The last man sentenced to hang in the UK
from various sources – June 2016
submitted by – Kelly Averill
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
At aged 19 Liam Holden became the last person in the United Kingdom to be handed the death penalty, death by hanging. His trial and sentence occurred due to the murder of a soldier, Private Frank Bell, who was shot in the head during a routine patrol in Springfield Avenue, West Belfast.
Private Bell was shot on a Sunday in September, 1972. He was not alone, but with five of his colleagues. They were ambushed. Private Bell’s condition deteriorated and after intense efforts from medical staff. he died on the following Wednesday.
Liam confessed to the killing of Private Bell after being subjected to torture. He says he confessed under duress after being held by members of the Parachute Regiment for nearly six hours who subjected him to water torture, hooded him and had a gun put to his head.
The regiment decided to question Liam due to a tip-off they had received from an informant. Liam had been out with his older brother Patrick, and on returning home both he and his brother were told they were being detained as suspected Irish Republican Army (IRA) members, and driven away in an armoured car.
They were taken straight to a portable building. Inside, they recall, were around eight small cubicles without doors. They were taken to separate cubicles for questioning. Patrick was released after a short while, whilst Liam was put under intense and in-depth ‘interrogation.
Liam recalls hearing a sergeant being ordered to get water and a towel to use on him and being hooded, and later driven around with a gun to his head.
The deliberation of Liam’s Court case lasted all of 90 minutes. The jury returned a guilty verdict and the judge told him: “You will suffer death in the manner authorised by law.”
Following the guilty verdict, Liam was handcuffed to a prison officer and escorted through an underground tunnel to Crumlin Road Jail. He was put in the condemned mans cell and watched around the clock by prison officers.
But he never saw the noose – His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by then Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw and he served 17 years behind bars before being released on licence in 1989. The death penalty for murder was subsequently abolished in Northern Ireland in 1973, four years after the rest of the UK.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established to investigate possible miscarriages of justice, referred the case to the court of appeal in Ireland in 2009 because of concerns about the reliability of his confession. In June 2012 Liam finally had his conviction for murdering the British paratrooper quashed by the Court of Appeal in Belfast.
In a statement he said; “I am delighted that it is over and I will melt back into the background and get on with it. I have five brothers and five sisters, but I don’t really know them. The older ones moved on, got married and had their own families while I was in jail. The ones who were younger than me when I was sent to prison didn’t get the chance to get to know me.” His mother died a year after he was released, and his father a short time later.
He also said other people went through similar ordeals, adding he hoped the publicity would help bring those matters, including the Army’s alleged use of water torture, into the public domain.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, said; “Torture is a crime under domestic and international law and we must now see action from the UK authorities to investigate and hold to account those alleged to have carried out and authorised the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in Northern Ireland.”
History of capital punishment in UK