HC Deb 01 September 1887 vol 320 cc723-5
MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been drawn to the conviction and fining of a number of poor persons at the instance of Sir Hickman Bacon, baronet, by the Gainsborough magistrates, on Tuesday, 9th August, under the following circunstances:—A rumour having been set in circulation by some individual, as a hoax, to the effect, that, as Sir Hickman had not contributed very largely to the local Jubilee Fund, he had thrown a pea field open to poor people; a large number of the poor of the neighbourhood availed themselves of what they believed to be his generosity, for which they were summoned and fined in some cases 4s., for peas not worth more than 1s.; whether it was admitted by the prosecution that such rumour had been circulated for three or four days previously, and was a "widespread rumour," and that there was written in chalk on the gate of the field "This field is thrown open as a Jubilee Treat;" whether it was proved that the persons summoned acted under the bonâ fide belief that the field had been thrown open to them; and, if so, by what interpretation of the law could they be held guilty of any offence; whether the prosecutor offered to withdraw the summonses if the defendants would pay the costs, and, on their stating their inability to pay, insisted on a conviction; and, whether, having regard to all the above circumstances, he will order the fines to be refunded?


I am imformed by the magistrate's clerk that it was not suggested that the rumour referred to was set in circulation as a hoax. Sir Hickman Bacon was the largest contributor to the Jubilee in Gainsborough and three adjoining parishes, and, moreover, placed 50 acres of his park at the disposal of the Jubilee Committee. It was not admitted by the prosecutor that the rumour had been circulated or was widespread, and nothing was written in chalk on the gate. There was no proof given, or offered, that the persons summoned acted under a bonâ fide belief that the field had been thrown open to them. The prosecutor's solicitor offered to withdraw the summonses on payment of costs; but I am informed that the defendants, except one, preferred to be fined rather than to pay costs without a conviction. I collect that no fine was imposed for the value of the peas, or for any larger amount than the costs; and, having regard to all these circumstances, I see no ground for interference.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the magistrate's clerk who supplied the information was solicitor to Sir Hickman Bacon; and whether he would allow him to submit a Report of the matter for his consideration?


said, that he was not aware of the fact stated by the hon. Gentleman. He should be very glad to see any information which the hon. Member had in his possession upon the subject.