HC Deb 07 April 1876 vol 228 cc1462-6

, in rising to move an Address for Copy of the Depositions taken in the case of a violent assault on a person of the name of Palmer, and to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, in consideration of the peculiar circumstances of the case he will, in the interests of the public and the police, by the offer of a reward or by other means, endeavour to bring the real criminal to justice? said, that Mr. Palmer, who, he believed, was a clerk in a mercantile establishment, received a violent blow in the face from the truncheon of a policeman while he was attempting to pass through a crowded street to his place of business on the day on which Her Majesty went to open a new wing at the London Hospital. Mr. Palmer was puzzled when he attended for the purpose of identifying the policeman who struck him, because the coats of the policemen had been changed. At length, however, he pointed out the policeman who he said had struck him, but Sir William Rose, who heard the case, thought the evidence was not sufficient to justify a committal. Now that the police were beards, a constable by a slight turn of his head could easily conceal some portion of his number from being seen. This case was one of general importance; and it was most desirable that it should be known whether any further steps would be taken to bring the party to justice, and it was also most desirable that it should be known by whose orders the police had changed coats when they were paraded for identification. An investigation of all the circumstances ought to take place; and if Her Majesty's Government thought there was a primâ facie case against any of the policemen they ought to institute a prosecution. It was only fair to all parties that he should read to the House certain letters on this subject which had reached him that morning. The first was from the solicitors who had represented Mr. Palmer at the hearing of the case at the Guildhall, when the charge against the constable was dismissed, and it enclosed a copy of a letter which they had written to Colonel Henderson and his reply. In that letter the solicitors stated that since the case was disposed of by the magistrates, they had learnt from Colonel Henderson that a number of constables had witnessed the assault, and had furnished reports concerning it to their officers, which fact had not been communicated to the solicitors at the time the case was before the magistrate. The solicitors further complained that no constables had been called on the part of the police at the hearing to speak to the identity of the defendant as the person who struck the blow, and that their client, who had no personal feeling in the matter, and who had brought forward the case at great personal inconvenience and expense, had been grossly insulted by the magistrate, and, instead of having been protected in every way, was bullied as though he was a witness giving false evidence; and they concluded by stating that they had felt it to be their duty to advise their client to prefer an indictment at the Central Criminal Court against the defendant. In their letter to Colonel Henderson the solicitors stated that, in view of their client preferring an indictment against Police Constable 450 E, they would be glad to receive copies of statements which had been made to their superior officers in relation to this case by the constables on duty near the place where the alleged assault occurred; and asked, whether it was true that the constable against whom the charge was made was formerly in the City police, and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment for a similar assault, and was discharged or retired from the City police and afterwards entered the Metropolitan police; and whether it was true that, notwithstanding his conviction, he was allowed his full pay during the time he was so suffering imprisonment; also, whether it was true, that constables who could give information on the subject had been told by their superior officers to hold their tongues. Colonel Henderson, in his reply, said that as to the evidence which had been taken, he thought that the most satisfactory course would be for one of their firm to make an appointment to call at Scotland Yard and see copies of the statements made by all the officers on duty at the time when the assault was committed, and take copies of any that were thought desirable; because there were upwards of 30 of them, and he could not say which might be considered important; that no orders had been issued from headquarters to the constables to hold their tongues about the matter; that he was aware that 450 E had been formerly in the City police, and that since the hearing before the magistrate it had been ascertained that he had been imprisoned for an assault, as stated in the solicitors' letter, but that he had not been discharged from the City police, in consequence of having voluntarily retired, and that he had since served in the Dorset Constabulary for a year and a-half to the satisfaction of the authorities. He was not aware whether his pay was continued during his imprisonment. Having stated these facts as briefly and as fairly as he could, he would say that it was his intention to move on some future occasion for the report of the circumstances which had been sent in by the constable to his superior officer. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would give a satisfactory reply to his inquiries.


said, he had no cause to complain of the hon. and gallant Baronet bringing this matter under the notice of the House. No doubt the police rendered great service to the public, and on the whole performed their duties, which were arduous, difficult, and occasionally dangerous, most satisfactorily; but, at the same time, it was to the interest of the police themselves, as it was the wish of the gallant gentleman who had command of the force, that every cause of complaint against them should be thoroughly investigated, and the offenders, if such they were, punished. When a case of misconduct was made out against any single policeman it was quite right that he should be punished, as an example to others. He was sure that no one felt more than the hon. and gallant Baronet did that on certain occasions it was scarcely possible to find out the exact truth; and it was very difficult indeed for police constables, in the hurry and rush of a great crowd such as assembled at the time of the Queen's visit to the East End of London, to be precisely on their guard. All he could say was that in this instance the police-constable had been placed upon his trial and had been discharged by the sitting magistrate at the Guildhall after all the evidence it was in the power of the prosecutor to adduce had been laid before the Court. The hon. and gallant Baronet asked for copies of the depositions which were taken in the case of this alleged assault. All he could say was that they were entirely at his service, if he chose to move for them. The hon. and gallant Baronet asked further for a copy of the statement made by the policeman implicated to his superior officers; but as the hon. and gallant Baronet stated that it was possible that further proceedings might be taken against the constable, it would be unfair to him that a confidential statement made by him to his superior officers should be laid before the jury who were to try him on such a charge as this. Colonel Henderson had with perfect truth said that there was only one wish on the part of the police authorities in the matter, and that was, that justice should be done to all parties. He did not think that a fairer offer could be made to the hon. and gallant Baronet than that he should be allowed to see the reports made by all the police constables on duty at the particular place at the time of the alleged assault; but those reports could not be laid on the Table of the House without striking a great blow at the efficiency of the police force, by preventing such confidential reports from being made in future. He had made such inquiries into the matter as he could, and he felt bound to express his regret that the case had not been fully heard out by the magistrate, so that all parties might have had a full opportunity of making their statements to the Court. He believed it was a fact that before any evidence was tendered on the part of the policemen the magistrates dismissed the case. He regretted that very much, as there would have been an opportunity for any one of the constables to have been summoned, and the whole of the facts would have been investigated before the magistrates. Their opinion was that no case had been made out. In his opinion, the circumstances of the alleged assault had been greatly exaggerated; but, however that might be, if any further investigation was to take place, the hon. and gallant Baronet might feel assured that he would afford him every assistance in his power to enable him to elucidate the whole circumstances attending this case, while he might be satisfied that the police authorities had no desire to conceal any fact connected with it.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.