HC Deb 21 March 1890 vol 342 cc1580-94
(9.19.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

As I see the Solicitor General in his place I would take this opportunity of drawing his notice to a case in winch, in my judgment, there has been a gross violation of the law by servants of the Crown. I refer to the case of John Daly, a convict now in Chatham Prison. Questions have been more than once addressed to the Home Secretary on the subject, and I am sorry for the sake of humanity and for the credit of this House that when those questions were asked the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) and the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnstone) interjected questions as to what crime Daly had been sent to prison for. I venture to say that, no matter what may be the offence for which a man. has been sent to prison, he is equally entitled to be treated according to the law; and I would lay down the general principle that, whilst other classes of Her Majesty's subjects are pretty well able to protect themselves, prisoners are peculiarly unable to do so. If they are subject to any ill-treatment, it is only at the hands of this House that they can receive a measure of protection. John Daly was convicted by the Treasury of having dynamite in his possession for an unlawful purpose. I have no intention of questioning the justice of the verdict; but in the City of Limerick where this man was born and spent his life, and in the County of Limerick where he is very well-known, the almost universal opinion of his character and disposition is such that the people do not believe it possible that the criminal intention which the jury found in his mind could exist. Whatever may be the explanation of the circumstances which led to his conviction, at any rate the people who know him best do not believe he could have entertained the intention of using the dynamite as a means of outrage upon property, still less upon life. That belief entertained in his native county has led to public action, and I freely confess the existence of that belief does exercise some influence upon myself in drawing attention to Daly's case. But I return to the principle, that no matter what may have been the offence of which he has been found guilty, it is not good law, and in regard to this particular class of offence. I go so far as to say it is not good policy to allow the prison officers to treat a man who is suffering the heavy sentence of penal servitude for 20 years with illegal cruelty. When a man is convicted of such an offence, there is a special danger that the prison officials may be actuated by a special animus against him, and may treat him with exceptional cruelty, and it is purely by an accident that I am able to draw the notice of this House to the case of this man. A meeting of the citizens of Limerick was held in November last, the High Sheriff in the chair, to consider a report upon the ill-treatment of Daly, and a gentleman named James Jones, who, in May last, visited Daly, gave an account of what he had heard from Daly, and of the impression left upon him by the visit. Mr. Jones said that when Daly ventured to enter into the details of his treatment, a warder threatened to send him back to his cell. My first point is that a man in this condition ought, in common justice, to be allowed to communicate to a visitor to the prison any complaint ho has to make. Mr. Jones went on to say that he was horror-stricken at Daly's appearance, for all his features bore traces of cruel suffering. Daly, Mr. Jones continued, was at death's door; his treatment was fearful; he was worked to such an extent that his arms were swollen until he thought the flesh would burst, and the agony he suffered was intense. From the bad and insufficient food supplied to him he had an attack of dysentery; but the doctor was not allowed to see him for a week, and when he was ordered to the hospital, he was put in a bath for half an hour, and compelled to wash his clothes whilst he was scarcely able to support himself in the bath. Now I come to what appears to be a perfectly wanton refinement of cruelty— He was at that time entitled to receive a visit— [An hon. MEMBER: "What are you quoting?"] I am quoting from the speech in which Mr. James Jones gave an account of his interview with Daly. He was at that time entitled to receive a visit every six months, and his sister applied on four different occasions for permission to see him. He was refused a visit on the ground of what they were pleased to call misconduct. He was only counting the days in expectation of receiving a visit, and when he inquired if no one was coming to see him he was told 'No, there is no one coming to see you; your family must have entirely forgotten you.' This told on him severely, for it caused him great mental anguish to think he was forgotten by all, when at the same time he was most careful to do nothing which might cancel his right to a visit. It appears from the account of my friend that though at this period the prisoner was