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Arson in royal dockyards was among the last offences that were punishable by execution in the United Kingdom. It remained a capital offence even after the death penalty was abolished for murder in 1965, although John the Painter seems to be the only one ever actually executed for it, in 1777. The criminal law consolidation Acts 1861 removed various capital offences from the British statute-books, leaving only five: murder, high treason, espionage, "piracy with violence" (piracy with intent to kill or cause serious harm), and offences under the Dockyards etc. Protection Act 1772. This Act set out a comprehensive list of crimes punishable by death, such as causing a fire or explosion in a naval dockyard, magazine, warehouse, or ship, until the Act was repealed by the Criminal Damage Act 1971.
In a speech in the House of Lords in 1998, Lord Goodhart stated that this offence disappeared from the list of capital crimes in 1971 "without, so far as I am aware, either comment or concern."
- ^ Hansard, House of Lords, 12 February 1998, columns 1347–1350