Opinion

John Bird: The death of Ian Brady shows that progress is a complex journey

Fifty-one years later, and outrage at the crimes of the Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley has not diminished

A memorial to Keith Bennett at Saddleworth Moor.

Back when Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were found guilty of their crimes I was a 20-year-old, non-reconstituted ‘hang them high but let the family tear their eyeballs out first’ sort of fellow. So last week when I read on the front of an issue of the Daily Mirror their take on the death of Ian Brady –“burn in hell” – I was thrown back to those times.

It was the summer of the last time England won the World Cup, and in autumn the appalling death of many children, not at the hands of a pair of perverted killers, but of a nationalised industry. A mountain of slurry and coal waste was left above a school in Aberfan and it collapsed, engulfing the school. It seemed that year as if all of the promises that were flung around in the post-war period had dementedly turned to underline the precipitous life of childhood.

If the British people of the time, before we started to throw the term United Kingdom around, had got their hands on either the coal board managers who managed to orchestrate through neglect the death of so many children, or Brady and Hindley, there might have been blood spilt. But we had our MPs to represent us, and we were told that as many of us longed for blood-spilling justice we had to remember we were humans. That we needed to keep our humanity preserved by preserving the lives of people who had killed other people’s humanity.

Hanging the wrong man was what scuppered the death penalty

Brady and Hindley escaped the kind of justice most of the people I knew called for. Capital punishment had been removed from the statute books the year before and had not been used since 1963. Increasingly MPs, our civilisers, our calmers of our blood-curdling cries, had gone soft on topping people. This was largely due to the ingenious work of a lifelong campaigner Ludovic Kennedy, whose book 10 Rillington Place virtually proved that Timothy Evans did not murder his wife and child, and that it was John Reginald Christie. Christie who a year or so later was found to have murdered many women and buried them in his garden and outhouse.

Hanging the wrong man was what scuppered the death penalty because it did look as if the police either colluded or were bone idle, or just thick in their deliberances around who did kill Evans’ wife and baby. The cover-up seemed to involve many layers of the justice system and society. And therefore it convinced the many MPs to make state hangings a thing of the past.

But back then I was not alone in thinking about Brady in particular that his snarling face should have been obliterated from the planet. That we should have got old man Pierrepoint, the official hangman out of retirement and got him to do in both Brady and Hindley. Fifty-one years ago.

Ian Brady, who died on May 15, 2017

I can understand entirely now why the state took responsibility for keeping Brady safe from harm, in warmth and some comfort, able to educate and indulge himself, have visitors and became a kind of macabre celebrity, and be kept in good health. But think of all of the school places and hospital beds we could have spent the £5-10m we must have spent on keeping the bloke out of harm’s way. Brady would have cost a year more money than even the highest-paid skilled worker in those 51 years. No train driver gets anywhere near what we have allocated to this dreadful perverted murderer.

The fact that he was probably criminally insane and a bevvy of pyschologists could prove so, and noble men like the late Lord Longford could come round to forgive Brady’s girlfriend Myra Hindley and seek her release, does not diminish the idea among many hearts – even now – that Brady should have been handed – at least – a gun to do himself in.

Maybe we have become nicer. But I still can’t help thinking that wouldn’t it have been great if the ending of the death sentence happened after the Moors Murderers

The argument that we must keep our humanity by not harming others who have acted inhumanely, and deprived others of their chances of growing up human, is at times difficult to comprehend. And the fact that MPs do not fulfill the will of the people at times, because they stop them getting what they want – capital punishment’s reintroduction – tells us a lot about our representational democracy.

But now, even though we see many young men knife-murdered by young men, and domestic murders increased since the days of Brady and Hindley’s crimes, we seem to not want to storm the gates of power and demand hanging be reintroduced.

Maybe we have become nicer. But I still can’t help thinking that wouldn’t it have been great if the ending of the death sentence happened after the Moors Murderers, so we could have seen those particular two off to their maker half a century ago. Rather than wake up one day in the 21st century and realise that that piece of shit had been allowed to have a life where his victims and their families got death and a life sentence of sadness and suffering.

In my case it only goes to show that becoming progressive is not always a complete thing. For when I saw the Daily Mirror’s front page “burn in hell” I felt like kissing the editor. I shall try and be progressive again by next issue.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Billionaires are making a killing during cost of living crisis – we can't afford to accept this
Daisy Pearson

Billionaires are making a killing during cost of living crisis – we can't afford to accept this

Healthcare for trans youth is a human right – it should matter to us all
trans rights human rights
Chiara Capraro

Healthcare for trans youth is a human right – it should matter to us all

Christopher Eccleston on his love affair with running: 'I always feel better after a run'
Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston on his love affair with running: 'I always feel better after a run'

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards
John Bird

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know