entitled to several visits, his sister was turned away. Mr. Jones went on to say— The prisoner has never had an opportunity of making known the tortures of this hell which it is. At the meeting in Limerick, which was presided over by the Queen's principal Officer in the county, the High Sheriff, most indignant resolutions were unanimously passed in favour of a sworn inquiry into this and other cases. But since the date of this meeting the extraordinary and mysterious fact has transpired that a drug, which in any quantity is poisonous, but which in a certain quantity is deadly—belladonna—has been administered to this prisoner under such circumstances and in such quantity as to challenge the gravest question. I should like to know if the Queen's Government have taken a leaf out of the prison system of Russia. I am aware that in Russia is certain cases and especially in cases of political prisoners, belladonna is administered to prisoners for the purpose of breaking down their nervous system—to render them more helpless in the hands of the gaolers. I believe that in cases of capital punishment, it is administered to prisoners in order that, by a breaking down of the nerves, they may die a coward's death on the scaffold. I shall request the right hon. Gentleman to offer any explanation he can upon the fact of the administration of the drug to a prisoner. It would be strange, indeed, if a great Power like England had stooped to this mean and wanton cruelty even against a man convicted of a dynamite offence. There is another remarkable circumstance in connection with the case. Daly was visited in prison by Richard Pigott and also by an agent of the Times. The prisoner stated to Mr. Jones that Pigott visited him, and that shortly afterwards he received a visit from an agent of the Times, who offered liberty and a certificate of indemnity if he would give information before the Commission against Parnell. I admit that inquiries we have been able to make do not bring us beyond this point, that various convicts in various prisons, especially those prisoners convicted of some serious offences, have been approached by agents of the Times with offers of liberty and promises of fortune if only they would swear against my hon. Friend, not what is true or what is false, no inquiry was made as to that, but to swear what happened to be convenient to the confederates of the Government in the case proceeding before the Special Commission. Now, I say no prisoner should be subjected to this kind of treatment. I say, moreover, that while on the one hand I shall never be debarred by any innuendo or sarcasm from taking up the case of a dynamiter if he is treated with illegality and cruelty, so I am ready to bring forward the case of any prisoner convicted of any other offence, if his treatment requires it. I make no distinction. I say the infliction of this treatment on this man, the administration of belladonna, is particularly open to question, following as it did the visits of Pigott and the Times' agent. I am aware that the Home Secretary is pursuing or supervising an inquiry into the subject. He stated yesterday that a chemical analysis was being made; I presume in relation to the administration of the belladonna, and he said—and I make no complaint of his answer—that he would endeavour to expedite that inquiry, which, however, I may mention, has occupied an inordinate length of time. The greater part of the treatment of which I complain dates back to last May, and it is several months since the belladonna was administered. I think if this man had not been convicted of a dynamite offence, this time would not have been allowed to elapse. I do not feel that to-night I have a right to challenge the Home Secretary to make a conclusive declaration upon the facts; but I have a right to claim from him an assurance that in view of the grave and shameful character of the narrative, Members of the House are entitled to be placed in a position to satisfy themselves by a perusal of the evidence of the sufficiency of the inquiry and Report. I lay it down as a principle that where prisoners are helpless to defend themselves—and I say this without regard to the nature of the crimes they may have committed—from proceedings at the hands of officers of the law, and when categorical charges of inhuman treatment are made, the officials of the prison have a right that their vindication shall be made public as the friends of the prisoners have a right to demand the fullest inquiry into the facts. Neither the Home Secretary or any other Minister of the Crown has a right to place himself in opposition to the Representatives of the people and arrogate to himself the duty of screening the actions of servants of the State from the inquiry of Members of this House. I ask the Home Secretary for an assurance that the Report and evidence shall be laid before us, and unless that assurance is forthcoming I shall make the only protest in my power, and divide the. House against the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair.

