HC Deb 17 March 1876 vol 228 cc246-50

,in rising to call attention to the statements of certain deponents to affidavits stating that the convict Castro, alias Orton, was not Arthur Orton, and to ask, Whether the Secretary of State for the Home Department would take notice of such evidence as might be brought before him as to perjury committed against the convict on the Tichborne trial, with a view to prosecuting such persons for perjury in the event of there appearing to be reasonable and probable grounds for such prosecution, said, that his Notice arose out of a Question he put a night or two ago to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department with reference to affidavits made in behalf of the Tichborne Claimant, and charging some of the witnesses with perjury who had sworn that he was Arthur Orton. He represented on that occasion the feeling of some half-a-million of persons who had signed Petitions for the release of the Claimant, and of some millions of persons—and their number was still increasing—who sympathized with him and desired his release. Though he took no part in getting up Petitions in favour of the Claimant, he certainly did sympathize with the observations of the learned Judge who tried the case on the occasion of one of those unprecedented progresses which he had thought fit to make through the country, when he referred in strong terms to the agitation which had taken place on the question, and which was calculated, as he suggested, to undermine public confidence in the fair administration of justice. It had been his (MR. Whalley's) desire, feeling that this matter could not remain where it was, so to act that it should be discussed in a calm and quiet way, and in a manner likely not to undermine, but to restore public confidence in the administration of justice. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said in answer to the Question, that he had dealt with the case as he had dealt with every other. That statement, however, he must take leave to deny. The right hon. Gentleman, on the contrary, had deliberately departed from the ordinary practice of the Home Office, and lost sight of its almost recognized character of a Court of Appeal in criminal cases, by refusing to give attention to the affidavits to which he referred, a course which he had never known the right hon. Gentleman to take in any other case. The right hon. Gentleman had thought fit, notwithstanding that the Home Office had repeatedly intervened, even in cases of murder, to stop or abridge the execution of criminal sentences, to treat the affidavits sent to him by the relatives of Arthur Orton as not worthy of being sent for consideration to the learned Judges who presided at the trial, although he knew that those Judges had held that the evidence of these particular deponents was most important in the case. There was this one peculiar feature in the case he ventured to bring under the notice of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the other evening said that those relatives of Arthur Orton who made affidavits ought to have been produced on the trial for the purpose of undergoing cross-examination. But how stood the matter? The person the convict employed as his counsel refused the earnest entreaty of every person interested in the case to produce them, and the convict should not be held responsible for the conduct of his advocate. That advocate, the hon. Member for Stoke, was present in the House, and could give his explanation if he pleased to do so. It was not for him (MR. Whalley) to make any observations on the conduct of the hon. Member for Stoke. With that hon. and learned Gentleman he sympathized in the course of the persecution to which he had been subjected; but that persecution, and that persecution alone, if rumour spoke truly, had conferred upon him a great fortune, had placed him in the position of a great political Leader, and had secured for him for the time being a seat in that House. Without desiring to make any remarks on the means by which that object was effected, or whether his advocacy of the cause of the convict and his subsequent career merited or not such recognition, he asked was it fair or right to make the unhappy convict responsible for the conduct of this advocacy, when such advocacy, from the highest judicial authority, the Lord Chief Justice of England, had been in every possible manner denounced as unworthy of the confidence of the country, and of the unhappy man himself? The responsibility of his conduct would no doubt be accepted by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke, who, of course, would not deny that he had peremptorily refused to allow those witnesses to be produced, and that his refusal had caused dismay and dissatisfaction among the many friends of the convict. With absolute authority he refused; and for that, and that alone, the right hon. Gentleman said that counsel should be held responsible, but the effect was to deprive the convict of the advantage of most important testimony that could not be impeached. Mr. Anthony Wright Biddulph, a man pronounced by the Lord Chief Justice to be wholly incapable of wrong, had presented these affidavits; but the right hon. Gentleman said they were useless, because the parties tendering them could not be subjected to the cross-examination that was necessary. But if the right hon. Gentleman believed that persons were guilty of perjury and conspiracy, then they ought to be indicted, and such a proceeding would afford a clue to the conspiracy and fraud which, caused such an enormous outlay of money, and for so long agitated the country. At all events, the right hon. Gentleman ought to give an assurance that he would assist Mr. Anthony Wright Biddulph and others who were willing to come forward and prosecute those guilty of conspiracy and fraud against the convict, if sufficient evidence were laid before him to justify the expectation that there was probable ground for a conviction.


said, that he had nothing to complain of with respect to any of the numerous communications which the hon. Member for Peterborough had thought fit to address to him since he entered upon his duties at the Home Office, or as to the course of conduct he felt it his duty to pursue. In the course of the last year or two he had answered a good many Questions on this subject, and he hoped that with reference to them the Statute of Limitations would soon come into operation. He would not, of course, detain the House by entering into an examination of the question in dispute between the hon. Member for Peterborough and the hon. Member for Stoke, as to the particular course which should have been pursued on the trial regarding certain suggested witnesses. All he could now say and repeat was, that he had read every Petition and every Paper which had been presented to him bearing on this case, and he was bound to give the House his judgment thereon. He had seen no document which raised the slightest doubt in his mind as to the convict's guilt and the justice of his conviction. That being so, he was bound to act on his judgment, and advise accordingly; and if in any advice he had tendered to the Crown he had acted improperly, of course, he was responsible for it. At the present moment it was not his intention to advise the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Treasury to grant funds for the prosecution of any persons whose names had been brought before him. No case had been made out on which they could be prosecuted; and until that was done, he should not call upon the public to bear any further expense in the matter. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not charge him with discourtesy if he did not enter on this subject at further length. He be- lieved the House were in possession of all the facts, and if there was anything further required he should be happy to give it.


Under ordinary circumstances when a Member is attacked in this House he is allowed to reply. I have listened to the observations of the hon. Member for Peterborough, and having considered whether I ought to give any answer to them, I have come to the conclusion that his observations are beneath my notice.

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