HC Deb 23 December 1937 vol 330 cc2271-86

4.14 p.m.

Mr. McGovern

The issue which I desire to raise was the subject of a short discussion on the Motion for the Adjournment recently, but under the Rules of the House it was not possible then to deal with the case fully, either from my point of view or that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Secretary of State on Tuesday said he would make a complete statement to-day in connection with the alleged beating of a prisoner named Francis Healy in the cells of Barlinnie prison, and his ultimate removal to a lunatic asylum. The right hon. Gentleman made his statement to-day, and I congratulate him on having brought to his aid every single indictment that he could bring against this prisoner, standing by those who have been alleged to have committed the offence of beating up, and finding not one redeeming feature in the evidence of the person who was beaten, nor personally interviewing him to see whether or not he had a case.

I regard this case, not from the point of view of an individual who desires to attack any form of law and order in this country, because I was regretfully compelled to raise this issue, and so far as the prison administration at Barlinnie is concerned, until this indictment had taken place I had no cause to complain in any shape or form. Indeed, a few weeks before the incident took place, I had the opportunity of visiting this prison and going through the complete prison from one end to the other, and when I was asked to place my observations in the visitors' book I said, in one phrase, that I would be amazed and surprised to find that anything of an unjust character would occur in that prison. That was my mind in connection with the prison from what I had observed. I always attempt to speak of both individuals and institutions as I find them, and I did so on that occasion.

I raise this issue as being a matter of public importance, because I believe that the administration of the prison at Barlinnie, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and, indeed, every Member of this House have a duty to see that if prisoners are housed in prisons in this country for offences that they may have committed against law and order, they have a fair deal in those prisons and are not subject to being made the butt of the anger or antagonism of warders in any part of the prison. Therefore, whether injustices come from Barlinnie, Berlin, Rome, Valencia, or Moscow, I hope that I shall always be able to raise my voice against injustices as I feel and see them. When I raised the issue I did not ask the Secretary of State to accept completely the version that I placed before him. I simply asked that statements should be taken by an independent inquiry, that these statements should be made by both sides, and that after sworn testimony had been given, the right hon. Gentleman, in his capacity as Secretary of State, should weigh up this evidence and hold the balance equally, and, if he found that any injustice had been committed, that he should condemn it and, which is more important, that he should see that it was not possible for such an occurrence to happen in the future, so that both prisoners and their friends could rest assured that he, as custodian of law and order in this country and in charge of the prison, would demand that prisoners should be given every opportunity of decent treatment while they were within the prison walls.

I was sent for myself by a young man who came from this family. A member of a Glasgow public body who happened to be connected with the prisoner asked him to come to me to see whether I would visit this prisoner in the asylum at Gartloch. On 10th September this man was guilty of what might be termed an offence, but as it had happened during a period of depression, one could have excused it and attempted to reason with the man. The man was in the prison. He had not been taking his food over a considerable period, and he was feeling depressed. That day he went to his cell after having failed to take what was provided for him as a mid-day meal. Feeling depressed, he started, on his own admission, to break up what limited furniture there was in the cell. I have not only visited cells, but I have been an inmate in cells in Glasgow, and I have had to complain in this House of the limited amount of furnishing there is in a cell. I was compelled to sit all night in one cell on a lavatory seat, because there was no other accommodation provided on which to rest, except a stone slab.

This man began to smash up the limited furniture there was in his cell. A number of warders came along. The prisoner said there were six, the Secretary of State said there were four, and to-day he has stated there were five. They came to the cell, and according to the prisoner, when they opened the door they immediately raised their batons. Ordinarily there would be a considerable number of prisoners in the hall, but on this occasion the warders took the precaution of locking up every prisoner who would have seen the incident. After having secured the men in the cells, they opened this man's door and raised their batons. Seeing that he was to have a beating, he retreated to the end of the cell and threw at the warder what is termed a "chamber pot." The attack then proceeded and blows were struck by the warders with their batons on the man's head, and large scalp wounds were inflicted. The man says that he fell on his knees and was practically in a state of semi-consciousness at this stage. They proceeded to beat him up very badly.

