HC Deb 30 May 1876 vol 229 cc1434-42

rose to call attention to the case of Mr. John Croker, late Sub-Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and to move— That the punishment inflicted on him by reduction in rank in 1867 and subsequent dismissal from that force, for offences of which he declared himself to be innocent, without first affording him an opportunity of proving his innocence before an independent tribunal, was not just; and, in the opinion of this House, such an opportunity ought now to be given. The circumstances under which Mr. Croker had been dismissed from the force were these:—When stationed in the town of Carlow, about the time in question, Mr. Croker experienced some difficulty in obtaining a house suitable for his family. After a while a house fell vacant within the town of Carlow, although out of his district, but attached to it, and without which it could not be had, were seven acres of land. The rule of the Constabulary was that no sub-Inspector should take more than three acres of land; and as the house would not be let without the whole of the land attached to it, he determined to enter upon the occupation of the premises and to give the extra four acres to his son, who was then 21 years of age. As the house, although within a few yards of the barracks, was not in Mr. Croker's district, it was necessary that he should obtain the consent of the Inspector General to live there. He went to Dublin for that purpose, and as the Inspector General was very busy at the time he told the whole of the circumstances to the private Secretary, who, having communicated with the Inspector General, came out and told Mr. Croker that it was all right. He accordingly entered upon the occupation of the house. But a few months after, when he was absent on duty, an informer wrote to the Inspector General, Sir John Wood, that Mr. Croker held more land than he had a right to do under the Constabulary Regulations; and thereupon the Inspector General, without inquiry or asking any explanation from Mr. Croker, reduced him from a first-class to a third-class sub-Inspector, involving a loss of pay of £50 a-year, and removed him to a station in the North of Ireland, thus separating him from his family. Mr. Croker remonstrated against this arbitrary and despotic act; but his remonstrances were not attended to. The case was then brought before the late Lord Mayo, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, on the private report of the Inspector General, which Mr. Croker had never seen, confirmed the previous sentence. It appeared that on this occasion the Inspector General had suppressed more, than half of the favourable records received by Mr. Croker during his years of service. This was a matter of some importance, because the whole course of promotion in the Constabulary service depended on the records for and against their character in the Constabulary Office. Mr. Croker had 14 records in his favour, but only six of these were submitted to Lord Mayo, while all the unfavourable records against him were produced. Mr. Croker, smarting under a sense of injustice, wrote a letter to the Inspector General which the latter considered insubordinate towards himself, whereupon he dismissed Mr. Croker from the service altogether. The case was subsequently brought before Lord Mayo, in 1868, who entered fully into the matter and recommended Mr. Croker to the Treasury for a retiring allowance. It appeared, however, by the Treasury Regulations that a retiring allowance could not be granted unless upon a certificate of his commanding officer that he had served with fidelity and diligence. Sir John Wood, the Inspector General, had stated that if the Government thought fit to recommend Mr. Croker for a retiring allowance he would not oppose him, and the way he kept his word was to refuse to give the certificate. Since then Mr. Croker had never ceased to protest his innocence, and to claim that the retiring allowance, which the action of the Inspector General alone had prevented him from obtaining from the Treasury, should be given to him in some way or other. He (Mr. Bruen) confessed he could not imagine what answer could be given to the case which he had laid before the House. He understood the ground the Inspector General took was that Mr. Croker was a bad officer and unfit to be in the service; but in opposition to any statement of that nature Mr. Croker could refer to the numerous recognitions of his services both from his official superiors and public bodies during the 31 years he had been in the Constabulary, and the records in the Office were in the highest degree creditable. In 1837 there was an entry praising his promptitude and efficiency in arresting a man who was lying in ambush to shoot a landlord; in 1838, for pursuing alone two men who had shot a person on the highway just as Mr. Croker rode up, and capturing one, after an exciting chase; in 1843, from the Inspector General himself, in approval of his conduct and efficiency; and, in 1848, from the magistrates to a similar effect, during a period of seven years. He believed the charges against Mr. Croker would, when investigated, be found to be of a very trivial nature. The Government, he sincerely trusted, would cause an inquiry to be made into this case, so that the question of the guilt or innocence of Mr. Croker might be tried by a legal tribunal. He cared not what the tribunal was as long as it was impartial, and he left the choice of it to the Government. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the punishment inflicted on Mr. John Croker, late Sub-Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary, by reduction in rank in 1867 and subsequent dismissal from that force, for offences of which he declared himself to be innocent, without first affording him an opportunity of proving his innocence before an independent tribunal, was not just; and, in the opinion of the House, such opportunity ought now to be given."—(Mr. Bruen,)


said, he had never heard of the name of that gentleman before, but it appeared to him that unless the Government had facts of an entirely different character to place before the House the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) ought to be acceded to. It was a Motion which concerned the welfare and efficiency of a Force upon which the maintenance of good order in Ireland was largely dependent. This was not the only case by any means in which arbitrary proceedings had been instituted against members of the Constabulary without an opportunity of appeal being given; and unless an appeal were allowed to Parliament in such cases, they would be entirely denying justice to men who had as much a right to justice as any other of Her Majesty's subjects. Great dissatisfaction already existed in the Force, and the Government's assent to the Motion would tend greatly to allay it, without implying any distrust of the heads of the Constabulary.


