§ Mr. M. Gibson
wished to call the attention of the House to a petition which he presented a short time ago from Mr. John Heathcote, who was a superintendent of factories up to last year, and who up to that time was admitted to have discharged the duties of his office with zeal, ability, and integrity, and he believed with perfect satisfaction to the various inspectors of factories under whom he had been employed. Mr. John Heathcote had been dismissed from his office in April, 1843, upon a charge of having written a certain anonymous letter, addressed to the hon. Member for Knaresborough, and having denied that he had done so. The complaint, as he understood the case, was not so much the writing the letter, for he believed that there was nothing in it which would be objectionable for any man to acknowledge; as it merely suggested 1624 certain amendments in the new Factory Bill; but that, having been written to by Mr. Horner, asking him whether he was the author of the letter in question, he distinctly denied it; and that his statement was not believed; and, therefore, he was dismissed from his office. He was willing to admit that, in most instances, it was inexpedient for that House to interfere with the exercise of that discretionary power which must be possessed by every Government over its subordinate officers. The only cases where he thought any interference on the part of the House could be justified, was when the head of the department did not seem to have been in possession of the facts of the case, or that he had laboured under some misapprehension in the exercise of his discretionary power. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would do him the justice to believe that he only brought forward this case as one of misapprehension, and not as intending to convey any charge against him; and he was sure if, on hearing the facts of the case which he intended to state to the House, the right hon. Gentleman felt that justice had not been done to the petitioner, that he would thank him for having called his attention to the subject. He would now proceed to state the case. It appeared that on the 25th of March, 1843, the hon. Member for Knaresborough received an anonymous letter, signed "An Overlooker," which did not seem to have been of any great importance, as it merely suggested some alterations in the Factory Bill; and that hon. Member handed this letter over to the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire, who submitted it to Mr. Horner, the Inspector of Factories, who, on seeing it, said, that it was in the handwriting of Mr. John Heathcote, one of the superintendents of factories in his district. Mr. Horner wrote by that night's post to Mr. Heathcote, stating that he had in his possession this anonymous letter, directed to the hon. Member for Knaresborough, and that the handwriting so nearly resembled that of Mr. Heathcote, that it was hardly possible that it could be written by any other person; he, therefore, wished to know whether that was the case or not. Mr. Heathcote immediately replied; and in his letter to Mr. Horner seriously denied having written an anonymous letter in the course of his life, and also denying having written 1625 this letter, or having any knowledge of it. Mr. Horner, when he received this denial, ordered Mr. Heathcote to proceed to the discharge of his official duties in a certain part of his district; he, therefore, led Mr. Heathcote to believe that, the denial which he had given to the charge was satisfactory, and that he should hear no more about it. But not so, for Mr. Horner, in the mean time, laid his complaint before the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, and transmitting at the same time the anonymous letter, a copy of his own letter to Mr. Heathcote, and the reply to it which he had received. With all respect to Mr. Horner in other matters he (Mr. Gibson) must say that he thought that he did wrong in doing so, without, at the same time, giving Mr. Heathcote notice of his intention of laying this charge before the Home Office. The right hon. Gentleman entertained the charge, and by his Under Secretary wrote to Mr. Heathcote, asking whether he could justify himself in an explanation of his conduct. In his reply, Mr. Heathcote said, that he had no explanation to offer, and that for the best of all reasons, as he knew nothing about the anonymous letter beyond what Mr. Horner had told him, and he was utterly in the dark as to when or with whom it had originated, or what was its purport; he, therefore, only solemnly denied that he had written the letter. The right hon. Baronet did not think that this was satisfactory, and Mr. Heathcote received another letter from the Home Office, saying that his explanation was not deemed satisfactory; he, therefore, wrote another letter, couched nearly in the same terms as his former one, and in which he again solemnly denied that he was the writer or author of the anonymous letter, directed to Mr. Ferrand, signed "An Overlooker." The similarity of the handwriting, however, between these letters and the anonymous one was such, in the estimation of the Home Office, as to more than counterbalance in the mind of the right hon. Baronet the weight of the assertion of Mr. Heathcote, denying that he had written it. From what he had learned and knew of Mr. Heathcote, he felt that that gentleman was not a man whose word was to be doubted on light grounds, and he knew that he was a person who was regarded with the highest respect, by all 1626 classes in the district in which he is known. The right