GANGSTER Tony Mancini looked round the room and said a breezy: “Cheerio!”
Beneath his feet a trapdoor sprung open and he fell to oblivion.
This macabre episode took place on October 17, 1941 at Pentonville Prison, in London.
It is worth mentioning not only for the gallows humour (terrible pun, sorry), but also because the hanging of Mancini marked a turning point in the career of Albert Pierrepoint.
Appointed Assistant Executioner in 1932, he had finally completed his apprenticeship and was elevated to the role of Chief Executioner.
Throughout his career as hangman, Pierrepoint is thought to have dispatched at least 433 men and 17 women, including around 200 Nazi war criminals.
He ended his career in January 1956 amid a disagreement over his fees.
He had travelled to Strangeways Prison, Manchester, to officiate at an execution.
However, just 12 hours before the hanging was due to take place, word came through that the victim had been reprieved.
Pierrepoint claimed his expected fee of £15 but the under-sheriff of Lancashire offered just £1 and eventually agreed to pay £4.
But this was an insult to Pierrepoint and he resigned.
The Home Office took the unusual step of asking him to reconsider his decision, such was his reputation as the most efficient and swiftest executioner in British history.
But he would not back down and thus ended the public career of Britain’s most famous hangman.
Almost 20 years later he published his autobiography, Executioner: Pierrepoint, in which he admitted that capital punishment achieved nothing.
He wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people.”
It makes you think, doesn’t it?
If the man who efficiently placed the noose around the necks of hundreds of people had his doubts about the death penalty, can any of us be sure?
We are about to find out as the Government sifts through the e-petitions registered online by members of the public.
Heading the list of petitions (40 of the first 169) are calls for the return of the death penalty.
So it seems likely that a parliamentary debate will be forced on the issue,
Personally, I do not believe the death penalty should be reinstated.
And I will not be alone in believing this though I have a gut feeling that the majority of people will want to see capital punishment brought back into our courts.
And I cannot deny that some people deserve to be put to sleep for the crimes they have committed.
They are vile individuals and our society should be spared the cost of locking them away for years on end.
I have no inkling of compassion to them and those who argue endlessly about the human rights of killers need to step out into the real world for a change.
But killing someone simply brings us down to the level of the killers.
It makes us as barbaric and undeserving as them.
And I for one don’t want to sink that low.