The Death Penalty and Catastrophic Global Warming

Just posted to Warren Meyer’s Coyote Blog. (Warren also runs the excellent Climate Sceptic blog)

Like you Warren, I too am both a global warming sceptic and oppose the death penalty. The reason I oppose the death penalty is that the police too often look for the evidence to support their case, but not for the evidence that contradicts this. As a result, here in Britain, some serious miscarriages of justice occurred. For instance in the 1970s the IRA brought their bombing campaign to Britain. 21 people died in Guilford and 10 people died in Birmingham. In both cases both groups of men convicted were entirely innocent. One group was convicted due to residue of a chemical used in the bomb being found on the hands of the accused. It was later explained by the chemical also being found on a new deck of playing cards.

However, the worst case was for the murder of the hugely popular TV presenter Jill Dando. It was a cold-blooded shooting, by someone who then calmly walked away and disappeared. Barry George, was convicted of her killing on the evidence that there was a speck of gun residue in a coat pocket; that he had tried to join a gun club; that he had multiple newspaper images of the accused; and had a picture of him masked and holding a gun. Turns out the guy had a low IQ, who had a stack of old newspapers in his room, had and old Polaroid of him fancy dress with a de-commissioned gun. Jill Dando was a celebrity who had appeared 6 times in that stack of papers. He had attended a day care centre a short while afterwards and appeared calm. Yet he was a man easily excited and incapable of calm planning. The coat was handled by police officers who had recently handled firearms and the speck of residue was miniscule.

The alternative explanation was this was a gangland hit. Jill Dando was mostly a newsreader, but whenever she fronted any other show, the ratings climbed. Once a month she fronted “CrimeWatch”, the first program in the world to recreate crime scenes to help solve crimes. It has scored some notable successes over the years.

We are all fallible, particularly those who are trying to confirm their answers. It is often those who are least able to defend themselves (due to low IQ, or race, or poverty) that get wrongly convicted.

The global warming hypothesis is similar. There is weak circumstantial evidence to suggest catastrophic warming, but with a superior Queens counsel (public prosecutor) a persuasive case can be made. But a similar defence counsel would have the case quashed early in the trial.

Reduce Gun Control to strengthen the Rule of Law?

I have commented on John Redwood’s Blog about the response to the murderous rampage by Derrick Bird through Cumbria. My claim that we may reduce gun control as a result needs to be substantiated. This posting does so in three parts.

  1. The posting, where I made the claim.
  2. A thought experiment on diverting police resources from gun control to tackling burglaries.
  3. The Rule of Law implications.


1. Posted to John Redwood’s blog

The Prime Minister’s response is the correct one. Government should act where there is an expected net benefit to society.

There are two sides to the argument.

Prevention – To argue how not only how any future occurrence could be prevented by the new measures.

Resource Diversion – To demonstrate that the implementation of any measures would be a worthwhile diversion of resources. That is both the police time in enforcement and the public’s time in complying with the regulations.

The rampage of a madman through Cumbria should mean a complete rethink on gun control. Paradoxically, it could mean less onerous regulations. The new laws introduced after Hungerford and Dunblane have not prevented a reoccurrence, but do involve a lot of police time and inconvenience to a section of the law-abiding public. There has been a net loss to society. The key to effective gun control is to concentrate on the substance and not on the political appearances.

2. A Thought Experiment

The tragic murders by a gunman on a rampage are, mercifully, very rare indeed in this country. Our laws should try to prevent an occurrence, but not at the expense of other things. For instance, the police claim there is a lot of time spent on enforcing exiting regulations. Suppose the effect of this has been to deaths from these rampages from 2 a year to 1. Now suppose that enforcement takes the equivalence of 200 police officers full time. This time instead is devoted to chasing up investigations into burglaries, with the result of one less burglary a week per officer. This could mean apprehending only one persistent burglar a year, or simply a team of officers reducing the number of burglaries per week of a professional burglar. Burglaries cause misery and upset. Suppose for every thousand burglaries there are ten serious confrontations and one very serious case of grievous bodily harm.

Also, for every hundred burglaries suppose one elderly person has their life reduced by a year due to the shock, fear and insecurity. Let us also state that the career of a police officer is 40 years.

So excessive gun control means, in this though experiment, one life saved for every five police officers spending their entire working careers on enforcement. This may be an exaggeration, as there is no evidence that the draconian laws have reduced the frequency of these mass killings, and the amount of police time spent on enforcement may be greater.

Alternatively those two hundred officer years will mean 10,000 fewer burglaries, 100 less cases of GBH and 100 years of extra years of lives prolonged. If average life expectancy is 80 years, that is one life saved for every four police officers spending their entire working careers on enforcement. There is no measure for misery caused by burglaries, though the cost of burglaries is in extra police resource, and higher insurance costs.

So on one hand you have law enforcement that means the a police officer spending their entire working career causing inconvenience to a large number of law-abiding citizens with have a one-in-five chance of saving one life. Or, alternatively, preventing one burglary a week. That, in turn, reduces the number of more serious crimes, and reduces the instances where crime makes people less secure in their own home, even shortening their life expectancy. They may, effectively, save more lives. But this is the tip of the pyramid. It is the other crimes that they will prevent as well, making people feel safer.  

3. The Rule of Law Implications

The police solving of minor crime provides a very positive image to the victims of crime, along with those in the wider community. People see the police as an agency that serves their interest, making them feel safer. Failure to clear up minor crime means contact with the police is simply to get a crime number for the insurance claim and a contact to the victims support unit. Major contact with police officers is for those who have transgressed (mostly traffic offences), or are suspected of doing so (stop and search late at night in inner cities). Therefore, by clearing up crime, the law-abiding see the police as their agents, not as people to be avoided.

Gun control is enforced by tight regulation of those who possess firearms. It means the police carrying out routine and regular checks on the personal circumstances of those involved and the places where those firearms are stored. Contact with the police is that of a potential suspect. It can thus serve to undermine the Rule of Law.

Barry George and Sean Hodgson – A Connection

Barry George was convicted and later freed over the murder of TV personality Jill Dando. Sean Hogdson was free today for the murder of Teresa De Simone in 1979.

There are obvious similarities – both single men of low intelligence and not really connected with the world, convicted on faulty forensic evidence.

But there is a more subtle link. The case against Barry George was strengthened by the fact that a number of photographs of Jill Dando were found in his home. It turns out that Barry George had loads of old newspapers in his home. The police had searched through them, and, not surprisingly, found a number of pictures of a well-known and popular TV personality. There was no evidence presented that Barry George has marked these pictures, just that he had them in his possession. The case against Sean Hodgson was based around his confession, on a number of occasions, to the crime. This is clear-cut, until you learn that he was a pathological liar, who had confessed to a number of other murders, which he could not have committed.

The link is the putting the evidence in context. It is weighing the argument against the counter-arguments, the significant facts. It happens not just in the judicial system, but in religion, in politics and in our work and in our personal life. If we are not always on our guard against putting the evidence in context, then wrong decisions will be made just as easily as the juries made the wrong decisions in these two cases.