Churchill Wanted to Hang Them Out of Hand

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One cannot hope that this excellent historical memoir will be read by the rival warlords of Africa, ethnic cleansers in the Balkans, or the resilient tyrant of Baghdad. It should, however, be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the distinction between the unavoidable deaths and tragic suffering of any war and war crimes […]

Out of Fashion

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Everyone seems keen on hangings. Executions are living liturgy. Here is a thorough piece of social history where the ghoulish reader will find nothing to enchant him. The author takes us through the arguments and battles of the abolitionists and retentionists, culminating in the abolition of hanging as the penalty for murder in 1969.

Court Lore

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In my brief time as a libel barrister, I often thought I should have been a criminal lawyer instead. It was more romantic and exciting, with more time in court (or on your feet, as barristers put it). That was until a criminal barrister friend of mine was severely beaten up in the holding cell […]

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You May Have The Body

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This timely, important and thought-provoking book opens with words spoken to St Paul by Festus, governor of Judea: ‘It seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him’ (Acts 25:27). As the means by which, historically, English judges determined whether imprisonment was just or unjust, the […]

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‘Drink Up, Dear’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Behind their sentimental image, the Victorians were brutally down to earth. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, irate husbands in Essex, the county with the highest murder rate in Britain, could be heard threatening to ‘whitechapel’ their spouses, who would reply with Banshee promises to ‘white powder’ them. ‘Whitechapel’ referred to the district in […]

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Aye for an Eye for an Eye

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

President Bush, about to launch his country’s retaliation a few weeks after 9/11, was adamant that ‘ours is a nation that does not seek revenge, but we do seek justice’. Was that really true of the American people? Did they make that distinction? Of course not. They wanted to kill the bastards responsible for planning […]

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Triggering Kristallnacht

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Twice in the fitful life of the Third Republic, Paris was convulsed by a criminal scandal with a Jew at its heart that split public opinion and sent crackles of disquiet through Europe. The first of these, the Dreyfus Affair, has become shorthand for the anti-Semitism, xenophobia and venality that streaked the political culture of […]

Years of Magical Thinking

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1613 Henry, Lord Ros, eldest son of the Earl and Countess of Rutland, ‘sickened very strangely’. Within months, the boy was dead. His younger brother, Francis Manners, then fell ill with similar symptoms, possibly caused by epilepsy. Over the next few years eminent physicians were called in, but the child did not improve. In […]

Live by the Sword

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is a marvellous book about a fascinating subject. It is, in a sense, a portrait of a serial killer. Frantz Schmidt was employed between 1578 and 1618 as the official executioner (and torturer) of the prosperous German city of Nuremberg. Over the course of his career he personally despatched 394 people, and flogged, branded […]

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