If the man had been depressed, as he had been, according to the evidence and the statement the Secretary of State makes to-day, and had shown signs bordering on insanity, the warders ought not to have approached the cell as if they were going to administer a hiding. They should have attempted in some way to induce the man to be reasonable and not to attempt violence. The evidence from all sides is that no attempt was made to do that. There was simply a determination, according to the prisoner, to inflict a beating on him. He claims that he was very badly and violently beaten by all these officers. They then dragged him along the landing down to the padded cell. The door was closed and every vestige of clothing was taken off him. He was again beaten up and left in a bad condition. The man himself is the one who should know what condition he was in.

After that they proceeded to get the doctor. I want to put the medical man in the dock also for his part in the affair. He looks into the padded cell, he hears the tale of the warders, and he decides there and then that the man is insane. I say that no medical man can decide that a person is insane on such an examination and with the stories told by the warders. After securing an outside medical man to back up his case, he sent the man that same afternoon to Gartloch as being a lunatic. The man was examined there somewhere round about five o'clock on the same evening as he had received the beating. We have been told that the Governor of the prison visited the man in the cell and that the man expressed regret for his action. That is completely contradictory of my information, which is that the man did not make any statement of any kind, and, indeed, the Governor admits that he was not present when the alleged assault took place and only arrived on the scene later. He went to the cell and looked in. I myself acquainted the Governor later of my interview with the man and with the condition in which I found him, and I shall be letting out no secret when I say that he was rather disturbed, that he himself had been rather suspicious, and that he thanked me for having informed him about what had taken place.

The Secretary of State talked about the certificate of the doctor at the asylum. The doctor of the institution certified the man to have two fresh gashes on the skull; bruising of both shoulders, the right with considerable swelling; bruising is very extensive; bad discolouration; bruising on the right thigh and left; deep discolouration and swollen; left hand swollen and discoloured. The doctor told we when I visited the prisoner that the discolouration would become a great deal worse after a day or two. I cannot say the exact day when I saw the man, but it was a few days after the incident took place. I was shown the man in bed. I said to him "Look here, do not attempt to tell me anything that is not true, because the worst thing you can do to your case is to make any statement that is false and I want you to admit anything in which you were wrong." The man told me exactly what had happened. Then he showed me his body in the presence of the male attendants. I was shocked at the condition of the man's body.

I take it the Secretary of State is not attempting to deny the condition in which I found the man—that from his head to his heels he was black and blue and yellow, and scarcely any part of his body was free from swelling and discolouration. The first remark of the witness who was with me on seeing the man was "Good God, I did not think it was possible in this country for any man to suffer like that." It was a revolting sight. The man is 5 feet 2 inches in height. He is a bantam weight. He is a typical Glasgow corner boy. He was undoubtedly beaten up.

The Secretary of State, in his defence, reminds me largely of a man who was on the Glasgow Town Council. One man there is notorious. When the other fellow's case is very strong he sets up a dummy case of his own, proceeds to erect it and then to knock it down. The Secretary of State puts forward the plea that this man about whom I am raising this matter started with violence to attack the warders. That is not true.

This is again a case of the Abyssinians attacking the Italians. There is an old story that most of us know, told about Hitler's Germany. A lion had broken free from the Zoological Gardens and came into a café. The crowd in the café rushed out of the doors, jumped out of the windows, and dived under the tables, but a young man rushed forward, looked the lion steadily in the eye, grappled with it and finally handed it over to the trainer, after a struggle. A journalist was so taken with the heroic act that he asked him his name and said that he would give him an advertisement in the newspapers. The young man said: "I am sorry, but you will never be able to publish anything about me." "Why"? asked the journalist. "Because I am a Jew." "That does not matter, answered the journalist. I will see that you get publicity." Next morning, when people looked at their Nazi newspapers, they saw the headline: "Cowardly Jew attacks a lion in a café." That story typifies the kind of attack which was made by this man of 5 feet 2 inches upon five or six warders in the prison cell at Barlinnie.

