HL Deb 22 June 1857 vol 146 cc109-14

rose to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for— A Copy of the Memorial of Frederick Beverley Dixon, Esquire, of Castlewood House, Darrow, Queen's County, to The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, delivered to His Excellency on or about the 13th of July, 1854, praying for an Inquiry into the Conduct of David Brudenell Franks, Esquire, Stipendiary Magistrate, who illegally arrested and imprisoned the Memorialist's Son, a Child of between Six and Seven Years of Age, and committed other Acts contrary to Law in connection with the Prosecution of the Memorialist on a false Charge of Conspiracy to murder one Thomas Brophy, of which Charge he was acquitted at the Spring Assizes at Maryborough in 1854: Also, Copy of the Memorial of the aforesaid F. B. Dixon to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, dated 6th December, 1856, praying that the Police Tax of One hundred and seventy-four Pounds Thirteen Shillings and Ninepence, which had been levied on his Property under the Crime and Outrage Act, in consequence of the said false Charge, may be refunded: And also, Copy of the Answer of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury thereto, dated 1st January, 1857. The noble Earl said that the case of Mr. Dixon was of great importance to the due administration of justice. Mr. Dixon was a native of Norfolk, and had practised for upwards of eighteen years as a medical man in Norwich, where he married a lady named Gardner, the daughter of a Chancery barrister and one of the magistrates for the county of Westmoreland. Mr. Dixon removed in 1850 to Ireland, for the purpose of engaging in agricultural pursuits, and accordingly rented a farm at Castlewood, in Queen's County, for that purpose. In the year 1854 he got into an altercation with a peasant tenant named Brophy, which resulted in Mr. Dixon giving him notice to quit. Immediately afterwards Brophy brought a charge against Mr. Dixon of a conspiracy to murder him, by firing at him from behind a hedge, on a certain day in February. Absurd as the charge might appear, it found ready credence with Mr. Franks, one of the stipendiary magistrates, and who, appearing to be convinced of the guilt of Mr. Dixon, thought any means justified the desired end—namely, the conviction of Mr. Dixon. Mr. Dixon had two children, the eldest of whom, a child between six and seven years of age, was accustomed to be taken to school, a distance of about two miles from Castlewood House. On the 20th February, Mr. Franks seized upon the child and conveyed him prisoner to the police barracks at Castle Darrow, and from thence to the county gaol at Maryborough, where he was kept in confinement for seventeen days, in order that he might give evidence to hang his own father and mother. The extraordinary trial took place on the 9th of March, 1854, before the Chief Justice Monaghan, and Mr. and Mrs. Dixon were exposed to the public gaze in the felons' dock on a charge of conspiracy to murder. It appeared that Brophy was in the habit of wearing a close-fitting cap; but on the day of the occurrence he wore a high crowned hat, which was produced in court. There were two holes through it, and the Chief Justice on examining it found that they had been made from the inside, in the Irish fashion. It would be a waste of time to tell their Lordships that, under these circumstances the jury, without a moment's hesitation, acquitted the prisoners. In reference to that trial the Lord Chief Baron, in another trial connected with the same business, thus expressed himself— I think no jury could possibly arrive at any other conclusion than that of acquittal. For myself, I have not the slightest shadow of a doubt as to the perfect innocence of Dixon. I have read the information of the child, and I have often before seen extraordinary depositions, but I never saw so extraordinary and incredible a one as this. When Mrs. Dixon first heard of the unlawful arrest of her child she became in a frantic state, and went to the barracks to recover him. She was there rudely repulsed by the constables. From that period up to the trial she was kept up by excitement, but immediately afterwards she fell a victim to the persecution she had undergone, and died of a broken heart. Prior to the trial, and also subsequent to it, the magistrates of Castle Darrow, in consequence of this charge against Mr. Dixon, petitioned the Lord Lieutenant to send a party of police to the district, under the Crime and Outrage Act. Accordingly, a police force was sent down, although no crime or outrage had been committed by Mr. Dixon or any other person in the townland, and although there was not a tittle of evidence to show that an increase of the police force in that quarter was necessary. He now wished to call attention to the excessive amount of impost which was laid on Mr. Dixon. The townland comprised 337 acres, 212 of which were in the occupation of Mr. Dixon, and the portion of the rate he had to pay amounted to £34 13s. 9d. a quarter, being equal to the whole amount of the rent. The whole sum which he paid in respect of this impost was £174 13s. 9d. In July, 1854, he petitioned the Lord Lieutenant for an Inquiry into the conduct of the stipendiary magistrate, and also for the remission of this tax, which was continued after his acquittal from this false charge. Now, he (the Earl of Albemarle) believed that the Lord Lieutenant at that time (the Earl of St. Germans) was incapable of intentionally doing an injustice to any person, but he believed that he had been ill-advised in this case in refusing both the requests of Mr. Dixon. Mr. Dixon was given to understand that if he had any complaint to make against the stipendiary magistrate he must seek redress in a court of law. He accordingly did bring an action against him; but in consequence of the Orange tinge which spread over the politico-religious sentiments of the good Protestants in that part of Queen's County, he wisely and prudently changed the venue to Dublin. The action was there tried by a special jury, and Mr. Dixon obtained a verdict of £500 against Mr. Franks, the stipendiary magistrate. Mr. Dixon did not now seek any reparation against that gentleman, but he wished to have refunded the sum of £174 13s. 9d., with which he contended he had been unjustly charged, under the Crime and Outrage Act. This year an application had been made to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury to that effect, but it had been refused without any reason being assigned for the refusal. It was with the view of giving some Member of the Government an opportunity of making a statement that he (the Earl of Albemarle) had brought the subject under the notice of their Lordships. The noble Earl concluded by moving the Address for the Papers referred to.


