HC Deb 03 August 1869 vol 198 cc1218-29

rose to call the attention of the House to the charge made by the Police against three young men on the night of the 30th June last, and tried before Mr. Knox, the Police Magistrate at Marlborough Street, who dismissed the case with observations strongly condemnatory of the conduct and evidence of the Police; and to move an Address for Papers on the subject. The hon. Gentleman said the police and the public were certainly not in that accord which ought to exist between the two. The police deserved gratitude for the general care they took of the metropolis by night and by day; but still there were blots in the management of the force, to which he wished to draw the attention of the Home Secretary. Among those blots was their conduct in reference to the charge made before Mr. Knox, as to three young clerks of the National Bank. Those young men, after balancing their books on the balancing night of the bank, partook of a light supper, and proceeded, perfectly sober, from the bank towards home, when an altercation ensued between them and the police, and they were taken into custody. The police endeavoured to make out that the young men were in a state of intoxication at the time; but the evidence of their superiors at the bank went entirely to exonerate them from any such imputation; and in his judgment, Mr. Knox treated it as incredible that they had been drunk or had used the bad language attributed to them. He (Mr. Eykyn) fooling that there might be more doubt in the case than was to be gathered from the statement in the newspapers, went into the neighbourhood; and, though the police in most cases exercised their duties with great discretion and forbearance, still he found them using extremely bad language to the unfortunate creatures who were walking in the neighbourhood. It was true that at present we placed implicit reliance upon the police; but if these combinations of policemen took place, and brought about such results as in this case, he should soon lose confidence in them. So grave was the charge in this instance, that Mr. Knox declined to take on himself the responsibility of a public prosecutor, but he gave instructions that counsel should be retained by the Treasury on the part of the police. The defence of these three young men had entailed on them and their friends an expense of over £100; and as the prosecution had failed, and as the police were involved in the much more serious charge of perjury, he thought the Treasury were bound to see that the young men were put to no further expense. He knew from experience the way in which the police would sometimes act, for on leaving that House after a late division, in 1866, a policeman came up to him, when within a few yards of his own door, and told him that a dog which was his companion was a perfect pest to the neighbourhood, being in the habit of killing cats. He (Mr. Eykyn) said it was not so, and was proceeding on his way, when the policeman laid violent hands on his neck, causing him to suffer the sensation of being strangled, and led him across Grosvenor Square. He did not know what to do—whether to knock the man down or to call a cab; but at last, after talking to him, he gave the policeman a kick and sent him head first in the mud; and then, using his heels as well as possible, he ran home as fast as he could. He was told that, not long ago, one of Her Majesty's Judges suffered almost the same indignity as himself, when on duty as a Judge of Assize. If such things were done to a Judge and a Member of that House, it was natural to suppose that the lower orders must be treated still worse by the police. There was a growing want of cordiality between the public and the police, owing to acts of that kind; and he hoped the Home Secretary would take steps to relieve the anxiety existing on the subject. Some more Governmental notice ought to be taken of the particular case to which he had referred; the three young clerks ought not to be called on to pay any further expense in the matter, and the affair ought to be sifted to the bottom. The hon. Member then moved for the production of any correspondence that had passed between the police authorities and the Home Office in regard to the case in question.

MR. CRAUPURD, in seconding the Motion, expressed a hope that a more satisfactory reply would be given by the Government than that which they gave a few days since to the Question of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) on the subject. He agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Eykyn) that the general conduct of the police was good; but he could quote instances that came under his own knowledge, in which the police exercised their power in an offensive and even oppressive manner. One evening a friend of his, who was about to leave this country for a foreign appointment, came out of the theatre when a cab "touter" pressed him to let him get a cab for him. His friend begged the man to go away, and a policeman coming up and seeing the gentleman being annoyed, instead of gently removing the man, gave him a slap in the face, struck him with his fist on the head, and knocked him down. The gentleman remonstrated, and said that the policeman ought not to have knocked the man down, as he was not committing a breach of the law, whereupon the policeman told the gentleman that if he did not move on and refrain from interfering with him in the execution of his duty, he would take him into custody. His friend having to go abroad very soon, and not wishing to figure at the police courts, preferred to walk on. If that could happen to a well-known gentleman they could easily tell how poor men would be knocked about and oppressed by the police. The case of the three young clerks which had been brought under the notice of the House ought not to be allowed to rest without inquiry. It ought to be taken up as a public matter. In the evidence brought before Mr. Knox it was distinctly shown that the policemen must have perjured themselves, and, therefore, this was a case, if ever there was one, in which the Home Secretary should prosecute. It was very hard if, after having spent upwards of £100 in defending themselves, and having- gone out of court with a character perfectly established, they were to be told by the Home Secretary that the policemen were men of the highest character in the force, and that if the young men felt themselves hurt they must prosecute at their own expense. But if the young men were to undertake a prosecution it would be said that the action was a vindictive one. He hoped, therefore, the Home Secretary would give an assurance to the House that an inquiry should be made, and thus afford protection to all those who were not in a position of life to protect themselves.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Papers relating to the Charge made by the Police against three young men on the night of the 30th June last, and tried before Mr. Knox, the Police Magistrate at Marlborough Street."— (Mr. Eykyn)