hon. Baronet, however, in spite of this, on the 29th of April, 1843, dismissed Mr. Heathcote from his office, and in the communication to him announcing this, stated that he did not conceive that it was for the benefit of the public service that after what had passed he should continue to hold the office of superintendent of factories. Mr. Heathcote was, therefore, formally dismissed He now came to some singular circumstances connected with this case. Shortly after Mr. Heathcote received his dismissal a Mr. John Gilbert, his nephew, on finding what had taken place, came forward and avowed that he was the author of the anonymous letter supposed to have been written by his uncle. This statement of Mr. Gilbert made no difference in the proceeding, for it seemed to be considered at the Home Office, that that young man had been induced to tell a falsehood for the purpose of screening his uncle. Corroborative evidence, however, had been found to this statement of Gilbert; for a person had come forward and declared, that he had instigated the nephew to write this letter. In a communication which this person had made to Gilbert, he said:—It was at my suggestion that the anonymous letter was written by you to Mr. Ferrand, and I did not suppose that it could have been attributed to your relative. You did right to refer to me, and if it is thought desirable I am ready to come forward, as I do not wish to shrink from any responsibility that I may have incurred.Was, then, he would ask, the mere semblance of handwriting to counterbalance the solemn assurance of these persons of high character, and whose words had not previously been disputed? Mr. Heathcote made a solemn declaration before the Mayor of Manchester, that he was not the author of the letter in question. Mr. Gilbert also went before the Mayor, and made a declaration that he was the author of the letter. The right hon. Gentleman would perhaps say that there was no resemblance between the writing of Mr. Gilbert and the anonymous letter, and that the letter bore a much nearer resemblance to the writing of Mr. Heathcote than to that of Mr. Gilbert. The right hon. Baronet had allowed him and his hon. Friend, the Member for Salford, to inspect these letters at the Home Office, 1627 and to see whether the evidence of the handwriting would not lead them to a different conclusion from that which they had previously arrived at. He went to the Home Office with his hon. Friend to inspect these letters. His hon. Friend was decidedly of opinion that the writing in the anonymous letter did not at all resemble that of Mr. Heathcote. His own conclusion was that there was a stronger resemblance between the handwriting of Mr. Heathcote and the anonymous letter, than between that of Mr. Gilbert and the letter; but this was not sufficient to induce him to say that the writing was that of Mr. Heathcote. Nothing, however, was more uncertain in the proceedings in a Court of Justice than evidence respecting handwriting. The most contradictory evidence was constantly adduced when any question respecting handwriting arose; and there was almost always great doubt as to arriving at a sound decision. He would, on this point, refer to a case that occurred a few years ago before Mr. Baron Alderson, in which a man of the name of Isaac Looker was indicted for sending a threatening letter. The case he was about to quote was in the Annual Register for 1831. The evidence in this case was contradictory as to the handwriting. Several witnesses swore that the writing was that of the prisoner, and evidence was also given as to the resemblance of the paper on which the threatening letter was written to some found in the prisoner's house, and this induced the Jury to find him guilty. He might here observe that he believed that some weight was attached to the circumstance that the anonymous letter was written on similar paper to that usually used by Mr. Heathcote. The account thus proceeds:—The Jury returned a verdict of guilty. Mr. Justice Alderson proceeded to pass sentence: The Jury have found you guilty, on evidence which must satisfy every reasonable man, that—Prisoner: My Lord, I am innocent. I never touched the paper. I never wrote a line of it. My Lord, I am innocent.—Mr. Justice Alderson: You have been found guilty of a crime, which is certainly not mitigated by your denial after such evidence—a crime which strikes at the very root of society, by tending to obstruct the due administration of justice.—The prisoner here again interrupted his Lordship, and said: My Lord, I declare I am innocent; I never wrote the paper; I never put my hand to it. The desk in which the piece of blank paper was found, was open to five or six persons in the house, 1628 as well as to myself. My Lord, the law may find me guilty, but it cannot make me so. I now declare solemnly, that I am innocent of this crime.