In his column today, Daniel writes of "the tension that arises when a person holds two attitudes that are psychologically inconsistent". The examples he gives include some terrible miscarriages of justice, such as the execution of Timothy Evans in 1953. There is an example on the other side - a determined refusal to acknowledge the guilt of a man who certainly was a murderer - that occurred to me.
James Hanratty was hanged in 1962 for the A6 murder in Bedfordshire. The campaigning journalist Paul Foot, who died in 2004, took up Hanratty's cause, even after DNA evidence 40 years later proved Hanratty's guilt. A Horizon documentary in 2002 contained this testimony from the Forensic Science Service:
NARRATOR: [Scientists'] confidence stems from a simple act of logic. If James Hanratty is not the killer then where is the killer's DNA? For scientists can only find one male profile on the exhibits.
ROGER MANN: We only have one profile. That profile matches James Hanratty. If that was a contaminant, if that was due to contamination we would expect two profiles, one from James Hanratty due to the contamination and one from the original killer.
And this is how Paul Foot responded in the same programme:
I'm a complete illiterate in relation to the science of DNA, physics and so on. I know nothing about it at all. My doubts stem solely from my, a very, very clear belief that this man did not commit this murder, so if the science is saying he did commit the murder I say well that clashes with my belief that he didn't commit the murder and there must be something wrong with the science.
I'm no less opposed to capital punishment than Foot was. I believe that the executions of Adolf Eichmann and Saddam Hussein, never mind the innocent Timothy Evans, were wrong. Foot also did immense good in exposing genuine miscarriages of justice. But Hanratty was not a victim of injustice: he was a brutal murderer who merely ought not to have been hanged. Foot's protestation on this point is an indication - as I argued in this piece - of where absolutist positions may lead you: irrationalism and a political philosophy that had no conception of the virtues of constitutional government.