Not only that, but this individual to whom the complaint was made by the young man, found himself a few weeks later in the same prison for some offence, and during the time he was detained there he was challenged by those warders and threatened in the prison for having given the information to me. Regarding the man's condition, I have said here, although the Secretary of State for Scotland attempts to dispose of it to-day, that the medical officer stated to the Medical Officer of Health for Glasgow something of which I hope there will be no misunderstanding. I have stated here that the doctor said that the man had shown no signs of insanity from going into the institution for a period of 3½ months. I shall not attempt to retail something that I claim the doctor had told me. I was asked by the convenor of the Public Health Committee to see the man who is in charge of the Health Department in Glasgow, and who runs these institutions.

I went to see the medical report upon this man. I was told that Dr. McGregor, the Medical Officer of Health had asked Dr. Dryden about this man. The latter said that in his estimation the man was not insane, and Dr. McGregor's reply was: "If you thought he was not insane, why did you not discharge him?" The reply to that was: "Because he was sent in by two outside medical men who certified him as being insane. I have to accept him, and cannot discharge him for a reasonable time." I was told that Statement of the medical officer in the institution when I was reading the report which I saw in the Glasgow Health Department.

How does the Minister suggest this man came by all those bruises and discolouration of the body? He was black and blue from head to foot. A man of five feet two inches stands in front of five warders, armed with truncheons. If that man were depressed and—I go further—even if there were something mentally wrong with him, does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the normal procedure and method of approach should be to go into the cell armed with batons and to proceed to beat the man up in the disgraceful manner that I allege he was beaten up, according to the evidence of the appearance of the man, which justifies it? I say that that would be the wrong approach.

The Secretary of State for Scotland is proceeding in this case by first of all putting forward the defence of those who are being accused. Suppose that I came to him and said, "Look here, your authorities in Glasgow have charged two men with burglary; I have been to them, and they deny that they committed a burglary; therefore you should accept their word as being a proper defence, and should withdraw all proceedings in connection with the case." There would be an outcry if something of that kind were suggested. The prison authorities have to defend their warders in the false name of discipline, and he says to them, "I want to hear your version of the case." The disgraceful thing, the contemptible thing, about his statement today, is this: He came here and said that he had interrogated almost every person but anyone who could be favourable to the prisoner. He never dreamed of going to the prisoner; he never dreamed of hearing his case. No matter whether he was going to accept it or not, he never went near him; he makes no statement that he has heard him.

Warders will naturally deny, as policemen deny, every act of assault that takes place. In 1931 I myself was kicked by policemen in the streets of Glasgow. My shirt was soaked with blood, and I carry to-day a wound 3½ inches long and I inch broad on my spine where I was kicked, without ever attempting to put up a struggle against arrest. I saw the policemen go into the witness-box and publicly perjure themselves on every iota of detail in connection with those incidents. I say here that warders have a right to be defended if they are innocent, and if there were six prisoners attacking one warder, I hope my sympathy would be with the warder if he was attacked by six brutal individuals who were armed against him. But in this case five or six warders, in my judgment, carried out a brutal assault on this man. I know cases where the Secretary of State and I would have differences of opinion, both political and personal, but I am so convinced of the justice of this case, and of the fact that the man had a bad beating up, that I demand and expect from him that something else should have been done than what has been done to-day.

He states, late in the day, after it came out from evidence which I myself supplied and which he was compelled to investigate in order to get an answer from the prison authorities—there was no word of it at the beginning—that a man who was a prisoner in the prison said that a parade of 12 to 15 people complained of the assault on this man Healy. He comes out to-day with the statement that 12 men went and made representations regarding this incident. Why did he not tell us of that at the outset? Why did he not tell us that he had had representations from 12 men who complained of the treatment of this man? He says that they did not see the incident. Many a man has not seen an incident, but the circumstantial evidence in the case is very important.

