The governor who hanged Hanratty comes out against death penalty

The Guardian, July 11 1983
Published as Mrs Thatcher's government attempted to restore the death penalty

Mr Reg Llewelyn, a retired prison governor who supervised two hangings, including that of James Hanratty, has written a personal letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, opposing the restoration of capital punishment.

Mr Llewelyn, who retired after 30 years in the prison service in 1976, said he no longer supported the death penalty. “Selfishly, I was most relieved when it was abolished. Having got through two of them, I dreaded the thought of a third.

“You have to strike a very difficult balance between getting over involved with a condemned man, in which case you may break; and being under involved in which case you may neglect some very important detail. Beforehand, I thought I might break.

“In the 48 hours before the execution you have a great number of worries: about the man himself, who has to have a great deal of courage; about things going wrong from the executioner’s point of view; about a telegram of reprieve arriving five minutes too late; about the other prisoners, who always have a silent reverence on these occasions.

“If you do what you can for a person under sentence of death, you are bound to build up a relationship, and to see him hanged is very difficult. It’s a very distressing time. You can’t really describe it. In times of crisis people are given extra strength, and I was fortunate in finding extra strength myself.”

Mr Llewelyn was the governor at Bedford Prison when James Hanratty was hanged there for the A6 murder in April 1962. Doubts about Hanratty’s guilt have lingered ever since. Mr Llewelyn believes he was guilty but he says that similar cases of doubtful conviction have helped to per-suade him to oppose capital punishment.

In his letter to the Home Secretary Mr Llewelyn lists arguments against the death penalty. “My view is very clear,” he said. ” You can’t bring it back. You mustn’t bring it back.”