HC Deb 09 June 1865 vol 179 cc1338-42

said, he rose to call the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the general practice which prevails on the part of the Constabulary in handcuffing all prisoners in their custody on their way to and from the place of detention, and to inquire whether he would have any objection to suggest to the Inspector General of Constabulary the desirability of issuing an order to the force under his command to make some relaxation in the practice of handcuffing in the case of persons charged with trivial offences when no apprehension is entertained of resistance or rescue being attempted. He was induced to bring the subject forward, not only from what he witnessed himself, but also from representations which had been made to him of the unnecessary manner in which the Irish constabulary frequently employed handcuffs in the case of persons of general good character charged with trivial offences. Such provision was very properly given them to prevent escape or violence on the part of the prisoner, and when any apprehension was entertained of a rescue being attempted, and the precaution was a very proper one in all cases of persons charged with or convicted of serious offences; but in a great number of instances the Irish police handcuffed parties after conviction guilty of some very trifling offence, for which, probably, the magistrates had inflicted some small fine or short period of imprisonment—twenty-four or forty-eight hours. He had often seen young innocent country lads, who for some little row at a fair or race-course might have to undergo a short term in prison, brought away from the sessions court manacled to old offenders convicted of some serious offence. Very often, also, persons before trial were handcuffed on their way to sessions, who, from the trifling nature of their offence, could have no object in trying to escape from custody. He had often also heard persons of really good character who got into some little trouble plead most imploringly to the police, but in vain, not to disgrace them by handcuffing when it was certain they would have gone quietly to prison. He had taken some trouble to ascertain from Inspectors of Police in England whether the handcuffs were employed to the same extent as in Ireland, and found they were not used at all so often—indeed, some of the police authorities expressed the utmost surprise at the cases which he mentioned to them that he had seen them employed. Some English police officers told him that when occasionally men who formerly belonged to the Irish constabulary joined their force that they had to restrain them from the too frequent use of handcuffs, owing to the habit they had acquired of resorting to them on occasions in Ireland which would not be tolerated in England. He could assure the right hon. Baronet that the humble classes in Ireland were particularly sensitive of such an outrage; the practice was calculated frequently to cause a feeling of degradation, and lead to recklessness on the part of those who, if not thus outraged, might never commit a second offence; but when exposed to public view, manacled perhaps to a thief, their self-respect would be gone for ever. It was a bad policy to do anything needlessly in Ireland calculated to cause animosity against the law or the police—there was nothing, he believed, more likely to do it than the practice alluded to—and he earnestly appealed to the good sense and good feeling of the right hon. Baronet to suggest to the Inspector General to direct that greater discretion should be used by the police in future in the use of handcuffs, especially in the instance of persons charged with trifling offences.


said, before the right hon. Baronet answered the Question he wished to ask him if he would interfere and prevent the searching of female prisoners charged with petty thefts at the police-station. A female who had stolen a pair of boots in Dublin was apprehended with the boots in her hand, and when taken to the station she was stripped and searched by the female searcher. He thought the practice very objectionable, except in extreme cases.


said, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to another matter intimately connected with the constabulary. The right hon. Baronet might not be able then to give him a distinct reply, but, perhaps, he would promise to inquire into it, as it had reference to the manner in which the police got up complaints. The matter to which he was about to refer had undergone investigation before the stipendiary magistrate at Belfast. A very respectable tradesman was proceeding to his house of business along a footpath, where two members of the constabulary force were lounging against a wall and obstructing a little the way. It never entered into the mind of this gentleman to offer any violence to either of them, but he touched the leg of one of them in order to pass. The constables thereupon arrested the gentleman at once, and, as they admitted, used most vituperative language. This occurred on the Saturday afternoon, and the gentleman was placed in confinement and kept there for thirty-six hours, when he was brought on the following Monday before the magistrates, and charged with assaulting the constables. After investigating the charge, the magistrates came to the conclusion that there was no ground whatever for preferring the charge of assault; that no assault or violence of any description had been committed by the gentleman; but, on the contrary, they stated that the conduct of the constabulary was most improper, on their own showing. Well, the charge was, of course, dismissed. Thereupon the gentleman who had been thus injured, sent a statement of the facts of his case to the Inspector of the Constabulary in Dublin, and called upon him, as the head of the force, to express his opinion officially upon them, and to take the proper steps to prevent a recurrence of such a proceeding. The answer which the gentleman received was to the following effect:— In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 24th of May, I regret much to find that it contains a complaint against the conduct of the police; but as it is not one against their discipline, I can only suggest, if you consider yourself aggrieved, that you are at liberty to take such legal steps as you may be advised,"— meaning, as he (Sir Hugh Cairns) supposed, a civil action at law against the offending constables. Let hon. Members imagine what would be said in this country if such a case had occurred in London, if some member of the metropolitan police force had treated a gentleman in the same way as the Dublin police had treated the person referred to, and that Sir Richard Mayne, when applied to for redress, had written a similar letter as the Chief Inspector of the Irish Constabulary had penned? "I leave you to consult your attorney, and to bring a civil action for the injury you have sustained." It was, he might add, of the utmost importance that confidence in the constabulary force in Ireland, which was so numerous, and which had so much of a military character, should be maintained, and he, therefore, hoped the Chief Secretary for Ireland would have inquiry instituted into the circumstances which he had brought under his notice.


observed, that such statements as those which had been made by his hon. Friend near him would hardly be altogether new to the Secretary for the Home Department, inasmuch as several members of the Irish constabulary force had been draughted into the London metropolitan police, and were at once checked by their superior officers whenever they resorted to such practices as they had been in the habit of adopting in Ireland. He had risen, however, chiefly to ask whether, inasmuch as the old law under which a man was liable to seven years' penal servitude for begging in Ireland had been repealed by an Act passed in the present Session, a man named Doyle, who had a short time ago been sentenced to penal servitude under that law, would have the clemency of the Crown exercised in his case, and have his sentence remitted? As to the Irish constabulary, he believed them to be a most admirable force, and that any charges which might be brought against them were to be attributed to the authorities at Dublin Castle, by whom the j most arbitrary and harsh instructions were issued to the force.


, in answer to the hon. and learned Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy), said, it was the intention of the Government to recommend the remission of the sentence of the person to whom he referred, as having been found guilty of begging under a law now re-pealed. In reply to the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), he might observe that he thought the case which he had brought under his notice well worthy of consideration, and he should take care that it was duly investigated. He was of opinion that the Irish constabulary endeavoured upon the whole to discharge their difficult duties with great forbearance and moderation, although no doubt there were some instances in which their conduct stood in need of correction. He presumed that the letter which the hon. and learned Gentleman had read was written by Colonel Wood [Sir Hugh CAIRNS: Yes], and he should at once inquire into the matter to which it related. The remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside) had reference to the Dublin metropolitan police, which was a force entirely distinct from the constabulary; but he should write to the Commissioners on the subject of those remarks and take care that it was duly investigated. In answer to the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) who had placed in his hands that morning a letter from the mayor of that city, alleging certain cases of hardship on the part of the constabulary, he had simply to say that the instructions issued to them enjoined on them the necessity of being as lenient as possible in the treatment of the prisoners committed to their charge. Those instructions might, of course, be infringed in particular cases, and he should take care when such cases were brought before him, as in the present instance, that they should be inquired into. He must, at the same time, remark that one of the constabulary regulations was, that although all rational allowance was to be made for the feelings of prisoners, yet that they might be handcuffed when to do so was necessary to their safe custody, as when a prisoner stood charged with any serious offence, and there was reason to apprehend that an attempt at rescue would be made. Those, however, were only extreme eases, and he was bound to say that he did not think the sweeping charges made by the hon. Gentleman would be exactly borne out.