In this episode, we cover the story of one of the last criminals sent to the noose in Scotland – 19-year-old Tony Miller.


The young lawyer sat in his city-centre office and quietly prayed for his teenage client.

Five miles away in Glasgow's tough Barlinnie Prison Tony Miller was about to die.

Two grim-faced prison officers had just entered the sparsely furnished cell where he had spent his last night.

The pale drawn teenager rose slowly to his feet in mute obedience and acceptance having had his last meal.

They led the terrified 19-year-old to a room next door where leather straps were quickly tied to his body. 

There Britain's Chief Executioner Harry Allen dressed in a smart brown suit covered Miller's head with a black cloth bag and placed a noose around his neck. 

A trapdoor beneath his feet was opened with a lever and the boy fell to his death. 

Tony Miller's final last plaintive words to Yorkshireman Allen were said to be - 'Please, mister!' - before he was left dangling at the end of a rope.

From start to finish, the deadly operation in Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison had taken 11 seconds.

The prison authorities reported that Miller had gone to his death with 'composure'. 

A spokesman said: 'There was no trouble at all.' 

In the Glasgow offices of Levy & McRae solicitors, 27-year-old Len Murray waited on the news that his client was dead.

There would be no phone call from the prison to him or the victim's family.

He would just have to hear it on the radio and read about it in the newspaper just like everyone else.

There would also be no official funeral for Tony - with his family in attendance - as all those executed were buried in the prison grounds without any formalities or even a headstone.

A month earlier, in November 1960, Miller had been convicted of the murder of a gay man in Queens Park in the city's south side.

Len Murray, now 89, would go on to have a brilliant career as a criminal defence lawyer retiring in 2003.

At the time he had only been a lawyer for three years, but Tony Miller was already his second capital murder client.

In a recent interview in the Glasgow Times Murray told readers: "The Miller case took up four months of my life from the day I received a phone call from his father asking me to represent his son.

"On the day of his execution death, I was in my office in West Campbell Street as I didn't want to be at home.

"It may sound daft, but I was sitting there praying for that boy.

"Emotionally Tony Miller's case taxed me more than any other in a 50-year legal career.

"I never took a capital murder case after that."

The execution shortly after 8am on December 22, 1960, three days before Christmas marked the beginning of the end of capital punishment.

A second hangman Robert Leslie Stewart, known as Jock, also assisted in the execution.

Brought up close to Edinburgh's Saughton Prison, he carried out 21 hangings in his career.

However, the execution of teenager Tony Miller shocked people all over Britain.

They believed he should have been spared and allowed to serve his sentence in prison, offering him an opportunity for rehabilitation.

More than 30,000 petitioned the Secretary of State for Scotland in a failed bid for clemency.

Many of them were collected by his mother Marie and father Alf standing in George Square or Sauchiehall Street in the rain and freezing cold.

They were respectable working-class parents and their son had no previous convictions.

His accomplice in the murder of a gay man they had robbed, James Denovan, only escaped the hangman's noose because, at 16, he was too young.

So, who was Tony Miller?

He was a former apprentice cabinetmaker who had a job with a removal firm at the time of his arrest.

He lived with his parents and younger brother in a comfortable flat on Dixon Road, Crosshill, Glasgow.

Denovan, who had no convictions, also came from a good home on nearby Calder Street and his father was a respected shop manager.

Both boys were regulars at a popular teenage hangout the Cathkin Café on Victoria Road near their homes. 

There they would chat up girls and listen to records on the jukebox. 

But it was also where they hatched an evil plan to attack and rob vulnerable gay men.

Both boys lived close to Queen's Park which, in 1960, was a known haunt of gay men at night.

At that time sexual relationships between males were still against the law.

Men who frequented the park at night ran the risk of violent muggings or gay bashing as it's known now.

Fearing exposure, police charges and public ridicule few victims reported the attacks to the police.

For almost a year, Miller and Denovan trawled the park at night claiming victims. 

Denovan was the bait, approaching men in park toilets and enticing them to an isolated wooded area where Miller lay in wait. 

The men were threatened with violence, beaten up if necessary, and robbed of cash and valuables.