They heard the cries of distress of the man who was being beaten up. One man says he will never forget the cries of the man until his dying day, that it made him feel that a gangster was a gentleman compared to these people. I was told that one man actually saw at least part of it, if not all of it, through his spy-hole at the prison. I can quite understand the reluctance of prisoners to come forward and give evidence against warders of this type during the time they are doing sentences in the prison, particularly when sometimes they may go back into the self-same prison. I say that, from the evidence I have had in the past, I could never credit the prison governor himself being a party to a policy of that kind; I should never think that the head warder was a party to a policy of that kind; I know they were not present, and did not know what took place

But in connection with this question I say that the Minister, from beginning to end, in my estimation, has failed to hold justice between the warders and the prisoners. He has gone to every length to get a case against the prisoner and to show that the warders did not commit the offence, but he has not gone to any length to find out whether the man was violently assaulted or not. He deals with the point that a pot was thrown at the warder and that the warder was hit on the bridge of the nose. My information again is of an inside character, that in this House I regret I cannot divulge. My information is that this warder was not injured in more than the slightest superficial way, in a way that any person might be hurt by rubbing his hand against a wall. I believe that this man having been beaten up the warders immediately built up their story with the desire that this man should be transferred to the institution at the earliest possible moment so that they might get rid of him and hide the facts of this brutal treatment. I say to the Minister that I saw the man. He cannot get over that fact. I saw his body, a revolting spectacle. If the Minister takes pride in the fact that he stands behind warders who are guilty of hideous, criminal offences of that kind, then his period of office is going to be disgraced by the defence of that brutality.

I feel bound to raise the issue in this House and I raise it with all the force that I can command. I say that the obvious duty of the Minister was to have heard every side of the case and not to have heard simply the Prison Commissioners and the Governor and the warders who are all bound up in this system of officialdom and discipline. He should have held an independent inquiry, both medical and judicial, by men who could have gone into the prison and have asked for statements from every person who claimed any knowledge of the affair. Those people should have got possession of the facts and sent in a report to him, instead of his taking sides against the prisoner and in favour of those who were accused of this offence. Since he has taken a position against the prisoner, and stands behind the warders who made a brutal attack on him, I do not expect that I shall get any satisfaction in the form of an inquiry, but if I get nothing else out of this I hope I have got sufficient publicity to prevent a repetition of these acts. If that is so, I shall have accomplished a good day's work, because I think it is disgraceful that we should have the feeling that men who go into prison may at any moment be victims of such brutality.

I myself did not want to raise the issue. I advised the boy's parents and the boy against raising it. I said that although I was convinced of the justice of their case, I was certain that the boy's previous record would be raised against him in the attempt on the part of the authorities to defend their action. Not only that, but I thought the lad would be better off in the security of the institution, where he would be better treated than if he were sent back to a hostile environment. I say that inquiry was needed, and that a searching inquiry should have taken place. If that inquiry had done nothing else it would have brought out the full facts and would have gone some way to show that our prison system was above reproach, that a man sent to prison would receive justice inside the prison, and that the Secretary of State could be depended upon to hold the balance of justice evenly between warders and prisoners.

4.44 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Elliot)

The hon. Member has spoken at some length and with a certain degree of heat, for which I think he might be excused if the case were as he represents it, because this is the sort of case in which the House takes the deepest interest. I am glad that it has been raised on more than one occasion. I only wish more time had been available on the occasions when it has been raised. But the hon. Member's actions are inconsistent with the account that he gives of the case. If the incident is as he has depicted it, it is a gross and scandalous miscarriage of justice. Why, then, did six weeks elapse between the time when the hon. Member was made aware of it, and the time when he raised it here in the House? I think we are entitled to put that point to him.

