HL Deb 20 June 1832 vol 13 cc897-900
Lord Middleton

said, that though he had been a Member of their Lordships' House now thirty years, he had never attempted but once, and that very shortly, to address their Lordships. He therefore trusted that he should meet with the courteous attention of their Lordships, whilst he trespassed very shortly upon their notice, to perform an act of justice to the Magistracy of the County with which he was connected. Their conduct had been so traduced by the Press, that he was obliged to say, that scarcely one word which had been stated on the subject resembled the truth. The statements of the Press respecting the conduct of the Magistrates of Nottinghamshire, during the riots which recently disgraced the county, and during the continuance of the Special Commission sent into Nottinghamshire for the trial of the rioters, had been embodied into a petition, which had been presented by the hon. member for Preston, the other night, to the House of Commons. Connected as he was with the county, he felt it to be his duty to inform the noble Secretary for the Home Department, that the Magistrates of that part of the county were determined never to come forward again on any occasion of public emergency, unless they now received some sanction for their past proceedings from the noble Lord. He then held in his hand a Letter from the Magistrates, written to the noble Lord, in answer to the application which the noble Lord had made to them for some explanation of certain charges which had been preferred against them. He likewise held in his hand a Letter, voluntarily written by Mr. Payne, the able, and intelligent, and zealous Attorney for the prisoners, exculpating not only the Magistrates, but also the Gaoler and the Turnkeys, from the various charges brought against them in this petition. He was unwilling to trouble their Lordships with it, but if they would allow him to read it they would see the true nature of the case [read, read]. The noble Lord accordingly read Mr. Payne's Letter, as follows:— Nottingham, 3rd February, 1832. My Lord:—I have the honour to inform your Lordship, that I have been permitted to read your Lordship's communication, dated the 31st of January, 1832, addressed to the committing Magistrates in the cases of the late rioters under sentence of death in Nottingham Gaol; and also the extract of a petition to the House of Commons in favour of the convicts. I have likewise to communicate to your Lordship, that the High Sheriff allowed me to inspect similar documents which had been transmitted to him, and came to hand on the morning of Wednesday, the 1st instant, prior to the execution of the three culprits, Beck, Hearson, and Armstrong. The prisoners not having made any complaints to me of any circumstances to justify the imputations stated in the extract of the petition, I considered it to be my duty, as the Attorney in whom those unhappy men professed to have confidence, to inquire of them whether those allegations were correct, or if they had any such, or any kind of complaints to make; and I beg to assure your Lordship, that all the prisoners answered my questions, by declaring that they did not know of any mysterious events having transpired in the prison, and that neither threats nor privations of any kind were inflicted to elicit their confessions; and, as a last state- ment, the prisoners, in the most feeling, and affectionate manner, desired to make their grateful acknowledgments and sincere thanks to the Gaoler and Turnkey, for their humane kindness towards them. I was induced to make inquiry of the prisoners at that awful period, not from any notion that the statements were true, but that I might know from the prisoners themselves, for the satisfaction of their friends, how far they had reason or occasion to make such complaints; and no men could behave better than these poor creatures did. It would, my Lord, have been somewhat singular, if any ground for such complaint had existed, that I, as the Attorney acting for the prisoners, and in daily personal communication with them in the prison, and their friends out of it, for nearly a month, should not have been informed by any of them of the imputed grievance. My Lord, I venture to say, that the two quoted allegations upon which I have observed are not true, or at least I am not acquainted with any circumstances to justify the statement. With regard to the last clause in the extract which more immediately concerns myself, and requires my attention, I beg leave to assert and assure your Lordship that there is not the slightest ground for it; on the contrary, every facility was given to me that I could wish or require as the Attorney acting for the prisoners, as the connecting link between the prisoners and their Counsel. I was always in Court, and never experienced any interruption to my communications in the progress of my duty. It is due to my own character to have these matters cleared up and distinctly understood, or the Magistrates might imagine that I was privy to the contents of the petition, and assenting to false allegations. I hope your Lordship will please to understand that I disavow the petition to the House of Commons. I was acquainted with the contents of the petition to your Lordship, and none other. It is due from me to the High Sheriff, and to the Magistrates of the county, and, indeed, to all their subordinate officers, to declare and avow, for myself individually, and for the prisoners collectively, that every assistance and facility was afforded to me at all times, not only during the trials, but in the progress of my preparing for the prisoner's defence, or I could not have accomplished so arduous an undertaking within the short period of three days. I assure your Lordship that I felt mortified and hurt on reading the extract of a petition, fearing that it might be attributed to my pen, or that I should be presumed to be acquainted with, and assenting to its contents. I shall transmit a copy of this Letter to the visiting Magistrates of the county gaol, and at all times be ready to afford any and every explanation in my power. I have the honour to be, my Lord, Your Lordship's humble Servant, SAMUEL PAYNE. To the Right Hon. Viscount Melbourne, Secretary of State, &c. &c. &c. Such was Mr. Payne's letter, and he hoped that the noble Viscount would exonerate the Magistrates. He must indeed state, that unless they were exonerated from these charges by the noble Secretary, he knew not how they could go on with public business. He would rather forfeit his life than his honour, and he declared upon his honour, that he thought that his friends and neighbours, the Magistrates of Nottinghamshire, had, during those riots, behaved with the most praiseworthy firmness and resolution.

Viscount Melbourne

experienced the greatest happiness in being able to give a satisfactory answer to the noble Lord. He rose with great pleasure to bear testimony in the fullest manner to the able and energetic conduct of the Magistrates of Nottinghamshire last winter. Both before and after the Special Commission was opened, the Magistrates of that county, and especially of that hundred in which the town of Nottingham was situated, had conducted themselves with the greatest resolution, energy, and capacity. In his opinion, that county owed its acting Magistrates many thanks. As to the charges which had been brought against the Magistrates, in the petition which the hon. member for Preston had presented to the House of Commons, he had only to say this—that those charges had, some months since, been brought under his notice. He could now state that, from the inquiries which he had made, and from the very frank and manly declaration made by Mr. Payne, who had distinguished himself so much by his exertions as Attorney for the prisoners, he was convinced that the charges mentioned in the petition referred to were baseless, and without authority.

Lord Middleton

I am quite satisfied with what has just fallen from the noble Lord.

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