HC Deb 22 March 1842 vol 61 cc1069-78
Mr. W. S. O'Brien

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for,ߞ Copy of the verdict and depositions taken by the coroner at an inquest held on the 19th day of December, 1841, on the death of James Flanagan, at Clonearl, in the King's County; copies of all communications which have taken place between the Irish government, or the inspector-general of constabulary, and the resident stipendiary magistrate, or the local inspector or sub-inspector of police, relative to the death of the said James Flanagan; and copy of the correspondence which has taken place between Durham Dunlop, Esq., and the Irish government, relative to the death of the said James Flanagan. The particulars of this case were wrapped in mystery. So far as the facts had transpired, it appeared that a party of gentlemen and officers met at the house of a gentlemen named Magann, near Philipstown, King's County, and made an idiot boy, who rambled about, drunk, and having besmeared his cloatbes with turpentine, set fire to them to make him run for their amusement; but the result was, that the boy died from the injuries which he received. These circum. stances had been published by the editor of the Dublin Monitor, and Mr. Dunlop, the editor of that paper, then wrote to the noble Lord the Irish Secretary, to ask if the Government intended to institute any investigation, to which the noble Lord replied that he did not consider that there appeared at present any ground for further investigation beyond that which had taken place before the coroner; but that if Mr. Dunlop could make out a case for inquiry, the Government would be ready to institute one. Mr. Dunlop contended that on the face of the proceedings there was abundant ground for inquiry, and he particularly pointed the noble Lord's attention to the circumstances that thirteen of the coroner's jury were immediate retainers of Mr. Magann, and had been summoned by his servants; that between the period of the occurrence and that of the inquest, one of Mr. Magann's servants had been removed, so as to be unable to give evidence, and had not since returned; and moreover, that the character of the evidence was inconsistent and unsatisfactory. The inquiry sought for was, however, still denied; and he would now ask the noble Lord to declare his own opinion, whether upon those coroner's notes any man could come to a satisfactory conclusion on the case? The public mind in Ireland would not be satisfied with so unsatisfactory an investigation of an occurrence in which the life of a fellow-citizen had been sacrificed. With regard to the individuals, too, against whom these serious charges had been made, it was cruel on the part of the Government to refuse the investigation. He did not wish to express any opinion upon the circumstances of the case; he confessed that at first he was inclined to say, that the story was incredible; and his only doubts arose from the mystery which had been thrown around the transaction, and the appearance of a desire to conceal something. In this country, by law, such an occurrence must have undergone at once a special investigation; and unless, in Ireland, such cases were investigated in a satisfactory manner, the poor of that country would think that justice was not done to them. Whilst he was on that subject, he must say, that he was surprised at the course which had been recently adopted by the crown officers in Ireland with regard to the challenging of jurors, especially after what had been stated by the noble Lord in that House; for at the very time when the noble Lord was in that House renouncing the principle of challenging jurors on the ground of their religion, a great number of Roman Catholics had been challenged, apparently for no other cause than that they were Roman Catholics. The refusal of the present inquiry must produce an impression in Ireland unfavourable to the Government; and facts had come to his knowledge subsequent to the inquest which, he thought, would satisfy the Government that there was a case for inquiry. He, therefore, still seriously, and without any view to party considerations, called upon the Government to grant a full inquiry with the view of jus- tifying the officers, if they were justifiable, and, at all events, with a view of satisfying the justice of the case.