said, he was not able to accede to the Motion of his hon. Friend, inasmuch as there existed no correspondence whatever upon the subject. The hon. Member was perfectly right in bringing under the notice of the House any case in which he thought the police had been guilty of improper conduct. He (Mr. Bruce) was not there to defend the police, but was simply there to listen to statements regarding them, and see that justice was done. What, in this case, he was asked to do, however, was to undertake, on behalf of the Government, the prosecution of a number of men. of whose guilt, after a careful examination of the case, he entertained the greatest doubt. His hon. Friend had himself looked at the Papers in connection with the case, and had read the result of the inquiries made by the Chief Commissioner of Police; and he would ask him, having done so, whether he felt satisfied that the story was so clear as it had been generally assumed to be. He had carefully looked into the question himself, and he felt bound to say that there existed in his mind very grave doubts as to whether the imputations cast upon the policemen were well founded. Under these circumstances he was asked to bring the authority of the Government to bear on those men, and to institute a prosecution for perjury against them. The whole case of the young men was open to very grave suspicion. In going homo to Pimlico or Putney they found it necessary to go to the top of the Haymarket in search for a cab, though it appeared there were cabs in the lower part of the Haymarket. The case of the police was confirmed by a statement which he had heard from an inspector, who was one of the most trusted men of the force. This inspector stated that in passing by this portion of the street he saw a considerable disturbance, but he did not observe the young men nor anybody in particular. He spoke to the crowd and told them to go away, and then went on the duty in which he was engaged of visiting some night houses. As the disturbance continued, he turned back, and saw at a distance the very thing which the police swore to—namely, the umbrellas of these young men raised over their heads. That was the statement of a man long in the force, which those who knew him did not doubt. Since the case has been tried before the police magistrate a good deal of additional evidence had been obtained, and under the circumstances he declined — and he thought himself justified in declining — to throw the weight of the Government against these men by undertaking their prosecution. The remedy was a simple and easy one. Those gentlemen were not called upon to bring an indictment for perjury against the police. All they had to do was to summon one or other of them for an assault; the witnesses were all known, the cost would be next to nothing, and if they were successful the expense would be thrown on the police. In that way the matter could be judicially decided, and it would be far better than to have recourse to an exceptional proceeding. The hon. Member had spoken of the employment of counsel in the case on behalf of the prosecution. When the police commenced proceedings, they proposed to do so without professional assistance, by merely tendering their evidence; but as the accused had a barrister of eminence to defend them, Mr. Knox, from a feeling of fair-play, recommended the police to apply for counsel to conduct the prosecution, and it was only on his recommendation that counsel was employed. He admitted that the observations of Mr. Knox were very strong; but they had been carefully considered, and the result of the examination by the Chief Commissioner of Police had led him to entertain grave doubt whether most unwittingly a great injustice had not been done to the police. Under these circumstances he did not think himself justified in undertaking to prosecute them.


said, he regretted the answer which had been given by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was an immense sympathy on behalf of these young men. It was wrong, in his estimation, to refuse the inquiry which was now demanded. A case in which the police were to blame had come within his own knowledge. A gentleman, who was a foreigner, happened to be passing through a turnpike, and did not know that he had to pay anything. His horse was seized, and, upon his making an effort to proceed, he was dragged off his horse and was taken to the station. He (Mr. Kinnaird) went to Sir Richard Mayne on behalf of the foreigner, and had a gentleman to produce as witness who saw the whole transaction from his parlour window; but his experience was that no person had any chance against the police, and it was perfectly useless to proceed against them. The gentleman who had been thus ill-treated was well known at Geneva and in Switzerland, but would not prosecute because he did not wish to have his name spoken of. He had found that every policeman swore that every other was right; and if the Home Secretary would not use his influence to protect individuals proved to be innocent, there would be a lack of justice in this country.