—The learned Judge proceeded; I cannot attend to these asseverations, for we all know that a man who can be guilty of such an offence as that of which you have been convicted, will not hesitate to deny it as you now do. I would rather trust to such evidence as has been given in your case, than to the most solemn declaration, even on the scaffold; for we know that they are persisted in by men in whose case, from all that has come before the Court, there can be no doubt whatever; and sitting to administer justice, I must not be deterred by your repeated denials, from doing my duty, in passing on you the sentence of the law, which is transportation for life. The Jury now obtained permission to leave Court for a time to get some refreshment, and the Judge also retired. During their absence, a young man, apparently about 17 or 18 years old, the son of the prisoner, was brought to the table by the solicitor who conducted the defence. He there acknowledged that it was he who wrote the letters, and not his father. A piece of paper was then given to him, and he wrote from memory a copy of the letter sent to Rowland. When compared with the original, there could be no doubt that the handwriting was the same. The copy was not a verbatim transcript of the original, but there was very little difference, and in all the words badly spelt in the original, the same spelling was adhered to in the copy. He then was shown the original and told to copy it, which he did verbatim. The handwriting in both were exactly similar. On the return of the learned Judge to Court, these facts were made known to him, and the copies of the letter were laid before him by Mr. Everett, the counsel for Looker. The Court was also informed, that the son had acknowledged that be wrote the letters, and did so in order to save his cousins, who had been accused of breaking machines. His Lordship expressed his surprise that these facts had not been brought forward at the trial, or at least before he passed sentence. He could not account for it, and without meaning to impute that it was so, he must say that it looked like a trick. However, he would have all the facts laid before him, and would give them due consideration, for though the application came late, yet it never was too late to do what was right. It was at last determined to try the prisoner on one of the other two indictments against him for sending similar letters, to give him an opportunity of bringing before the Jury the new facts. He was accordingly tried, on the 7th, for sending a threatening letter to Mr. Woodman. The evidence on both sides was the same as on the previous trial, except that the prisoner called his son Edward Looker, who was cautioned by the Judge that he need not answer any question to criminate himself.1629 The evidence of this young man was such as to induce the Jury to acquit the father; and on the representation of the Judge he was afterwards pardoned. The son was then tried, and pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to be transported for seven years. In the present case, he did not conceive that they were justified in charging Mr. Heathcote with falsehood, and thereby leave a stain or reproach on his character, which must prove injurious to him in all his future prospects in life, and, above all, as Mr. Heathcote never has had access to the tribunal by which he has been punished, or seen the documents, including the anonymous letter, upon which these proceedings have been taken. This was a most tremendous sentence to pass on any man upon such slight and uncertain evidence. He knew that it was a power which must be entrusted to a government to dismiss a person from a subordinate situation if he did not act in harmony with the superior officers of the department. The right hon. Baronet might be fully justified in dismissing an officer on such a ground, but it did not appear that any such cause of complaint existed in the present case. He quite agreed that the Government must have a discretionary power in their hands as to the removal of their officers, but at the same time a certain degree of confidence ought to exist between the employer and the employed, so that the latter should feel that they would not be capriciously dismissed. In Mr. Heathcote's case there was no evidence that he did not discharge the duties of his office with ability, zeal, and integrity; on the contrary he believed that Mr. Horner himself said, that if Mr. Heathcote could purge himself of having written the anonymous letter, he would with pleasure act again with him. Under the present circumstances, it was the general belief in Lancashire that Mr. Heathcote had been dismissed for having told a falsehood; but the prevailing feeling was, that Mr. Heathcote had not had a fair trial, or the opportunity of meeting the charge which had been brought against him. He had received several letters from the leading persons in Manchester, as well as in the county of Lancashire, on both sides in politics, and against some of whom it had been the duty of Mr. Heathcote to proceed under the Factories Act, and it therefore might be supposed that they would not regard him with any favour, but they one 1630 and all came forward and bore testimony as to his high character and as to the fair mode in which he had discharged his public duties. None of these persons believed that Mr. Heathcote would tell a falsehood, and they urged that he might have the opportunity of seeing the documents, and of knowing directly upon what grounds he had been dismissed, and that the whole proceedings in this case should be revised, with a view to do justice. He hoped that he had done no injury to the case of Mr. Heathcote by the course which he had taken. He at once admitted that the steps which had been taken had not been adopted from any feeling of caprice, but that they had arisen from a misapprehension in the mind of the right hon. Baronet. Indeed, he was not aware that the right hon. Gentleman was in possession of all the facts of the case, and more especially of the third person having come forward to acknowledge that he had instigated the writing of the anonymous letter. He should not trespass on the time of the House further, but move that the Petition of Mr. John Heathcote, presented on the 25th of July, be taken into consideration.
