Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Britain's only gallows-maker defends his craft

DETERRENT Farmer David Lucas, who makes hanging equipment behind his barn for export around the world, says he is standing up for the pro-death penalty majority

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Children visit the big barn in Suffolk, eastern England, to buy beautifully crafted rabbit hutches and bird tables. Their parents pick up pet food or bales of hay. But in a dark warehouse behind the farm shop more deadly equipment is being built: David Lucas, on the surface an ordinary farmer, makes and exports gallows to countries in Africa and the Middle East.

The trade in execution equipment is legal. While Amnesty International and other human rights groups have condemned this "appalling" export business, the farmer says he has been inundated with messages of support from around the world since his extraordinary example of farm diversification was revealed two weeks ago.

New EU regulations may ban his business in July, but in the meantime Britains only gallows-maker has become a reluctant spokesman for those who want the return of the death penalty.

"The government has condemned me, but people are saying they need execution and capital punishment. I'm speaking for the people," he said.

A noose hangs from a gallows outside the modern buildings at Eldon farm, near Mildenhall. A set of solid oak stocks stands nearby. A family man and former safety inspector who has worked on Suffolk farms all his life, Lucas began building gallows when asked by a foreign businessman.

He works alone, taking a week to construct a traditional gallows. Lucas will not reveal how many he has supplied, but he says he only sold them to "law-abiding citizens" in foreign countries -- reported to include Zimbabwe -- for some years.

A traditional platform gallows that he is currently making alongside the garden benches in his warehouse retails for £12,000 (US$22,400).

He also offered undercover reporters his custom-made "multi-hanging system." a mobile unit of five or six gallows constructed from an articulated lorry trailer.

The farmer denies his business is inhumane and argues that when one person destroys another's life they forfeit their human rights.

"I'm not a horrible person. I believe in law and order. The production of gallows is for law and order, not for bad people to get hold of it. You can't pick up a set of gallows and go and shoot someone with it. Gallows can't fall into the wrong hands like knives or guns," he said.

Lucas says he is standing up for the pro-capital punishment majority. He is convinced a popular vote or referendum should be used to bring back the death sentence for murder.

"It is strange to come from the job I was doing and win the hearts of so many people," he said.

Recent visitors, he claims, include a senior British police officer and army servicemen, as well as people from the US, Africa, Canada, Denmark and Germany.

All of them, he says, support his stance.

"I've got Americans coming off the [Mildenhall] airbase shaking my hand, telling me they totally believe in what I'm doing and we need to get law and order under control," he said.

His work has given him experience of law and order in other regimes.

"You are safer walking down the street in Libya and African countries than you are here and that's because of capital punishment," he says. "They are laughing at us in third-world countries because we've got no deterrent against crime. They are the only ones who have got law and order under control."

A gallows in every market place in Britain could act as a powerful deterrent, he said.

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