Britain favoured execution over Nuremberg trials for Nazi leaders

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The British government opposed the establishment of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals at the end of the second world war because it wanted selected Nazi leaders to be summarily executed and others to be imprisoned without trial, according to a contemporary account that is declassified on Friday.

Winston Churchill made the proposal at the "Big Three" conference at Yalta in February 1945, according to the account, but was overruled by Franklin D Roosevelt, who believed the US public would demand proper trials, and Joseph Stalin, who argued that public trials possessed excellent propaganda value.

The British eventually agreed to the war crimes trials despite the misgivings of some senior government officials who believed the decision to prosecute the surviving Nazi leadership for waging a war of aggression would set a dangerous precedent. They also feared the prosecutions would be on a par with the high-profile show trials in Stalin's Russia....

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