said, he had heard the answer of the Home Secretary with great regret. He had no stories to tell against the police, and was not likely to be accused of being ready to join in any cry against them. He had always been in the habit of placing great confidence in them, and had invariably encouraged others to do the same. He feared, however, that if no inquiry took place into this case he would not be so successful for the future as he had been in the past. What were the facts? The case referred to had been investigated before a most intelligent police magistrate. Witnesses were heard on both sides, and after a full and complete inquiry the magistrate decided clearly that the story told against these young men was false, who accordingly quitted the bar without any stain upon them. The real decision which the magistrate came to was not merely that the young men were innocent, but that the police were guilty. He did not profess to form any opinion upon the matter; but he said that the matter ought not to be allowed to rest where it was. Public confidence in the police would be weakened if the matter were not investigated. It seemed to him, therefore, to be very important that the matter should be sifted to the bottom. Government could easily direct proceedings to. be taken, which could leave no doubt as to which party was really to blame. It would be a great neglect of duty if the question were allowed to rest, and if those young men, who had been pronounced innocent, were to be put to all the expense and trouble of a fresh prosecution. Who were the parties interested in the matter? Not the young men, for they had been pronounced to be innocent. Their characters were cleared, and they had no interest in the question, except as part of the general public. And who were to represent the general public? Assuredly it must be the Government. They were the parties who were interested in having this case decided. There was one other party still more interested, and that was the police. It was for the sake of the police —for the sake of the character of the police, and for the sake of the public confidence in the police, that it was absolutely essential that some further inquiry should take place.


said, he was still utterly at a loss to account for the refusal of the Government further to inquire into the subject. Mr. Knox had declared himself unable to believe the evidence of the police; but no doubt ulterior proceedings would be taken, and expressed the opinion that the young men had been much wronged. He, therefore, again urged the Government to inquire further into the subject.


observed that the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Eykyn) had not answered the challenge thrown out by the Home Secretary, when he asked him to state the impression left upon his mind on reading the Papers which had led the Home Secretary to the conclusion he had come to. The hon. Member had seen those Papers, and it was due to the House that he should state candidly whether that perusal of those Papers had or had not induced him to change his original opinion on the subject. And he would entreat the House to consider what the Home Secretary was asked to do. He was asked to bring the whole power of the Government against certain policemen—a measure which it would be excessively disagreeable for a Minister to take, unless he was satisfied in his own mind that those whom he prosecuted were substantially in the wrong. He (the Solicitor General) had not gone into the matter sufficiently to form a decided opinion on the case; but he was by no means satisfied that the policemen were in the wrong, or that the clerks were as much in the right as Mr. Knox had decided. His opinion, however, was beside the question, because his right hon. Friend had to act upon the conviction the information at his command obliged him to come to. That might or might not be a satisfactory state of) things; but it was the necessary consequences of the present state of our criminal law and its administration. Guided by the ordinary rule, the matter must be decided by the opinion of the Home Secretary, and the Home Secretary was often applauded for reversing the judgment of a jury or a Judge when it happened to assume the shape of a conviction; why should he not be left to decide in a case because it happened to result in an acquittal, and say in such a case that the court was wrong? His right hon. Friend said he had looked into the case, and was satisfied from information laid before him that this was not a case in which he should instruct a prosecution of these policemen? Did the House think it would be wise for a Home Secretary to prosecute in a case in which he was not himself satisfied that the persons charged deserved conviction? Would such a course inspire confidence among the police? The House was bound to trust in the character of the Minister, and it would much surprise him if the House obliged the Home Secretary to proceed in this case after the statement he had made.


said, he very much lamented that the Home Secretary did not think it incumbent upon him to institute a prosecution in this case. On the one hand, they had a public investigation before a magistrate of high character and authorized judicial reputation, who had given judgment after having heard evidence in public from witnesses submitted to the severest test of cross-examination. On the other hand, they had that decision impugned—he did not say wrongly impugned—and virtually upset by a private investigation in a room without the assistance of counsel or the test of cross-examination, and without the check of publicity. That was not a satisfactory feature in the criminal jurisdiction of this country, and was only another reason for the appointment of a public prosecutor. In countries having a public prosecutor such a state of things as that before the House could not occur, because the public prosecutor would interfere as a matter of course. They would hear nothing about bringing the whole force of the Government against the accused, because it would then be the ordinary duty of the Government to institute a judicial inquiry against its officers, whether policemen or not, who, in the opinion of a competent magistrate, were guilty of misconduct. At the same time, he could not help agreeing with, the right hon. Gentleman when he said that, in this case, having arrived at a conclusion favourable to the police he would not lend the weight of the Government against the accused, and that he did not feel justified in taking so extreme a course when he was not satisfied that the probable result would be a conviction. It was said that the young men referred to might move in the matter, but no one appealed against a decision in his favour. They were satisfied, and it was not their business to institute an inquiry into the conduct of the police. If he were a friend of theirs he would feel very much for them on account of what had fallen from the Home Secretary; because if the policemen had not committed perjury some one else had, and the ease, if it had rested with this debate, would have ended with a slur upon the characters of those young men, from which they could not have been freed but by incurring heavy expense. He lamented a state of the law which permitted such occurrences as this, and. trusted the Home Secretary would not allow another Session to pass without introducing a measure to amend it.


