HC Deb 27 June 1833 vol 18 cc1254-63
Mr. Cobbett

said, he had a Petition to present, which, if it contained the truth, must convince the House and the people of the country, that they might now say, with the Psalmist, "In the midst of life we are in death." The petition alleged that the police were employed systematically as spies, and he (Mr. Cobbett) believed that he was in a condition to prove it. The petition was from the undersigned members of the Political Union of Camberwell and Walworth, and stated, 'That one William S. Popay became a member of their Union about fifteen months ago; that he attended the meetings of the Union which was called a class of the "National Political Union of the Working Classes;" that he used to urge the members of the Union to use stronger language than they did in their resolutions and other papers which he sometimes altered with his own pen, in order to introduce such stronger language; that, in his conversation with one of your petitioners, particularly, he railed against the Government, damned the Ministers for villains, and said he would expel them from the earth; that he told one of your petitioners, that he should like to establish a shooting gallery, and wanted some of them to learn the use of the broad sword, and did give one lesson of the use of the broad sword to one of your petitioners; that he subscribed towards the expense of providing a banner; that he subscribed for music at a meeting of the working classes at Kennington-common, held for the purpose of petitioning against the flogging of soldiers; that this William Popay attended, and took an active part in a procession of the working classes to Copenhagen-house, in July last, to celebrate the anniversary of the French revolution, when he walked amongst the foremost, arm-in-arm with one of your petitioners, who was a member of the Union; that, in or about the month of August last, he went, with one of your petitioners, and other persons, to visit a class of the Political Union at Richmond, when he paid, out of his own pocket, the expenses of the day, making the division and settlement at night, though the day before he had represented himself to this petitioner, as so poor as not to have the means of getting food for his family; that he used to take notes of the speeches made at the divers meetings; that, in the last autumn, he walked in procession with one of your petitioners, in the funeral of Thomas Hardy, and that, while the procession was moving on, this your petitioner, perceiving several men whom he knew to be policemen, disguised in private clothes, he noticed this, with marks of indignation, to Popay, who told him to "hush," and used every effort to restrain him from speaking loud; that, while the oration was making over the grave, Popay placed himself on a tomb-stone, and took notes of what was said; that he constantly represented himself as in a state of great poverty and misery, and thereby got him self and his wife into the houses of some of your petitioners, and received food and drink and entertainment from them; that he represented himself as having been deprived of his due by some persons in authority, and as having been brought to misery from such cause, and his tale of woe, to some of your petitioners and their wives, was such as to bring tears into their eyes; that he generally carried a bag, or portfolio, with him, representing himself as an unfortunate person, picking up his bread by miniature and landscape drawing or painting; that he enrolled himself in the union class, under the name, first, of "A. B.," and afterwards under the name of "Pearce," alleging that he declined using his real name, lest his respectable connexions—amongst whom he named Mr. Alderman Wilson—might be offended, if they knew that he belonged to a Political Union; that all this time he, wholly unknown to your petitioners, belonged to the police, having entered that service about twenty months ago; that he wore the uniform for about three months, and was stationed on what is called a "beat" at Brixton; that, at the end of those three months, or there abouts, he ceased to wear the uniform; that he was promoted to be a clerk in the police about four months ago; that he was further promoted about a month ago to be a deputy-inspector, and is now acting as such at Park-place, Walworth; that he was amongst the people at the Calthorpe-street meeting, dressed in common private clothes, and was there seen and spoken to by one of your petitioners; that, in or about the month of February last, some of your petitioners had heard that he belonged to the police; that they found him at the house of one of your petitioners, and charged him with the fact, which he most positively and vehemently denied to be true; that George Furzey was the man who first made a discovery of this important fact, and that this same George Furzey went along with two other of your