Morbid obsession with gruesome crime

The nation’s obsession with reading about crime or indeed watching a favourite detective on TV is hard to explain, but for whatever reason it is a fact, not confined to fiction.

For why else would the BBC, for example, lead with the gory details of a current murder trial most nights of the week on its many news programmes?

Do we really have such a blood lust, or at least a morbid interest in murder that it invades so many of our waking hours of the day and night?

The answer is yes, and again I ask why?

In an attempt to get to the root of the issue, it is perhaps useful to reflect on our Victorian times when Great Britain was in the grip of a crime wave, far in excess of that known to anyone alive in 2015.

The Victorians seemed to thrive on the many killings of the day, flocking to the public executions, of which there were many.

Their appetite whetted by the newspapers who all ran the details of the most lurid cases.

Some of the more blood-thirsty would travel miles just to see a particularly notorious murderer hanged in public.

It was in a fact a big occasion, exploited by the more commercially minded who would build grandstands for the day, attracting fun fairs and the like to keep the visitors entertained while they waited for the prisoner to make his last, dramatic appearance.

Public executions came to an end on May 26, 1868, when Michael Barrett was the last man to be publicly hanged in the UK for his part in the Clerkenwell bombing.

It was, however, nearly 100 years later before capital punishment was abolished in 1964 and despite numerous attempts to bring it back, our eminently sensible MPs have voted it down each time.

For the record, Peter Allan and Gwynne Evans were the last criminals to be hanged in Britain on August 13, 1964.

I well recall the build up to executions of the 1950’s and 60’s as the various media outlets were quick to exploit the great public interest in the occasions.

The hangings usually took place at 8am in an appointed prison conducted by the chief executioner who, if I recall correctly, was Harry Allen who was the last person to hold the post.

Not surprisingly the public interest in murder lost some of its appeal when capital abolishment was abolished, but for whatever reason we are still locked into TV crime in particular, including the nation’s favourite “Midsomer Murders”.

We really are a strange lot, leading me to believe if public executions were re-instated there would be sufficient interest to fill Pittodrie stadium.