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When was the death penalty last used in the UK?

With capital punishment in the news again after support from new Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson, here is when the death penalty was last used in Britain.

When was the death penalty last used in the UK?
When was the death penalty last used in the UK?

This updated article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series.

The death penalty is back in the news after new Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson said he would support its return because “nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed”.

In an interview with The Spectator magazine a few days before his appointment, Ashfield MP Anderson said he would support the UK reintroducing capital punishment.

He said: "Nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed. You know that, don’t you? 100% success rate."

Lee Anderson, Member of Parliament for Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. 19th January 2023.
Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said he would support the re-introduction of the death penalty in the UK. (PA/Alamy)

Anderson argued that heinous crimes — such as the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 by Islamist extremists Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale — where the perpetrators are clearly identifiable should be punished by execution.

Labour MP Chris Bryant criticised Anderson, tweeting: "The death penalty doesn’t work. It makes juries reluctant to convict so guilty parties get off.

"DNA and CCTV may establish someone’s presence at the scene but not their intent or the full picture. We now know conclusively of cases of false convictions and executions."

When was the death penalty abolished in the UK?

The last men to be hanged in Britain had killed a laundry company driver – bludgeoning and stabbing him to death for money.

The two men – Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans – were led from their separate cells and hanged at eight o’clock in the morning.

They were the last people to be executed in Britain, dying in 1964 – and some have suggested that just a few weeks delay would have saved them from the noose.

It was on this day in 1969 when MPs voted to abolish the death penalty permanently in Britain (after it had previously been suspended in 1965).

It was the culmination of a long campaign: Labour MP Sydney Silverman had attempted to pass legislation in 1956 abolishing the death penalty, but failed.

PA News Photo 21/10/74  A library file picture of former executioner Albert Pierrepoint   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Executioner Albert Pierrepoint who killed more than 400 people in his career. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Sydney Silverman (1895 - 1968), MP for Nelson and Colne, addresses the Labour Party conference at the Garrick Theatre, Southport, Lancashire, June 1939. Original publication: Picture Post - 143 - The Labour Party Conference - pub. 17th June 1939 (Photo by Felix Man/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Labour party MP Sydney Silverman was a passionate campaigner against capital punishment (Photo by Felix Man/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The 1957 Homicide Act restricted the death penalty to certain kinds of murder (such as killing a police officer).

Allen and Evans died because their murder had been committed ‘in the furtherance of theft’.

Previously, the death penalty had been the default sentence for any murder, administered by hanging.

Professional executioner Albert Pierrepoint – who was famous for hanging war criminals such as ‘Lord Haw Haw’ – prided himself on taking just 12 seconds from the moment he entered the condemned man’s room to their death as they fell through a trapdoor and broke their spine.

The Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act passed in 1965 after it was introduced as a private members bill by Silverman, but found support from all three parties.

MARCH 27: Sir James Callaghan at the unveiling of his bust in the House of Commons. Today is the birthday of Sir James, who served as British Prime Minister, 1976-79.   James Callaghan ex Labour Prime minister attending the unveiling of his bust by artist Ian Walters, in the House of Commons, London. The actual unveiling was performed by Prime Minister Tony Blair.   (Photo by Sean Dempsey - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour's James Callaghan pointed out that the murder rate had not risen after the death penalty was suspended. (PA Images via Getty Images)
British politician Duncan Sandys (1908-1987), Conservative Party Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, sitting at a desk in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), in Whitehall, London, England, September 1964. In 1968, the two roles were merged to become the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. (Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British politician Duncan Sandys who claimed that 80% of the population supported the death penalty. (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1969, when MPs voted to make it permanent, home secretary James Callaghan told the House that the number of murders in Britain had not gone up after the abolition of capital punishment.

He said, "These figures show that the murder rate is not soaring as a result of the abolition of capital punishment but remains remarkably stable."

But Conservative MP Mr Duncan Sandys claimed that there had been a rise in capital murders - and warned of a coming tide of ‘armed gangsterism’.

Sandys claimed to have a million signatures in support of resuming capital punishment.

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He said, "We have a duty to give the fullest consideration to the clearly expressed wishes of those we represent.

"We have no right to assume that the firmly held views of the overwhelming majority of the British people are unworthy and misguided."

Portrait of British executioner Albert Pierrepoint writing his memoirs at a typewriter in front of a fireplace, circa 1973. (Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
British executioner Albert Pierrepoint writing his memoirs at a typewriter in front of a fireplace, circa 1973. (Keystone Features/Getty Images)

“Recent opinion polls show that over 80% of those questioned want capital punishment restored. Many who previously supported abolition have now changed their minds, and they include honourable Members of this House.”

The act still allowed executions for high treason, ‘piracy with violence’, espionage and arson in the royal dockyards.

When the Human Rights Act came into force in 1998, the death penalty was fully banned under UK law.

Watch: Should the death penalty exist in America?