§ Sir J. Graham
observed, that he had no reason to complain of the manner in which the hon. Gentleman had brought the case before the House, and nothing could be more fair than the statement which he had made. In the first place he wished the House to be assured that in the execution of his official duties, nothing was so painful as to discharge them in matters of this kind, and he could state with satisfaction that he had, since he had been in office, only dismissed two persons from their offices. There was nothing of a political or personal nature in the course he had felt himself called upon to take with regard to the present question. He had never seen or heard of Mr. Heathcote, except in his official capacity, and he knew that many persons of the highest respectability in his neighbourhood had felt a deep interest in his case, and amongst others he might mention his noble Friend, the Member for South Lancashire, who had taken the greatest interest in Mr. Heathcote's favour. He had exercised a deliberate judgment, and he had applied his mind to this case, and nothing he had heard before or on that night, had shaken the conviction he had at first formed. He was anxious to announce his decision on this matter in the way calculated to give as little pain as possible. Mr. Heathcote held an office under the Factories Act during pleasure. 1631 He had been appointed by the Secretary of State to act as sub-inspector of factories, under Mr. Horner. Mr. Heathcote was well known to Mr. Horner and to Mr. Saunders, another inspector. It appeared an anonymous letter was sent to Mr. Ferrand, who forwarded it to Lord Ashley, and by that noble Lord it was sent to Mr. Horner. There was internal evidence that this letter was written by a sub-inspector of factories, for it made use of a great number of technical terms which were only used in the books of the factory inspectors. Immediately Mr. Horner saw the letter, he challenged it as having been written by Mr. Heathcote, and he showed it to Mr. Saunders, his brother inspector, who entirely agreed with him as to the handwriting. He did not know that there was anything in the letter itself that was very objectionable, or which called for remark; but the real and substantial offence was, that when Mr. Horner wrote to him to ask him whether he was the writer of this letter, he solemnly denied that he wrote it. That denial was the whole case. Mr. Heathcote was called upon by Mr. Horner to say whether he was the writer of the anonymous letter signed "An Overlooker." Mr. Heathcote denied it, but Mr. Horner entertained the strongest opinion that the denial was not well founded, and he believed that, under the circumstances of the case, it was his duty to submit the matter to him (Sir James Graham). On receiving this communication, he directed the Under-Secretary of State to write to Mr. Heathcote, and thus give him an opportunity of further considering the subject, and to say whether he did or did not write the letter. An answer had been received to the letter of the Under-Secretary, and he held in his hand that answer as well as the anonymous letter; and he would ask any one to compare them, and then say whether he entertained any reasonable doubt as to their being written by the same person. That letter from Mr. Heathcote stated that he had to acknowledge the receipt of the letter of the 19th, and he begged for the information of Sir James Graham, positively and solemnly to deny that he had written the anonymous letter to Mr. Ferrand. Another curious coincidence in this case was, that the paper on which this answer was written was the same as that on which the anonymous letter was written. On examining the whole case, and after the best consideration that he could give to it, he entertained the strongest moral conviction 1632 that both letters were written by the same person. He had then put these letters into the hands of Mr. Maule, the solicitor to the Treasury, and desired him to send them to the proper officers of the Post Office, to obtain their opinion as to whether they were written by the same person. The Inspectors of the Post Office compared carefully the anonymous letter, the answer to the Under-Secretary, and some other letters which were in the Home Office, and which had been received from Mr. Heathcote and three officers who were in the constant habit of comparing the handwriting of persons, unanimously declared that they were all in the same handwriting. He could then come to no other decision than that the anonymous letter was written by Mr. Heathcote, and this too, after his solemn