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Who cares about Ian Huntley?

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William Crawley | 14:55 UK time, Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Huntley.jpgIan Huntley tried to end his own life last night. He was found unconscious in his cell this morning, having apparently swallowed an overdose of anti-depressants. Having taken the place of Myra Hindley as the most hated person in Britain, an icon of evil, it is extremely unlikely that Huntley, who is 32-years old, will ever be released. The High Court ruled last September that he will serve a minimum of 40 years before he can even be considered for parole. I can frankly understand why he would wish to end what must be a thoroughy miserable life -- serving a sentence without any realistic hope of parole, facing assaults from other inmates, re-living forever (one must imagine) the moment when he crushed two young lives and destroyed his own.

One listener texted our programme today to say, "Let him die. He's scum. That's what he deserves." Others were similarly less than sympathetic. One can understand the rawness of those reactions to his suicide attempt: Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman would be celebrating their 14th birthdays this year had Huntley not murdered them in cold blood and burned their bodies in an attempt to destroy forensic evidence.

There weren't many voices today ready to quote Donne: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." There won't be much tolling when Huntley dies; whether that is through natural causes or at his own hands.

And yet if human life is valuable, all lives are surely valuable. It may require a superhuman effort for some of us to see Huntley as human, but that is what he is. Someone loved him once, someone cries for him still. Don't we lower ourselves to the level of those willing to erase a human life when we forget that he, too, is a human being?


  • 1.
  • At 03:49 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Susannah wrote:

I want to know what was going on when IH killed those little girls. Something like that does not casually happen in between playing the x box and doing the washing up.

IH is human and - like all of us - has buttons that can prompt serious reactions. IH needs to be set to work at something to begin to 'make up' for what he has done (rather than cost us a fortune in suicide watch).

In order for us to decide what state his mental health is in and what he could usefully do, we need to know where he is coming from.

My instinct says that knowing the answer to that will dispel any 'hatred' automatically. Not that we will 'feel sorry for him' but it will be a starting point for the future rather than a constant reference to the past.

  • 2.
  • At 04:17 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Alvin Warburton wrote:

I would encourage Mr Huntley to commit suicide for no reason other than the sympathy I feel towards him. If, as seems likely, he will receive no parole and his sentence essentially extended to life imprisonment, he is afforded no opportunity to atone for his crime or to abate the apparent psychological turmoil through which he is going.

Human life is not valuable in and of itself, rather it is the possibility of that life to do good that is value. If Mr Huntley is detained, with naught but his nightmares and an expense of £80,000 per annum for the tax payer, it would be better for all if he were dead. He can rectify nothing behind bars and his continued existance will merely perpetuate him as a icon of hate, of which, frankly, we need fewer.

In this circumstances, death is the kinder and more lenient option. For though Mr Donne didn't ask for whom the bell tolled, he did say:
"DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so."

"Don't we lower ourselves to the level of those willing to erase a human life when we forget that he, too, is a human being?" An excellent question, and one that deserves a thoughtful answer.

When someone takes the life of someone else in murder, we rightly feel that justice would be served by their death, in whatever manner it occurs - a hallmark argument of capital punishment advocates. Yet a good justice system does not deal out punishment; it compensates victims and their families for an infringement of their rights to life. (Personally, I believe that capital punishment is, in principal, a just means of compensation. In practice, I have many more problems with its execution... no pun intended.)

So let me make two points: (1) Ian Huntley deserves to be, at least, serving his life sentence. Sympathy is not a very helpful emotion where that's concerned. I don't feel sorry for him, and the sentence would appear to fit the crime. (2) If he wishes to commit suicide, he should be allowed to do it. Human life is valuable, valuable enough to permit sovereignty to the individual, and therefore valuable enough that he should be allowed to end it.

We don't forget that Ian Huntley is human when we have the clarity of social discernment to lock him up for life. Rather than feel sadness or sympathy for him, let's honour our commitment to his victims' families and feel sadness that he turned his valuable human life to such evil, destructive ends.

