§ 19. Captain DOWER
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if any loyal convicts have been attacked at Dartmoor prison since the mutiny; and, if so, under what circumstances?
§ 32. Mr. O'CONNOR
asked the Home Secretary whether he can now make any further statement as to the position at Dartmoor prison?
§ 33. Mr. STOURTON
asked the Home Secretary the circumstances in which one of the loyal convicts at Dartmoor prison came to be attacked and injured on 16th February by two other convicts; the nature of the injuries he received; and what steps he proposes to take to protect other loyal convicts from similar attacks?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir Herbert Samuel)
In answering these questions, I propose, with the leave of the House, to snake a rather full statement. Since the statement I made on 8th February, no incident of importance has occurred at Dartmoor prison. I would take this opportunity of contradicting a series of sensational reports which have appeared in the Press, and which are either altogether baseless or have only the smallest foundation in fact. The story published recently of a murderous attack by a convict at Dartmoor on a warder, is wholly unfounded. The account that one or more convicts, who assisted the authorities during the disturbance, had been assaulted by other prisoners is also completely untrue. On certain occasions recently, during the evening, there has been some singing and shouting by a few of the convicts who, having been active in the disorder, have been isolated in a seperate building; hut the reports in some newspapers that there has been "a roaring as of wild animals," which kept people awake through the night in Princetown, is a sheer fabrication. I am definitely assured by the Governor that the prison has been perfectly quiet every night.
The statement in the Press to-day that a large number of warders are on the sick list "as a result of the nerve-shattering effect of the pandemonium" is also untrue. The number on the sick list in a staff of about 150 is four above the normal. The circumstantial accounts of Dartmoor warders having been brought to the Home Office to attend a court of inquiry, and of a number of convicts having been transferred, with elaborate precautions, to London, are also untrue. No warder and no convict has been brought to London from Dartmoor. Similarly, a very detailed description, published not long ago, of a violent assault by a prisoner at Wormwood Scrubs on the Governor, with a full description of the injuries inflicted, was a complete fabrication. There was no assault either on the Governor or on any other officer. I feel sure that the House will join in condemning the publication of sensational and fictitious reports such as these, which convey a completely false impression, both at home and abroad, of prison conditions.
534 I would add that the arrangements for bringing the Dartmoor convicts, who will be charged with offences in connection with the disturbance, before a Court of Assize or the Board of Visitors, as the case may be, are being expedited as much as possible. Meanwhile the worst offenders, about 30 in number, who are in the separate building, are at work during a part of the day in the corridor outside their cells, and have also an hour's exercise daily. They are not, and have not been, deprived of the ordinary use of books from the library. Among the main body of the convicts the usual prison routine has long since been restored, and the ordinary discipline is completely maintained. Since I entered the House a report has reached me that this morning two prisoners did assault warders, but not seriously.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate bringing to the Bar of the House any of the journalists or editors responsible for these statements?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Seeing that a number of these convicts will probably have to stand trial by jury for their alleged outrages, can nothing be done in this matter in view of the likelihood of Press reports interfering with the normal course of justice. After all, the Press has an influence on ordinary human beings, and I wish to know if anything can be done to stop what may be the influence of these reports on the jury at this trial?
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I do not think that any of these Press reports relate to any individual convicts, or are likely to prejudice their trial.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member wishes further information he ought to put down another question. He must give a chance to other hon. Members who have questions on the Paper.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
My point of Order is that while the answer which we have got is very full, concerning this matter, the trial of these men is likely to take place at an early date; and I submit that urgency entitles me to ask the Home Secretary a question on a matter which may affect the course of justice in the case of these men.