The trial of Lee Rigby’s murderers gained national attention in UK media because of the brutal and public nature of his death. Ben Parr discusses for Bristol University’s Epigram how the British ‘Far Right’ used the trial of his murderers to voice views on the death penalty.
The murder of Lee Rigby shocked the entire country. The idea of such a brutal killing taking place on the streets of London was almost surreal, only made more so when a video went viral of one of the killers, Michael Adebolajo, brandishing his bloodied murder weapon and making a religious and political speech to the camera. The killers have now been sentenced,. Adebolajo received the ultimate sentence available (the whole-life prison term) whilst his accomplice Michael Adebowale was given a life sentence of a minimum of 45 years.
What was most shocking about the sentencing was not the drama inside the court house, but what was taking place on the streets outside. Amongst other protests, there was a noticeable presence of the British National Party and the English Defence League. The members of these far-right, extremist organisations were using the publicity of the event to stage a call for the revival of the death penalty. To highlight their cause in their typically tasteless and repugnant manner they had erected a set of gallows outside of the Old Bailey. This was accompanied by placards baring images of a hangman’s noose.
These grotesque images highlight how the barbaric call for the death penalty to return is still very much alive today. Whilst it may seem to be an extreme minority who acted in the way the EDL and BNP did, the opinion is still very much alive. On the day after the sentencing, the Daily Star ran the headline “Justice for Lee? If only”. This type of headline makes it is easier to see where much of the propaganda in support of capital punishment comes from. Unfortunately the old arguments which should have been binned along time ago are still in use. Such claims as the death penalty gives the ultimate deterrent are simply false and, furthermore, impractical. Studies have been conducted which reveal that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people are less likely to commit a crime which carries the punishment of death compared to a life sentence in prison. In addition, it has often been the case that members of juries will be more likely to set a defendant free, even if they believe they are guilty, if the death penalty is what awaits the accused if they are found guilty.
It seems needless to list all of the reasons why capital punishment is a ludicrous form of justice, practically and morally. However, what is concerning is just how many people still want to bring it back. According to a YouGov poll conducted as recently as 2011, 65% of the population believe that the death penalty should be brought back for at least some crimes. This is in sharp contrast to the way parliament voted on the matter though. The most recent attempt to bring it back saw parliament rejecting the motion by 403 votes to 159. What does this say about the wider issue of how democratic the UK is? Well, it shows that parliament do not truly represent the views of the general public. That said, this is something which I am incredibly glad is the case. By the public voting in a government consisting of, for the most part, educated people to make these choices for them, we stop the emotionally fuelled propaganda of those who do not actually understand the issues at hand influencing public policy. Under a true democracy, in which the politicians did exactly as the majority of the people at the time wished, we would have capital punishment, we would have left the EU and probably would never consider playing a part in any form of foreign affairs except in issues directly effecting ourselves.
Lee Rigby’s murder was a tragedy and truly shocking. It is needless to say that the acts and beliefs of Adebolajo and Adebowale are truly repulsive. However, the only thing that I will take away from the gallows that were erected outside of the Old Bailey, is just how disturbing, barbaric and malicious members of our own society can, and would be, if law permitted them the chance.