demand, and elect judges that'll deliver the goods. American judges almost always do.
And now, in stark contrast, please, give it up, for the one, the only, the unelected...British judgeeeees... yah, woop woop. This lot can hardly care less about what the community wants if it so pleases them. They watch British Prime Ministers, entire Governments even, come and go. The business of election, re-election, all change at the top etc, effects them not. So the great unwashed can just go and bloody well bugger off with their incessant cries for justice and punishment to fit the crime nonesense. What do they think this is, a democracy?
It is no exaggeration to state that it's sadly an almost monthly occurrence in this country now where yet another serial criminal, even rapist or savage murderer is given, not the harshest, or even harsh in relation to the crime, but softest of sentences. Public outcry, when it happens, achieves nothing. There is an epidemic in Britain of vicious murderers who are freely walking the streets today that were released from prison early, really early. Interestingly, though, make any form of racist remark in Britain, whether light hearted or otherwise, and you will feel the full wrath of the UK justice system come down upon you like a ton of hot bricks, make no mistake. You should prepare for prison on trial day. But that's a whole Blog all by itself, another time, perhaps. Back to judges and our second quick example of why the British justice system is in no way superior to America's...
The American justice system fully understands the meaning of the word "life” when used in the context of handing out a prison sentence, the British justice system does not. In almost all cases when a judge in an American courtroom tells a criminal that he or she is going to prison for “life”, the criminal knows only too well, that barring new evidence or winning an appeal somewhere down the line, they are going to die in prison, there's no getting around it. Hasta la vista, homey.
So what happens when a British judge hands down a life sentence? They use the word "life" but completely ignore its definition. Over here, when a judge oh so regrettably and terribly reluctantly hands out a “life” sentence to a poor, unfortunate lost soul that has committed a violent act of murder, the judge invariably means 15 years, 20 to 25 years tops if national media are following the case for some reason. That's maybe 25 years, if we're lucky, if the family of the murder victim is lucky. It is true that there are a handful of people in British prisons that will die in them, but their sentences have little to do with a judge that was so overcome with a deep sense of justice that he put them away for life, real life, it's more to do with them being political prisoners, that is, to let them out would cause such a public outcry that any Government bold enough to sign their release papers would probably not be the Government any more come the next election. Child Killer Ian Brady, and Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper are two such prisoners; Brady locked away in the early 1960's just a couple of years after capital punishment had been abolished, and Sutcliffe locked up in the early 80's. Myra Hindley, Brady's accomplice, was also kept in jail way past the 30 year mark, until she went and died on us. The British public, including myself, do not want to see these monsters released from their cages - feed 'em - water 'em - point 'em to a toilet every few hours and throw a blanket over 'em at winter time, the end. But they're an elite bunch. They truly are the megastars of the British criminal world. They have received so much press attention over the years that everybody in this country knows their names. Releasing them would be like digging up the bones of Elvis Presley - just never do it, ever. There are thousands of murderers in UK prisons that are not particularly famous as such, very few of them, if any, will serve anywhere near the amount of time like that of the megastars, despite the public calling for them to. Selective justice, or something like that. Question is, who voted for it? It wasn't me!
So why do UK judges even bother to use the word "life" when sentencing a murderer that everyone knows will be out bouncing up and down the High Street and grinning like a Cheshire cat in no time at all? Ah, the million pound question that I, for one, cannot answer. I look to the comments of others directly below this blog in the hope that one day, someone will; it hasn't happened yet! Where's a judge when you need one? Perhaps I'll gate-crash my local Freemasons' Club where I'll be sure to find a ton of judges enjoying drinky-poos and fine conversation; I can put the question to them directly. They say the judges at that club really know how to party, it sometimes gets down to just underwear and everything.
