HC Deb 27 February 1843 vol 66 cc1340-3

On the Motion for reading the Order of the Day, for going into Committee of Supply,

Mr. Tatton Egerton

begged to detain the House for a few moments while he referred to a statement made the other evening by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), with respect to the treatment of certain prisoners in the Knutsford House of Correction. When it was considered, that the statement so made by the hon. Member affected in no slight degree the character of the magistrates who visited that gaol, he was sure he would be pardoned for bringing the report again under the attention of the House, for the purpose of correcting the inaccuracies into which the hon. Member for Finsbury had fallen. The hon. Member stated the other evening, that a certain prisoner, named Samuel Lees, having been placed on the treadmill on the Wednesday afternoon, was taken out again the next morning, contrary to all custom, and placed upon the treadmill,— For the amusement of several ladies and gentlemen, who were anxious to see the sport. And, further, that he was Sent to weave against his will, as he would be in the same building as thieves and vagabonds of the vilest description. Now, the statement of the magistrates was, that Lees had only been twice upon the treadmill—that he had never been taken out on any particular occasion— that he had not been made to tread the wheel for more than half an hour at any particular time—and that his labour was confined to weaving. In the case of another prisoner, Robert Wilde, the hon. Member (Mr. T. Duncombe) read an account, in which it was stated that when Wilde went into the prison, the governor told him— Now, you have been sent here to be punished, and I will take care you are punished; for, let your treatment be ever so lenient whilst you are here, I would not give much for your constitution when you go out. Now, the statement of the prisoner himself, as made to the visiting magistrates, was this: I remember the day when the governor of the gaol sent for the rules, and read them to us, telling us that they were very severe, and that if we did not obey them, we should be severely punished, having our bread stopped, and thereby endangering our constitutions. This sort of discipline might, possibly, have the appearance of great severity; but it was to be remembered, that it was a discipline enforced by the rules of the gaol, which were adopted under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and for which the visiting magistrates were not responsible. The prisoner Wilde stated further:— I never made any application to the governor for anything. The food is good, but the prisoners complain of the shortness of it. It appeared, however, that two of the prisoners were always appointed to see the food weighed and examined, in order, that the prisoners might not be cheated by shortness of weight. It was, of course, necessary that discipline should be enforced in the gaol; but the magistrates were most anxious that all the officers of the prison should exercise forbearance, and act with humanity towards the prisoners. He had felt it his duty to make this short statement, in reply to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury on Thursday last.

Mr. T. Duncombe

did not understand the statement, that had been made by the hon. Member for Cheshire. The hon. Gentleman stated, that the account he now gave of what took place in the gaol, came from the prisoner Wilde. The statement that he (Mr. Duncombe) gave the other evening also came from the prisoner Wilde, and he believed, that the statement so made by him was correct. With regard to any contradictions coming from prisoners of the statements made as to the improper management of the gaol, he thought such contradictions should be received with great caution inasmuch as those prisoners were, to a certain extent, under the control of the magistrate and the gaoler. James Allinson, the released prisoner, whose testimony he (Mr. Duncombe) had quoted the other evening, and who had been confined on the same side of the prison with Lees and Wilde was prepared to come forward and to confirm everything that he had stated, as to what had taken place in the House of Correction at Knutsford. It was singular that, although the statement which he made the other evening had appeared in the newspapers some time ago, the magistrates had never come forward with any contradiction of it until the circumstances were mentioned in Parliament. When he saw the newspaper account of the manner in which the prisoners were treated, he wrote to a gentleman in the neighbourhood to ascertain whether such an account could possibly be correct. That gentleman immediately sent over to Knutsford gaol, and had an interview with Wilde, whose condition and appearance he described as being most deplorable. He believed, that all the charges which Allinson had made could be fully substantiated.

Mr. T. Egerton

could only say that the magistrates courted the fullest investigation, and that he believed the Knutsford House of Correction to be one of the best conducted gaols in the country.

Sir J. Graham

The hon. Member for Finsbury stated, that Allinson was a perfectly credible witness. The statement of Allinson was certainly very much at variance with the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Cheshire. If it were true that Allinson was a credible witness, then he must say, that he thought the conversations which were alleged to have taken place between the gaoler and the prisoners, when they were first brought to the gaol, were very much to be regretted. It appeared to him, too, that there were other parts of Allinson's statement well worthy of investigation, and which called for a prompt and immediate inquiry. If, therefore, the hon. Gentleman would favour him with a copy of Allinson's statement, he would, undertake, on the part of the Government, that an inspector should proceed to Knutsford gaol to inquire into all the circumstances of the case. The report of that inspector would be made to the Home-office, and he would engage to lay it before the House.

Subject at an end.