said, he could not admit the existence of great dissatisfaction among the Irish Police Force, who, he believed, had the greatest confidence in the decisions of the Inspector General, which they knew would be reviewed by the Government when necessary. The course pursued was this—whenever any complaint was made against an officer of the Force it was always sent down to him with a request that he would answer it in writing, and if the matter were of sufficient importance a court of inquiry into it was held. The official Papers relating to this case were very voluminous, but he had gone through them most carefully and had ascertained the following facts relating to Mr. Croker's career. Mr. Croker, who was a gentleman of good family, and had entered the Constabulary Force many years ago, was referred to as far back as March, 1854, by Sir Duncan Macgregor, who was then at the head of the Irish Constabulary, as an officer who would continue to be useless and troublesome wherever he was stationed. The same officer, again referring to Mr. Croker in 1858, said that no admonitions, however severe, would make him conform to the regulations of the Force and that he was an encumbrance to the establishment. In the same year Mr. Croker was again reported for neglect of duty: but another chance being given to him he was merely reduced to the bottom of the list of first-class sub-Inspectors. In 1863 Sir Henry Brownrigg wrote a memorandum of a similar character with reference to Mr. Croker's conduct and he was again reduced two steps. In 1865 a commission of inquiry was held upon him, and he was found guilty of keeping a number of racehorses and of being so greatly involved in debt that his creditors had seized his horses in satisfaction of their claims. That he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) considered a most serious offence. He was warned that such conduct would lead to his dismissal; but in 1867 he was again brought under the notice of the Inspector General, and charged with having disregarded the regulation which prohibited officers in the Constabulary from occupying more than four acres of land. The result was that he was reduced to the bottom of the list of second-class sub-Inspectors and again warned. In February, 1868, the Inspector General recommended Mr. Croker's dismissal in consequence of his insubordinate behaviour, in addition to a long list of previous offences, and the late Lord Mayo, after a careful inquiry into the case, concurred in that recommendation. A compassionate allowance was applied for, but was not granted, in consequence of the Inspector General not feeling himself justified in certifying that Mr. Croker had discharged his duties with diligence and fidelity, and he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) could not blame him for not doing so. It had been stated that Mr. G. A. Hamilton, the late Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, was directed by the Treasury to inquire into this matter; but he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) could not find any official trace of such direction or of any Report by Mr. Hamilton on the subject to the Treasury. A document had been circulated among Members of the House purporting to be a copy of the Report of Mr. Hamilton to the Lords of the Treasury on Mr. Croker's case. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) was bound to say that this appeared to him to be a very remarkable document. In the first place, it was not dated, nor, as far as he was aware, was any manuscript copy of it by Mr. Hamilton in existence. Its phraseology, though like that used in Mr. Croker's statements, was very unlike the language that would probably have appeared in a Report by an experienced official like Mr. Hamilton. In 1872 a Commission sat in Dublin on the general question of the Constabulary. Mr. Croker brought his case before them, but not conceiving themselves authorized to inquire into particular cases, they made no Report upon it. One of the Commissioners, however, the hon. and gallant Member for Longford (Major O'Reilly), had informed him that, having heard Mr. Croker's statements, the Commissioners were of opinion that he had no ground of complaint. Whether he ought to receive a compassionate allowance on the ground of his long services was another matter. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) would do his best with the time at his disposal to look into the case, and no one would be more glad than himself, if consistently with the duty he owed to the public, he could advise the Government to grant a compassionate allowance to Mr. Croker.


said, he considered that Mr. Croker had been most inconsiderately and harshly treated throughout. Even when the Lord Lieutenant had assented to the dismissal of Mr. Croker, he recommended that that officer should receive a retiring allowance from the Treasury. Sir John Wood, though he had previously promised that he would not oppose the grant of that retiring allowance, afterwards refused to sign the certificate upon which alone the Treasury were authorized to pay it. It was one of the most remarkable features in this case that so few records favourable to Mr. Croker had been found. A large number had been suppressed of which he ought to have had the benefit when his case was submitted to the Lord Lieutenant. Then, with regard to the unfavourable records, it was to be observed that they dated from 1849, when the late Inspector General had a son in the force under Mr. Croker. The son left duty without leave and when the men were dying of cholera, and Mr. Croker felt it necessary to reprimand him. Ever after this Mr. Croker was subjected to the harshest treatment. He had himself read statements from parties who were ordered narrowly to watch Mr. Croker and to report him for the smallest irregularity. It was not fair to say that Lord Mayo had refused Mr. Croker's Petition—in fact, he recommended the case to the Treasury.


