HC Deb 18 July 1889 vol 338 cc718-21

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, under the Law of England, a free British Subject can be arrested, carried through several counties, and extradited to a Man-of-War, and to martial jurisdiction, without being brought before a Magistrate or subjected to any judicial inquiry; whether the police actually did extradite the young man Thompson in that way; whether they received any reward for doing so, and from what source; and, in case their conduct was contrary to law and regulation, whether he has taken any steps to obtain the punishment of the men concerned?


Thompson was not extradited by the police nor was he in their custody. A policeman received from the Admiralty a reward of £1 under 10 and 11 Vic, c 62, s. 9, for having given information which led to the arrest of Thompson on the charge of an offence under the Militia Act, for having enlisted while he was a deserter from the Navy. As he confessed that he was a deserter, he was sent under military escort to Portsmouth to be tried by the Naval Authorities, the wishes of the Admiralty having been previously ascertained by the commanding officer in accordance with the regulation under the Militia Act. The police did nothing contrary to law.


I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether there are any Regulations regarding the procedure to be followed in summary trials under the Naval Discipline Act beyond the general instruction, in paragraph 678 of the Queen's Regulations, that— All complaints are to be fully investigated on the quarter-deck in the presence of the accuser and the accused, who, as well as their witnesses, are to be heard fully and with impartiality. And whether naval trials are subject to such formalities as military trials; who was the accuser of the young man Thompson sentenced by Captain Woodward; whether there was any formal trial on the quarter-deck, in accordance with the Regulation above quoted; whether any witnesses were examined to prove the charge of desertion, and who they were, or whether the only evidence was an alleged mark on the arm; and, whether, if it appears that Captain Woodward did not conduct the trial in accordance with the spirit of the latest Regulation, the Admiralty proposes to take any steps in the matter?


There are no regulations beyond these named in the question which, if properly carried out, would appear to be amply sufficient. The accuser of Thompson was in this case the circumstantial evidence against him, confirmed by his own statement and action. A formal trial, as required by the instructions, was strictly carried out in this case by the captain of the Duke of Wellington. No witnesses for the defence were examined, but had the prisoner wished to call any they would certainly have been sent for.


Was not the trial of this young man before Captain Woodward; and was it not the fact that no evidence was taken or recorded in any way on that occasion?


Captain Woodward complied with the regulations. Any man who declares himself to be a deserter, or who gives out that he is a deserter, not being such, is liable to imprisonment for 90 days, with hard labour. This case, as I have previously stated, is a very exceptional one, because the boy had chosen deliberately to personate a deserter, and that, coupled with the fact of his remarkable resemblance to the deserter, misled the authorities.


At the trial on the quarter-deck was there any evidence taken to prove that the accused was a deserter?


There were documents—a letter from the War Office and the statement of the commanding officer, together with the statement from the police at Derby, to the effect that the young man had admitted himself to be a deserter.


May I ask whether a letter from one Department to another is evidence at a naval trial on which a man can be sent to prison for 90 days; and, whether it is not the fact that the moment Thompson was taken before the captain he stated that he was not a deserter, and gave two addresses which were never inquired into at the time?

MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucestershire, Cirencester)

Was any evidence taken on oath on the quarter-deck?


What led Captain Woodward into an undoubted mistake was the statement of the prisoner that he was a deserter, coupled with his remarkable resemblance to the description of the actual deserter.

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