petitioners, and preferred the charge against him.' He begged the House to bear in mind, that this very George Furzey was now in gaol, and about to be tried for his life, on a charge of having stabbed the policeman, Culley—which charge was brought against him upon the testimony of this man Popay, whose conduct Furzey was the first to expose. The petitioners proceeded—'That your petitioners are men faithful to their allegiance, and laborious in their lives; that they contemplate, with indignation, the fact that they are compelled to pay for the maintenance of spies, under pretence of their being persons employed for the preservation of the peace, and the protection of their property and their lives; while the business of this man evidently was, to delude the thoughtless into the commission of crimes, to bring misery upon their wives and families, and themselves to deaths ignominious. That some of your petitioners have frequently seen those whom they know to be policemen, disguised in clothing of various descriptions, sometimes in the garb of gentlemen, sometimes in that of tradesmen or artisans, sometimes in sailor's jackets, and sometimes in ploughmen's frocks; that, thus feeling themselves living amongst spies, seeking their lives, and sorely feeling the taxes, heaped upon them for the maintenance of those spies, they make this appeal to your honourable House and implore you to be pleased to make inquiry into the matter, being willing and ready to come forward with proof of all the facts that they have stated, and beg leave to express, at the same time, an anxious hope that the result of such inquiry will be some Act of your honourable House, to afford them and their families and fellow-subjects protection against such wrongs and such perils for the future.' Now Sir, if we are to be taxed for the support of spies, and if we are to be compelled to live amongst spies, the sooner the greater part or the whole of us are out of the world, the better. If a man goes into a coffee-house, or a public-house, or of the more humble class, into a beer-shop, he cannot tell hut a spy may be sitting at his side: for here we have the proof that they go about in all places, and in all sorts of disguises. I am not bound to prove the truth of everything that may be contained in the petitions which I present, though it was said here the other day that I was bound to do so, and on another occasion, that another hon. Member was also bound. But as to the present petition, I say, I am in a condition to prove the truth of it as well as any attorney or advocate can prove a case which he undertakes. I have examined all the witnesses; and they completely prove all this petition contains, and more. They prove that this man Popay subscribed to a fund for the purpose of forming a dépôt of arms—that he induced others to subscribe to it, and that he put down sixpence himself; and that the poor man who is now to be tried for his life, on a charge of stabbing two of these policemen, put down something also. Cut when Furzey found that this Popay was a spy, he went and struck his own name out of the subscription-list. Now, Sir, I always said, that these policemen wore spies: but his Majesty's Ministers said, that they were not spies. Here is proof that they are spies. However, I shall be very glad, indeed, to find that the Government did not know it; for it would be a shameful thing to find that were living under a Government which sent in spies amongst us. But somebody under the Government must know it; for here was this man constantly getting his pay—regularly going to Scotland-yard, and yet always dressed in private clothes. His inspector, therefore, must know what he was doing. Then here comes this most suspicious circumstance, that he was at the Calthorpe-street meeting, and that there too he was dressed in private clothes. When we see, then, what part the police took in instigating that meeting, can we say, that it was not a second Cato-street conspiracy. I believe that it was so. I am in a condition to prove that this police spy was there. The fact speaks for itself. We first find this man at the Union, instigating the members to violent language, subscribing to a dépôt of arms; then we find him at the Calthorpe-street meeting; next a Jury is sitting to inquire respecting the death of a policeman, who was killed at that meeting. There we see the Jury combating with the coroner. They leave a blank inquest to be tilled up by him, and he fills it up, so as to make it inconsistent with the verdict. It was his business to make it comport with the verdict. It was not his business to say, that the policeman was in the presence of God and the King, and in the discharge of his duty when he received the wound. When the Solicitor General was here the other day, and the subject was before the House, he did not explain this to us; nor did the hon. member for Kidderminster come forward