HC Deb 24 June 1824 vol 11 cc1501-5
Mr. Abercromby

stated, that he had to present a petition from the individual whose name had been so often alluded to in the course of the late discussion; he meant Mr. O'Callaghan. The case of that gentleman had excited great public attention, and the only reason which he could find for its having done so was this—that when the public looked to the offence which Mr. O'Callaghan had committed, to the provocation which he had received, to the recommendation which the jury had given him for mercy, and to the treatment to which he had subsequently been subjected in consequence of his sentence, they saw that there was such a difference between the offence and the punishment, as compelled them to withhold their sympathy from the punishment, and to give it to the person on whom the punishment was inflicted. The petition was, in his opinion, well deserving the attention of the House; and he thought that the right hon. secretary, if he took it under his consideration, would see, that the petitioner had suffered a degree of punishment for the space of a week, which neither the noble chairman who passed the sentence, nor the bench who concurred in it, intended him to suffer. The hon. member then went into the particulars of Mr. O'Callaghan's case, reading them from the petition. After he had finished them, he called the attention of the House to the fact, that Mr. O'Callaghan had been obliged to submit to this extraordinary treatment for a week, and that he had not ceased to suffer from it until his hon. friend (the member for Surrey), with a humanity that was highly creditable to him, had interposed his authority to put an end to it. He asked whether any person, looking at the provocation which Mr. O'Callaghan had received, the offence he had committed, and the condition of life in which he moved, would have subjected him to all the severities which he had undergone? It had been said, that the bench, in passing sentence on Mr. O'Callaghan, had taken the recommendation of the jury into their consideration: but, in reply to that assertion, he asked, whether the bench would have passed the sentence which it had done, supposing they had known the different aggravations which it was to receive from the gaol regulations? Looking at all the circumstances of the case, he thought that strong grounds were laid for the interference of the House, and for its calling on the right hon. secretary to recommend the petitioner to the mercy of his majesty. The petition did not so much apply to the sufferings of the petitioner as it called upon the House to prevent similar severities from being inflicted on others.

Lord Eastnor

assured the House, that he never undertook a more painful duty in his life, than that of presiding at the late quarter sessions for the county of Surrey. He undertook it not from any wish of his own, but at the request of his hon. friend the member for the county, in order to give the magistrates time to select a proper successor to their late worthy chairman, Mr. Harrison. He could assure them that he had given his best attention to this case, and that the rest of the bench had done so too. They did not wish to do any thing harsh, but they thought that they were bound by their sentence to mark their opinion of the assault which had been committed. He did feel that without a strong case, it was improper to allude in that House to what occurred before the judicial tribunals of the country; but, after what had fallen on the present occasion from hon. members, he felt himself bound to state, that the provocation which Mr. O' Callaghan received did not appear to be such as warranted, the assault he had made on the prosecutor. He did not feel it necessary to say more upon that part of the subject. If he had felt the sentence to be harsh, he certainly should not have passed it; but he did not feel it to be harsh at the time, and upon the reflection which he had since given to it he was confirmed in the opinion that he had done nothing more than his duty. There were, it was true, facts stated by the learned counsel for the defence, which if they had been proved, would have formed a provocation sufficient to justify the assault; but, so far were those facts from being proved, that there was even evidence on the other side to negative their existence. A defence, which added insult to injury, was considered by the bench as an aggravation of the original offence.

Mr. Maberly

trusted, that as there was to be a meeting of the Surrey magistrates to-morrow, they would resolve to appeal to the right hon. secretary to shorten the duration of captain O' Callaghan's imprisonment, in consequence of the aggravation it had received from the very hard discipline which they had imposed upon the prison. For the honour of Surrey, he hoped that nobody would in future suffer in any of the county gaols a greater punishment than that to which the bench intended to consign him.

Lord Eastnor

said, he was anxious to make one observation which had before escaped him. He was not, when the sentence was passed on this gentleman, aware of the precise nature of the prison regulations; and when he was told of the privations to which Mr. O' Callaghan had been subjected, he doubted the statement, and said, that there must be some mistake. He, however, learnt, that the statement was true. He was afterwards informed, that those restrictions were removed, and every fair and reasonable indulgencegiven, and he was glad of it.

The Petition was ordered to be printed, It was as follows i—

"The humble Petition of Luke Carlos O' Callaghan, a prisoner now confined in the Surrey Gaol,

"Humbly showeth—That your Petitioner was on Monday the 14th instant tried at the quarter sessions for the county of Surrey, for an assault on the rev. James Saurin; that on the trial it appeared that your petitioner had some ladies under his protection, and that it was in resenting what he conceived to be, and what he still believes to have been,, a wanton insult to those ladies by the prosecutor, that your petitioner committed the act which the jury on the trial found to be a breach of the peace.

"That the jury, impressed with the feeling that the conduct of the prosecutor had provoked the assault, did, in pronouncing your petitioner guilty, strongly recommend him to the mercy of the court; but that, notwithstanding such recommendation, the court sentenced him to an imprisonment of one month in the county gaol, and to pay a fine of 20l.

"That from the time of his imprisonment your petitioner was limited (with the exception of part of one day) to the county allowance of course brown bread and water; that though he repeatedly asked permission to provide himself at his own expense, such permission was constantly refused by order of the visiting justices. Your petitioner was, during the above time confined for 12 hours in each day in a solitary cell, 8 feet 6 by 6 feet 4, having no other sleeping place than a mattress spread on a plank 20 inches and a half wide, with a covering of two rugs and exposed in this situation to the damp night air, there being no glass within the iron grating of his cell; that in the daytime he is confined to a court about eight yards by six; that in the sitting or day-room there is neither table or chair, or any resting place except a narrow bench close to the wall.

"That your petitioner has been prevented from holding any communication with the friends who visited him in prison, except through two iron gratings, placed several feet apart, exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and liable to have all that passed between them heard by the surrounding prisoners. That your petitioner was, during this time, not allowed even permission to receive or read a newspaper.

"That notwithstanding that your petitioner memorialed first the magistrates, in court of quarter sessions, and afterwards the visiting justices, stating his case, and praying for redress, your petitioner received no relief from either source; and that he continued to be treated (as he respectfully submits) more like a felon, than a mere misdemeanant, up to Monday the 2lst, when, by the humane interposition of Mr. Denison, a member of your honourable House (and one of the visiting justices), some relaxation took place in, the severity of your petitioner's treatment but that he is still subjected to many restrictions and privations, not called for, as he humbly submits, by the nature of his case.

"That your petitioner has transmitted a memorial to the right hon. the secretary of state for the Home Department, stating the nature of his sufferings, and imploring a remission of his sentence.

"That this memorial was accompanied by one from the jury who tried your petitioner, in which they earnestly recommended your petitioner to the mercy of the Crown, on the ground of the provocation given by the prosecutor.

"That your petitioner has every confidence that the humane disposition of the right hon. secretary of state for the Home Department will lead him to give to your petitioner the most merciful consideration; but your petitioner, believing that, as faithful guardians of the public liberty, your honourable House will feel disposed to give effect to the prayer of one in whose case that liberty has been violated, most humbly implores, "That your honourable House, taking all the circumstances of his case into consideration, may be pleased to support the prayer of your petitioner's memorial in such a manner as to your honourable House shall seem proper.

"Your petitioner further most humbly begs, that your honourable House may be pleased to institute an inquiry into the conduct of the visiting justices with respect to your petitioner's treatment, and also into the manner in which prisoners generally are treated in the Surrey gaol in order that timely steps may be taken to remedy such abuses as those under which he now suffers. And your petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray."