HC Deb 19 November 1908 vol 196 cc1414-8
MR. GINNELL (Westmeath, N.)

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland if he will state with how many rifles and rifle cartridges were the police at Riverstown armed on the night they shot John Stenson dead; how many rifle shots and how many other shots did they fire at the people on that occasion; who gave the order to fire; was any public notice given in advance to the people that if they attempted to scatter the cattle off Mr. Phibbs's ranch they would be shot down with rifle bullets; was the Riot Act read aloud to the people before the police began to fire; if it is in accordance with the rules of the Royal Irish Constabulary to lie in ambush and fire with rifles upon trespassers on a ranch, killing one of them, without having given any previous notice or read the Riot Act; and what law do the police rely upon to justify this action.

The following Questions also on the same subject appeared on the Paper in the hon. Gentleman's name.

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether there is any evidence, beyond the uncorroborated assertions of the police, that the people at Riverstown, County Sligo, used firearms on 29th October last; and whether, for instance, any policeman has sustained a shot wound.

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether he is aware that the sergeant of police at Riverstown boasted repeatedly during the week preceding the shooting of John Stenson that the police had orders to shoot cattle-drivers on sight, without reading the Riot Act, and that he would pump lead into the people; and, if this conduct is not in accordance with the discipline of the force and the wishes of the Government, what action is to be taken in the matter.

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether, seeing that the fact of the police having taken a human life at Riverstown, County Sligo, on 29th October last is the only undisputed statement in the police report of that occurrence, and that the police are therefore interested parties and the only persons opposed to an exhaustive inquiry, the Government will institute such an inquiry forthwith.

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland if any post-mortem examination of the body of John Stenson was made before the inquest; if so, by whom was it made, and what are his qualifications; was it ascertained or given in evidence whether or not death is instantaneous when a rifle bullet enters the back of the head, passes through the head, and emerges through one of the eyes; and what verdict was returned at the inquest.

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether it was with the sanction of the Irish Government that the Inspector-General of the Royal Irish Constabulary, on learning on 29th October last that the police at Riverstown, County Sligo, had shot a man dead, telegraphed to the district inspector at Ballymote to inform Head Constable Donovan and the men who, under his charge, repelled the attack on the police of an armed party of cattle-drivers on the morning of 29th instant, and added that he was grateful to learn how well they upheld the traditions of the force on that occasion; and, seeing that this telegram from the head of the force is, and until countermanded will be, an incentive to all policemen to act similarly, whether the Government will immediately convey to the police disapproval of the telegram in question and of the spilling of human blood by peace officers.


As regards the principal matters referred to in this and the five following Questions, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary to the Questions asked by the hon. Members for North Sligo and Mid Armagh on the 5th instant. That reply was as follows: "On the occasion in question, shortly after midnight, a force of ten police under a head constable, was on certain lands from which the cattle had twice been driven. A body of over 100 men entered the field and approached the cattle. They refused to retire when called on to do so, and attacked the police with stones. The head constable in charge of the party was struck on the head with a stone and knocked down, and other constables were also injured. A shot was fired from the crowd, and the police were driven back by volleys of stones. The crowd rapidly closed on the police, and the head constable, believing the lives of his men to be in imminent danger, ordered them to fire. The crowd repeatedly fired at the police with revolvers, and did not retire until the police had fired a second and third time. The dead body of a young man, named John Stenson, was subsequently found in the field with a bullet wound in the head. These facts speak for themselves. An inquest has been held, and it is not intended to hold any further inquiry." Eighteen carbine shots and five revolver shots were fired by the police in self-defence. The police are not empowered to read the Riot Act; that is the duty in proper cases of a magistrate. The statement of the police as to the circumstances in which they fired was given on oath at the inquest, and no one came forward to contradict it. So far as I am aware, no one was present on the occasion except the police and the rioters, and it is, therefore, impossible to secure any independent evidence, but that of the police themselves. The necessary medical evidence was given by the local dispensary doctor, who is fully qualified. The verdict was to the effect that death was caused by a bullet wound. The telegram sent by the Inspector-General was a personal message to a head constable injured in the discharge of his duty, and did not require the sanction of the Government. I cannot say whether the hon. Member's account of its contents is accurate or not, but the Government have no reason to think that it will have a bad effect, and have no intention of expressing disapproval of the action of the Inspector-General in sending it. The police authorities inform me that there is no foundation for the charge made against the sergeant at Riverstown.

MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)

A state of war!

MR. BELLOC (Salford, S.)

May I ask whether it is impossible to get any evidence independent of that of the police?


Yes, Sir, it is really impossible, so far as we know. It was the middle of the night, and nobody was present except the police and the rioters.

MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid.)

Is there the slightest ground for doubting the evidence of the police?


I see none.


Is it not a fact that a branch of the United Irish League has existed in the district of Riverstown for years, and that the district has been perfectly peaceful until last summer, when a branch of an aggressive Protestant organisation was formed there?


I believe a branch of the League has existed in Riverstown, but I do not think you could describe the condition of the locality as peaceful.