HC Deb 20 April 1812 vol 22 cc475-8

Sir Francis Burdett presented a Petition from Samuel Fletcher, brewer, maltster, and potter, Thames Bank, Westminster, which was read; setting forth,

"That the petitioner was a brewer, maltster, and potter, at Thames Bank, in the liberties of Westminster, in the parish of Saint George Hanover square; and that, in the spring of 1809, three of the Excise officers entered, and were, in the absence of the petitioner and his workmen, detected in robbing the premises; complaint was made to the surveyor, who reported them to the Board of Excise, who soon after removed him and appointed another in his stead; between this new officer, and one of the old offenders, were planned a conspiracy for the ruin of the petitioner; no less than seven informations were invented, and laid, between the 5th of October and the 29th of November 1809, the penalties of which amount to 1,000l: had alt these accusations been true, instead of being most palpably false, the actual fraud on the revenue could not amount to one single farthing; and that the petitioner was summoned to, and, on the 26th of February, 1810, without legal form, or the benefit of judge, jury, counsel, or witnesses, tried at the Excise office, on the naked testimony of their own officers, who had made no scruple to rob the accused in open day; not only these officers, but the court, acknowledged that no fraud could be committed or intended by the first pretended offence; and, in their evidence on the second and third informations, five wilful perjuries were proved by their own officers, who were brought for ward to support their testimony; in the fifth two more perjuries were intended, but the charge relinquished from the dread of detection; and that the fifth was for the very common misfortune of an accidental leak in a cistern; in their evidence to the sixth and seventh information, not only are there four most gross perjuries proved on the oath of the best witnesses; but, in the nature of things, the facts they swore to are impossible to be true; yet one of the commissioners told the petitioner that the evidence was clear enough to convict him of murder, and, without allowing a reply, proceeded to levy fines for every one of these pretended offences, though no shadow of guilt appeared, to the amount of 112l. 5s.; a Petition was next morning sent to the Board, praying for a fair trial, or further investigation; this Petition was answered in the evening of the same day, by seizing all the property, a cargo of porter intended for exportation, and all the business was stopped, though there were ten times the amount of these penalties in other property on the premises; to prevent the sale, and destruction of the goods, the penalties were all paid, and costs, reserving the right of appeal on the two last cases, the penalties on them amounting to 100l.; and that this court of appeal, which consisted of six commissioners and counsel, and the same attorney who presided at the Excise office 6th February, met in Westminster the 23d of May; the three informers were now again brought forward and sworn; the same man who had been concerned in the robbery (a fact he here confessed,) was here also the favourite and leading evidence; the perjury at the Excise office was confessed, and new ones committed; but, incredible as it may appear, the party accused, who was allowed a sort of defence in London in February, was not now, in a court to which he was sent to for redress in Westminster in May following, suffered to open his mouth in reply, or defence, nor yet call a single witness in his behalf; it is therefore needless to add, that the original judgment was confirmed; and the solicitor to the Excise now drew from his pocket two long bills, and presented to the appellant's attorney, being the entire expence, and that doubled, of assembling and holding their court; and that these informers, being thus encouraged and paid, they thrice attempted, between this time and the latter end of July, to renew their informations and punlder; their labours, however, here ended with a surcharge of 113 bushels of malt more than their own account proves to have been made; and that, on the 14th of May, 125 barrels of porter were shipped, the debenture 113l. was in due time applied for, it was refused, and no cause was to this hour assigned; application was twice made to the Board by Petition, who pretended to refer to the officers, who declared it strong beer, and entitled to the drawback, but at last the Petitions they pretended were lost; and that a Petition was now advised to be sent to the Treasury; it was presented there at 11 o'clock 6th July, accompanied with an affidavit, proving the facts related; there it was registered, "a conspiracy of Excise officers," and refered to the Board of Excise for their reply; but, between 7 and 8 o'clock the same evening, they send an extent on the" premises, commanding to seize all the properly, and imprison the petitioner for 280l. 3s. 10d. which they pretend was due for duty on beer, the amount of the beer duly on the Excise books, including the strong beer duty for that exported, was 93l. 5s. 6d. the drawback, which became due on the 15th of June, was 113l; if this beer which their own officers declared and allowed to be exported as strong beer, was so, a fact which admits of no controversy, they having seized the property for strong beer duty, then the balance due from the Excise to the petitioner was 19l. 4s. 6d.; but if, on the contrary, this beer could now be proved to be not strong, but table-beer, then more than 11l. could not be due to them on that score; the affidavit, however, which accompanied the Petition, settles this point; and that, after waiting seven weeks for an answer from the Treasury, a memorial was sent there, complaining also of the new outrage of the extent; after waiting six weeks for an answer to this, a letter was written to the secretary of the Treasury, briefly staling the whole of the grievance; a note was soon after received from him, saying, that the Board of Excise had promised to make their official reportshortly; after another pause of about a month, apersonal application was made to the secretary, to request the favour of an explananation of the meaning of the word. "shortly;"a gentleman now came forward, and said, "Mr. Harrison is engaged; he desires me to say, that the Board of Excise can justify their proceedings, and "re now in search of evidence to justify them in withholding the payment of the drawback; a Petition was now (in August) presented to the Prince Regent, but no redress, nor even a reply, was ever obtained; in the mean time, both body and goods were, by the command of the writ (a copy of which is preserved,) doomed for four months to lay under the interdict of this barbarous inquisition, no provision made for the sustenance of man, woman, or child, nor even for the live stock on the premises, some have perished for want, some were stolen, and some sold, and the money taken by the officers; and finally, after remaining between five and six months on the premises, the effects were sold off, in one lot, for 40l, and the lease of 62 years became forfeit to the landlord; thus is all which has been expended in this concern under the pledged security of public law, and which amounts to upwards of 5,000l. destroyed by a species of crime the most disgusting in its nature, and terrible in its consequences, the world ever saw; and that the petitioner, being thus despoiled of his property, debarred the means of self-defence, and cut off from every hope of legal redress for the grievous injuries he has sustained, at last appeals to the House, in the hope that there is still a responsible power remaining somewhere; and that it is impossible that the persons and property of Englishmen should be wholly without the means of protection in their own country: therefore the petitioner humbly prays the House to take his case into consideration, and afford him that redress which the national honour and justice may in their wisdom appear to demand."

Ordered to lie upon the table.