Yes, them British judges; you have to smile. The pomposity. The ceremony. The whole facade that justice is being served. "You have been found guilty of rape and murder, sadly therefore it is the regretable decision of this court, that you shall go to prison for erm, for um, well, you know, erm, li, errr, life. Mr Bailiff, I would be most grateful if you would kindly show the young man to the cells." "Certainly, your honour. And may I say that it has been, well, an honour to serve under you these past three and a half weeks, your honour." "Not at all, Mr Bailiff." "Your honour, may I ask, will my membership to the, you know, club, be approved soon do you think.?" "Not here, Bailiff, not here." "Of course not, your honour, forgive me. Righty oh, follow me young man, if you wouldn't mind, this way, please."
I'd like to know how they've been getting away with it all these years. And when did it start, or has it always been like this and we just didn't notice? We used to hang murderers in Britain so we haven't always been limp-wristed. What happened? When exactly did this "you will go to prison for life" as long as it does not exceed 25 years malarkey start? Life = 25 years? Since when? Alright, forget about locking them up and throwing away the key, what about not even uttering the word "life" when sentencing a murderer, just say 10, 15, 20, or 25 years? Just say what you mean and nothing else. Don't imply a life sentence. Don't build our hopes on this vicious killer going to prison for life when he's not. For me, about the only thing worse would be a beautiful woman who, while we're enjoying a late dinner at Ollies Oysters, promises me some passion back at her place later. When later finally rolls around there we are, outside her front door and embraced in a midnight kiss, the twinkling stars above us dancing with excitment and the giant moon beaming down an approving smile. I catch a glimpse of a shooting star as I dare to open my eyes for a second in case I'd been mistaken and she's not really as pretty as Charlize Theron; oh yes she is. Then her lips pull off mine, she unlocks her front door and steps inside. But wait, she's not going to invite me in? I ask her, puzzledly "and the passion you promised?" she replies, "was that not passionate?" I hate it when people do that.
If you're anything like me, you dread each time Ian Huntley is in the news. What now? Been attacked in prison again, has he? Confessed to killing more girls? Or - my second biggest dread behind confessing more murders - has a team of “highly trained” “specialist” “doctors” and “psychiatrists” deemed the child killer“rehabilitated” and long overdue for rejoining society? Has new evidence about his mental state at the time of his crimes come to light? Maybe as a child Huntley's teen-aged babysitter bounced him in his playpen a little too vigorously, all that bouncing causing one of her firm, teenage breasts to pop out of her bra and half buttoned blouse then poke baby Huntley in the eye. Such a traumatic experience must surely have effected the infant, causing reoccurring nightmares that have continued into his adult life. Conclusive evidence, therefore, that Huntley should be released with immediate effect; he killed Holly and Jessica purely because of the trauma he had suffered as a child. You see, he's not so bad after all! For the highly trained specialist team it's case closed.
Poor Sara Payne must think similarly whenever that other monster, Roy Whiting, who murdered her beautiful little girl, Sarah, is in the news. Are the specialists working hard behind the scenes to show us old Roy isn't so bad either? You never know in this country. You just never know! It wasn't until late 2011 that Sarah's Law finally got through the British Government's rigid concern for paedophiles human rights nonsense and came into being across England and Wales, almost 10 years after Sara begged the Government to implement the law and protect British children. Megan's Law has been in force in the US since 1994! Please, whatever your position on the death penalty, don't EVER think that the British justice system is, in any way, superior to that of the United States, and do not ever say it to me, down the pub or anywhere else, because I'm going to punch you in the eye if you do, hard!
Next time I hope to get around to talking about the two documentaries and their stars... Hank Skinner, Linda Carty, and that Prince of Goodness himself, Clive Stafford Smith. Yes, him. I'll share with you my confused mind on the death penalty, too, and maybe you can help me sort myself out, maybe you can.
Until next time, stay safe and thanks for reading.
ps - sorry for the edits. This is actually written for my blog, just thought it might be of interest here, that's all. Also apologies for my British English and some of the words that I have used, I understand they won't mean much to non Brits.