(9.35.) MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

During the remarks of my hon. Friend, the right hon. Gentleman opposite asked him from what he was quoting, and my hon. Friend said he was quoting from a speech of Mr. Jones, in addressing a meeting at Limerick last Saturday; and lest there should be any doubt on the mind of the Home Secretary, I wish to state that I can, from personal observation of Mr. Daly, corroborate everything said by Mr. Jones. Mora than 12 months ago I applied for a special order for myself and my hon. Friend the Member for West Limerick, to visit Mr. Daly, and we were led to make that request because we had heard that the prisoner's relatives in Limerick had obstacles placed in the way of their visiting him, and we also heard that Mr. Daly was being unnaturally and brutally treated in prison. We did not hesitate to go and visit Daly, although, perhaps, it was a dangerous thing to do at the time when charges were being levelled at Members sitting in this part of the House, and it was a delicate thing for any one of us to visit a man convicted of a dynamite offence. Nevertheless, in the spirit that has been so well expressed by my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) we put aside these personal considerations, and, in accordance with feelings of common humanity, visited a man whom we had known in early life, and a man whom we knew from that acquaintance was incapable of committing the offence of which ho was found guilty. I share the feeling that exists among his fellow-citizens and his fellow-countrymen that Daly was unfairly treated at the time of his arrest and trial. The people of the city and county believe, and I share the belief, that he was entrapped into this offence, and that there are some men not far removed from Scotland Yard who know all about the offence much more than the man who has suffered these terrible hardships in prison. It was in that spirit my hon. Friend the Member for West Limerick and myself visited Daly towards the close of 1888. The appearance of the prisoner certainly shocked me. I knew John Daly some years ago; he was then physically a fine, strong man, and I thought that no ordinary prison regimen could have reduced him to the condition in which we saw him then. He seemed to have been suffering very much, and one thing I noticed, and it is a result, I believe, that attends long and severe imprisonment, he had lost nearly all his teeth. This is a result of continued bad food. He had lost his teeth, his eyes were weak, and during our conversation perspiration oozed from every pore. I concluded that he was in a low and excited state, and excited ho no doubt was at meeting two of his old acquaintances. He made several efforts to communicate to us something ho had upon his mind. Now, my hon. Friend and I impressed upon Daly the necessity of conforming to prison rules. We had had experience of prison discipline, and know that the most agreeable way of getting through a term of imprisonment is to submit to regulations with such patience as you can command, and get on the side of the Governor and officials. Daly assured us positively that he entered the prison with the intention of conforming to prison rules, and behaving as becomes a good prisoner; but, he added, having pursued that course for some time, he found it was of no use or benefit to him whatever. He said, or endeavoured to convey as well as we could gather, that some other prisoners had spoken to him, and then he was immediately stopped by the warder, who said, "Speak about yourself, sir, not of anybody else." Then he was endeavouring to say that what "they" wanted was an inquiry, but when he used the word "they" the warder would not allow him to proceed any further. Daly then said, "I want nothing for myself, but what I demand for others. What we want is inquiry." The warder then threatened to send him back to his cell. All efforts to communicate his grievances were rudely stopped by the warder, but before the term of our brief visit—20 minutes—was up, ho assured us that he had entered the prison determined to be a good prisoner, but that he had been driven from that by the treatment of the prison officials. That he had suffered severely was evident to me from his appearance. I feel it my duty to say this much in corroboration of the statement made just now. One other thing Daly said I might mention. He said he wasted an inquiry, but he had no hope of leaving his prison alive. He could not, he said, in his emaciated condition last much longer under the brutal treatment to which he was subjected. To his old friend and neighbour the hon. Member for West Limerick—and I shall never forget the meeting between the two men—he said— I may never see you again; I cannot long exist; give my love to my mother and sisters. It will be too painful to see them here under the conditions we should be obliged to meet. If they come, I hope they will be able to bear it; but if I never should see them, tell them I died as I lived, loving them and my country. These were the last words we hive had from John Daly, and I do not think I need offer any apology for having mentioned this, which was a most affecting interview. I had not an opportunity of repeating the visit last year. I would do so no matter what might be the interpretation placed upon my action. I feel strongly for the man, and believe thoroughly in his innocence. I feel for him, because he has been subjected to harsh and brutal treatment under the impression that he is guilty of the heinous offence of conspiring to blow up public buildings with dynamite. We know that in English prisons dynamite and Fenian prisoners are treated with exceptional harshness, because the officials believe that popular feeling is strong against such offenders; but towards all our fellow-countrymen, no matter what may be the charges against them, we shall endeavour to do our duty.


The hon. Member who has just sat down, has suggested to the House that Irish prisoners such as John Daly are subjected in English prisons to treatment other than the treatment other felony prisoners receive, but that is absolutely without any foundation.

An hon. MEMBBR: I do not believe it.


Order, order!


There is not a syllable of truth in the allegation. From time to time I have carefully watched the treatment of Daly, my attention being called to his case by the frequent complaints that he, like other prisoners, has been in the habit of making to the doctor; and, upon the replies to my minute inquiries, I can assert most positively that Daly's treatment is in no way different to that of any other prisoner undergoing penal servitude. The hon. Member will understand that I naturally feel that I had better not say all I know of the case of Daly while inquiry is proceeding—an independent inquiry. The hon. Member for West Belfast said that charges had been categorically made, but I hardly know what these are he refers to. The charges brought to my notice—I have not got all the Papers here—are contained in a Green Pamphlet which gives a Report of the first public meeting when this subject was mentioned and when a great variety of charges was made, the most important being suggestions that inasmuch as Daly had refused to give evidence on behalf of the Times, he had been subjected since then to a different and harsher treatment. That is a most serious charge; and I can assure the hon. Member that when it was brought to my notice, I did not lose a day, but instituted a most full and elaborate inquiry, the result of which is in the Report I have before me. But this Report was made by the Director of Convict Prisons and officials responsible for the treatment of Daly and, therefore, would not, according to the usual habit of hon. Members opposite, of which I do not complain, be accepted as satisfactory by them. Anxious, therefore, that the charges should be fully met, and to set at rest all doubts in the minds of hon. Members and to satisfy them, if possible, I directed the Visitors of Chatham Prison to make an inquiry in their own way entirely independent of mine. I have scrupulously abstained from interfering with this inquiry, only giving these gentlemen any assistance they ask for, as, for instance, providing them with the services of a chemical expert. I have not hurried them. I have given them carte blanche as to the method they should follow. As the first step in their inquiry they began by hearing Daly, and they have perfect liberty to call for any prisoner and any prison official, from the lowest warder to the Director of Convict Prisons. I have not interfered with or attempted to control their freedom of inquiry in the east; and when the inquiry is complete I will most certainly, the matter being of such importance, communicate the result to the hon. Member and the House. I believe a correct record is being kept of the evidence taken. I do not know whether its value and importance may be such as to make it a special document to lay on the Table of the House; but it shall be communicated to the hon. Member, and all who are specially interested in the subject.


And the nature of the analysis?


With that I am imperfectly acquainted. The hon. Member knows that, in the first instance, when this unhappy accident occurred, the prisoner was suffering from a very painful disorder, I will not call it a complaint, for which a prescription was made out, and approved by more than one doctor, for I always take care that unusual symptoms shall have outside treatment to confirm that of the prison doctor, and even grant the request of a prisoner for the attendance of a particular medical man in certain cases. In the mixture prescribed belladonna was one of the ingredients, and the compounder, by some blunder or mistake, put in an extra quantity beyond what was prescribed. From the mixture so compounded three doses were administered before the evil effects were observed. I have a Report from Dr. Gover, who was sent to make inquiry, and he says, after examining the patient, that heart and lungs are sound, and there are no symptoms that the overdose of belladonna has had any permanent effect, and that he is free from any organic disease.


What about heart and brain?


Heart and lungs are said to be sound. The hon. Member has the advantage of me in medical knowledge. That is the way the accident arose, the belladonna being in excessive strength. I gather that a sample of the mixture was sent for analysis to Dr. Stevenson at Somerset House, and that the Visitors have thought proper to inquire whether the belladonna from which the quantity was taken for mixing had not itself become too strong through length of time it had been in stock. I believe the suggestion had been conveyed to the minds of the Visitors that the accident might be due to the store itself being of undue strength, and that would relieve the compounder from the charge of having made a mistake. That is one of the additional analyses the Visitors require to have made together with the remains of the mixture actually administered to Daly. Allusion has been made by the hon. Member for West Belfast to the visit of Pigott. Questions upon this I have answered more than once, and if there is any inconsistency in what I may say now with what I have said before it must be attributed to fault of memory, as I have not my memoranda here. Upon some points my memory is clear. It is absolutely untrue that Mr. Soames had an interview at all. Pigott proposed to visit Daly as a friend, having known Daly in Limerick in former days. Daly was asked if he preferred to see Pigott or—and here I am not quite clear—whether he would see Pigott or Mr. Jones, or at least some distant relative. The prisoner, having the alternative, elected to sec Pigott, and Pigott called as a personal friend, without any mission from any other human being, from Mr. Soames or any body else. No offer was made to Daly by Pigott as has been suggested. The conversation that took place was in the presence of the warder, the visit was that of an old acquaintance, and it was unconnected with Mr. Soames in any way whatever. Daly has complained of his treatment, it is true, and it is not to be wondered at that convicts should complain of the discipline to which they are necessarily subjected. It was never intended that it should be agreeable or other than punitive in character, and Daly is treated as other convicts are. I repeat that since I have been responsible I have seen that nothing was done in Daly's case that was not fully warranted by the Prison Rules and prison discipline; and with regard to his health, unusual and special precautions have been taken. He has had doctors selected by himself. No doubt two years ago he had rather a serious illness.


Have you ever received his written complaints from the Governor?


I received written complaints some two years ago. Daly had an illness. He got the idea into his head that he had got cancer in the stomach, and I sent down Dr. Clarke, in whom hon. Members have confidence, to see him, and it turned out that he was suffering from dyspepsia. On every occasion that Daly's complaints have been received I have taken the utmost care that they should be investigated. The administration of belladonna was a serious mistake, but he was at once sent to hospital, and he recovered within 36 hours and was as well as before.


