By all accounts, Akmal Shaikh, a 53 year old Pakistani whose family settled in England when he was a boy, has been executed following his conviction of importing nearly 9 pounds of heroin into China. Needless to say, the importation of drugs is a capital crime.

The background to Mr. Shaikh’s execution is curious in the extreme. He had a ‘supportive’ family, two of whom travelled to Beijing to plead for mercy. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Mr. Shaikh in a former life was a taxi service manager in Kentish Town, that jewel in the crown of north London, but somewhat mysteriously found himself homeless in Poland, and where was his supportive family when he needed them most? He agreed to act as a drugs mule when he was promised a hit record that would be a singing sensation and would usher in world peace. It sounds like an episode from X Factor, and about as bad. He then found himself travelling to Tajikistan, wherever that is, and thence into China.

We are now told that Mr. Shaikh was mentally ill, the same defence used by the English hacker to prevent his extradition to the United States. But as any self respecting psychiatrist will tell you, there is a world of difference between mental illness and downright stupidity, and in the case of Mr. Shaikh, the jury are still out. Surely, somewhere between Poland and Urumqi, his port of entry, it must have dawned on him that he was being played for a fool, but apparently not.

It is well known by drug prevention agencies that ‘barons’ habitually use vulnerable people to act as mules. This has two obvious benefits. The knowledge they can provide as part of a wider investigation is limited in the extreme, and their very vulnerability makes them less of a target when they arrive at their port of entry.

It is this vulnerability that results in the successful importation of drugs throughout the world. ‘Barons’ factor in a 10% detection rate, leaving 90% to reach the user The profits are enormous, so well worth the risk.

The Chinese reason, and not without cause, that if the vulnerable are going to be treated leniently, this will simply encourage the ‘barons’ to keep using them. The Chinese also reason, and again not without cause, that if leniency based on mental illness, or a dozen or more excuses, is not an option, then perhaps Akmal and others who follow him will pause to reflect.

Despite the best efforts of the British Government, the execution was carried out in accordance with Chinese law. We in the western world might ‘tut’ and click our teeth, and trot out statistics about China executing more of its criminals than the rest of the world put together, but it wasn’t so long ago that we here in Britain hanged children for theft, and often on the flimsiest of evidence, and it wasn’t until 1965 that we abolished capital punishment. That was scant comfort to the likes of Evans, Bentley and Riley.

I do not criticise the British Government for their efforts, but any idiot could have told them it was doomed to failure. However, I doubt the wisdom of criticising China after the event, and in such strident language. As they say in China: “Softly softly catchee monkey,” and then boil it lightly in a garlic and butter sauce. Strident language certainly won’t help the next time around. Reprieve, which lobbies against capital punishment, simply added fuel to the flames by particularly asinine comments, based as they were on a blinkered and very partial view of the case.

Some, like Reprieve, may espouse a sort of universal morality, but if they do, they are living in a fool’s paradise. Barbaric punishment, much worse than lethal injection, is a daily reality, where adulterers and homosexuals are stoned to death, where ‘honour killings’ are a way of life, even in England, and where mutilation carries with it the imprimatur of the State. And where is Reprieve when we need a voice crying in the wilderness?