HC Deb 02 August 1839 vol 49 cc1188-92
Mr. Leader

rose to call the attention of the House to the petition he had presented some days ago from Lovett and Collins. The hon. Member referred to the various allegations in the petition, contending that the statement of the magistrates, so far from contradicting, confirmed the state- ments it contained. The petitioners did not complain so much of cruelty, as of the indignity to which they had been exposed, in having their hair cut by a felon, being washed in a bath with other prisoners, and restricted, while waiting for bail to the gaol allowance, unless they paid out of their small wages 2s. 6d. each to the turnkey, in order to induce him to cook for them some eggs and bacon. They also complained of being paraded into the yard uncovered, to be shewn like wild beasts to every stranger who might visit the prison. They did not complain of the magistrates, but of the harshness of the regulations, with the view of producing some alterations in the law. They also complained that they were not allowed to see their friends; excepting for a short time every day, and that, too, in the presence of the turnkeys; that they were debarred from the free use of pen, ink, paper; and that everything which they wrote was subject to the inspection of the jailor. Now, how could any prisoner prepare his defence, unless he had liberty to consult with his friends and legal advisers, without the presence of a turnkey, and unless he had the power of writing whatever he pleased, without the inspection of the gaoler? No man, however innocent, would like to trust his defence to such inspection. The amount of bail, too, exacted from these men was excessive. They were only mechanics, and yet they had been called on to find bail in 1,000l. each, themselves in 500l. each, with two sureties in 250l. each. Surely that was excessive bail for a libel, for which, but a few years since, a man could not be committed to prison before conviction. He was surprised that persons in authority should act with such harshness in cases where harshness was of no use, for even with less bail, the parties would have been compelled to come forward and stand their trial. He trusted, that if the law did permit these gaol regulations to be applied to prisoners waiting for bail, the law itself would be speedily altered.

Sir E. Wilmot

said, the hon. Member had confounded two things, which were quite distinct—the one being the regulations of the gaol, and the other how fat those regulations had been applied with severity to these individuals. He was free to admit that no regulations should be tolerated in any prison, save such as were necessary for the safe custody of its inmates. But the regulations for safe custody did not consist entirely in grates and bolts, and strongly guarded cells. Cleanliness was one necessary ingredient in them; dietary another; not having money a third; and not having any deadly weapon wherewith to effect an escape was a fourth. Lovett said, that he had been placed in a ward with common felons, that he had been compelled to strip and to wash himself in a dirty bath, that his hair had been cut against his will, that his money had been taken from him, that he had not been allowed any other dietary than that of the prison; that pen, ink, and paper had been denied to him, and that everything he wrote was liable to be inspected by the gaoler. The magistrates had made a report upon all these charges; but he would leave their report out of his consideration, and would only refer to the evidence which had been taken before them. That evidence contradicted nearly every statement in the petition. Lovett had not been committed to the prison at Warwick for want of bail, but for a misdemeanour. The only thing, therefore, that the gaoler could do with him was to place him in the misdemeanour-ward. As to his allegations about the dirty bath, it appeared that he had gone into the bath first, that the water of it was fresh and sweet, and that he had been accommodated with a clean towel. When he came out of the bath he said, "It is very refreshing; it is quite worth a guinea." Collins, however, owing to some mistake, had gone into the bath after another person, but that person, on being told that he had no business there then, had come out of it, and Collins expressed himself satisfied. The hair of Collins had not been touched; and Lovett, having been asked if his hair should be cut, directed that a little of it should be taken off behind. He understood that the hair which had been taken off Lovett's head had been sent up to an eccentric Ex-chancellor, who kept it in his pocket, he supposed, to produce elsewhere, whenever he deemed it expedient. With respect to the dietary of the gaol, he had only to say, that it was better than that of any union work-house in the kingdom. To be sure it was not such as either the hon. Member for Westminster or himself would thrive on, but it was notorious that many persons who had applied to the gaoler for leave to provide for themselves, had after- wards requested to be put back upon the county allowance. With regard to the allegation of Lovett, that his money had been taken from him, it appeared that when he arrived at the prison he had 3l. lls. about his person. Of this sum 3l. had been taken from him, for which he received a ticket, and 11s. had been left at his disposal. It appeared from the statement of the turnkey, that for pen, ink, and paper, he had never applied at all; but that the gaoler, apprehending that he might want them, had given him three folio sheets of paper, which he had taken out of the gaol with him unexamined. This was the answer the magistrates made to the allegations of Lovett; and a complete answer he took it to be. He thought that the statements in the petition should be examined into, in order that if they were true, the regulalations in the gaol might be amended; and that if they were false, justice might be done to the parties who were unjustly accused. He might here state that Dr. Taylor, who had also been committed to Warwick gaol for a misdemeanour, had been bailed out of it by the hon. Member for Warwick, and on his liberation had expressed himself satisfied with the treatment which he had received whilst a prisoner within its walls. His opinion was that an attempt had been made by these two individuals, Lovett and Collins, to excite a feeling in Birmingham adverse to the magistracy of the County of Warwick, and in that attempt they had made use of the hon. Member for Westminster as their instrument. The hon. Member for Warwick, who had lived all his life in that town, and who was one of the visiting magistrates of the gaol, was ready to confirm all that he had said on the subject; and for his own part he would challenge a comparison between the state of Warwick gaol and that of any other gaol in the kingdom.

Mr. Hawes

contended, that the regulations of Warwick gaol, as applied to prisoners before trial, were illegal, and not warranted by any clause in the Gaol Act. The prisoners, Lovett and Collins, ought not to have been subjected to any indignities, and in being subjected to them had been treated with much illegality. The petitioners had been subjected to avoidable severities, which were not justified-by the Gaol Act, and therefore the Warwickshire magistrates were justly amenable to cen- sure. All prisoners committed for trial ought to be treated as innocent until they were proved to be guilty.

Mr. O'Connell

admitted the conduct of the gaoler to be irreproachable. So far as the manner of the management of the bath went, very exaggerated circumstances had, undoubtedly, been stated. But it must not be kept out of sight, that, in the first instance, both Lovett and Collins had been stripped stark-naked in the presence of two gaolers. That was not one of the regulations, though it was the practice of the gaol, and he must say that it was disgraceful to offer untried prisoners, committed for a misdemeanor, such an indignity. Then, again, they were obliged to go into a cold bath. Now, many persons had an utter abhorrence of a cold bath. some liked the luxury of a warm bath, but a cold one might be positively injurious to the health of many men. Of all these regulations the parties had a right to complain, and he hoped that it would induce the magistrates to look into the gaol regulations a little more strictly.

House in Committee of Supply.