Miller and Denovan's vicious scheme was working well until the night of Wednesday, April 6, 1960, when they picked on a gay man who was not quite as vulnerable as their previous victims.

John Cremin, 48, was a well-known local criminal with a reputation as a hard man and for violence.

When the pair attacked him, he fought back. 

However, he was no match for the two teenagers, both 30 years his junior

Cremin was beaten so severely with a wooden plank by Miller that he died of massive head injuries.

The pair also took the dead man's watch, a knife, his bank book and £67 in notes (worth £1500 now).

Ironically, if his killers had fled there and then, Miller would have later escaped the hangman's noose.

As the murder had occurred in the course of a robbery it was a capital crime under the terms of the Homicide Act of 1957. 

Miller, then 18, and Denovan appeared to show no remorse for their evil act and targeted other gay men for weeks after.

The following night - after the murder - they even went to the cinema to see Tommy the Toreador, a film starring British actor and singer Tommy Steele. 

Witnesses said they splashed out £5 notes on drinks and claimed Miller even lit a cigarette with one of the fivers.

In fact, they almost got away with murder but for a simple mistake by Denovan.

Denovan had cut out a newspaper story about the killing and kept the clipping in his wallet.

At the time police had been appealing for information on the identity of their victim.

When Denovan was arrested in Queens Park on an unrelated indecency charge detectives discovered the article and became suspicious.

Denovan began panicking and confessed his crime to his horrified father. 

He in turn took his son to nearby Craigie Street police station where he made a further confession and incriminated Miller.

Len Murray added: "One of my biggest difficulties was telling Tony Miller's parents that their son could hang.

"They had assumed he was too young and would get a prison sentence if convicted.

"Until this case, I had been a supporter of capital punishment like most people.

"The attitude of the day was if you have killed someone you must hang for it.

"As a result of the Miller case, I became firmly against it

"That's because the punishment is not on the offender but on his family.

"I also think it was inhuman what society did to a 19-year-old boy who'd never previously broken the law in his life."

The two teenagers appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court charged with murder and carrying out other attacks on gay men in Queens Park.

Both were remanded in custody at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow in a case that had become a media sensation.

They went on trial in November 1960 at the High Court in Glasgow - before a packed court - and the jury took just 33 minutes to return a guilty verdict on both.

The evidence against the two youths had been overwhelming with friends telling the court that both had boasted about killing Cremin.

One of the pair had even pointed out the spot in the park where the attack had taken place.

Denovan also callously suggested they observe a two-minute silence for him.

Both accused had been seen with the victim’s bank book and freshly issued bank notes.

Murray decided that Miller shouldn't give evidence in his own defence as was his right.

However, Denovan took to the witness box and blamed Miller for the murder.

The trial judge, Lord Wheatley, ruled Denovan's involvement in the killing was not a capital offence and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment.

But when Lord Wheatley turned to Miller, he donned the traditional 'black cap' and told the terrified teenager that he was to be hanged within the prison walls the following month.

The jury had found him guilty by a unanimous verdict.

Lord Wheatley said: “Anthony Joseph Miller, in respect of the verdict of capital murder, just received for which the law imposes but one sentence, the sentence of the court is that you be taken from this place to the prison of Barlinnie, Glasgow, therein to be detained until the seventh day of December next and upon that day within the said prison of Barlinnie, Glasgow, between the hours of eight o'clock and ten o'clock forenoon, you will suffer death by hanging." 

One juror, who had just helped to convict Miller, wept. 

Murray says that the trial judge could have offered the jury the option of bringing in a verdict of culpable homicide had he wanted. 

The lawyer added: “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 public campaign to save Tony Miller's life began immediately. 

Murray continued: 'We examined the judge's directions to the jury and lodged an appeal.

"The mood at the time was very much that no matter the crime, no society had the right to inflict such a punishment on an individual or condemn those he left behind to never-ending torment."

Murray visited his client often to keep him informed. 

He said: "His attitude was that if it were the will of God then he would be reprieved. If it were not God's will, then it would not happen.