Lord Eliot

said, that he was happy to state that he did not feel himself obliged to oppose the motion of the hon. Gentleman. Upon that motion he felt it his duty to offer some observations to the House. He thought, that the hon. Gentleman would have exercised a sound discretion if he had ascertained whether the Government intended to resist his motion for the production of papers, before he had made the statement he had just delivered. But the hon. Gentleman had believed, that the administration of justice in Ireland offered a fair mark for his blows. The first remark referred to the paragraph in the Dublin Monitor. Now, if the hon. Gentleman thought, that it was his (Lord Eliot's) duty to read all the papers that were published in Ireland, he confessed that he was not able to perform it. He had not known until two days after its publication, of the paragraph which he had read. [The noble Lord read the paragraph, which is to the effect, that a party of gentlemen and officers at a gentleman's house in King's County had given opium to their host, and had subsequently used certain violence towards a poor idiot, who, before he left the room, was burnt, and had subsequently died.] On reading it he, like the hon. Gentleman, thought it in credible, but as it had been stated on the authority of a respectable journal, he had thought it his duty to have inquiries instituted. He had addressed a letter to the coroner directing him to forward to the Government his notes upon the inquest, and also to the stipendiary magistrate, giving him instructions to make every possible inquiry. Mr. Leigh Browne, the stipendiary magistrate, had not waited for these instructions, but made a report at once to the Government, "That on hearing of the report of the death of this idiot"—he was not really an idiot, but was a sort of village jester—" he immediately went to the place, and found the coroner holding the inquest, and at the time swearing in the jury." The jury consisted of twenty-one persons. The witnesses had been closely cross-examined by the coroner; and such had been his attention to their evidence, that he was charged with having put leading questions to them. The jury came to an unanimous verdict, that the death of the unfortunate man was attributable entirely to accident. The coroner had gone through an examination, which had been conducted by the Lord-lieutenant himself, and the principal law officers of the Crown, and they were perfectly satisfied, that the verdict of the jury was a proper one. The attack of the lion. Gentleman on the Irish government was therefore entirely unfounded. As to the statement of Mr. Dunlop, the editor of the Monitor newspaper, as he did not object to the production of the papers moved for, hon. Members could themselves see, and could themselves judge it. Mr. Dunlop had put the paragraph into the paper, and then had written to him calling upon the Government to institute a full investigation. To Mr. Dunlop he had written in answer, that the jury, consisting of twenty-one persons, had found an unanimous verdict, attributing the death of the poor man to accident, and that unless he could state some grounds for again opening the subject, the Government thought that they ought not to enter into it. Mr. Dunlop had declined to give any further information which would have justified any such investigation. He said that "he was in possession of information," but his letter amounted to a mere commentary upon the constitution and upon the conduct of the jury. He said, that thirteen of the jury were under the influence of Mr. Magann, the gentleman at whose house this unfortunate transaction had taken place. He did not know whether this was so, or whether it was not so, but he would, for the sake of argument, admit it. Then, if it were so, nine others, according to his own admission, without any such influence, had arrived at the conclusion, that the death had been the result of accident. He would say nothing as to the stipendiary magistrate, or as to the very proper conduct which he had pursued under the circumstances of the case. Mr. Dunlop's letter was a mere commentary upon the character of the jury, and upon the evidence which they gave. He (Mr. Dunlop) did Dot in that letter refer to the evidence of the surgeon, nor to the very important circumstance, that the unfortunate man had survived for six days. It was true, that he had been dancing and amusing the company, running about the room with a loose shirt about him, and also, that he was intoxicated. But the last gentleman who saw him alive said, that he saw him lying upon the floor intoxicated. It appeared, that subsequently a fire burst out, that the man was burnt, but it was most distinctly stated the flames had been put out by Mr. Magann. During those six days in which he survived, he had let drop no remark impugning the conduct of any of the parties present; and, before he had died he said, "If it had not been for Mr. Magann I should have been burnt to death—God bless him." Upon the whole, therefore, he was bound to come to the conclusion, that there was no evidence of foul play, or of an intention to screen any part of this transaction. But there was one circumstance which he thought not unimportant. Mr. Magann, whose conduct had been principally impugned, had thought fit to take the only course open to him—to institute an action for damages against the proprietor and editor of the paper which had published the statement. The action he had instituted was not by criminal information; but it was an action for damages on the ground of libel, and the opposing party would be called upon to plead the truth as a justification. Considering that the jury had decided, that the fatal termination of the unhappy business was accidental death, and that the gentleman principally concerned had instituted an action which would lead to a further and fuller inquiry, he thought that the Government had no grounds, and would not be justified in directing any additional investigation. He hoped, that as the motion for the papers was not opposed, he had now said enough. He always wished for every investigation into cases of this nature, and, therefore, he had not opposed the motion. But he thought, that he had said enough to induce the House to suspend its judgment, if not to persuade them to think, that the Government had acted upon no such principle as that with which they had been charged—of having one law for the rich and another for the poor. There was no ground for the imputations which the hon. Gentleman had thrown out. He had made simply a motion for the production of papers, but in his speech he had directed the attention of the House to a variety of topics, having no possible connection with that motion. He had alluded to certain trials during the last assizes; but first he had referred to the dismissal of certain stipendiary magistrates by the present Government. On this subject he could inform the House, that there were precisely the same number of stipendiary magistrates now as there were at this time last year. Those which had been reduced had been appointed by the late Government in 1841. They had been led to believe, that during the preceding years the country was in a state of great tranquillity, and they only reduced the number to that amount to which it had been reduced in those years, and which was thought necessary for the due preservation of peace. With regard to the trials, not having been upon the spot, and having had no notice of the present motion, he confessed, that he was not in a condition to meet the statements of the hon. Gentleman. In this respect, he thought, that the hon. Gentleman had not acted fairly towards him, in introducing these topics; but if he would bring them forward, he would promise to give him the best information. He did not know whether he had satisfied the House as to the conduct of the Government, but he hoped that, at any rate, he had said enough to induce the House to suspend its judgment on the subject.

Mr. C. Powell

did not charge these young Gentlemen with premeditated cruelty; but he was of opinion, that to act as the Government had done, certainly was not the way that a Government ought to act which wished to show the population that protection should be given them, and that their arms were stretched out to defend them against the rich. He hoped the noble Lord would not only give the papers, but have the matter fully investigated; and he was quite certain, that when the noble Lord perused all the papers relative to the matter, he would not come to the same conclusion that the coroner's jury had done.

Mr. V. Sluart

observed, that the coroner's inquest was by far the most constitutional mode of inquiry, for a person appointed by the Government might be biassed by them; and unless there were very strong grounds indeed shewn for saying that the jury had not done their duty, the verdict ought not to be upset.

Mr. Wakley

said, that if the coroner's jury had not done their duty, the friends or relatives of this unfortunate man might prefer an indictment, notwithstanding the verdict. If the coroner was aware, that thirteen of the jury were tenants of Mr. Magann, it was quite unjustifiable in him to allow them to remain on it. With respect to the conduct of the Irish executive, he was bound to state, that there was nothing on the face of the inquisition or the depositions calculated to show, that the Government ought to go into a further investigation.

Question agreed to.