denial of the fact. It was impossible under such circumstances, that Mr. Horner could execute his duty, in association with one, of whom, however high might have been the opinion he entertained formerly, he was compelled now to believe had solemnly denied that which he had surely done. It was impossible, under such circumstances, to do otherwise than dismiss Mr. Heathcote, although in doing so, he did not think fit to assign any other reason than that it was not necessary for the public service to retain him. It was to be observed, that Mr. Gilbert had not come forward before the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote, to say that he was the writer of the anonymous letter. Now, he must observe, that he had compared Mr. Gilbert's letter with the anonymous letter, and he had the strongest possible conviction, that the letter of Mr. Gilbert was not written by the person who was the writer of the anonymous letter. Again, too, he had taken the same course with this letter, that he had with Mr. Heathcote's letter, and sent it to Mr. Maule, the solicitor of the Treasury, and this was the answer that he received—that the solicitor of the Treasury had compared the letter of Mr. Gilbert with the anonymous letter, and was of opinion that they were not written by the same hand; and that he had also compared Mr. Heathcote's letter of the 20th of April (a letter which had been written subsequently) with the anonymous letter, and was of opinion that the two were in the same handwriting. Let them, then, see how the case stood: a letter appeared to have been written by a person who denied that it was his handwriting, and yet was, by the most competent authorities, 1633 and by others who were quite impartial, affirmed to be his handwriting; whilst it was also declared that the same letter was not in the handwriting of the individual who professed to have written it. But then the hon. Gentleman adduced the case tried by Mr. Baron Alderson, where there was a mistake as to handwriting; but surely the hon. Gentleman must perceive that there was the broadest distinction between the two cases. There the real writer was discovered, and his handwriting was found to be the same both in the anonymous letter and in the trial specimen; but here the nephew was brought forward as the writer, and the letter upon examination appeared not to be in his handwriting. But then there was the circumstance of a gentleman having communicated to Mr. Gilbert certain facts. He was very unwilling in that place to express his opinion as to such an explanation; but he could not avoid saying this—that he had no doubt whatever, that as to the letter, whether it was written by Mr. Gilbert, or written by Mr. Heathcote, to the hon. Member for Knaresborough, it was written in concert between Gilbert and Heathcote, and he had also no doubt whatever in his own mind, that it was written by Mr. Heathcote. He had also no doubt as to the truth that it was a third party that had suggested the writing of the letter. He did not complain of the mode of bringing forward this question. If he had come to an erroneous or an unjust decision, no person would be more willing to revise it—none could more readily acknowledge the fallacy of his judgment and none could feel more deep sorrow and regret, if he found that in any form justice had not been done by him, or that he had acted with undue harshness to an innocent person. But he could assure hon. Gentlemen, that, looking dispassionately to this matter, he was bound still to say, that the facts of the case were conclusive against Mr. Heathcote. The decision that he had come to rested upon irresistible documentary evidence. It was capable of ocular proof. Most willing was he to afford the hon. Gentleman, as well as the hon. Member for Salford, the opportunity of seeing the evidence on which he had decided. He had not thought it expedient to have a personal interview with the gentleman, for it would only be painful to hear him declare his innocence, and to repeat the conviction which was on his own mind unalterable. When he said, that he had no objection to 1634 make this statement, he must at the same time say, that he did not think it expedient that the House, which had to act in its legislative capacity, should be converted into a Court of Appeal against the Executive; for if he were to be responsible for the duties that he performed, he must exercise them according to his own conscience and judgment with reference to the dismissal of officers, who held their offices during pleasure, and with whose public conduct he was dissatisfied.
