Death penalty must never be restored

UNLESS last minute pleas for clemency are successful, Nguyen Tuong Van, a 25 year-old Australian citizen, will be executed by hanging in Singapore a week today.

UNLESS last minute pleas for clemency are successful, Nguyen Tuong Van, a 25 year-old Australian citizen, will be executed by hanging in Singapore a week today.

The fate of a heroin trafficker on the other side of the globe would not normally raise much interest, but assumes importance in the context of the murder in Bradford last weekend of West Yorkshire police constable Sharon Beshenivsky.

Her death brought immediate calls for the return of the death penalty in this country. Such a knee-jerk reaction - mainly from the Bible reading right - is not only unseemly and predictable, but is totally spurious.

Britain stopped executions in the 1960s. Now, as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, even if Parliament was so minded to re-introduce capital punishment - which I am absolutely certain it never would - any law would be invalid unless we withdrew from the human rights declaration.

And European law says that not only are we prevented from carrying out executions, we cannot deport people to a nation which still has the death penalty unless our Government is given an absolute guarantee that the ultimate sanction will not be imposed.

To oppose the death penalty is not to be on the side of the criminal rather than the victims of crime. I have the deepest sympathy for the family of Sharon Beshenivsky - she was murdered simply for her doing her job. It was even more heart rending because it happened on her daughter's fourth birthday.

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Many who support bringing back “hanging,” as the UK death penalty is always referred, do so in frustration at the length of time murderers spend in jail. I agree that being sentenced to life in prison should mean just that, and that early release should never be considered in crimes of revulsion, such as the murders of the Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Most public opinion surveys show that there is a majority in this country for the return of hanging. The invariable reaction of the man in the street after a particularly horrendous crime is “I'd string `em up myself.”

This is the one instance, perhaps the only one, in which MPs are right to be out of step with the electorate. It would be a bleak day indeed if we were ever to turn the clock back and reintroduce capital punishment.

The world has moved on and judicial executions have been rightly consigned to history, and should remain there for ever. But not in Singapore, where more than 400 prisoners have been hanged since 1991, giving the small city-state possibly the highest execution rate in the world relative to its population of just over four million people.

Most of those executed were convicted of drug trafficking while others were executed for murder or firearms offences - all of which carry mandatory death sentences.

Poon Yuen-chung, an 18 year-old shop assistant from Hong Kong, was executed in April 1995, after airport officials found heroin hidden in a secret compartment in her luggage. Thiru Selvam was hanged in September 2001 after a friend of his was found in possession of approximately 800 grams of cannabis. The friend reportedly told the police that the drugs belonged to Thiru Selvam.

Now Australia is considering taking fellow Commonwealth member Singapore to the International Court of Justice in a desperate bid to prevent the execution of Nguyen Tuong Van, arrested at Changi Airport in 2002 while in transit from Cambodia to Melbourne carrying 396 grams of heroin.

MEMBERS of Suffolk Women's Institute branches have won their two year European campaign to outlaw life threatening chemicals in everyday household items such as face creams and furniture polish.

A European law on REACH - Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals - which will introduce controls on chemicals linked to rising incidence of cancers, allergies and autism was adopted 398-148 with 36 abstentions by the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Voting in favour was East of England Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt, who had taken up the Suffolk women's cause.

Suffolk WI decided to seek European action after some members tested positive for a cocktail of 18 man-made chemicals linked to the risk of hepatitis, chronic bronchitis, and cancers of the bladder, breast, liver and lungs.

“I joined the local women in submitting myself to scientific testing which exposed the hazardous chemicals which contaminate our bodies and homes, and which present unacceptable health risks to ourselves and our children,” said Mr Howitt.

“The new European law will require manufacturers to prove chemicals are safe before they are used, ensure that the most dangerous chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives, and introduce a right to know about the health rules of chemicals in products we use."

Mr Howitt condemned Conservative Euro MP's who voted to maintain the existing system whereby chemicals are only tested where safety risks are already raised. “You don't wait for an aeroplane to crash before you test it for safety, and neither should we for chemicals in household products.

“The Suffolk Women's Institute said we should put the environment and consumer safety first, and I am deeply proud that the European Parliament as a whole has been persuaded by their campaign.”

BURY St Edmunds MP David Ruffley may support David Davis in the leadership contest, but that hasn't stopped him from praising rival David Cameron.

In a Commons speech this week on incapacity benefit, Mr Ruffley said reform was anathema to most Labour MPs but some proposals might be to the liking of the Tories. “As Mr Cameron said, if the Prime Minister comes up with good ideas, we will back him. The question is: will his own side back him?”

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