21st May 1979

Disco doorman is sentenced to death for murder

The Royal Court sentenced 23-year-old Nigel Hopton to hang for the murder of Judith Harris, who had been found battered in an alley. The nightclub doorman, originally from Leeds, appealed the guilty verdict.

Hopton denied killing Harris and his advocate claimed that police had presented evidence that had only been obtained because they’d used threats and intimidation.

An unsuccessful appeal

Hopton’s appeal was unsuccessful but came at a time when the House of Commons was debating the issue of capital punishment on the mainland and crown dependencies, which include Jersey and Guernsey. Although capital punishment had already been abolished on the mainland, there had been an attempt to reinstate it, debate over which was ongoing when Hopton’s appeal was being heard.

As Spanish newspaper El Pais reported, the day after Hopton’s death sentence had been confirmed, “the sharp rejection of the re-establishment of the death penalty in the United Kingdom by the House of Commons can save the life of a twenty-three-year-old man sentenced to be hanged on the small island of Jersey [after] … the House [of Commons] decided… by a majority of 119 votes, to maintain the abolition.”

Saved by a vote

In the UK, The Guardian reported that the vote “must almost certainly have saved the life of Nigel Hopton… who is under sentence of death in Jersey for killing a young Bristol girl… his fate now rests with Mr Whitelaw, the Home Secretary, who can recommend that the sentence be commuted by the Queen. But apart from Mr Whitelaw’s opposition to capital punishment and last night’s vote, there is the technical problem that there is nobody in the country who can hang Mr Hopton.”

Hopton’s sentence was commuted to life in prison two months later. He was released on licence after 12 years.


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