Mr. McGovern

I think I have answered that.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member says he thought it inadvisable to raise it, and that the man was better off in the asylum, which surely disposes of the suggestion that he was hurried out by warders to get him out of the way. But if this was a gross miscarriage of justice, none of these things should have stood in the way of his raising it at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. McGovern

Does the Minister suggest that, when the parents of the boy approached me and I gave them my advice, and said that I did not want to raise all this publicity without their consent, and then, after a period of delay, they asked me to raise the matter, I was a completely free agent?

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member has repeated the point I am making, that he counselled against this case being raised in public. That, surely, is a circumstance that we are bound to take into account. The incident took place on 10th September. On 16th September—I can give him the date—the hon. Member visited the asylum. The first time that he raised the matter at all was in a question which was answered on 23rd November, which would be put down on 20th November or thereabouts. The House had been sitting since 26th October. It certainly suggests that the question was not of the unmistakably gross type that the hon. Member declares it to be, if he waited from 16th September to about 20th November before putting down a question, and, on his own statement, counselled the parents against, raising the case at all.

Mr. McGovern

The case was prejudged.

Mr. Elliot

I do not think the hon. Member has any right to say that. The only person who has not raised the issue from start to finish in this is the prisoner himself. There has been no complaint from Francis Healy.

Mr. McGovern

Yes, through me.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member says through him, but that waited until 20th November. There was no complaint to the Governor of the prison. The hon. Member says the Governor was prejudiced. There was no complaint forwarded through the superintendent of the asylum. The man has been since 10th September in the asylum, outside the influence of the Governor or the warders or anybody who might be prejudiced. Surely, we have to take that into account when the hon. Member suggests that it is through fear of the warders that he made no complaint. He has not been in the custody of a warder since 10th September.

Mr. McGovern

The right hon. Gentleman has no right to make false accusations. I did not say that he did not make a complaint because of fear of a warder. I said that he was hurried out after the assault, and that since then he has been in my care and the care of his family. I never mentioned fear of warders.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member makes false accusations, but I do not wish to bandy words with him on that point. He said that he and other persons have refused to make accusations for fear of the warders, and he said that Healy had been hurried out. [Interruption.] I dealt with that point at Question Time, and I will deal with it again. The hon. Member, after making the statement that the man was attacked, stated that the man struck the first blow. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is within the recollection of the House. He said that the warders came into the cell and the first thing that happened was that a crockery chamber pot was hurled at them by the prisoner Francis Healy.

Mr. McGovern

When the warders made a rush at him, Healy, in order to stave off attack, threw the pot.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member admits that. He admits in the hearing of the House that the first person to strike a blow was Francis Healy. [Interruption.] I am saying that he struck the first blow. If it comes to untruths, I can quote as many untruths of the hon. Member. I have not interrupted him, and I beg of him not to interrupt me. I gave the case at Question Time, and I cannot go over that case again. Nobody denies that the prisoner began to make a disturbance in his cell, that the warders came in, that the prisoner hurled the chamber pot at the warders, and nobody denies that there was a violent struggle in which both a warder and the prisoner were injured. These are the facts of the case, and they have been given in this House.

Sir Hugh Seely

Had the warders drawn their batons?

Mr. Elliot

I am not discussing whether they had their batons drawn or not.

Sir H. Seely

That is important.

Mr. McGovern

That is part of the complaint.

Mr. Jagger

We learn that the hon. Member is a liar, and that the man threw the chamber pot.

Mr. Elliot

It is extremely difficult to carry out an inquiry into a serious case like this if these reckless statements are made across the Floor of the House. I ask the hon. Member to have some sense of responsibility.

Mr. Montague

Why not have an inquiry?

Mr. Elliot

I will come to that in a moment. The hon. Member asks for an inquiry. If an administrative inquiry were held in prison, it would not be an inquiry on oath, and every witness would be bound to be cautioned and told that he need not make a statement which would incriminate him. There is one method by which it could have taken place, and ought to have taken place if the facts were as stated, and that is by the prosecution by the procurator-fiscal of the warders for assault. The Lord Advocate did in fact go into the matter and decided that such a prosecution could not take place.

