It is 50 years this month since the last men – Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans – were hanged in Britain. Diane Cooke talks to prolific author and musician Steve Fielding, an expert on the subject.
STEVE Fielding is not a champion for the return of capital punishment, but the author who has written several books on the subject, believes hanging ought to be restored on a trial basis in this country.
He considers, like so many, that the fabric of certain areas of society is frayed beyond repair and that prison sentences are no deterrent to a disaffected element.
“I don’t want to be seen as a champion for it as I’m just about on the side of restoring capital punishment, but only for a trial period. I have done an awful lot of research and seen both sides. There have been some terrible miscarriages of justice – but I believe with DNA and CCTV that there are less chances now of getting it wrong.
“When I left school I went to work for an engineering comapny. You never dared give lip to anyone in those places. I went in at 15 a boy and came out at 17 a man. There are no longer opportunities like that to allow teens to grow up. The discipline has gone in schools and, in some cases, at home too.”
And if capital punishment were to be restored, hanging would be his preferred method. “It takes just 10 seconds to die. A gas chamber takes as long as someone can hold their breath and as far as the electric chair is concerned, we’ve all seen the film The Green Mile.”
One of the nicest men he ever talked to on the subject was a retired hangman in Mansfield. Steve, a former bassist with Blackburn punk band The Stiffs, was living a few streets away and got chatting to him over a coffee. “He was a lovely fella,” he says. “It sounds a bit macabre that he was a hangman in the 40s and 50s, but he believed that what he did was justice and that the system was correct. He was doing a public service. It paid well and there were opportunities to travel.”
Steve, 52, from Chorley, has written 22 books both fact and fiction, and several on hanging. He was inspired to write after reading the biography of Albert Pierrepoint, the most prolific hangman of the 20th century, who executed 433 men and 17 women from 1932 to 1956.
“Because of the Official Secrets Act, he changed the names of a lot of people in the book. So I started doing my own research to fill in the gaps. There were no books on the subject so I had to compile information by going to newspapers that used to record every execution. In fact, up until the 1930s, the press used to witness executions.”
The result was his first book The Hangman’s Record – a list of everyone who had been hanged between 1868 to 1964 in three volumes. But many of the subjects proved so fascinating that he wanted to write more than just a list, he wanted to tell some of the stories.
Murderous Bolton was released in 1994. He is also the author of four successful books in the Countryside Murder Casebook series: Lancashire Murder Casebook, North Wales Murder Casebook, Cheshire Murder Casebook and Yorkshire Murder Casebook. Due to demand Murderous Bolton was reprinted in 2009, and a follow up, More Murderous Bolton, was published in 2010.
After graduating with a degree in creative writing in 1998, Steve worked for several years at Granada Studios in Manchester before becoming a college lecturer. He now teaches maths part-time at Bolton College and plays in three bands – 70s punk rock band The Boys, with whom he’s toured all over Europe and America; a reincarnation of The Glitter Band which includes two original members and Glam 45, a glam rock band which plays around Lancashire.
After spells in the early 1990s touring Great Britain with an Elvis Presley stage show and a variety of bands playing glam rock, blues, punk, a Bowie tribute show and even country. He formed The Lost Boys in 1992, playing over 500 gigs until they split up in 2009. The band’s drummer, Arnie Etchells, died of a brain haemorrhage on stage in the middle of a gig.
“When I left Bolton County Grammar School when I was 15 my dad’s brother got me a job at an engineering company. It wasn’t what I wanted to do and there was no job at the end of it. Then I got into music and started playing two or three nights a week getting to work with a bad hangover, so I’d go to the toilet and read the papers.”
Steve taught himself to play guitar. “I realised my limitations quickly, so decided to move to something easier, bass.”
He joined The Stiffs in 1985. Their first gig was in Manchester, second in London and third in Amsterdam. “We moved up very quickly.” He spent almost three years with the band.