thanked his noble Friend for giving notice of his Motion, as it had enabled him to refresh his memory as to the particulars of the case. So far from complaining of the Motion, or the speech by which it was accompanied, ho thought that if, as his noble Friend believed, Mr. Dixon was an aggrieved person, he had done no more than his duty in placing his case for redress before the House; and he had submitted that case to their Lordships in a speech characterized by great forbearance and discretion, as well as by a friendly spirit. It was unnecessary to advert to all the circumstances of the accusation against Mr. Dixon, as the noble Earl did not ask that further proceedings should be taken against Mr. Franks, his sole object being to obtain a reimbursement of the money of which he believed he had been mulcted on account of the extra police force in his neighbourhood, and he (Earl St. Germans) would therefore confine himself to that point. He must say, however, that he thought it was hardly fair to Mr. Franks to make this serious charge against him when he had no opportunity of defending; himself. He really believed that Mr. Franks was not actuated in this matter by any unworthy motives. He was a magistrate of great experience, intelligence, and integrity, and totally unprejudiced against Mr. Dixon. But he (Earl St. Germans) wished to show, by reading extracts from certain papers he held in his hands, their Lordships that he did not exercise the discretionary power with which the Lord Lieutenant was vested by the Crime and Outrage Act on insufficient grounds in this particular instance. The first document he would refer to was a resolution agreed to at a public meeting of the magistrates of Queen's County, held at Castle Darrow on February 3,1854, and presided over by the Lord Lieutenant of the county, Lord de Vesci. That resolution related the circumstances of Brophy of Castlewood being fired at on his way home between eight and nine o'clock at night, and requested the Government to offer a reward for the apprehension of the guilty party; and in consequence of the danger in which the man's life was placed from the threats which had at various times been made to him, strongly recommended the Government to send a party of police to the locality, under the Crime and Outrage Act, to be chargeable on the townsland, but suggesting that Thomas Brophy should be exempted from that charge. The magistrates who signed that resolution included Lord Ashbrook, Mr. Deasy, M.P., and others. The Irish Government also received a memorial from Mr. Dixon, protesting against this measure, and a second one from another party, and these were transmitted to the Lord Lieutenant of the county, Lord de Vesci, who returned answer that he had carefully examined them, and that he entirely differed from most of the allegations of Mr. Dixon; that he held an investigation in conjunction with the magistrates, and, after a long and searching inquiry, they were fully convinced that such an outrage had taken place, and that a shot had been fired at Brophy with intent to take away his life; and his Lordship added that nothing had since taken place to alter his opinion upon the point; and his Lordship repudiated, in the strongest manner, Mr. Dixon's charge that the magistrates had desired the police force to be sent from personal feelings against him. On the 13th of July, in the same year, after the trial he (the Earl of St. Germans) received a deputation consisting of Mr. Dixon and other parties in favour of withdrawing the additional police force in the district; and his answer to them was that it would not be consistent with his duty in preserving the public peace to comply with their request, and that it was a satisfaction to him to find that he was confirmed in that view by the opinions of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and all the county magistrates, including those resident in the district, as well as by those of the law officers of the Crown, and the Judge who tried the case. On the 24th of August following, Mr. Franks, the resident magistrate, wrote saying the necessity for an extra police force still continued; and on the 24th of December, 1856, nearly three years after this proceeding, he sent another letter to the same effect, and up to the present day it had not been thought expedient by the Government to remove the force. These facts would at least show that he (Earl St. Germans) did not act capriciously, nor in an arbitrary manner, but obtained the best information he could on the subject, and acted upon that information to the best of his judgment. He might mention, also, that although the production of these papers was ordered on the 20th of July, 1854, by the House of Commons, on the Motion of Mr. O'Brien, and were laid on the table on the 13th of August in the same year, up to the present moment, neither that hon. Member nor any other hon. Member had moved that they should be printed. As to the Motion of the noble Earl he would neither oppose nor support it, being perfectly content to leave the matter to be dealt with by their Lordships as they should think fit.


said, he thought the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Albemarle) ought to have informed himself more accurately as to the facts before he cast wholesale on so respectable and honourable a body of men as the magistrates of the Queen's County, imputations of this serious nature—imputations which he defied him to prove. As to Mr. Franks, he believed that gentleman to be entirely incapable of the conduct which had been laid to his charge; but what he wished to ask the noble Earl who had spoken last was, whether the Government had paid the damages and costs in the action for false imprisonment, in which Mr. Dixon had recovered £500, because, if they had done so, they adopted the conduct of Mr. Franks and completely exonerated him.


said, that, speaking to the best of his recollection, he believed that the costs and damages were paid by the Government, who believed that Mr. Franks had acted honestly according to the best of his judgment. As regarded the child, he was placed in the charge of the wife of the governor of the prison, in order that he might be separated from his parents.


wished to know out of what fund the damages were paid? There was a fund in Ireland called "the secret service money" at the disposal of the Lord Lieutenant, and that probably was the fund called upon for the purpose.


believed the money was paid by the Government out of that fund, but not having had notice of the question he was unable to answer it exactly.


suggested that if the practice was to be that the Government should pay the damages and costs when a magistrate exceeded his duty and a verdict went against him, it ought to be generally known, and the same rule should be applicable to England as well as to Ireland. He hoped the papers would be laid on the table, that they might be able to form a more correct opinion upon the merits of the case.


said, there was no objection to the production of all the papers relating to the subject.

Motion agreed to.