HC Deb 18 May 1846 vol 86 cc811-5

begged to repeat his question regarding a statement which had appeared in the Hampshire Independent of May 9, in which a policeman was represented to have offered a bribe to a man named Silvester, to lay a false information under the game laws against a fisherman, named Bridger. [The hon. Gentleman read the statement at length.] The disgusting case had excited considerable sensation in the district; and well it might be called a disgusting case. His complaint was against a magistrate, a minister of the law, and against a policeman for offering blood money. The first attempt having failed, a more pliable agent was found; and that agent went to the house of a poor fisherman named Frederick Bridger, and in the absence of the man sold the game to the wife. For this offence she was dragged before the bench, and sentenced by Sir Charles Taylor to hard labour and imprisonment. The charge was, that she had bought game of a person not authorized to sell it; but how was the poor woman to know whether the person who offered the game was or was not licensed? The woman bought it not to sell again, but for consumption in her family: her child was ill, and it was a common opinion in that part of the country that the brains of a hare would cure the disorder; and certain it was that the child got better. The hon. Member, after referring to a variety of documents, concluded by asking whether Hale was still in the police force, and Sir C. Taylor in the commission of the peace for Hampshire?


reminded the House that when the question was formerly put to him, it related to an endeavour on the part of Hale, the policeman, to seduce Silvester to lay a trap, by inducing some person to purchase game. He (Sir James Graham) had, therefore, asked Sir Charles Taylor if there was any truth in the story; and by him he had been assured that it was utterly destitute of foundation. He had then called upon the magistrates who held the petty session at which the conviction took place to make their statement, and to accompany it by the evidence taken before them in the case. It would have been inferred from what was said on a former day, as well as this evening, that Sir C. Taylor was one of the convicting magistrates. The fact was not so: the convicting magistrates were Captain Lyon and Mr. Marden. Sir C. Taylor did not adjudicate, although he was present. Hale, the policeman, also positively denied the truth of the assertion, that he had had any conversation with Silvester about laying a trap for anybody. He (Sir J. Graham) was always reluctant to question the character of a person not willingly brought before the House, by the discretion, or perhaps in some cases indiscretion, of hon. Members; but he was bound to state as a fact capable of proof that Silvester was a convicted felon, having been found guilty of horse-stealing. Yet he was the person upon whose statement reliance was to be placed, and upon whose evidence an attack had been made upon the characters of Sir C. Taylor and Hale the policeman. It now appeared that the hon. Member had changed his ground, and shifted his issue to the case of Mrs. Bridger, who, it was alleged, had been entrapped into the purchase of a hare and a pheasant. Into this matter he (Sir James Graham) had yet had no opportunity of inquiring; but it seemed to rest upon what the hon. Member called affidavits, probably extra-judicial, and not of a legal character. The character of a magistrate had been assailed, and inquiries had been made to rebut the attack; and when it was supposed that that would be the question, another case, relating to different parties, appeared to have been got up. The case now brought forward by the hon. Member, he had yet had no opportunity of investigating; but he hoped the hon. Member would permit him to have copies of his affidavits, in order that, if no plan were found as to their regularity, and it turned out that the statements in them were false, the parties might be prosecuted and punished for perjury. [Mr. COLLETT: My question on a former day related to this case; and I call for an answer to it.] The question of the hon. Member related to an account in a provincial paper which he had read to the House, and which mentioned only that Hale, the policeman, had made a corrupt offer to Silvester. The reading of this account the hon. Member had followed up by his questions, the same as those put tonight, whether Hale was still in the police force, and Sir C. Taylor still in the commission of the peace? To those points he (Sir J. Graham) had addressed himself, and had furnished himself with an answer, considering the subject narrowed to the statements as regarded Hale and Sir C. Taylor. If there were any other instance of an attempt to trap an innocent person into the commission of an offence, it was new to him; but from long acquaintance with Sir C. Taylor, he had such confidence in his honour, that he was certain, as related to him, it had no foundation. He had felt so as regarded Hale and Silvester, and the same strong persuasion existed in his mind as regarded any other accusation of a similar kind subsequently made. He repeated that he should be happy to be furnished with the honourable Member's affidavits, in order that if they were not sustained by facts the parties might be prosecuted, and the charge be refuted in the most satisfactory manner.


repeated that Silvester having declined the job, Hale procured somebody else to tempt Mrs. Bridger to purchase the game. It seemed to him part of the same transaction.


admired the very natural sympathy displayed by most hon. Members whenever a charge was made against a magistrate. Such was the fact, and he believed that no Member would venture to deny it. Whether Silvester's story were true or not, the hon. Member for Athlone (Mr. Collett) had done good service by calling attention to it, because the statement had appeared uncontradicted in a widely circulated paper. Sir C. Taylor had taken no steps to contradict the report; and it purported to be a correct account of what had passed in the justice-room. There was no doubt that Mrs. Bridger had been trapped into the purchase of the game, and no doubt that she had been convicted when Sir C. Taylor was present, though perhaps not on the bench. [Sir J. GRAHAM: The conviction was signed by Captain Lyon and Mr. Marden.] Sir C. Taylor was present at the time, and the whole circumstances seemed suspicious. The poor woman was sent to Winchester gaol for a month for buying game of an unlicensed person; but how was she to ascertain whether the person had or had not authority to sell game? There was hardly a Member of Parliament who, a few years ago, did not buy as much game as he wanted of salesmen who were not allowed to have it in their possession. The fact was in evidence before Committees of both Houses. The poor innocent woman was sent to gaol for a month, and there she would now have been but for the kindness of the hon. Member for Athlone, who had sent down the fine and obtained her release. It had been said that Silvester was not a respectable man: perhaps so, but many who sold game were probably not more respectable. Although it might turn out that the case was not true in all its parts, the hon. Member for Athlone deserved credit for having brought it forward. Nobody knew better than the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department the gross misconduct of magistrates in cases connected with the game laws, and he (Mr. Bright) hoped that out of repeated instances of the kind would grow some measure to correct the abuse.


thought the hon. Member had wandered from the question, which was whether Sir C. Taylor was guilty of what, if true, must be considered as an infamous act. Now, charges like that brought forward could not but inflict pain on those who were the subject of them. Sir C. Taylor was an old gentleman, nearly eighty years of age, and had been brought before the public by the hon. Member as having been guilty of an act which could not be considered otherwise than as highly disgraceful. He thought it was really too bad. He knew Sir C. Taylor, who spent the income of his estate in providing labour for his poorer neighbours, and in acts of charity, and was utterly incapable of anything like what the hon. Member for Athlone had attributed to him.


had also the pleasure of being acquainted with Sir C. Taylor. He must say that he believed that great injustice had been done him on the present occasion. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the hon. Member for Athlone had departed from the question of which he had given notice, and had gone into a number of statements which it was impossible for any hon. Member to follow. With regard to Silvester, he knew that he had been convicted of horse-stealing, and he also knew that Hales was a most meritorious and excellent officer of the Hampshire force. Sir C. Taylor had been for thirty-four years a Member of that House, and for fifty years a magistrate, and the present was the first charge which had ever been brought against him—brought against him, too, on the evidence of a convicted horse-stealer.


called the hon. Member to order.

There was no question before the House, and the subject was dropped.