The murder of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman has reignited the debate over capital punishment, with a new opinion poll suggesting more than half the population wanted the death penalty restored for child killers. Former Tory Home Office minister Miss Widdecombe said it was "somewhat vacuous" because MPs would never back it and the government had handed responsibility on the issue to Brussels.
But she said: "There is a moral choice to be made. If it is a deterrent - let's use the if there is a moral choice to be made between saving the lives of the innocent and taking the lives of the guilty. That is the choice we have to make. I don't think you can ignore that choice because if you say it is a deterrent but we will not have capital punishment, then you are condemning innocent people." Her comments followed a poll by YouGov for the Daily Mail, which found that 56% believed in the death penalty for child killers and 35% would back capital punishment for paedophiles.
YouGov sought the views of 2,000 people between Saturday and yesterday. The Bishop of Durham, The Right Reverend Michael Turnbull conceded that "the moral case does stand up" but said he did not accept it. "If, in fact, you included the possibility of a death penalty, even that, then you rule out the possibility of rehabilitation," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Both agreed that no decision should be made in the immediate aftermath of the Soham tragedy.
Miss Widdecombe told Today: "Let me make one thing clear, I am not running around banging drums, calling for the restoration of the death penalty. You first of all need it to be done very rationally and secondly, not just on the tide of outrage." However, she said there was evidence that the ultimate sanction had acted as a deterrent in Britain in the past.
"In the five years following the temporary abolition of the death penalty, when we were experimenting, we still collected - and this is why I want you to look at this country - we still collected statistics at that time on the basis of capital and non-capital murder," she said. "What was shown was the capital murder rate went up 125%, so I think there is a case there." The former shadow home secretary dismissed suggestions that the high murder rate in America, where the death penalty is widely available, undermined that argument. "The big weakness is the huge amount of time that elapses because of their dreadful system with people being on Death Row for 10 years at a time, the huge amount of time that elapses between the conviction and the application of the punishment" she said.