HC Deb 19 December 1945 vol 417 cc1314-6
11. Mr. Driberg

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he now has any information about the recent mutiny in H.M.S. "Javelin."

Mr. Alexander

The answer is rather long, so I hope the House will bear with me.

Hon. Members

Read it after Questions.

Mr. Alexander

I would rather read it now, as I have a rather important Press conference later.

In the early morning of 17th September last, a number of ratings in H.M.S. "Javelin '' refused to fall in for work. As a result of this mass disobedience, three courts martial were held in Malta between 5th and 13th November. I have now reviewed the sentences passed on the accused, and am satisfied that they were both just and appropriate.

Seventeen able seamen and one ordinary seaman were charged with mutiny not accompanied by violence, and with wilful disobedience. Two able seamen were acquitted of these charges, but found guilty of absence from their place of duty. They received a minor punishment of seven days' extra work and drills. The remainder were acquitted of the mutiny charge, but found guilty of wilful disobedience, and received the very lenient sentence of 60 days' detention, which was accompanied by a recommendation to the Commander-in-Chief, since put into effect, that the sentences should be suspended after 30 days. In consequence, these men have already been released.

One leading seaman was charged with taking part in mutiny, and with not using his best endeavours to suppress mutiny. These charges were withdrawn during the course of the trial, but the accused was found guilty of wilful disobedience and absence from his place of duty. In view of his former good record, this rating was sentenced to 60 days' detention, but the sentence was suspended before committal.

The most serious of the charges were those against eight petty officers, who were rightly found guilty of mutiny not accompanied by violence, of wilful disobedience, and absence from their place of duty. These were grave offences on the part of senior ratings, whose duty it was to use their utmost endeavour to suppress indiscipline among their subordinates. Whilst the sentence of one year's imprisonment with dismissal from the Service was not an excessive one for these offences, I have taken into account the former good records of these men, and the mistaken sense of loyalty to another rating which led them to act over-hastily. I have therefore issued instructions that while the sentences of imprisonment are to stand, the petty officers are to be released immediately as an act of grace without dismissal from the Service.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

Can the First Lord say whether the eight petty officers in question were active service ratings?

Mr. Alexander

There were some of both.

Mr. Kirkwood

Has the First Lord made inquiries into this mutiny to find out whether it is not someone up above the ordinary officers who is responsible, because it is rare for officers in the British Navy to mutiny, and I want to know whether he has made any investigations?

Mr. Alexander

I have been through every word of the evidence myself, otherwise I would never have agreed to release men who were petty officers and who had been convicted on a charge of mutiny. It is a very grave offence. I have taken the whole of the circumstances, as I have seen them, into account in conjunction with my advisers at the Board of Admiralty, and I think we are now doing justice.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Is not the effect of the decision that the petty officers are not being punished at all?

Mr. Alexander

I should have thought that my hon. and gallant Friend, with his great knowledge of the Service, would know that what I have said does not release them from the effects. If a man has been found guilty and sentenced for mutiny, first, he forfeits all his campaign medals and, second, he reverts to the ranks.