Today, Britain remains the only country in western Europe where a return to capital punishment is regularly and seriously proposed. In recent years bills to restore the death penalty for all murderers or the murderers of police officers have been introduced in the House of Commons by Conservative benchers every time they have had the chance.

The back-benchers usually emphasise that they are not seeking mere revenge and that capital punishment is a better deterrent than imprisonment. They have, however, never managed to produce any concrete evidence for this. Instead they have cool-headedly tried to misinterpret the actual statistics, for example by comparing the pre-abolition murder rate with the naturally much higher post-abolition homicide figure.

The rise of international terrorism in the seventies and eighties led to MPs' invoking the specific threat of terrorist acts in defending hanging. But their opponents have been quick to point out that terrorist murders are the ones for which the death penalty is most inappropriate: first, the martyrdom created by execution may actually entice terrorists to commit murder to win publicity for their cause, and second, the great number of people involved in terrorism cases might result in especially tremendous miscarriages of justice.

The pro-hanging people are a vociferous minority, even within those who vote Conservative. The 1992 British Election Study indicates that only 49 per cent of Conservative supporters would endorse the restoration of hanging. The fact is that there is no real threat of a person being judicially hanged in Britain ever again, even for high treason or piracy on the high seas, the two remaining capital offences unaffected by the Murder Act.