§ Mr. Brotherton
was so convinced of the truth of the statement of Mr. Heathcote, that he brought the matter before the Secretary of State. He had not desired that the subject should come before the House, but he wished to get sight of the documents on which Mr. Heathcote had been condemned. Now he must say this, that Mr. Heathcote had satisfied him that the anonymous letter of the 25th of March did not come from him, for he had then been from home for a considerable time, and did not return until a late hour on Saturday night, whilst the anonymous letter was written by Mr. Gilbert on the afternoon of that day. In the next place, it was to be considered, that Mr. Heathcote, who denied writing this letter had always borne a respectable character, and never had been impeached in any way. He did not wish to say a word against Mr. Horner, and yet he conscientiously believed, from an inspection of the documents, that Mr. Heathcote was not the writer of the letter. The right hon. Baronet said, that there was internal evidence in the style of the letter, that it was dictated by a sub-inspector. Why, Mr. Wood, the third party had been a sub-inspector, and therefore was likely to dictate a letter in the style of a sub-inspector. Mr. Gilbert, too, was in the habit of writing out the returns for his uncle, and therefore used the same paper. There were then three things to be taken into consideration to show that Mr. Heathcote was not the writer of the letter. The first was, that Mr. Heathcote was from home when the letter was written; secondly, there was the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote; thirdly, there was the avowal of Mr. Gilbert, that he was the writer; and lastly, there was the avowal of Mr. Wood, that he was the instigator of the letter being written. He could imagine a prejudice being created in the minds of Mr. Horner and Mr. Saunders, from one circumstance—there was the sentence in the 1635 anonymous letter, that the inspectors making the returns should reside in their own districts, and it was notorious that Mr. Horner and Mr. Saunders did not reside in those districts, and that statement, he said, might excite a prejudice in their minds. Here, then, they had the piteous spectacle of a gentleman, with his family, thrown upon the wide world, on a charge the truth of which he solemnly denied. An objection had been made to Mr. Gilbert in not coming forward at an earlier period. It was not until Mr. Gilbert knew that the matter was so serious, and that his uncle was dismissed, that he came forward and avowed himself as the writer. There was no necessity for him to do so before. He had looked at these letters—he believed Mr. Heathcote not to be the writer of the anonymous letter, and yet he agreed with his hon. Friend, that there was not as great a difference between the anonymous letter and Mr. Heathcote's, as there was between the anonymons letter and that in which Mr. Gilbert avowed himself to be the writer. And yet, he said, if they examined Mr. Heathcote's letter, they would find a peculiarity in writing the "R's," which was not to be found in Mr. Gilbert's, nor in the anonymous letter. He had there a letter written by Mr. Gilbert, in his presence, that day; let them compare that with the anonymous letter, and they would then see the difference between both and Mr. Heathcote's handwriting. There was not in either a dot over the R. In defending Mr. Heathcote he begged to say, that he had no connection with that Gentleman in any way; he believed he differed from that Gentleman, and all his family, in politics. He was anxious, however, to see that Gentleman reinstated, or, if he could not be reinstated, at least to have his characte cleared from all impeachment—to find him freed from the brand of a crime of which he was certainly not guilty.
