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Anorak | A Ropy Job

A Ropy Job

by | 30th, November 2005

‘IF you are going to smuggle heroin through Singapore, then now might be the best time to do it.

Although you will most likely be caught and sentenced to death, there is a chance you will die of old age before the hangman’s rope does for you.

Singapore’s only hangman, Darshan Singh, has been dismissed. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for 74-year-old. Surely when his hour came he’d be presented with a gold rope, or whatever it is retiring executioners get for 46 years of diligent service to the state.

But after more than 850 hangings, including a world record 18 kills in one day, the trapdoor has fallen below Singh’s career.

The powers that be were left with no choice after the Australian newspaper published Singh’s name and picture. Singh had been scheduled to bring the full weight of righteous justice to bear on Van Tuong Nguyen, an Australian caught smuggling 496g of heroin through Singapore airport in 2002.

But now Singh’s gone. And the problem is no young blade is ready or able to step into Singh’s shoes, and earn the £129 fee for each successful offing.

Two deputes were, apparently, being trained, but both baulked when the lever needed to be pulled. One was so traumatised by it he has left the prison service.

So unless a hangman can be found, Nguyen looks set to live another day. He may even win a reprieve, after Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard made his fifth plea for clemency to the Singapore authorities.

But what makes a good hangman? Singh was undeniably good at his job. He was also able to justify his actions – his last words to every condemned criminal were: “I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you.”

That’s a nice touch, the mark of a master to give hope to the hopeless. And we can only wonder what place could not be better than standing on the gallows with your head in a noose?

It’s clear that Singh is a hard act to follow. Hanging is no easy game. As Nguyen’s lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, says, an inexperienced hangman could make the ordeal even worse.

There could be a “short drop” – the rope is too short – which causes victims to strangle to death, taking between 3 and 4 minutes to die.

A good hangman has a system. English hangman James Berry worked out a proper table of drops based upon the prisoner’s weight. But no system is ever perfect. In the execution of Robert Goodale in 1885, the felon was decapitated by the force of the drop, the victim of a “long drop”.

Hangmen do not grow on trees, like some strange fruit. They must be sought and coached. An advert must be placed somewhere would-be hangmen congregate, like in the Mail.

Or perhaps Singh’s successor can be sought from within the penal system. Englishman George Smith was a prisoner when he entered the trade. So why not Nguyen? A job will help him to pass the time before he’s either released or Singh’s replacement is found…’



Posted: 30th, November 2005 | In: Reviews Comment (1) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink