§ 39. Mr. Janner
asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the evidence in the recent trial for murder of Guardsman Dowdall of the Welsh Guards, stationed at Pirbright, to the effect that he drank large quantities of neat gin in the presence of his sergeant, who did nothing to stop him, and to the evidence of the commanding officer that he would interfere only if there were disorder, or some Army regulation had been broken; and whether he will amend Army regulations so as to enable officers and non-commissioned officers to take action in situations of this kind.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
Yes, Sir, and I have obtained a transcript of the evidence. I must correct the hon. Member's quotation of what was said by the commanding officer. He did not reply that he would not have interfered; his answer was to a question about the subsequent disciplinary action he might have taken if the incident had been reported to him. Elsewhere in his evidence the commanding officer said that Dowdall should have been prevented from drinking to excess, and affirmed that he would have prevented him if he had been present.
So far as the Regulations are concerned, there is already sufficient power for an officer or N.C.O. to intervene in an incident of this kind, because it is an offence to behave, on or off duty, in a way likely to bring the Service into disrepute.
§ Mr. Janner
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a similar instance of a very serious nature occurred about six months ago—and was referred to in a trial at the Winchester Assizes—in which a sergeant's mess was open at twelve o'clock at night and a girl was brought there at about four o'clock in the morning, or between the hours of twelve and four? Will the hon. Gentleman say what kind of action was taken on that occasion? Will he also say, with regard to the case which I brought to his notice, why this young man, with the history he had, was not given proper attention in the course of his experience in the Army, so that he might not have committed the offence which he did commit? May I also ask him a further question?
§ Mr. Janner
It is not a speech; it is a question. May I also ask what action is being taken at present to ensure that parents, who are very deeply concerned about sending their young people into the Army, will feel that these young people have security and safety in matters of this description?
§ Mr. Fraser
I cannot comment on the case which the hon. Gentleman has raised, because I have not had notice of it. As to the other case, I would say that Dowdall's abnormal and criminal acts took place away from his unit, usually at night, and I am advised that it would be very difficult to tell that this man was the psychopath he proved to be. Regarding the point which the hon. Gentleman made about how these men are looked after, I believe that the general discipline is good. In this unit it is extremely good, both in regard to the relationship with the civil police, the military police and its own internal system of control. Of course, this is a deeply serious matter, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are seeing that wherever possible there shall be no repetition. We have full powers under the Army Act to see that there is no repetition.
§ Mr. Strachey
Is the hon. Gentleman making it clear that the sergeant in question has been instructed and that all the N.C.O.s have been instructed in the common-sense view that they ought not to allow a man, whatever his rank, to drink large quantities of neat gin?