  • 4.
  • At 05:48 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Asquith's Ghost wrote:

I agree entirely, Will. People wonder how someone could do these horrible things. Just listen to some of the people on the radio lining up to personally execute Huntley in public and you have your answer.

  • 5.
  • At 05:55 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Eldorado wrote:

John says that Huntley deserves his life sentence. I agree. But I've a problem with the UK legal system because the high-profile cases like Huntley serve a life sentence, but those killers (even double murderers) who do not make the national news so often often make it to parole. Fair's fair: either they all stay in for ever, or we should be prepared to parole all of them on the same terms. The current system is sentencing by media vote. It's unjust.

  • 6.
  • At 06:00 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Jan wrote:

John, you say that IH should be allowed to commit suicide if he wants to. Does that mean that you think the prison authorities should stand back and let him die the next time they find him unconscious in his cell? Is that really the kind of world you want to live in?

Eldorado- Agreed.

  • 8.
  • At 06:15 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Margaret H wrote:

Quite right - condemning Huntley and giving our support to the families of those little girls doesn't men that we should demonise him. He is human and what he did was a terrible evil, but he's still human, and I don't mind telling you that I feel story for him. He's pathethic and his life is a life not worth living.

I've a moral question though. Personally, I oppose capital punishment, for reasons that are well understood. On the other hand, I support a change in the law to permit voluntary active euthanasia in certain cases. Terminal illness, uncontrollable pain, etc.

I can't see how the law could be changed to permit someone to have an assisted suicide because they hate their life behind bars. A prison reform person on the news has just been arguing that Huntley should be permitted to have euthanasia.

Im sure IH would choose VAE if he had a chance at this point. Perhaps the better suggestion is that the prison authorities should call for an ambulance bery slowly the next time H attempts suicide. (Though they have questions to answer about their management of a prison when a prisoner can collect 30 anti-depressants and take them all at once).

Asquith's ghost- You're actually suggesting that Ian Huntley's act of double-child murder is morally no different than wanting to see Ian Huntley die for what he did? O-kay.

Jan- That's not what I had in mind, no. What I'm saying is that Ian Huntley should be allowed to end his life, if he so wishes. If that means some form of assisted suicide or euthanasia, his wishes should be honoured.

  • 11.
  • At 07:19 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Alvin Warburton wrote:

Ms Margaret H, you have hit the nail spot on there in your first paragraph... evil is something you do, not something you are. Mr Huntley is not evil, but has certainly done something rather unpleasant. While he cannot rectify that wrong-doing, it's having been done does not mean that he is incapable of doing good.

He should be released into the community, where he can work for the community's good. Or he should be executed, because there is no benefit to be gained from his being in prison, at taxpayer's cost, for many years to come. We most all have greater faith in people.

  • 12.
  • At 07:33 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Stephen G wrote:

I agree that IH is human - that is what makes his crime so tragic and horrendous. I think Britain needs the death penalty for cases such as this. What good does it serve to have him rotting in jail?


  • 13.
  • At 08:11 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Alvin Warburton wrote:

Mr Stephen G, this is where you and I disagree. It is in instances like this that people should have a little faith in their fellow man. After a reasonable amount of time, he should be released and he should be expected to be a decent human being.

  • 14.
  • At 08:17 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Alvin Warburton wrote:

Mr Stephen G, this is where you and I disagree. It is in instances like this that people should have a little faith in their fellow man. After a reasonable amount of time, he should be released and he should be expected to be a decent human being.

  • 15.
  • At 08:26 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Jonathan H wrote:

The problem facing Ian Huntley is that his crime can never be considered as anything other than absolutely evil. It isn't clear to me, therefore, that there is much difference between wishing someone dead and performing the deed. What kind of civilised society can condone death in circumstances that are not accidental , through illness or age?

The question that many have been asking is what is the point of paying to keep prisoners behind bars. Surely, the purpose of a properly functioning Prison Service is to rehabilitate people, so that they understand the gravity of their crime and, in however a limited manner, are able to begin to make amends in some positive way. I find it rather a curious position to suggest that that money should be the deciding factor in whether someone should be allowed to live or be killed.

Jonathan- We disagree. The primary purpose of prison is not to rehabilitate offenders; the primary purpose of prison is to penalise offenders in compensation for victims and thereby discourage others from doing the same.

  • 17.
  • At 09:33 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Pauly wrote:

Stephen wants a death penalty in Britain. God help us all. We can be glad that the EU has outlawed capital punishment for all its states, so chances of getting a death penalty again are precisely zero. I've no interest in competing with Iran and the US in their competition to execute more of their citizens.

John - I don't think Margaret is saying IH's actions are equivalent to those baying for his execution. Just that they have this in common - an urge to hurt.

Pauly- I wasn't referring to Margaret's comments, I was responding to Asquith's Ghost on comment 4, who said "People wonder how someone could do these horrible things. Just listen to some of the people on the radio lining up to personally execute Huntley in public and you have your answer." Those comments are plainly ridiculous.

  • 19.
  • At 10:35 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Stephen G wrote:

Pauly: God help us all? No. Not unless you're planning in murdering children.


  • 20.
  • At 10:44 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Stephen G wrote:

Sorry. I forgot to answer William's question. "Who cares about Ian Huntley?"

Not me.


  • 21.
  • At 11:03 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • sam wrote:

That's your view Stephen, and you're entitled to it.

My answer to Will's question ...

I care about Ian Huntley. As a Christian, I am called to love Huntley. That doesn't mean excusing what he did, or even arguing that he should be released. It means I want to care for him and seek to see him come to full repentance for what he has done. I want him to experience forgiveness from God and experience the peace that can bring. I'm not ashamed to care for a murderer or to claim to love him in the name of Christ. Christ loved me, a sinner, and gave his live for me. He gave his life for Ian Huntley too. That's a scandalous thing to say, isn't it? The Gospel is a scandal.

I read about IH. He is like most of the child killers here in America. As A Christian, I cannot condone the death penalty. But I can condone having him sentenced to life in prison and hard labor.

I think they should give him a exercise bicycle to ride which could generate power for the nation's electrical grid. What?! It's renewable energy, folks!

Have private companies bid for the Prison Power contracts and you now also have a way of paying the bills so we taxpayers don't have to. It's foolproof! (I should run for office.)

John: I like that idea.

  • 25.
  • At 09:17 AM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Jen Erik wrote:

The problem with the voluntary euthanasia suggestion might be that we'd only want to extend the right to suicide to people who were making a calm and rational decision that life was not worth living. And the decision would have to come from the person themselves - it wouldn't be enough for society to conclude that person's continuing existence worthless.
Surely even if you could somehow prove that the decision emanated from Huntley himself, and wasn't the result of depression or peer pressure, there'd have to be a question of whether a man who has demonstrated such flawed judgement in his life has the ability to make such a decision.

Jen- I agree with the spirit of your comments. But you're still struggling with allowing euthanasia, aren't you, just a little? You bring up three conditions: (A) that it would have to be a calm and rational decision, (B) that it would have to come from the person themselves, and (C) that it be demonstrated that he has the ability to make that decision.

(A) and (B) is information that can be procured through some state-regulated counseling sessions. (C) is more difficult, since you're suggesting that this single act of bad judgement makes him incapable of making decisions affecting his life? Firstly, I'm not at all sure that that's the case. Secondly, the state already has tried him and found him guilty of having had the ability to murder two young girls: ie. he was found competent of mind. Third, if he isn't insane, which nobody has seriously suggested, then no matter how flawed his judgement, it's his life and my initial point was that therefore it's entirely within his right to decide whether or not he wants to continue it.

Nobody likes death. These are issues of our society that we wish we didn't have to deal with and issues that we hope never touch us. But they are nevertheless necessary. I believe it is unethical to prevent someone from taking their own life, if that is what they truly want (and I welcome your controls). If "own life" means anything, it means allowing voluntary euthanasia as an alternative to a horrible life in prison.