Mr. Cassells

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is not the fact that in this particular case batons actually were drawn, and surely, that is most material to this question?

Mr. Elliot

It seems to me that it is not at all material to the question. Of course, batons were drawn. It has been stated time and time again.

Sir H. Seely


Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member cannot have listened to the extremely long statements given repeatedly in reply to questions, namely, that the prisoner was struck twice on the head with a baton, which inflicted scalp wounds'. Nobody denies that that was so.

Mr. Cassells

When was that?

Mr. Elliot

It is impossible, if hon. Members cut down the time to this extent, for me to go into this statement at length. No one denies that that took place. When it took place has been given at length in statements in the House. I was dealing very briefly with the suggestion of the hon. Member that an inquiry might be held, and I was pointing out that the only way in which sworn testimony could be given was at a trial of the warders for assault. If the warders were guilty of the things suggested by the hon. Member, then there is a simple process of law by means of which the warders could be punished. They would be guilty of assault in such circumstances and would be subject to trial, and if they were proved guilty at the trial then they could be punished. But the hon. Member knows that in those circumstances, with a prosecution hanging over them, they could not be compelled to give evidence on oath at such an inquiry as he suggests.

The hon. Member further suggested that the doctor just looked into the cell, that he heard the warders, and that he decided the man was insane, after calling in an outside medical man. Therefore, the hon. Member admits that there was an examination by two medical men. It was not simply a case of the medical officer just looking into the cell. The man was carefully examined.

The hon. Member says that the Governor had declared that it was rather a suspicious case. The statement which has been made about the Governor is denied by the Governor. The hon. Member also states that the medical officer had told the medical officer of health for Glasgow that the man was not insane. I am not relying on hearsay statements of what one medical man is supposed to have said to another medical man. I summoned here the Governor, the Secretary of the Prisons Department and the superintendent of the asylum, who says that not only was the man insane then but that he is not a sane man now.

Mr. McGovern indicated dissent.

Mr. Elliot

It is no use the hon. Member shaking his head. This question has been raised not only for the benefit of the hon. Member but for the benefit and information of the House. Therefore, I secured a personal interview with the medical man in whose professional charge Healy is now. I did not rely on any hearsay evidence, but I interviewed the medical officer now responsible, and he says that he cannot release the man on probation now. That is against the other suggestion made by the hon. Member as to what was said by one medical man to another. We are not discussing hearsay now, but we are discussing whether or not the man ought to be in the asylum. The medical officer in whose charge he is now, states that he is a case which cannot be released but ought to be, for medical reasons, where he is now.

The last point made by the hon. Member was that I had not gone to Francis Healy himself. I did not go to any of the people engaged in the struggle. I did not go to the warders or to Healy himself. If I had interviewed Healy I should have had to interview the warders. I interviewed the people who were responsible, and I had to satisfy myself by inquiries from them. I am satisfied that after this lapse of time no further inquiry could bring out the relevant facts which the hon. Member desires. Certainly an inquiry with the warders on the one side and Healy on the other could not bring out those facts. The hon. Member himself delayed bringing this matter forward until the evidence of the bruises had completely disappeared.

Mr. McGovern

No. There was the doctor's certificate.

Mr. Elliot

Nobody denies that there were bruises, but the point was whether they were bruises which were inconsistent with the statement that has been made by the warders, and I have the doctor's statement that the bruises were not inconsistent. I have formed my own opinion, and I have sought evidence with regard to the bruises which disappeared many weeks before the hon. Member brought this case to the House. In such cases we have, first, to inquire whether injustice has been done, and then we have to inquire whether the procedure can be improved. I have given my reasons for thinking that justice was done, and I have given the House particulars of improvements in procedure by which I hope to avoid anything of the kind occurring again.

It being Five of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of the 22nd December, till Tuesday, 1st February, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.