§ Mr. Bright
remarked, that it was not to be wondered that Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Heathcote should have used the same sort of paper, considering the connexion that had existed between them. As to the phrase, "starting the mills," it was one universally used in his part of the country, and Mr. Gilbert must have been intimately acquainted with that and other terms. The writing of the letter itself was not a grave offence, and what motive, he asked, could Mr. Heathcote have had for denying it. [Sir James Graham: His 1636 superior officer wrote to him, intimating his displeasure.] He doubted whether such could be a temptation to a man of honourable feeling to deny the truth. Let them look to the manner in which Mr. Heathcote had denied it. He made the denial in a solemn declaration before the Mayor of Manchester, and Mr. Gilbert, in a solemn declaration, declared that he had written it. Why, he would not hang a dog upon such evidence as had here been deemed sufficient to deprive Mr. Heathcote of his situation. Let them look to the writing of the words, "An Overlooker," and they would see the difference. He saw that in a case a few days ago, in an action on an indorsement for a bill for 1,200l., the judgment of the Court was against the opinion of Mr. Maule. [Sir J. Graham: That was as to the mere signature.] Mr. Heathcote had now been for fifteen months endeavouring to remove the stain from his character. For some months he had been wailing in London with this object, and came to that House as his last resource. Nothing he was sure but a strong feeling of honour, and a deep consciousness of innocence, could induce a man to take all this trouble. He did not mean to make any charge against Mr. Horner, but it might, perhaps, so happen that he had laid the matter before the Home Office without due consideration; and there were very strong grounds for believing that if the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, could be brought to view this matter in a different light, Mr. Horner would not have any objection again to co-operate with Mr. Heathcote. Mr. Heathcote had for a long period fulfilled his duty to the Government and the public in a most efficient manner, and he did so at a time when the carrying of the Factory Act into operation was an unpopular one; and he was now, in consequence of an accident, to be removed, although he positively denied having written this letter. After having efficiently fulfilled his duty for so many years, it would be a great hardship if he were to be deprived of the situation which he had held, and worse than all, deprived of the high character which he had hitherto borne. He should be very glad if the right hon. Baronet would take some further steps, in order to ascertain whether or not he might have formed an erroneous opinion.
§ Mr. B. Escott
said, it would be difficult 1637 satisfactorily to come to a decision on such a subject as that in the House of Commons—a subject of very great importance to the individuals concerned. It appeared to him that there was a deficiency in the reasons which the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department had assigned for the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote. He stated that the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote was in consequence of his having denied having written a certain anonymous letter, which he (Sir James Graham) believed he had written. The proof of his having written that letter depended solely and entirely upon the similarity of the handwriting of Mr. Heathcote. [Sir J. Graham: Not solely and entirely.] It had been sent by the right hon. Baronet to competent authorities, and they, having compared it with Mr. Heathcote's handwriting, declared that they were similar; but he would ask if Mr. Heathcote had been called on to give any explanation. Had he been allowed to call witnesses in order to disprove the charge which was made against him. Had his nephew been called for by the Home Office, to make any statement in order to corrobate or disprove the statement of Mr. Heathcote; or, had the third party who had been alluded to in the transaction been called in order to throw any light on those proceedings? [Sir J. Graham: His appointment was held during pleasure.] The Secretary of State had not taken that ground in accounting for the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote. He based his observations upon the alleged similarity of handwriting, and he should say that he did not think that was a sufficient ground for the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote. It appeared to him that the handwriting of Gilbert and the handwriting in the anonymous letter were so much alike, that the charge against Mr. Heathcote so far as it was founded on the similarity of his writing with that in the anonymous letter fell to the ground. He had looked at the letter and at the handwriting of Mr. Heathcote and Mr. Gilbert, and considering the general similarity in the writing of commercial persons, he should say that he thought there was a greater similarity between the writing of Gilbert and the writing of the anonymous letter, than between the writing of Heathcote and the letter.
§ Mr. Manners Sutton
did not wish to say one word more of Mr. Heathcote in con- 1638 nexion with this transaction than what was absolutely necessary. He believed that his hon. Friend (Mr. Escott) had hardly understood the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department, for he seemed to think that the dismissal of Mr. Heathcote rested solely upon the similarity of handwriting. There were other grounds, however; there was internal evidence; there was a similarity of paper and ink, and there were two letters which appeared to be twin letters, and which looked as if they had been written on separate halves of the same sheet of paper. It was brought forward by Mr. Horner, and what was Mr. Heathcote's defence? It was a simple denial of the charge. Now, that had not been deemed satisfactory, and when the Secretary of State did not deem it satisfactory, was he to continue in office a man in whom his superior officer (Mr. Horner), who was responsible, had not confidence? Mr. Heathcote had failed to clear himself in the opinion of Mr. Horner, and it would, under such circumstances, be hardly dealing fairly with Mr. Horner to hold him responsible for the discharge of the duties of a subordinate officer in whom he had no confidence. But that was not stated when Mr. Heathcote was dismissed. Who, he would ask, put it on the issue whether Mr. Heathcote wrote the letter or not? Mr. Heathcote himself had done so; but he (Mr. Sutton) did not blame him for that, as he might think that he had a right to do so as an honest man. All the authorities to whom the handwriting was exhibited agreed in thinking that there was a similarity between the handwriting of Mr. Heathcote and the handwriting of the anonymous letter, and the Secretary of State agreed in that opinion. Under such circumstances, he could hardly think the Secretary of State justified in retaining an officer in whom his superior officer had not confidence. He had now, for the first time, heard of the similarity between the handwriting of Mr. Gilbert and the handwriting of the anonymous letter, for he had never before heard more than one opinion as to the similarity between the handwriting of Mr. Heathcote and the handwriting of the anonymous letter.
