HC Deb 15 June 1832 vol 13 cc737-41
Mr. O'Connell

I rise for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to the case of a female of the name of Catherine Murphy, as it appears reported in a morning paper of last Monday, and of requesting that explanation from the Under Secretary for the Home Department for which I gave him notice that it was my intention to ask this evening. The following is the statement, as it appears in the newspaper:—'Catherine Murphy, a young woman of decent appearance, was charged with having exposed for sale a quantity of nuts, and assaulted policeman John Archer, 150 G, in the execution of his duty. The policeman deposed, that about twelve o'clock in the morning he was on duty in Hatton Garden, when he saw the defendant with a basket of nuts exposed for sale. She ran into the city, and prevented him at that time from taking her into custody. In about half an hour afterwards he was in that quarter again, and succeeded in laying hands on her; upon which she threw down the basket, caused a mob to assemble, and finally struck him more than a dozen times on the face.

'Defendant: I own that I was selling nuts, and the policeman tried to take them from me; which, very naturally, I endeavoured to prevent. I solemnly declare I never struck him; I have a sick husband and four children to support, and if I am debarred from selling a few oranges or nuts, we must starve.

'Mr. Laing: You have no business to block up the streets with your basket, and the policeman has acted very right in bringing you here!

'Defendant: then is it a crime to endeavour to support my family honestly?

'Mr. Rogers: Your nuts are forfeited to the parish.

'Mr. Laing: That is not a punishment sufficient! I shall fine her for the assault.

'Mr. Mallett, the chief clerk, here said: The poor creature is very near her time of lying-in; she appears, too, in a distressed condition.

'Mr. Laing: That is no reason why she should offend against the law.

'Mr. Rogers, to the prisoner: In addition to the forfeiture of your nuts, you are fined 5s.

'Defendant: I cannot pay 5d.

'Mr. Laing: Then you'll go to prison for seven days.

'A gentleman here stepped forward, and said, that he thought the poor woman ought not to be punished. If she had committed an offence she received quite sufficient punishment from the hands of the policeman.

'Mr. Laing: Who are you, Sir?

'Answer: I am a law stationer; my name is Lewin, and I reside at Somers' Town.

'Mr. Laing: Indeed! and you think she has been punished enough do you?

'Mr. Lewin: I do, Sir: I witnessed the whole transaction. Instead of the policeman desiring her to go away, which I consider he ought to have done in the first instance, he laid hold of her basket, threw her down, and then upset all her nuts, by which a gallon at least were lost. I assure you, Sir, the woman has been very much ill-treated—she never attempted to strike the policeman.

'Mr. Laing: I strongly suspect that you are one of those persons who take upon themselves to dictate and interfere with the policemen, and rescue their prisoners. Whatever you have said will not do any service to the defendant, so you had better hold your tongue and leave the office.

'The woman was locked up in default of paying the 5s.'

Now, Sir, though I admit that the woman was committing an illegal act, I do mean to say, that if this statement is correct, no Magistrate ought to be allowed to adopt such a course as this, or indulge in such remarks, without meeting with due reprehension. I shall not, however, indulge in any further observations, until I hear what explanation the hon. Gentleman opposite has to give of the transaction.

Mr. Lamb

In the first place, I have to regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have quoted this case from the newspaper, which I believe to be very much exaggerated, as is indeed too often the case with many of the daily journals. It is not, however, my wish to dilate upon this part of the subject; and I shall, therefore, chiefly confine myself to a repetition of the plain narrative of the case, as it has been explained to me. In the first place, it is necessary to state, that the police near Hatton Garden is in a peculiar situation; for it happens just to form the boundary between the City and Westminster. In consequence, therefore, of the ease with which they can pass from one jurisdiction to the other, this place has become a favourite place of resort for the basket-women, who station themselves in the streets for the purpose of selling their fruit—a practice which is against the law, though I am ready to admit that it is a sort of law which ought not to be enforced too rigidly. The new police have frequently had occasion to remonstrate with the city police for not co-operating with them in their endeavours to clear the streets of these women; and I may also state, that Mr. Laing and Mr. Rogers, the Magistrates at Hatton Garden, have immediately discharged all of those cases that have ever been brought before them, and have indeed stated, that unless a complaint was made by the inhabitants, they would not interfere. The nuisance, however, has subsequently reached such a height, that the police have been directed to clear the streets of these women. On the day of this transaction, it happened that this woman, with many others, was selling nuts; twice she was sent away by the policeman; and on his returning a third time within the hour, he again found her pursuing the same occupation. Now, Mr. Lewin remonstrated at the office that the policeman ought to have told the woman to go away before he took her into custody; but I think that I have, by stating this fact, sufficiently answered that observation. When the woman was told a third time to go, she began to abuse the policeman, and finally flung herself on the pavement, and struck him several smart blows. On this, the man thought that he was fully entitled to take her to the police-office for the assault. And here let me remark, that the report in the newspapers has omitted one most important fact—which is this, that a very respectable mechanic attended at the office, and voluntarily deposed, that the assault had been committed by the woman, as described by the policeman. The Magistrate, on this, felt that it was necessary to protect the policeman in the discharge of his duty; and it was not till the woman had been convicted that Mr. Lewin stepped forward, and expressed his opinion that she had been punished enough. I am also given to understand, that the Magistrate did not say all that was atttibuted to him by the newspaper; it is, however, admitted, that he did express an opinion that Mr. Lewin was one of those who went about to the police-offices, dictating to the Magistrates—an expression which, I have no hesitation in saying, I would much rather had not been used. The woman, however, after having been adjudged to pay a fine of 5s., or suffer seven days' imprisonment, was sent for back, and the imprisonment was lessened to two days instead of seven; and she is now at liberty. Such, Sir, are the circumstances of the case; and I do not see that (with the exception I have already made) any impropriety has been committed by either policeman or Magistrate.

Mr. O' Connell

I trust that the caution that has been uttered by the hon. Gentleman will reach the ears of the Magistrate, and that it will prevent his making use in future of such language as that which he addressed to Mr. Lewin; and with this hope, and after the statement that has just been made to the House, I beg to say, that I do not think it necessary to press this question any further.

Sir Edward Sugden

said, that the law was undoubtedly a harsh one, but the police were placed in a difficult situation, for they were liable to censure if they did not carry it into effect.

Mr. Hunt

said, that if the report had been a correct one, the hon. member for Kerry would, probably, not have noticed the subject. It was a great benefit to the public to have fair reports of cases of this nature, but great blame attached to the newspapers when they admitted partial reports.

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