HC Deb 29 July 1889 vol 338 cc1571-3

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will take measures to prevent the continuance of the practice of requiring convicts, at Portland or elsewhere, to sling heavy stones in the manner which has just caused the death of a prisoner, and which has been declared, by jurors, at a recent coroner's inquest at Portland, to be very dangerous to life and limb. I have also to ask whether his attention has been directed to a protest signed by eight out of the 13 jurors empanelled on a coroner's jury held this month in Portland Convict Prison, the said protest objecting to the presence and interference of the Governor or other officers of the prison at such inquests, except whilst giving their own evidence, and as required to do so; and, whether he will give orders that at all future inquests in convict and local prisons, no officers shall be present except whilst giving their own evidence?


I am informed by the Directors of Convict Prisons that this convict's death was not due to the manner of slinging stone. He was walking around it to see how best to sling it, and put his head in such a position that when the stone moved quite unexpectedly his head was crushed. I cannot find that the jurors as a body expressed an opinion that the manner of slinging was dangerous. There is no such opinion recorded in their verdict. The Governor has been instructed to caution the warders to prevent prisoners from voluntarily incurring any avoidable risks as was done in this case. In reply to the second question of my hon. Friend, I have to say that I have not received any such protest, but I gather from a newspaper report of the case that eight out of the 13 jurors did object to the presence of the Governor. It is purely a matter for the discretion of the coroner whether or no the Governor or Deputy Governor shall be present at these inquests. I am informed by the Prison Commissioners that the practice of these officers being in attendance is due to the express wish of coroners. A case occurred about two years ago when they did not attend, and it was made a subject of complaint by the coroner. Moreover, at these inquests the officers responsible for the discipline of the prison are in a sense on their trial, and I do not think it would be just to them, or conducive to a proper elucidation of the facts if I gave such orders as my hon. Friend suggests.