The right hon. Gentleman has not said anything about the visit of Thompson, the Times agent, to Daly.


Thompson did visit Daly as the representative of Mr. Soames. In answer to the questions of hon. Members on former occasions, I gave every detail that occurred. I cannot without the papers charge my memory with the details.

* SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

Will Her Majesty's Government give any compensation to this man, who has been accidentally poisoned and seriously injured in health through the fault of the prison officers?


Every statement made by the hon. Member is incorrect. Daly was not poisoned; he was not injured in health; he rapidly and completely recovered in a few hours; and it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to offer any compensation.

MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)

Sir, from my own experience, I can vouch for this fact, that it is quite possible for prison treatment to be made more severe or more mild without infringing the Prison Rules. It is entirely at the will of the prison officials. I desire to express emphatically my entire distrust of any report of the prison officials with regard to any case of the kind. I have a very clear remembrance of the case of O'Donovan Rossa, and his prison treatment was over and over again denied in this House, until it had finally to be acknowledged on investiga- tion. I must say that, after the long-delay in getting a satisfactory explanation of this case, I am by no means reassured, and I am very much inclined to fear that Daly's refusal to swear for the Times is now being revenged upon him in prison.

MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

The right, hon. Gentleman, who firmly believes the officials as against the prisoners, seems to forget that this is not the first case. In 1887 I went to visit Donnelly in Chatham Prison, at the request of his father, who is one of my constituents, and who was too old and poor to travel the distance. I thought it a charitable act to comply with his request, and I saw Donnelly, who spoke to me under all the difficulty s described by my hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary. The officials continually interfered between the prisoners and the visitors. If a visit of twenty minutes is to be allowed, I think the convict should be allowed to use-them to the best advantage. And surely there should be some distinction made in the case of Members of this House who visit prisoners. When I visited Donnelly I was put in a sort of sentry box to speak to him, while two or three warders stood by. But what happened to this man Donnelly? As far as I can understand Donnelly was asked to swear against Mr. Parnell, and i have information that he was poisoned or done away with within a few months of my visit. That is a very serious state of affairs, if true. Donnelly was a strong, stout young man, and he was invited, as Daly was, to swear against Mr. Parnell. I think the invitation came to him in the month of August, 1887, and he was dead in October, 1887, under these suspicious circumstances. I think this interference of the warders between a prisoner and his visitors should not be tolerated by the authorities. Because a man has committed a crime or offence he ought not therefore to be outside human sympathy. Recent investigations show that persons in high places can stoop to crime the mention of which would be resented by these convicts to whom I refer. I think Members of Parliament, when visiting prisoners, should not be limited in time and opportunity to speak to them, nor should the warders be present, because if the prisoner makes a complaint, as soon as the visitor is away that prisoner is punished. There is constant flogging in Chatham and other prisons for slight offences. It is natural that a man should attempt to escape, and it is the duty of the warders to prevent him, yet if he make that attempt some sleek and well-shaven visitor orders him 50 or 100 lashes, and these are administered with such ferocity that sometimes the man's bones are left bare. Over and over again these floggings take place. There is another matter the Home Secretary should interfere with. Though flogging is done away with in the Army, a prisoner for some trifling offence may be sent to a military prison where he may be ordered, if I am not astray, 100 lashes. The severity of the flogging is such that very often a man's feet are surrounded in his own blood. You have done away with flogging in the Army, and yon ought to do away with flogging in prisons. Prison discipline is sufficiently stringent, without the addition of corporal punishment. It is a degrading punishment, and can only be countenanced by a class of men who do their best to bring us back to the bad evil times. I think the Home Secretary should give this matter careful consideration. When severe punishments were inflicted for trivial offences, those offences were much more numerous. The only effect of these severe punishments is to increase the number of offences. Since the punishment of hanging for sheep stealing and other offences has been abolished, the number of those crimes has greatly decreased, and this is a proof that the more just and humane punishment is made, the more reformatory are its effects.

(10.16.) DR. TANNER

May I ask the Government for an answer to the few observations I delivered?


In the absence of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, I can only say that I believe he has under his consideration the subject brought forward by the hon. Member.


When am I likely to get a definite answer?


That I cannot say.


Then I will bring the matter forward on the Estimates.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

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