September 06, 2002 ,

LAST month, a small crowd of us gathered outside the entrance to Cardiff Market to perform an annual ritual.

Shoppers looked on curiously as we met to commemorate the hanging of Richard Lewis, also know as Dic Penderyn, for his part in the Merthyr Rising of 1831.

Cardiff was a very different place then. It was a small town of a few thousand compared to Merthyr Tydfil, which was like a Wild West frontier boomtown, built on iron and coal. Houses stood at what is now the entrance to Cardiff Market and nearby was the gaol.

Richard Lewis was convicted of stabbing a soldier, Donald Black, in the thigh with his own bayonet.

Black survived to testify that he could not identify the culprit, but Richard Lewis was hanged anyway as an example.

Outside the market on St Mary Street, near the spot where he was executed, you will find a plaque in memory of him. To the last he protested his innocence, and his final words in Welsh were an anguished cry at injustice.

"O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd" "O Lord what an iniquity" he shouted, as the hangman's noose was tightened.

Then, 120 years later, another man was hanged, this time out of public sight in Cardiff Prison.
Mahmoud Mattan was a Somali sailor, who was found guilty of the murder of Lily Volpert, a Cardiff shopkeeper. He was the last person to be hanged in Cardiff.

In both cases, there have been campaigns to prove their innocence.

Mattan's widow and her sons fought hard and won their case to clear his name.

In the case of Richard Lewis, Cardiff Councillor Charlie Gale has, so far, unsuccessfully campaigned for a pardon for Richard Lewis. Some say, however, it would be better to remember him as a hero, rather than a victim.

I have always opposed the death penalty. I remember as a boy with an Irish father speaking in a school debate about capital punishment in 1974, at the time of the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombing atrocities by the IRA.

There was a massive campaign to bring back hanging for the men found guilty of these mass murders. There was huge pressure on the police to bring the culprits to justice. Confessions were extracted after beatings, evidence was fabricated; the accused were found guilty. They were innocent; but spent 15 years in prison for the crime of being Irish and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A vast majority of the public would have supported their execution at the time.

Now in the aftermath of the terrible murders of two innocent schoolgirls, there are more calls to bring back hanging.

But bringing back the death penalty will not protect the public.

More people are executed in the USA than in any Western democracy. But the murder rate in America now, is higher than it was when capital punishment was suspended for years by the Supreme Court.

The public has the right to be protected from dangerous criminals. But we know that innocent people have been hanged; and would be again if the death penalty was revived.