By Paul Coslett
Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s most famous executioner talks about his career and attitude to capital punishment in an archive 1976 BBC Radio Merseyside interview.
Albert Pierrepoint was Britain’s most prolific executioner carrying out up to 600 executions between 1932 and 1956. Upon retirement he settled in Southport and in the 1970's spoke to BBC Radio Merseyside’s Reg Brookes about his career.
In the interview Pierrepoint contradicts the view that he had become anti-capital punishment since quitting his executioner role. Pierrepoint says he was worried by the increasing levels of crime and was undecided about whether he would support the return of the death penalty.
Albert Pierrepoint’s story has recently been released as a film starring Timothy Spall. In the archive interview Pierrepoint speaks about hanging a man who was a regular in his pub and his role in the execution of guards from Belsen after the Second World War.
In his book Pierrepoint had stated that he was against the death penalty but by the time he spoke to Reg Brookes in the 1970s he appeared to have changed his mind, “When I started writing that book, our country seemed pleasant and quiet. There was not a lot of crime. Not like there is today. I am now honestly on a balance and I don’t know which way to think because it changes every day.
“I know I wrote that in the book, and when I wrote that in the book I honestly believed it. But since then there’s been a lot more crime than there was in my time and I just can’t make my mind up. They talk about bringing it back for policeman, but they never mention bringing it back for the murder of children.
“If they bring it back, fair enough, but bring it back for everyone. A murder is a murder.”
In March 1950 Pierrepoint hanged Timothy Evans for the murder of his daughter and suspected murder of his wife. It was later discovered that Evan’s neighbour John Christie had committed the crimes and Evans was posthumously pardoned in 1966. When asked about this Pierrepoint claimed that he always remained neutral, “You mustn’t get involved in whatever crime they’ve committed. The person has to die. You’ve got to treat them with as much respect and dignity as you can.
Walton Prison held the last UK hanging
“They’re walking in to the unknown. And anyone who’s walking in to the unknown, well I’ll take my hat off to them.
“In all my career I think I’ve only seen two who weren’t that brave. And they were both spies, foreigners. But the British, the English, no trouble.”
James Corbitt was hanged for murder by Pierrepoint in 1950, Corbitt had been a regular in Pierrepoints pub even singing with him, but Pierrepoint said he didn’t know him well, “He really wasn’t known to me. Only as a customer, I never knew his name. And the night he was in my pub, Saturday night. In the Sunday press this man, I didn’t know then it was this man, had committed a murder in Ashton under Lyne.
“He used to bring this young lady in with him very often. But this particular night he left reasonably early. I realised later why. And he went to Ashton under Lyne and murdered this girl.”
Pierrepoint hanged 13 German war criminals in one day many for crimes committed at Belsen and Auschwitz. In the interview with Reg Brookes Pierrepoint admits he was shocked by their crimes, “Oh yes. I think the whole country was.” His role in Germany meant his profile in Britain rose. “I remember one night particularly it was announced on the radio that I was going to be executioner at Belsen Law Courts. I knew already but nobody else knew. Then we were absolutely saturated with press round the door for days and days.
Pierrepoint goes on to tell how when out for a drink with a friend women swarmed round him like bees buying him drinks and asking him to remember their friends and family who had lost their lives in the war when he carried out his work in Germany. But as Pierrepoint explained pleas from victims or the sentenced made little impact on him, “I don’t take sides. I just go and do the job that I’ve been allotted to do.
“As long as I can give in the last moments of these people, whoever they are, whatever they’ve done, if I can give them the respect and dignity at the last moment. That’s my job and I come away satisfied.”
last updated: 19/11/2008 at 15:18