HC Deb 07 November 1906 vol 164 cc540-2
MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the prosecution of Mrs. Elizabeth Perkins, who, on or about 23rd October, was arrested and charged with perjury, on evidence of identification given by four policemen and a matron, and after two remands was discharged on Friday last, without a stain on her character, by the magistrate sitting at the Tower Bridge Police Court: whether on or about 23rd October the finger print impressions of Mrs. Perkins were taken; whether these impressions were compared with the finger print impressions of the woman convicted in June, 1905, who Mrs. Perkins was supposed to be; and, if so, what was the result of such comparison, and why, when the case was heard on remand on 31st October, the police persisted in going on with the prosecution, notwithstanding the information then in their possession.

The following Questions on the same subject also appeared on the Paper:—


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Perkins, a widow, who was confined in Holloway Gaol on a charge of perjury, which was heard and dismissed at the Tower Bridge Police Court last week; whether he is aware that Mrs. Perkins was offered £4 5s. as compensation for the mistake of the police by Detective Inspector Nicol; and will he explain the methods of calculation pursued by the police in arriving at this sum.

DR. COOPER (Southwark, Bermondsey)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been directed to the case of Elizabeth Perkins, of 19, Tissington Street, Rotherhithe, who was wrongfully indicted for perjury at the Tower Bridge Police Court on the evidence of identification of four police constables and a prison wardress, the charge being withdrawn and a public apology tendered; whether he is in a position to state whether £2 5s. was offered to Mrs. Perkins by the police as compensation; whether he will refer the case to the Police Commission, now sitting to report upon the present system of police identification; and whether he will consider the advisability of giving Mrs. Perkins adequate compensation.


I propose to answer with this the Questions of my hon. friends the Members for the Thornbury Division of Gloucestershire and the Bermondsey Division of Southwark. Mrs. Elizabeth Perkins, owing to a mistake in identification with another woman of the same name, was charged with perjury, and after two remands and a full hearing the charge was withdrawn, and she was discharged by the magistrate, who stated that she left the Court without a stain on her character. As to the remand of the 31st October, the police were then in doubt about the case and were making farther investigation, with the result that two days later the charge was withdrawn. Meanwhile, Mrs. Perkins, who had been altogether in prison for two days, was out on bail. I deeply regret the mistake that was made. The finger prints of the woman convicted in 1905 were not taken, as the case was merely one under a county council bye-law. The statement which has been made that in this case there was a failure of the figure print system was without foundation. If the police had had the finger prints of the woman convicted in 1905, Mrs. Perkins's innocence would have been established at once and beyond doubt; but it is impossible at present to take the finger prints of all prisoners. In dismissing the charge the magistrate expressed the opinion that the accused should be reimbursed the expenses to which she had been put. This she estimated at 45s. The Commissioner offered her £4, which she has now, I understand, refused. The case does not appear to me to come within the reference to the Royal Commission which has to deal with solicitation, disorderly conduct, and drunkenness.


Why were the finger prints of Mrs. Perkins taken on the 23rd October?


said the charge was the serious one of perjury, which brought it within the rule as to the taking of finger prints.


asked why the police failed to make the inquiries before the warrant was issued, which, when made after, proved Mrs. Perkins to be innocent.


I have no doubt that certain members of the police made a mistake, which I much regret, but inquiries were instituted, with the result that the charge against Mrs. Perkins was withdrawn.


Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of giving adequate compensation in this case?


I am not yet aware whether Mrs. Perkins intends to take any action against the police for wrongful arrest, and until I am in possession of information on that point I could not make any statement as to compensation.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mrs. Perkins is an extremely poor woman, being, I believe, in receipt of parish relief, and therefore not in a position to take legal proceedings against the police?

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

Has Mrs. Perkins any remedy against the police?


The Papers only reached me this morning, and it has not been possible for me to make absolutely searching investigation into all the facts, but I am extremely desirous that full justice should be done, and the House may safely leave the matter to me, at any rate for a time.

MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)

May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman is considering the question of reviving the charge against the man who was the original cause of all the mischief?


I have no information about that part of the subject, and the Question has not been addressed to me before.