No—he sanctioned his dismissal, but recommended him for a compassionate allowance.


He sanctioned his dismissal on the distinct statement of Sir John Wood that he had been recommended for a pension. In 1868 Mr. Hamilton was deputed to investigate the case. He made the Report to the Treasury which it was now said to be a forgery. If it was a forgery, it could easily be proved to be so. Had any appeal been made on that point to Sir John Wood? The Report circulated among Members as being the Report of Mr. Hamilton had been stigmatized by the Secretary for Ireland as a forgery. That was a most unfounded charge. Mr. Hamilton was dead—had he been alive the charge would never have been made. Moreover, they had a certified copy of a letter of Mr. Hamilton bearing witness to the excellence of Mr. Croker's character. With that before them what ground had they for declaring that Mr. Hamilton's Report in his favour was a forgery? What he asked for was inquiry. There were two questions to be inquired into: first, was the charge against Mr. Croker true, and, secondly, had the records favourable to Mr. Croker been suppressed? He denied that the charge was true; but it was only in case that it was that the other question would arise, for then the favourable records would come in in mitigation of punishment. He asked, was it consistent with the English spirit of fair play that a man who had given 31 years of his life to the public service should be allowed to fall into indigence? for that, he regretted to say, was what awaited Mr. Croker if no further steps were taken in this matter. The only offence committed by Mr. Croker was that he held more than three acres of land, and if there were any other offences they had been condoned.


said, he held in his hand the paper which the Chief Secretary for Ireland had insinuated was a forgery; but, if it were a forgery, nothing would be easier for the right hon. Gentleman than to prove it. Moreover, if it were a forgery, how was it that Mr. Croker had been recommended for a compassionate allowance?


said, he had guarded himself against saying that Mr. Hamilton's alleged Report was a forgery. All he had said was that the style of the document was extremely remarkable, and that there was no trace of it in the Department.


said, it was evident from the fact that the Chief Secretary proposed a compromise that he had his doubts in respect to what had been said in regard to the authority of the Report, for if it were a forgery he could not conceive how the right hon. Gentleman should take that course. There were other serious charges made in Mr. Croker's Petition. If there was any truth in the allegation that promotion had been given by the late head of the Constabulary in return for money lent by his subordinates, the Government ought to be most anxious for inquiry. On the contrary, if the statement were false, it was absolutely necessary for the honour of the Irish Constabulary that there should be some sort of investigation.


boretestimony to the zeal and efficiency of Mr. Croker during the time he was sub-Inspector in the county of Wicklow. On one occasion when there was a strike of the miners had it not been for him there would have been great bloodshed. He held in his hand a number of letters from men of the highest character, who described Mr. Croker as a man of honour and a gentleman.


said, he had known Mr. Hamilton, who was a gentleman and a scholar. He could not believe that the illiterate Report was his production. But this doubt was a reason for inquiry. And as new facts of great importance had been made known in the discussion, in justice to Mr. Croker as well as in the interests of truth, a new inquiry was desirable.


said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) had no intention to throw any reflection upon Sir John Wood. He hoped that after what had come out in the course of the debate the Government would accede to the Motion.


said, it was impossible for the Government to assent to the Resolution as it stood, inasmuch as it involved a Vote of Censure not only on Sir John Wood, a distinguished public servant, but also on the Government of the day. Since the Chief Secretary had spoken several matters had been brought before the House of which his right hon. Friend was not aware when he rose to address it. He had now to announce to the House that if the present Motion were withdrawn the Government would institute such an inquiry as would, he thought, be satisfactory to all parties. He wished to mention that his right hon. Friend had, before coming down to the House, made inquiry at the Treasury, and had been informed that there was no such letter or Report as had been referred to.


said, that under the circumstances he should, of course, withdraw the Motion. He wished, however, to mention that he himself sent the autograph letter of Mr. Hamilton to the right hon. Baronet.


said, he had no recollection of anything of the kind. Certainly, he should not have made the statement if he had not believed it to be true.


hoped the promised inquiry would extend to all the allegations contained in the memorial of Mr. Croker.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.