HC Deb 31 October 1916 vol 86 cc1502-4

asked the Secretary for War whether the promised inquiry into the tortures inflicted upon three soldiers named Beardsworth, Dukes, and Benson is to be held by civilians or by soldiers; whether he is aware that Beards-worth and Dukes were informed on Thursday, 19th October, that an inquiry was to be held in respect of the allegations of brutality made by them at the court-martial, and that they were called upon to prepare their defence; that on Saturday, 21st October, they were moved to the detention room where privacy is impossible; that they have been refused even pen and paper, and also denied the opportunity to see their wives, any friends or witnesses, or even their solicitor; that the adjutant on Monday informed their solicitor, Mr. S. E. Doods, that they could not have a legal representative at the inquiry; and whether he will take steps to ensure that a judicial inquiry shall be held for the purpose of getting at the facts and not whitewashing the officers?


I do not think it is realised that the allegations which have been made by Privates Beardsworth, Dukes, and Benson are to the effect that offences have been committed against them which are punishable under Section 37 (1) of the Army Act, and under these circumstances the matter must be regarded as strictly sub judice. I do not understand the hon. Member when he suggests that on 19th October Beardsworth and Dukes were called upon to prepare their defence. These men have been tried by court-martial for their offences, and punishment has been awarded, so the question of their defence does not arise. It appears that Beardsworth and Dukes have been called upon to give evidence in support of their allegations of ill-treatment. With regard to the statement that they have been moved to the detention room, it seems obvious to me that the committal of these men to civil prison under the terms of Army Order No. X. of the 25th May has been delayed, as their evidence is required and, in consequence, they have been detained in military custody. At the same time their sentence is running. Under these circumstances they are naturally not permitted to see their wives, friends, witnesses, or solicitor, their situation in these respects being governed by the "Rules for Military Detention Barracks and Military Prisons." If the adjutant informed Mr. S. R. Doods that these men could not have a legal representative at the inquiry he was perfectly correct. As I have before stated, these men are witnesses, so the question of their legal representation does not arise. With regard to the hon. Member's request that I will ensure that a judicial inquiry shall be held, I can only repeat that the allegations are that offences have been committed under Section 37 (1) of the Army Act, and if those allegations are substantiated the procedure to be followed will be found by reference to Section 46 of the Army Act.


Are we to understand that these men are denied any legal assistance in the preparation of the evidence which they are to give to this inquiry?


All they have got to do is to tell the truth.


Will the other men who are on their defence have legal assistance?


Is it not a fact that this inquiry has been brought about owing to charges of a very grave nature made by these men against officers and non-commissioned officers, and is it considered possible that these men, serving in the ranks, can fully substantiate their charges unless they first of all have access to a solicitor, and, secondly, are allowed legal representation?


That is in the nature of argument.