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It seems a barbaric sentence of olden times - a life for a life. But as recently as 40 years ago, this country sent killers to face the ultimate punishment - to hang by the neck until they were dead. No-one escaped justice - those sent to the gallows included women, teenagers and young men. Here, we focus on three murderers who were among the last to wear the hangman's noose

The last person to make the long, lonely walk was in 1963. In the years since, the toughest penalty the courts can impose is life behind bars.

But when capital punishment was the deterrent to murder, the hangman's noose was the ultimate life sentence.

The man who holds the infamous place in Scottish criminal history as the last person to hang is 21-year-old shotgun killer Henry Burnett.

He went to the gallows at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen on August 15, 1963.

Burnett had persuaded his lover, Margaret Guyan, to leave her sailor husband. But when she changed her mind he attacked her, drawing blood on her throat with his knife.

Thinking she was dead, he left and later went to the house where she and her husband, Thomas, were living. He murdered the sailor, shooting him in the face with a shotgun.

The trial took place at the end of July, 1963. But after his conviction, a petition was circulated to commute the death penalty and he was confident of a reprieve.

But, unknown to him, under the rituals of capital punishment, his words and letters were monitored by prison officers from the moment he was condemned to die.

The letters he wrote from his cell to his lover helped seal his fate. The Scottish Secretary at the time, Michael Noble, decided against leniency, on the grounds of mental instability.

Six days before his execution, Burnett wrote: "Well, my darling, you will be wondering why I did not kill you up in Skene Terrace. Well, it was because I loved you. I could easily have done it if I had wanted to, but what they were saying in court was a heap of rubbish about me being insane, even at the time. I knew exactly what I was doing."

Less than three months after the murder, Burnett was led from the condemned cell into the hanging shed.

His arms were pinioned, the noose placed around his neck and the trapdoor released. He fell two floors to his death a few minutes after 8am.

After the sentence had been carried out, Aberdeen Lord Provost John Graham and city magistrates revealed they had made a last-ditch effort to save Burnett based on medical evidence, pointing to grounds of diminished responsibility.

It was unsuccessful, but Burnett's was to be the last death sentence carried out in Scotland.

The last woman to visit the gallows was The Go-Car Murderer Susan Newell, who was hanged in Duke Street Jail, Glasgow, in 1923. She was also the first woman to hang in 50 years.

Incredibly, Newell's fate was sealed over the most trivial of matters. The short-tempered mum strangled 13-year-old newspaper seller John Johnson because she did not want to pay for her paper.

Born in 1893 into a hard life of constant poverty, she lived in a Coatbridge flat with husband John and her eight-year-old daughter Janet McLeod.

After three weeks in the flat, they were given notice to quit because of frequent rows. Susan had a history of violence and constantly beat up her husband.

On Wednesday, June 20, at 6.45pm, paper boy John called at the house.

Susan told him to come in and took the paper from him. She then refused to pay and flew into a blind rage when he asked for the money.

Her daughter returned to see the boy's lifeless body lying on the sofa. Janet helped her mum wrap the corpse in an old rug.

The following morning, having considered how best to get rid of the body, she dumped it in an old pram - the so-called go-car - and set off on foot towards Glasgow with little Janet perched on top.

A passing lorry driver offered them a lift and dropped the family in Duke Street. But as the pram was being set down, the dead boy's foot stuck out at one end, while his head appeared at the other.

A woman who saw what happened followed Susan and fetched the police.

Susan finally left the body and pram at a tenement entrance. She had her story worked out - it was her husband who had done it and forced her to dispose of the body.

They both faced trial, but the case against John collapsed swiftly. He left the dock without even glancing back at his wife.

Eight-year-old Janet was the star witness. She told the court of her grim find on returning to the house and how her mum told her what to say if questioned by the police.

In her defence, Susan pleaded insanity, but the jury took 37 minutes to decide her fate. They recommended mercy, however.

Trial judge Lord Alness rejected their plea and sent her to Duke Street Prison to await her death penalty.

Susan showed emotion for the first time when she was told her appeal for clemency had failed. Crying out for Janet, she fainted.

Executioner John Ellis was the hangman on October 10. He disliked hanging women, but was noted for the speed he conducted his executions.

Once on the gallows, Susan struggled free and managed to get the hood off. She met her death facing the small crowd of officials who had gathered to watch.

One newspaper report of the execution noted: "Whatever her misdeeds, she died bravely. Many men have gone to the scaffold revealing much greater fear of the unknown."

The same report said a crowd of about 200 people - mostly women - had gathered outside the prison. The black flag normally raised above the prison on execution day was also absent, new laws meaning it was no longer deemed necessary.

The youngest Scot to hang was teenager Anthony Miller in 1960, the last prisoner to go to Barlinnie gallows in Glasgow.

Miller, 19, was convicted of killing John Cremin in the city's Queen's Park. It was a random act of violence which saw a gay man who had chatted up Miller's pal James Denovan, 16, meet his end.

Miller picked up a plank of wood and hit Cremin over the head. Denovan was also accused of murder and robbery, but escaped hanging because of his age.

He was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure, but Miller went to the gallows for the crime on December 22.

Gallows were kept in Scotland's jails until 1995. The prisoners who were hanged in Barlinnie are still interred in unmarked graves beneath the prison walls.

Jeff Parkes, chief guide and researcher at Inverary Jail and Courthouse, said: "Although the last person to hang was in 1963, capital punishment came to an end in 1965.

"A fairly typical example of a gallows was a room next to the condemned cell. The condemned man would walk through and stand in the middle of the floor on a trapdoor. The noose would be placed around their neck and the trapdoor would open. The prisoner would then fall into the room below."

Joe Beltrami, the Glasgow solicitor who handled several capital murder cases, said: "Hanging will never come back because of numerous miscarriages of justice. The idea of hanging someone for a crime they did not commit is a nightmare."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 30, 2002
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