Death penalty backed by less than 50% of Brits

(Reuters / Handout)
For the first time in history, less than half of Britain’s population believes that the death penalty is an appropriate or humane form of punishment, a new survey has revealed.

Findings from the NatCen’s British Social Attitudes found that 48 percent of the population would back capital punishment for “some crimes.” It marks a decline from 54 percent in 2013 and is the first time the figure has been lower than 50 percent since the survey began.

In 1986, when NatCen began to poll the public, support for the death penalty stood at 74 percent. However, approval of the punishment decreased during the 1990s to 59 percent in 1999.

The previous low was recorded in 2001, when only 52 percent of the public were in favor of capital punishment.

The survey, which took answers from nearly 3,000 respondents, found that young people are consistently less likely to agree than older generations, though the difference between age groups is relatively subtle.

Some 42 percent of 18-24 year olds were found to agree with the death penalty in extreme circumstances, compared to 52 percent of those aged 65 and above.

READ MORE: Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes may face death penalty – wife

There were also huge political divides on the subject, with 75 percent of people in favor of capital punishment also voting for UKIP.

Rachel Ormston, co-head of social attitudes at NatCen Social Research, said: “The big change in public attitudes to the death penalty came in the 1990s at a time when attitudes to a range of other issues, like same-sex relationships and sex before marriage were also liberalizing.

“This more recent change is interesting because attitudes have stayed fairly steady for a number of years. It could be the continuation of this liberalizing trend or, perhaps, a response to the shocking botched executions in the United States that were widely reported in April and July of last year,” she said.

The findings were welcomed by anti-death penalty campaigners.

Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve, which supports people facing the death penalty, said the survey debunks a long-held myth that British people would vote to reintroduce capital punishment.

“In fact the trend is clear – Brits in increasing numbers agree that the death penalty has no place in a civilized society. Capital punishment has little to do with justice or crime deterrence, and all countries – including the UK – should be working towards global abolition,” she said.

The last execution in Britain took place in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were executed in separate prisons for the murder of John Alan West on April 7 that year.