HC Deb 07 July 1875 vol 225 cc1060-1

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If the assistant medical officer of Portland Prison, who was recently accused by a jury of having accelerated the death of a convict by unkind treatment is still in the service of the prison; and, if so, whether, having regard to the verdict and declaration of the jury, and the character given to the medical officer by the Commission appointed by the Home Office to inquire into the case and the nature of the duties pertaining to his office, he will be allowed to continue his services in that capacity; whether the punishment of being held in irons for six months, to which the military prisoner O'Brien was subjected at Chatham Prison was unnecessarily severe; whether the rules of the prison permit the imposition of irons for purposes of restraint only; and, whether he can give the House any assurance that the power now exercised by the prison authorities in this respect will be restricted in the future?


in reply, said, that the medical officer to whom the Question particularly referred was still in the service of the prison. He (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) believed that the verdict of the jury was that the death of the convict arose from consumption, accelerated by unkind treatment. The Secretary of State thereupon issued a commission of inquiry into the matter. Having thoroughly investigated it, they reported that they did not find that Dr. Bernard had shown a want of skill or attention, or substantial kindness, either to the deceased convict or to any other inmate of the prison. They, however, found that he had displayed a certain want of tact and temper, which they characterized as brusqueness and roughness. Under those circumstances, the Secretary of State did not feel himself justified in dismissing this gentleman; but he called his particular attention to this part of the Report, and warned him against acting thus. His right hon. Friend also instructed the prison authorities to report to him any cases in which there was a recurrence of such conduct. In respect to the other part of the hon. Gentleman's inquiry, he had to inform him that, in the opinion of the prison authorities, and in that of his right hon. Friend, the punishment of placing the prisoner in question in irons was not unnecessarily severe. According to the rules of the prison the application of irons was restricted to cases of assault and attempts to escape from prison. In the present instance, the man O'Brien, it appeared had made a hole of about a foot wide in his cell, with the evident view to his escape. The convict was thereupon ordered to he placed in irons for six months—the period fixed under the authority of the Secretary of State. His right hon. Friend, therefore, under such circumstances, did not see any cause for his interference in the matter.