Should Gary Glitter be executed ?

… is the hypothetical question posed by a Channel 4 drama coming out in November. I say posed, but what we’re getting, apparently, is a 90-minute feature-length drama – The Execution of Gary Glitter – “set in an imaginary Britain in which the death penalty has been re-introduced.”

Here’s what the Channel 4 press release says:

In this alternative reality, the public, sickened by a spate of serious child abuse cases, has demanded the return of the ultimate penalty.  The first person to be tried under the new Capital Crimes Against Children legislation is ‘Paul Gadd’, aka 1970s glam rock star Gary Glitter. Charged with sex crimes against children, Gadd faces the possibility that, if found guilty, he will become the first person to be executed in Britain in almost half a century. A courtroom drama shot in the style of a documentary The Execution of Gary Glitter explores how society deals with its most reviled offenders, and whether capital punishment has a place in modern society.

Bloody hell. From Top Of The Pops to the Old Bailey in one tragic arc – heady stuff.

The programme makers say it’s “an intelligent and thought-provoking examination of the issue” and OK, it sounds watchable enough – in a Nick-Griffin-on-Question-Time sort of way.

But I think it’s right to be wary of programme makers’ habitual claims about “provoking real debate”. (In fact C4 have arranged their own online capital punishment debate to follow the programme, so in a way they’re guaranteeing there’s going to be at least one debate!)

Yet, will it actually shed any light on the big issues of how to deal with serious crime and how to have a meaningful public debate about appropriate criminal punishments? Leaving aside the fact that with a title like that I don’t think this drama’s outcome is a tantalising mystery, will The Execution of Gary Glitter advance any kind of informed debate on capital punishment?

Well, along with you I’ll have to wait to see. Let’s hope the “chat” around the show – and judging from calls to our office today I‘m sure there’ll be a fair bit – takes on board some of the grisly reality of its death penalty topic. Viz: shoddy trials (poor defence lawyers, biased judges, fundamentalist juries), defendants with mental illnesses, politically-motivated trials, defendants who “confess” after torture, sentences passed to appease an “angry” public whipped up by misinformation or unscrupulous politicians … and not forgetting the grotesque business of actually killing the condemned prisoner (think of botched executions like Saddam Hussein’s or Rommel Broom’s).

Finally, why Gary Glitter anyway? Sexually abusing children is a horrible crime and it’s easy to tap into the revulsion it generates. Add in (disgraced) celebrity and you’ve got the lot. But in the end does it cloud the issue or shine a light on it? Among a big pile of 1970s 7” records I bought a couple of years ago there was … a Glitter Band tune. And guess what? Even though I liked it I nearly got rid of it, thinking “do I want a record from him in my collection?” I guess that’s how irrational it gets when you’re thinking about emotive crimes like Gary Glitter’s …

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