SINCE I have been an opponent of the death penalty for longer than I can remember my instinct is to deplore the execution in China yesterday of Akmail Shaikh, a British citizen who was arrested for drugs trafficking and found guilty at a trial that lasted thirty minutes despite the defence provided by lawyers appointed by the British Consulate. It is probable that Shaikh, a man who seemed to those who knew him in Britain to have lost his way in the world, was a drug mule, cynically used by others who remain free. He may have had a mental sickness that should have been taken into account by the court.

However, the way in which the British government and media have responded to this case seems to me counter-productive. Drug handling is one of the few offences in China to carry a mandatory death sentence; China's drug problem is growing rapidly with increasing affluence. China is not alone in the world in retaining the death penalty -- the United States also does so and currently has 3'000 convicted men and women on Death Row. It's also worth bearing in mind that Britain did not abolish the death penalty until 1967 -- well within living memory. None of this overrides concern about the execution but it does raise doubts over whether highly publicised pressure from Gordon Brown, David Miliband and David Cameron was the best way to persuade the Chinese government to think again.