and explain it, though he was good enough to explain the law to me. It was the usage to leave the inquest to be filled up by the coroner; but it was his duty to fill it up in a manner consistent with the verdict. But this was altogether his own suggestion, to say that the man was in the discharge of his duty. The hon. member for Kidderminster told the House, that the Solicitor General was not called on to go into the King's Bench; but he did go there; and the Court of King's Bench having that inquest before it, must quash the verdict. Well, what did his Majesty's Government do next? On the very day after the verdict, the King's proclamation comes forth declaring that the man was murdered, whom the Jury declared not to have been murdered. Connect that with the conduct of Popay—with his being at the meeting in plain clothes. Then comes a paragragh in one of the Government newspapers, in The Morning Chronicle, which is a Government Newspaper, as far as we know a Government Newspaper in this country. This paragraph tells us, that a disinterested person can prove that Furzey is the murderer of Culley, and that this person went to Newgate and pointed out Furzey from amongst a number of persons. Now, this disinterested person, as we understood the hon. Member, is the man whom Furzey detected at Walworth as a spy. This man was promoted just before the Calthorpe meeting; and I am not certain that he has not been promoted since. These persons were the police spies, paid by the people to drag them about and seek their blood. We live in the midst of spies, and well may we say, "that in the midst of life we are in death." Was I not right, then, when I compared them to the mouchards of Paris, and the French gensdarmerie? I say, these police are both. What do they do with spies in the army? Why, the moment they find one they hang him. That's what they do with a spy when they catch him amongst the enemy. How much more detestable, then, is it to be a spy amongst your own friends and neighbours? They hang a spy caught amongst the enemy in time of actual war. I say, how much more detestable to be a spy in civil life, and amongst the people who support you! How much more wicked is it to seek to bring harmless people into crimes! We find this man living amongst the people, and his wants relieved by them. His wife and family taken care of by them; and whilst he was pretending to be in the greatest misery, he was actually bringing these people into crimes. Two petitioners, after they sent me the petition, recollected that he (Popay) suggested subscriptions for a dépôt of arms, and that he subscribed for it himself. Here, then, the policeman was inducing the people all along to do something that would bring them under the observation of the law, by which they might receive punishment. AH this time he was a policeman in private clothes. Here is a proof that the people are compelled to give their money—that their beds are taken from under them—to pay taxes upon which a spy police live; and if the world ever saw men reduced to a state of degradation like this, I confess I should be glad to hear of it; for it would be some consolation to me, at all events, that there have been people in the world before now as degraded as we are. There is another observation which I wish to make on this subject. These men collect money. They receive money as presents, and this I look upon as a very suspicious circumstance. However, they do get the money—people give them presents for taking care of their premises, and things like that. Well, what is done with this money? Why, they are obliged to come to Scotland-yard, and share it with their superiors. Now, these presents will go on, until the usage becomes custom, and the custom becomes law; and woe be to the man who shall refuse to give the police their present. But what is more, I see that it is the intention of the Government to introduce this spy-police into every village in the kingdom. Here is a book on the Table, which the hon. member for Horsham presented, and the main object of this book is to make out a case for the introduction of the spy-police system into all parts of England. Every Member who reads this book must see that its object is to supersede the Justices of the Peace by hired Judges, and that the headboroughs and constables are to be superseded by the police—ay, by this spy-police. With this I charged the Government, and called on them to deny it. Now, from what I see in this book—the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners, yes, and signed by two Bishops, too—I am convinced that such is their intention. When I was about to present this petition, a worthy Alderman behind me (Alderman Wood) suggested to me that there was a Committee inquiring respecting this police-system, and as I make no question that the Committee will do their duty, I move that this petition be referred to that Committee.

