HC Deb 10 May 1881 vol 261 cc178-9

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to the letters of Elizabeth Burley and Mr. Alfred Dyer, in the "Daily News" of yesterday, Monday 9th May, the former asserting her innocence of the conduct imputed to her, and the latter detailing circumstances and the opinions of others in confirmation of her assertion; and, whether he will deem it right to cause inquiry to be made by an impartial person with such care and discretion as an investigation into the character of a woman demands?


, in reply, said, if this poor girl were innocent, there was no doubt that a great wrong had been done her, and she was entitled to entire sympathy and redress; and he was sure that his hon. and learned Friend would not doubt that he was as anxious as he was that entire justice should be done to her. When he was questioned on this subject, he was bound to answer according to the information which was accessible to him. Anyone conversant with this painful class of cases must know how difficult it was, in the midst of prejudice by which such cases were surrounded, to arrive at the exact truth. When called upon to form a judgment in this instance, he did not think it right to rely on the statement of the girl herself, or upon the statement of the police, both of which would be naturally biassed. He looked rather to the surrounding circumstances, and to the statements of unprejudiced witnesses and persons not likely to be deceived. In the proceedings before the magistrates, the chaplain, who had acted as the girl's friend, made a statement which appeared to be altogether inconsistent with his belief in her innocence. At the conclusion of the proceedings, one of the magistrates who heard the case said he had had some conversation with the unfortunate girl, and that she had expressed her willingness to act properly if anything could be done for her. The Chairman said he "could do no more." If the magistrates had been of a different opinion, they would have condemned the conduct of the police, which they did not do. His (Sir William Harcourt's) position was not au easy one. He had, on the one hand, to take care that no one was molested on unjust suspicion, nor, when justly suspected, that they were harshly dealt with; but, on the other hand, he had to see that the police were not deterred by unfair accusations from the discharge of a difficult duty. He had already stated that if the girl was not innocent the police had acted with a want of discretion for which they would be severely reprimanded. If the girl was innocent, the case would assume a different aspect, and would have to be dealt with in a different manner. If an innocent girl was pursued with unjust suspicion, she was entitled to all the reparation that could be afforded her. He had already directed that inquiry should be made and the facts ascertained by all the means at his disposal. If his hon. and learned Friend could suggest any more effectual manner of dealing with the matter, he should be most happy to co-operate with him for arriving at the exact truth of the case.