§ Mr. Hawes
was disposed to think that Mr. Heathcote was not the writer of the anonymous letter. The Home Office assumed that he was, because his real letters agreed with it. Mr. Gilbert's real letters, 1639 said the Home Office, did not resemble the anonymous letter, which did resemble Mr. Heathcote's avowed letters, but, if they assumed that Mr. Gilbert might have disguised his handwriting, they accounted for one great difficulty in the case. Mr. Gilbert frequently wrote letters for Mr. Heathcote; he was his nephew and in his confidence, and it was not unreasonable to suppose that his letters should resemble those of Mr. Heathcote. If that were so, it was not improbable that the anonymous letter should slightly resemble the handwriting of Mr. Heathcote. He had inspected those letters, and was not satisfied that Mr. Heathcote had written the anonymous letter. The internal evidence was, that there was a short tabular statement in the letter which partook of the knowledge of one who had access to the books of the inspector. But Mr. Gilbert, being the person who copied the papers of his uncle, might have possessed that knowledge as well. It was, therefore, perfectly consistent with that evidence that Mr. Gilbert should be the writer of the anonymous letter.
§ Mr. Wakley
thought there was no subject upon which they ought to be more reluctant to give a decided opinion than that of individual handwriting. Nothing could be more difficult than to say whose handwriting you were reading if there were no signature to it. He knew frequent instances of men being unable to recognise their own handwriting. One was that of a distinguished author in London, who had to complain of inaccuracies in the print, and, on being handed his own manuscript, had so much difficulty in deciphering it, that it was a long time before he could be convinced it was his own. After the courteous manner in which the House had treated the request of the right hon. Baronet in reconsidering the Factory Question, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would treat the request of the House now made in a similar manner, and consent to reconsider this question, in which the character of an individual was at stake.
§ Mr. Gibson
, in reply, observed, that it very often happened that persons in copying wrote very similarly to the manuscript before them; which would account for the resemblance between the handwriting of Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Heathcote. He was told that the handwriting of the Under Secretary of State frequently resembled that of the right hon. Baronet. Such being 1640 the case, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would consent to re-open the case, and not persist in convicting Mr. Heathcote, on insufficient evidence, of what left him liable to an imputation amounting to falsehood.
§ Sir J. Graham
Whether Mr. Heathcote has been guilty of falsehood or not is a question which has been raised not by me, but deliberately by Mr. Heathcote himself.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 16; Noes 23: Majority 7.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Aldam, W.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Borthwick, P.||Thornely, T.|
|Bright, J.||Wakley, T.|
|Duncan, G.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Escott, B.||Wyse, T.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.|
|Hawes, B.||Gibson, M.|
|Martin, J.||Brotherton, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Greene, T.|
|Baskerville, T. B. M.||Henley, J. W.|
|Brisco, M.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Masterman, J.|
|Cripps, W.||Palmer, G.|
|Dodd, G.||Pringle, A.|
|Eliot, Lord||Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.|
|Farnham, E. B.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Fellowes, E.||Stuart, H.|
|Forman, T. S.||Thesiger, Sir F.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||TELLERS.|
|Goulburn, rt. hn. H.||Young, J.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Sutton, M.|
§ House adjourned at a quarter to twelve o'clock.