HC Deb 16 March 1860 vol 157 cc729-31

said, he rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, if his attention has been called to the fact, that the body of a man, of the name of Thomas Edward Kean, recently found dead in the woods near Seal, in Kent, was interred without any inquest being held upon it; and what steps have been taken in consequence? He was satisfied that not only the local authorities, but the Home Office had not done their duty on this occasion. It ap- peared that, in 1858, this unfortunate man became insane, and was placed in Colney Hatch Asylum, whence he was afterwards sent out sane. He returned home, and resumed his ordinary occupation, but towards the close of the year be suddenly disappeared, and no more was heard of him till his wife received a letter from the superintendent of the police in Kent, stating that the body of a man which, from its appearance, must be her husband, had been found in the woods, and had been buried, as it was supposed he had died from cold. He asked the question on this ground, that this man was a Member of a benefit society, to which he hoped many of the Members of the House belonged—the Ancient Order of Foresters—and the rules of that Society required that before relief in case of death was given, the death, and the cause of death, should be set forth. Now, the burying of the body without a coroner's inquest rendered this information impossible. Inquiries had since been instituted, and it appeared that this poor man had gone into a public-house in the neighbourhood of the place where the body was found, and had some bread and cheese, and having no money to pay for them, though-he had a ring on his finger, the humane landlord ordered him to pull off his boots to pay for his refreshment, and in that state he appeared to have wandered into the woods. It was quite clear that in this case an inquest ought to have been held, and that, in neglecting it, the law had been violated.


said, this was one of a class of cases which unfortunately often occurred in Kent in consequence of the disputes between the coroner and the magistrates, who refused to allow the expenses for holding inquests, unless necessity was clearly shown to exist. In some counties a compromise took place by which the coroner received his fees when notice to hold an inquest was given to him by the police constable; because as the police constable had no pecuniary interest in inquests it was presumed that he would not give unnecessary notices. Of course the coroner could hold an inquest without such notice, but it was at the risk of not receiving his fees if it should turn out that the inquest was unnecessary. But this system was not introduced into Kent. The system worked extremely ill, and some change of the law was imperiously! required.


thought he could show the House that the Home Office had not neglected its duty in this case. As it had no power of compulsion in those unfortunate disputes which so often existed between coroners and magistrates, all the Home Office could do was to bring a Bill into Parliament, which should have the effect of settling these disputes. That they had done, the Bill being now before a Select Committee. With respect to the present case the Home Office had written to the coroner to know why an inquest had not been held. In reply, he received a statement that the man had appealed as a stranger at Seal, and was last seen in a place where, having no money, he had left his boots in pledge; that he appeared subsequently to have divested himself of his coat and trousers; that there were no marks of violence on him; and that it was supposed he had died in a fit. This, of course, was a gratuitous supposition; but the real reason appeared to come out in the latter portion of the letter, in which the coroner stated that he was placed in a very delicate position, because the magistrates of Kent required him to send in along with his bill of charges a statement of what criminal act or criminal neglect had appeared to render the inquest necessary, and the magistrates thereon decided whether this was sufficient to justify an inquest, without which his fees were not paid. If that rule were adopted he could not say that it was a fair one.


said, as some blame had been cast on the magistrates of Kent in these statements, he trusted the House would allow him to say one word in their defence. There was not the slightest ground for supposing that in a case of this kind any difficulties would be thrown by the magistrates in the way of holding an inquest. It was true the magistrates had laid down a rule that the Coroner's bill of fees should be accompanied with a short statement of the reasons which induced him to think that an inquest was necessary; but it was also true that the magistrates invariably allowed the expenses of the coroner in going to the place where a death had occurred, and making those pleminary inquiries that were necessary to satisfy him that an inquest ought to be held. He had no doubt in the world that if the Coroner had done this in the present instance, no objection would have been made to it; but he was inclined to believe that the coroner had not made these preliminary inquiries.