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Ian Brady and the Right to Die

I watched a very interesting docu-drama on BBC Alba last night on Ian Brady and the right to die (entitled, predictably enough, Ian Brady – The Right to Die), which has created a minor furore in Scotland about an issue which has largely been forgotten.  

 The Moors murders carried out by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between July 1963 and October 1965, in and around the Greater Manchester area have, perhaps more than any other murders, passed into the popular consciousness of Britain and Ireland. The victims were five children aged between 10 and 17, at least four of whom were sexually assaulted. The murders are so named because two of the victims were discovered in graves dug on Saddleworth Moor; a third grave was discovered on the moor in 1987, over 20 years after Brady and Hindley’s trial in 1966. The body of a fourth victim, Keith Bennett, is also suspected to be buried there, but as of the time of writing it remains undiscovered. Brady was found guilty of three murders in 1966 and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences. The trial judge had recommended that his life sentence should mean life, and successive Home Secretaries have agreed with that decision. In 1982, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane said of Brady: “this is the case if ever there is to be one when a man should stay in prison till he dies”. The judge described him as “wicked beyond belief, with no reasonable chance of reform”.He spent 19 years in mainstream prisons, before being declared criminally insane in 1985. His mental health began to deteriorate to such an extent that, in November of that year, he was diagnosed as a psychopath, sectioned under the Mental Health Act and transferred from prison to the maximum security Ashworth Hospital. In so doing, he became, by definition, unable to make rational decisions such as starving himself to death. He has made it clear that he never wants to be released, and has repeatedly asked to be allowed to die. Brady is now the longest serving prisoner in England and Wales

In 2000, a High Court judge held that officials at Ashworth Hospital were entitled to force feed Brady, 62, who had been on hunger strike. Brady’s lawyers argued that Ashworth Hospital had exceeded its powers in force-feeding him after he began refusing food on 30 September. Refusing Brady’s application for a judicial review, the judge Mr Justice Maurice Kay said the doctors’ decision had been “in all respects lawful, rational and fair”. Since then, his life has been continued by force-feeding him with a glucose solution administered through a tube inserted through his nose into his stomach. While the British prison service does not force-feed, Brady is being “re-fed” under the Mental Health Act. According to his solicitor, Brady “wants the right to starve himself to death, and we are fighting for his wishes to be acknowledged. If you are assaulted or force-fed when people have no right to do that, then you take legal action against those incidents.”

Personally, I find myself in agreement with Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett, has made a strong plea for Brady to be kept alive. Her son’s is the only body which has not been recovered, and she says that he must be made to live until he reveals its whereabouts. This is not likely ever to happen as Brady did co-operate in the efforts to recover the body conducted by Chief Superintendant Peter Topping in 1987. Even then he tried to barter his help against a dispensation for him to commit suicide, a request necessarily denied by Topping. Norman Brennan, of the Victims of Crime Trust, who has spoken for some years on behalf of the family of Lesley Ann Downey, wants his life to continue. “He is paying the price for his despicable crimes, and that price is a life sentence.” Brady claims it has cost the taxpayer £3m to keep him alive on his hunger strike. He drinks only black coffee. As he puts it himself, “In [Ashworth], I am the only high-profile prisoner they possess to demonise the population in general, and fool the public with a seventy-year-old skeleton, with over ten years on force-fed hunger strike.”

On the other hand, the issue may bear similarities to euthanasia, where the desire to stop human suffering if the victim vehemently wishes it and if it is in our power to do so takes precedence. Is there a difference between euthanasia for those suffering from illness or paraplegia and for those who essentially bring about their suffering by themselves? I haven’t given the issue much thought before last night, but is has given me food for thought.

On the other end of the scale, the ever-reactionary East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell has used the documentary to argue that mass murderers like Ian Brady have sacrificed their right to life, saying “I have no compunction at all in saying that someone like Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer who murdered five innocent children has forfeited their right to live through their actions.” The Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, Patrick Corrigan, criticised Mr Campbell, saying: “Gregory Campbell is plain wrong in thinking that the death penalty has any place in a 21st-century justice system, whether in the UK or any other country. SDLP Justice Spokesman Alban Maginness similarly criticized Campbell’s remarks. Ian Brady himself might not be quite as condemnatory.
Post-script: The actor, Benny Young, who was terrific playing Ian Brady,ian-brady_406744a also plays the stepdad of Ken Barlow’s love-child in Coronation Street

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  1. November 17, 2009 at 8:33 am

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