remarked upon the very probable circumstance of these young men having been detained late at night on the 30th of June, seeing that upon that day it was customary for bankers to balance their books for the half-year. As a banker he could say it was a natural thing that these young men should be going home late at night at that period of the year; one cabstand might be empty, and they might have to go to another; and in that case no- thing was more natural than that they should find their way to the Haymarket in search of a cab. It seemed to be thought that it was some imputation on their character that they should be there at that time of night; but it seemed to him, as a practical man, that nothing was more natural. What he was most anxious to do was to vindicate the character of gentlemen in the same business as himself, to show that they might legitimately be at the Haymarket at that time of night, and that the fact was no imputation upon their character.


said, he thought that what had been said almost resolved itself into a charge against the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman had made considerable inquiry, and he found nothing which induced him to prosecute the police; but he did not cast any slur upon the young men, whom he left exonerated from blame by the decision of the magistrate. He had found that further investigation might possibly tend to relieve the police from the slur cast upon them; but he did not wish to push the matter any further, and he did not think it was the duty of the Government to take any steps in the matter. Was the House to call the Home Secretary to account under such circumstances? They ought to remember that this great metropolis was in the charge of the metropolitan police, and that the Home Secretary was responsible for their conduct; and it would be exceedingly dangerous if the House were, on every slight occasion, to interfere with him in the discharge of his duties, or to insist on his prosecution of every policeman who might be censured by a magistrate.


said, it did not appear to him that the decision of the magistrate would necessitate any action on the part of the Government. Mr. Knox stated that it was an extraordinary case of conflicting evidence, which he spent many days and nights in considering, and he came to the conclusion that he ought not to send the young men to trial, but that he ought to dismiss the charge against them. What was the process by which he arrived at that conclusion? He asked whether it was probable that three young men holding responsible offices in a bank should misconduct themselves so soon after leaving it? but à priori argument was worth very little in such a case, which must depend upon the credit due to evidence. Mr. Knox proceeded to remark that it was natural there should be confusion in the Haymarket at the hour when the night houses were being cleared, and that in the confusion the wrong person might have been taken into custody; so it did not at all follow, because he thought it right to dismiss the charge, that the police were perjured. The magistrate did not say he arrived at the conclusion that the police were perjued; he only said he believed their statements "improbable." The whole story was an improbable one. Commenting on the manner in which a policeman gave his evidence, did the magistrate deduce perjury? He only said that it "jarred vehemently with. his opinion of what was fitting." The decision acquitted the young men, but left open the questions involved, and it did not justify anyone in imputing perjury to the police. The language used by the magistrate showed that, while he discharged the young men without any stain upon their character, he studiously avoided imputing perjury to the police; if he had intended to do so he would have used much stronger language. After subsequent investigation the Home Secretary did not see reason to interfere, and there was nothing extraordinary in that conclusion.


said, the Home Secretary appealed to the hon. Member for Windsor, asking him whether the Papers he had read had not changed his views, and to that appeal no response had been made. He should like to hear a reply from the hon. Member.


said, he had read the Papers, and it was the perusal of them which induced him to word his Motion as he had done, in the hope that they might be laid on the table, and hon. Members derive their own impressions from them.


said, the Papers could not be produced without doing the grossest injustice to the young men whose characters were at stake. They contained the statements of a number of witnesses, many of whom were not called before the magistrates. The witnesses mentioned circumstances corroborating the statements of the police, and to publish the Papers alone would be unjust.


said, that an extra-judicial decision of the Home Secretary had over-ridden that of Mr. Knox.


said, he had given no decision, and he had not set aside that of the magistrate.


said, he thought the remark made by the Home Secretary that, looking at the papers before him, he had great reason to doubt the accuracy of the magistrate's decision, amounted virtually to setting aside that decision; and he held that the Home Secretary was bound either to act upon that opinion, or to give the House an opportunity of considering the grounds upon which it was formed.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.