For clients of Pierrepoint, a stretch and then some

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

July 21, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Where are you, Albert Pierrepoint, now that they need you?

Dead, are you? Well, good news for Tony Teare. With the royal neck-stretcher gone to his reward, that would seem to leave nobody around to do that which Judge Deemster Callow says must be done.

Will the shade of Corrine Bently have no rest? Will justice be stood up?

Two weeks ago, Judge Callow sentenced Mr. Teare to be hanged by the neck until dead for having murdered Ms. Bently. It was a contract job, for money -- particularly loathsome. The poor woman was found in a silage pit, her throat slit from ear to ear.

The foul deed was done on the Isle of Man, that peculiar place out in the Irish Sea, the last redoubt of the Manx language and the eponymous cat without the tail. It is the only venue left in the United Kingdom where the death penalty for murder remains in force. More than that, it is mandatory.

But Mr. Pierrepoint, who in times past would already be testing his ropes, died just two weeks ago in a nursing home in Southport, north of Liverpool, peacefully and with a clear conscience, after a long life of 87 years.

It was a life that gave him a particular fame and no small amount of respect. He once asserted that he had executed more people in the United Kingdom than anyone else this century.

It was not an empty boast. Mr. Pierrepoint was Britain's official executioner until Parliament put him out of work in 1965, when it outlawed capital punishment in Britain. Everywhere, that is, but on the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands off the coast. The Channel Islands have since abolished it.

Before that, the sure-handed Mr. Pierrepoint facilitated the transfer of 433 men and 17 women to the great beyond. He was even drafted into service by the occupation army in Europe after the war. He hanged German war criminals, and, in a demonstration of grace and endurance, once dispatched 27 of them in 24 hours.

Mr. Pierrepoint was very much the professional. He never drank when he worked, as some of his colleagues in that macabre trade tended to do. He disdained gallows humor and had little patience with those who indulged in it.

He was a man without doubts. His profession was a family tradition. Unlike many youths, he had no trouble finding his vocation. In fact, he couldn't wait to get at it.

When he was 12 he wrote in a school essay: "I would like to be the public executioner as my Dad is, because it needs a steady man who is good with his hands like my Dad and Uncle Tom and I shall be the same."

And he was. But more importantly, he was a hangman with a heart, a bleeding one at that. He always dispatched his subjects as quickly and humanely as he could. It was all very important to him. He carefully calculated every client's weight, the length of the drop.

Not one ever complained of sloppy work.

And he didn't even believe in the efficacy of capital punishment.

"The death penalty never once acted as a deterrent in all the jobs I carried out," he once said.

Albert Pierrepoint just did his duty.

After he retired as Britain's official executioner, Mr. Pierrepoint opened a pub that he called Help the Poor Struggler, a name which hinted at his humanitarian inclinations.

As for Mr. Teare, he's not likely to swing, not if the Queen has anything to say about it. And in cases like these, she usually does. The last two murderers from the Isle of Man benefited from the royal prerogative and had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Mr. Teare will surely enjoy a similar gesture of mercy and will probably be sent to a mainland prison for the rest of his life.

Albert Pierrepoint, wherever he is, no doubt will be pleased.

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