"I found this an extraordinary attitude in one so young. In those weeks following his conviction Tony Miller was acquiring a maturity far beyond his years."

The execution date of December 7 was postponed pending the outcome of the appeal in Edinburgh.

It was dismissed as 'completely devoid of substance' by three judges.

Miller's only hope was the public campaign to persuade John Maclay, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to recommend the Royal Prerogative which would have commuted the death sentence to one of life imprisonment. But on December 19, the 30,000-signature petition was rejected.

The day before the execution, Miller's mum Marie sat in her living room and stared blankly into the coal fire.

She told one newspaper: “Tony will be hanged but I will never remember him as a killer.

"Now is the end of everything for Tony and me. He used to bring stray cats and dogs into the house - once an injured bird.

"Violence was alien to him. But what's done cannot be undone."

Len Murray added: "I could not believe what was happening.

"Here we were in the latter part of the 20th century in a civilised community which was going to hang a 19-year-old boy.

"The barbarity and the futility of it were inconsistent with our claim to be a civilised society."

Len Murray went on to represent stars like Paul McCartney and Billy Connolly but never heard from the Miller family again. 

He said: “I can understand that, because contacting me would only open old wounds they were trying to heal.

"That was the end of it, and I was glad that was the end of it."

Miller's hanging would be the last execution carried out in Barlinnie and the second last in Scotland.

Miller was also the last teenager to be executed in Britain

Serial killers like Ian Brady and Myra Hindley escaped the noose by a matter of months because of its abolition in 1965.

Over the years there were campaigns by some politicians to have the death penalty restored.

Joe Beltrami, the legendary Glasgow solicitor who handled several capital murder cases, once commented: "Hanging will never come back because of numerous miscarriages of justice. 

"The idea of hanging someone for a crime they did not commit is a nightmare."

Gallows were kept in Scotland's jails until 1995. 

The prisoners who were hanged in Barlinnie are still buried in unmarked graves beneath the prison walls. 

In 2020, it emerged that all those executed at Barlinnie may have to be exhumed as the prison would close in 2025, to make way for a new prison nearby, and the land sold off. 

It has been suggested that any surviving family members could have the opportunity to finally lay their loved ones to rest.

If not, the remains are likely to be cremated. 

A theatre play about Miller's last days in the condemned cell, Please, Mister was performed in 2010 starring Iain De Caestecker (in the role of Miller) and David Hayman who had previously played the part of another notorious Glasgow killer Jimmy Boyle.

A TV movie was also made in 2014 about the Miller case.

A total of 33 men and one woman were hanged in Scotland in the 20th century.

One more Scot, Henry John Burnett, was executed - at Aberdeen in 1963 - before hanging was abolished in 1965.

And that was not before time, according to lawyer Len Murray.

He said: "To those who say it is a deterrent, I say it is not. I have never seen any evidence from any country in the world that shows capital punishment is a deterrent.

"The great majority of murders, in my experience, are committed in the heat of a moment. 

"Possible punishment is the farthest thing from the mind of the killer.

"I was instructed in a number of murder cases over the years, and I never came across one where the accused had stopped to think what punishment would be imposed.

"I consider capital punishment, especially hanging, to be barbaric, repugnant and quite unworthy of a civilised society. "

Miller spent his last night in the same cell used by serial killer Peter Manuel in 1958 when he went to his death.

Manuel had been convicted of seven murders between 1955 and 1957 including the deaths of two families.

He was the last person before Tony Miller to be hanged at Barlinnie.

Len Murray devoted three chapters to Tony Miller in his bestselling 2002 memoir The Pleader.

He said: "Tony was, of course, a killer who had done terrible things. 

"But what crime had his parents committed? What had they done to deserve such pain? 

"Those reasons alone, apart from any moral repugnance at hanging someone, were enough for me to realise we had to end a barbaric and useless practice.

“After Miller's execution, we kept up the pressure and I’m delighted to say that five years later society had abolished capital punishment. Not only did it end a horrible practice, but it ensured respectable people such as the Millers would no longer have to bear such a terrible burden.

"As a criminal lawyer, you forget about most cases with the passage of time.

"There was never any chance that I would forget about Tony Miller."