  • 27.
  • At 05:22 PM on 07 Sep 2006,
  • Jen Erik wrote:

I'm struggling with something, John. I think I agree with you, but when I imagine Huntley - or similar people - being allowed by the State to choose to die, it feels wrong.
If he'd stolen money, I wouldn't think he should never again be allowed to have control over his own money - that'd be stupid. But perhaps I don't believe lives are property in quite the same way - once you've shown such a blatant incapacity for understanding the value of human life, should you ever be the person who is trusted to value another life? Even your own?
I see that leaves me facing a Catch-22, where the very people who might want euthanasia are denied it because of the reason they want it: I shall go away and think some more.

Jen- I appreciate your honest reply. It's a difficult issue, not least because life feels so precious to us all who live it; any waste of that feels wrong. Thanks for engaging me in intelligent conversation.

  • 29.
  • At 10:13 AM on 14 Sep 2006,
  • Hannah + Charlee wrote:

We think that this 'man' is evil and probably deserves nothing, let alone death! However, it is costing the country's tax payers £25,000 a year to keep him locked away and alive. If he was allowed to commit suicide then firstly we will save much money (as a country) and secondly he will not ever be set free to re-commit! Hence possibly saving the lives of more innocent children and families. Would this not be more beneficial to our counrty? and our safety?

  • 30.
  • At 08:18 AM on 28 Sep 2006,
  • pete turner wrote:

re eldorado.




  • 31.
  • At 12:20 PM on 29 Sep 2006,
  • Geoff Goodwin wrote:

I think that a major problem overlooked in calling IH "evil" is that it assumes he had the freedom to choose his action. I think the truth is that if he "chose" to commit this action and in these circumstances another man would have
"chosen" differently then that difference can only be explained by the state of their brains at birth and/or their life experiences. I have epilepsy and some of the anti-epileptic drugs I've had made me violent and uncontrolled. I think if you were to feed the right drugs in to every reader of this site - maybe change a few life experiences - we would each commit the same crime.
As to whether his crime is evil - I think this is a matter of taste.
Clearly most of us hate it, I do as well - but then, I don't like vegetable pie either !

  • 32.
  • At 04:47 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Rebecca Turner wrote:

I would like to know why he did what he did. He must have some sort of phyciological problem to murder those two innocent girls, does any of the shrinks know what it is? What made him want to do it? It was said that it was some sort of sick fantasy but there was no evidence that he sexually abused either or the girls. Could anyone tell me anymore as I have chosen this case to study in drama and portray what an awful event it was?

  • 33.
  • At 02:37 PM on 16 Mar 2007,
  • dp wrote:

can thee BBC not do anything about this spam?

  • 34.
  • At 04:43 PM on 24 Apr 2007,
  • lorne wrote:

it is a shame we cannot execute all child killers, there would be more room for other criminals that roam around,ive no sympathy, just for the relatives left behind, having to live the nightmare,,,as for his rights, if he wants to die, i would say DONT LET HIM, LET IM ROT, they get it too good in prison as far as im concerned, they should ban tv, books and any recreational activity, we are too soft on criminals in this country

  • 35.
  • At 01:32 PM on 05 Jun 2007,
  • Amber wrote:

Ian Huntley is a murderer. What he has done, whether it be in the past (he may be sorry for it now - I don't know) or not, leaves me devoid of any sympathetic emotion towards him. If you look into his eyes, I can assure you all that you’re seeing is a blank, empty canvas – empty oil upon empty charcoal upon empty fabric. Being the same age as Holly and Jessica would have been this year (15, I believe), I honestly can’t imagine the terror the girls would have felt in response to Huntley’s actions… And I believe he should suffer the same terror and pain as they did. It makes you repentant of your evolution, doesn’t it?

  • 36.
  • At 06:32 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

Bring back the death sentence. Its what he deserves.

  • 37.
  • At 04:20 PM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • megan wrote:

it costs around £120,000 per year
to keep Huntley in solitary as he is being watched 24/7

so basically we are paying to keep him alive
and so are the parents of Holly and Jessica

let him die

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