Tony Miller, the last man to be hanged in Glasgow

Tony Miller, a 19-year-old from Crosshill, was the last prisoner to be executed at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.
Tony Miller, a 19-year-old from Crosshill, was the last prisoner to be executed at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.
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ANTHONY MILLER was not yet 20-years-old when he was led from the condemned cell in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison to the grim building known as ‘the hanging shed’.

It was 8am on December 22, 1960 and all avenues of appeal had been exhausted. Miller had a hood placed over his head and a noose was fastened around his neck.

With only three years’ experience as a qualified lawyer I had heard a sentence of death upon this client, a boy of 19

Len Murray

Executioner Harry Allen pulled the trapdoor release lever and the teenager from Crosshill plunged to his death. It was now 8.02am.

It would be the final hanging in Glasgow and the second last in Scotland.

Miller, known as Tony, had been convicted at the High Court of Glasgow the previous month in a trial lasting just three days.

At that time, those found guilty of murder in which robbery was a motive were automatically sentenced to death. It did not matter that Miller was a first time offender.

There was no doubting the gravity of the crime he had committed. John Cremin, a 48-year-old described as a general dealer and petty thief, was battered around the head with a plank and left for dead under a bush in Queen’s Park. His body was found three days later by a dog walker.

Cremin was a victim in a series of violent muggings perpetrated by Miller and his 16-year-old friend and accomplice James Douglas Denovan.

Queen’s Park was known in the city as a pick-up destination for gay men. Homosexuality was still illegal in 1960 and random assaults on those considered ‘queer’ were commonplace.

Denovan later described in court how he was used as bait. When a man approached him, Denovan would entice them to a remote corner of the park where Miller would step out and demand they handed over cash and valuables, using violence if necessary.

It was a system the duo repeated on several occasions for more than a year. They knew their victims would be unlikely to go to the police for fear of being exposed as gay.

But the robbery on April 6, 1960 went very wrong. When Cremin’s body was found, it was initially presumed he had fallen when drunk. Following a police post mortem, a murder investigation was launched.

Undeterred, Miller and Denovan continued their string of robberies. When the latter was eventually arrested on a charge of indecency, the game was up.

Police found in Denovan’s wallet a newspaper clipping on the discovery of Cremin’s body. When questioned, he broke down and confessed.

At the trial in November, the youngster gave crucial evidence against Miller. It took the jury 33 minutes to return a guilty verdict.

Denovan, viewed in the eyes of the law as a minor, was sentenced to indefinite detention.

When it came to Miller, judge Lord Wheatley reached for his black tricorn and sentenced him to death by hanging.

Miller’s parents began an immediate public campaign to have their son’s sentence commuted to life imprisonment. From a stall in Glasgow city centre, and with the help of many volunteers, they amassed more than 30,000 signatures.

The appeal court dismissed the case out of hand, and calls for the then Secretary of State for Scotland to recommend the royal prerogative were ignored.

Len Murray, who would become one of Scotland’s most respected lawyers, oversaw Miller’s appeal.

“There was something unreal about this. At the age of 27 and with only three years’ experience as a qualified lawyer I had heard a sentence of death upon this client, a boy of 19,” he wrote in The Herald in 1995.

“Most judges would have given a jury the option of bringing in a verdict of culpable homicide had they wanted. That would have been one way for the jury to avoid returning a capital verdict which juries did not like to bring in.

But Lord Wheatley was never a judge for soft options.”

The story of Miller’s short and ultimately tragic life would be retold in the 2010 play, Please Mister, starring David Hayman.

Capital punishment for murder was abolished in the UK in 1965.

A total of 33 men and one woman were hanged in Scotland in the 20th century. The final prisoner to be executed north of the border was 21-year-old Henry John Burnett on August 15, 1963.