Perhaps an error in judgement, but I chose to read this book while on holiday in the Lake District, a mere week after the murder of Sabina Nessa in Greenwich, and during the week that Wayne Couzens was sentenced with a whole life order for the murder of Sarah Everard in early 2021. In the past, I really enjoyed watching true crime documentaries, and having watched Wansell speak in a few of them, I thought he would be a good choice for an interesting read.
Wansell debates effectiveness of whole life sentence in England and Wales by using the most evil and depraved criminals as examples. Each chapter focuses on a different collection of individuals in England, who either have been sentenced with a whole life order, or have had their whole life order revoked in favour of a very long minimum term. Some examples include Ian Huntley (the Soham murderer), Rosemary West, Roy Whiting, the killers of Lee Rigby, and Joanna Dennehy.
Wansell discusses the individual events of their crimes, but also the trials, establishing how the judges responded to the evidence of the trials, and why they came to the particular sentences did.
Some were horrific, causing unsettling reading, but that’s not the fault of Wansell. For example, he starts with the disgusting murder of Georgia Williams, detailing how her killer Jamie Reynolds treated her body in the hours after she dies. Wansell definitely doesn’t ease you in, but I guess, if you want to read about the most depraved murderers alive in England, you should really be prepared to read the horrors. Some chapters are particularly upsetting – skip the sections on Anwar Rosser and David Oakes to avoid graphic descriptions of the torture and murder of a four year old, and the torture and murder of a woman in front of her two year old daughter.
Despite some detail on particular murders, the book is mostly focused on whether or not ‘life should mean life’, whether it is cruel to remove all chance of hope for rehabilitation for the worst criminals. It’s tough to gauge Wansell’s opinion. He is quite repetitive when explaining legal processes – I assume to help those of us with little to no legal knowledge – but I’m not sure his opinion is truly clear.
I think Wansell argues that life really should mean life, that depraved murderers do not deserve to be released, as I sense criticism in the Court of Appeals removing whole life orders for a small number of criminals, including Roy Whiting and Danilo Restivo. He seems to critique even the concept that Jeremy Bamber attempt to appeal his sentence, but recognises that Bamber will never be released – he does not admit guilt, which is the starting point to rehabilitation. But I think he also believes that it should be restricted for the very worst. Charles Bronson is a prisoner effectively serving a whole life sentence, as it’s unlikely he will ever be released, but has never committed a murder. It seems there is a lack of equality, or parity within the criminal justice system of England, which is particularly interesting.
Who would enjoy this book?
People with a particular interest in crime and punishment in the UK, or perhaps anyone who is thinking about committing a murder.
Pure Evil by Geoffrey Wansell is not a book I would pick up again for a second read, but it did open my eyes to an aspect of society I hadn’t considered
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