MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to a statement in the newspapers that a child of the name of Thomas, aged nine years, was lately fined £5 11s. by a bench of magistrates at Maidstone for being found in possession of a snaro for catching rabbits, and, in default of payment, was sent to prison for three months; whether he has taken steps to ascertain the facts of the case; and, particularly, whether any evidence was laid before the magistrates to show that the child was acting at the instigation or was under the control of others?
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that on seeing the statement in the newspapers he immediately referred it to the chairman of the bench of magistrates at Maidstone, and requested him to furnish a report of the facts of the case. He received a report a few days afterwards, and it left no doubt as to the nature of the offence of which the boy was charged. That offence, however, was not quite accurately described, either in the newspaper statement or in the question put by the hon. and 1748 learned Member. The magistrates, in considering the amount of fine they should impose upon the boy, were guided by the knowledge that the boy was acting as the instrument and at the instigation of his parents; and the fine, though nominally imposed upon the boy, was intended practically to be imposed upon the parents. The magistrates believed the parents had ample means to pay the amount of the fine, and they were strengthened in that conviction by a knowledge of the fact that during the last five years members of the same family were, he believed, convicted and fined twenty-four times by the magistrates or at the County Courts, for breaches of the game laws, or for assaults connected with poaching. In fact, they lived by poaching, and in every one of these twenty-four cases the fine was paid forthwith. The result was the same in the present instance. The morning after the conviction of Thomas the mother came to the gaol, and paid the fine and expenses. The boy was immediately discharged, and he (Sir G. Grey) was informed that the mother, after paying the amount, said that had it been three times as large, she could have paid it.