HC Deb 08 January 1913 vol 46 cc1159-60

asked the right hon. Gentleman whether Herbert Charles Day, of His Majesty's ship "Hearty," was tried on the 5th September, 1912, by court-martial for striking a lieutenant and sentenced to eight months' detention, and that his defence was that a private letter written to him by his mother had been opened by those in authority on the ship; will he say whether this was true; whether whilst under detention Day struck a chief petty officer, for which he was also tried and sentenced; whether, seeing that under the King's Regulations, Articles 761, the opening of the letter was wholly unauthorised, he will see his way to advise the remission of any part of the sentence remaining to be served, and in the circumstances of the case take steps to prevent the sentence recorded from militating against the man in regard to his pay and ultimate right to pension; and whether due steps have been taken to secure absolute privacy of all correspondence addressed to the men of His Majesty's Navy in the future?


Day was tried by Martial on the 5th September, 1912, on charges of: (1) and (2) improperly leaving ship; (3) willful disobedience of a lawful command of his superior officer; (4) striking his superior officer, a lieutenant. With regard to the third and fourth charges, the accused urged that a private letter written to him by his mother had been opened by the captain's order! The accused was found guilty on all four charges and was sentenced to eight months' detention. On the ground that the opening of the letter was not justifiable in the circumstances, the Admiralty directed that the sentence should be reduced to four months' detention. On the 1st October, Day was again tried by court-martial for striking a chief petty officer in the detention quarters at Chatham and was awarded nine months' detention, the two sentences to run consecutively. The Admiralty, however, directed that the second sentence should run concurrently with the first. The opening of the letter, though improper, cannot be accepted as a justification for striking a superior officer, and the Admiralty are not prepared to reduce still further the effect of the sentences awarded by the courts-martial. Steps are being taken to prevent the improper opening of private correspondence in future.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to allow private letters to be opened?


Will the First Lord still consider whether something cannot be done to reduce the second sentence; and does he not think that the feeling of anger with which the man was probably possessed really accounted for the second offence which he committed while under detention?


I am not prepared to recommend any further exercise of clemency in this matter. Striking a superior officer is one of the gravest offences anyone can commit. Any complaint of improper treatment by an officer of a man can always be referred by the captain of a ship to the Admiralty. The man has a right to make such a complaint, and if he had made such a complaint it would have been investigated and the cause of it properly dealt with. There is no excuse whatever for behaving in such an extraordinary manner.


Is anything to be done to the man who opened the letter improperly?


That matter has been dealt with. I should like to have notice of any question on that.