Social punishment has been suggested as a key approach to ensuring high levels of cooperation and norm compliance in one-shot (i.e. non-repeated) interactions. However, it has been shown that it only works when punishment is highly cost-efficient. On the other hand, signalling retribution hearkens back to medieval sovereignty, insofar as the very word for gallows in French stems from the Latin word for power and serves as a grim symbol of the ruthlessness of high justice. Here we introduce the mechanism of signalling an act of punishment and a special type of defector emerges, one who can recognise this signal and avoid punishment by way of fear. We describe the analytical conditions under which threat signalling can maintain high levels of cooperation. Moreover, we perform extensive agent-based simulations so as to confirm and expand our understanding of the external factors that influence the success of social punishment. We show that our suggested mechanism catalyses cooperation, even when signalling is costly or when punishment would be impractical. We observe the preventive nature of advertising retributive acts and we contend that the resulting social prosperity is a desirable outcome in the contexts of AI and multi-agent systems. To conclude, we argue that fear acts as an effective stimulus to pro-social behaviour.