Mr. Sinclair

concurred with the hon. member for Oldham, that the case was one requiring investigation, but, at the same time, he felt it his duty to take the opportunity of stating his conviction that the police of the metropolis were an eminently useful body of men, and were distinguished by their civility and attention. The hon. member for Oldham had compared the late proceedings in Coldbath-fields to the Cato-street Conspiracy; in that, however, he could not agree with him, considering that conspiracy one of the most dangerous attempts to subvert the Government that had ever taken place in this country. He regretted that the hon. Member had indulged in such remarks as he had, thinking that they would have a tendency to encourage such proceedings.

Colonel Evans

, although he admitted that in many instances, the conduct of the police was most commendable, yet he could not help recollecting, whenever the subject was brought forward, the printed instructions put forth by the Home Department when the police service first commenced, which stated that they were to be armed, and to inquire into the conduct of the inhabitants of their different districts. Nothing in his opinion was more like the establishment of a gensdarmerie. It was true that those instructions, so far as it respected the police being armed, and the inquiry being made into the conduct of the inhabitants, were withdrawn, yet it still showed the animus that actuated the Home Department. The only two countries in which forces similar to these were established were France and Ireland. Undoubtedly the police of France, the darmerie, preserved life and property most successfully; but the question with him was, whether the attempt to correct one abuse might not introduce a much worse one. We were not in the state that France and Ireland were to justify the establishment of such a system of police, and it had been found so intolerable in Paris that it had, since the revolution of 1830, been put down in that city. The expense, he understood, was more than double that of the old watchmen, a serious consideration in the distressed state of tin; middling classes. [Mr. Hawes: Not double.] At any rate 7,000l. more than was necessary had been raised during the last year. In the parish of St. George the Commissioners, by rating the empty houses, had raised the amount on the inhabited houses above 8d. In the pound, which was all that the Act allowed. He hoped the hon. member for Oldham would move for a Committee to inquire into the allegations of the petition. As the conduct of the (Coroner in the Calthorpe-street affair had been alluded to, he would state that, in his opinion, it was not the; result of inadvertence, but of design; and if no other Member took steps on the subject he would.

Mr. Ronayne

said, had the hon. member for Oldham lived as long in Ireland as he had, the hon. Member would not have exhibited such indignation at the idea of the people living under a system of espionage. In Ireland, that was common, and at the last the Clonmel Assizes, he elicited the fact, that a policeman was employed and went about as a pedlar, for the purpose of apprehending persons.

Mr. Godson

had been misrepresented on a former occasion, in being reported to say, that the Court of King's Bench had no power to quash an inquisition. What he said was, that the quashing of the verdict on the ground of informality had in no way affected the propriety of that verdict, or shaken the evidence upon which it rested. The conduct of the Coroner, in getting the signature of the Jury to a piece of blank parchment, was most improper. It was a most extraordinary proceeding, and it placed the conduct of the Government in a very objectionable light. If the House would look into the proceedings of the law courts, within the last few days, it would see, that the verdict of a Coroner's Jury had been of the highest value to an illustrious individual, who had been charged with an atrocious offence. In the proceedings of which he spoke, the verdict of the Coroner's Jury was produced, and very properly. But if it were valuable to a rich man, why should not a poor man have the benefit of it in his case? His Majesty's Government, however, bad thought fit to deprive him of that. The verdict had been quashed, not because it was bad, but because the Coroner had introduced an informality into it. Was that right? Was it creditable? He thought not.

Mr. Wilks

regretted that the attention of the House should have been at all diverted from the petition. It was a most important petition, and the hon. member for Oldham had done himself great honour in bringing it forward. The subject deserved the most attentive consideration. A system, which induced even a single individual to act as a spy, called upon the House to express its indignation at the fact, in order to put down so base a system. It had been by the introduction of spies into a part of Scotland a few years ago, that all the lamentable disturbances that occurred in that country were occasioned, as well as the death of several persons who were led into the commission of political crime by persons employed by the Government. He trusted, that the subject of the petition would secure that attention and inquiry to which it was entitled.

Mr. Estcourt

, as Chairman of the Committee on the Metropolitan Police, felt called on to say, that it would be an highly improper thing to refer this petition to a Committee which had already a mass of business on its hands, and which moreover was constituted to apply itself generally to the system of the entire Metropolitan Police. It would be imposing too much labour on the Committee. Besides, as it referred to a particular action, he thought it ought to be referred to a particular Committee.

Mr. Cobbett

would move for a Committee on the subject, on some future day.

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