HC Deb 22 May 1871 vol 206 cc1115-7

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether he has made inquiries as to a charge of wilful damage, to the amount of 2s., heard before the magistrates at the Aldershot Petty Sessions on Thursday the 11th instant, against six children, named and aged respectively as follows: John George, 8; Matthew Wiltshire, 7; James Burgess, 8; Arthur Wells 9; Jane Luff, 9; and Mary Ann Warren, 9; upon which they were all convicted, and severally sent to prison for a period of two months; and, whether, having regard to the ages of the defendants, the circumstances of the case, and the severity of the sentence, he will interfere?


said, in reply, that there was, in this case, the usual discrepancy as to age between the statement made on the part of the magistrates and that which had appeared in the newspapers. According to the former, the age of the youngest child was nine, and that of the eldest 14 years. For many years past, and especially during the last three years, the butts had been constantly torn down for the purpose of taking away the bullets fired into them. Children were usually sent there by their parents, who lived upon the plunder, and they hovered about while shooting was going on, in order that they might rush in upon the butts directly the soldiers retired, and great risk to life arose from this practice. During the last three years no fewer than 33 children had been sentenced to different terms of imprisonment, with a view to their being deterred from committing the offence. Generally, they were found, to be children of the same family. In the present instance three of the children belonged to the same family, and they had previously been punished. Some time ago Captain Chapman, the Instructor in Musketry, brought the circumstances of the case prominently before the magistrates. He suggested that additional policemen should be employed to deter children from exposing their lives and from injuring public property. They had been repeatedly warned, but in vain; and Captain Chapman recommended strongly, in the interest of the public and of the children themselves, the offenders should be apprehended and severely punished. In order that the House might the more clearly understand how very difficult were the circumstances with which the magistrates had to deal, the right hon. Gentleman read the Report of Captain Chapman, which was in accordance with his own observations. In conclusion, he stated to the House that he did not feel justified in interfering with the decision of the magistrates, except that he had made one suggestion—namely, that a distinction should be made between those children who had been previously convicted or warned and those who had not, when the magistrate proceeded to punish them.