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100 years ago: No mercy for Mrs Thompson

13 January 2023

January 12th, 1923.

THE Home Secretary remained unmoved by the clamour of a small section of the Press, and by the petition — signed by very many who are opposed to all capital punishment — and found himself unable to advise interference with the due course of the law in the case of Bywaters and Mrs Thompson. The case was indeed clear beyond shadow of doubt [many doubts have been raised since]. The jury, which included a woman, made no recommendation to mercy in the case of either criminal. The Court of Appeal found that the case had been justly tried, and that it was “a squalid case of lust and adultery, in which the husband of Mrs Thompson was murdered in cruel fashion”. The Home Secretary, reconsidering the whole matter with judicial assistance, could find no ground for deeming capital punishment too severe a penalty for the offence. To grant reprieves in such a case would have led logically to the abolition of capital punishment. Whether or not that would be wise we do not now consider; so long as it remains a penalty prescribed by the law it must be inflicted in such cases as the Ilford tragedy. It is, like many another necessity, sad; but the murder itself was of a detestable kind, and the pity which has been sentimentally transferred to the criminals was due rather to their victim. No little sympathy must go out to the Home Secretary who in such cases has to make the final decisions. . .

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