HC Deb 15 June 1939 vol 348 cc1540-2W
Mr. Gallacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has yet received a report from the Governor of Sierra Leone on the case of George Pratt who, after a long period of imprisonment, was unanimously found not guilty by a mixed jury; and whether he will cause an independent inquiry to be made into the conditions of Mr. Pratt's imprisonment in view of the serious charges he makes against the administration?

Sir T. Inskip

My right hon. Friend has received a report on this case from the Governor and the facts are as follows:

  1. 2. A strike occurred amongst the artisans and labourers employed by the War Department on the 30th of January. On the fol- 1541 lowing morning a worker named Bright complained to the Police that he had been beaten by Mr. Pratt on his way to work, forced into a motor car, and taken against his will to the office of the West African Youth League and later to Mr. Wallace Johnson's house at Wilberforce. In consequence of this complaint, a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Pratt was applied for and obtained from the Police Magistrate on the 31st of January. The charge against him was false imprisonment and the particulars of the offence set out that on the 31st of January he unlawfully assaulted one Bright and unlawfully imprisoned and detained the latter against his will.
  2. 3.At 8.25 a.m. on the next day Mr. Pratt was arrested on the warrant in Westmoreland Street, Freetown, and taken to the Criminal Investigation Department and charged. The following morning he was brought before the Police Magistrate. He remained on remand for varying periods until the 8th of March, when he was committed for trial by the Supreme Court. All these remands were to prison, bail being refused. During the preliminary inquiry Mr. Pratt was refused bail by the Police Magistrate and an appeal against this decision was commenced in the Supreme Court which the Solicitor General personally attended. After certain legal arguments the appeal was adjourned for 10 days to suit the convenience of the accused's advocate who stated that he had legal work which would take him out of Freetown. At the resumed hearing Mr. Pratt's advocate did not appear, and the appeal was struck out by the Acting Chief Justice. The delay in the opening of the committal proceedings was due to the considerable difficulty which the Police found in collecting evidence on account of the confusion occasioned by the disturbance which accompanied the strike. On the 8th of March Mr. Pratt was admitted to bail to appear before the Supreme Court on the 5th of May.
  3. 4.Mr. Pratt was received into the Free town Prison on the 2nd of February on a warrant of commitment signed by the Police Magistrate. Within half-an-hour of his admission he was interviewed by the Superintendent of Prisons and acquainted with the Prison regulations affecting unconvicted prisoners. After this interview he was accommodated in a block of cells part of which was reserved for unconvicted prisoners. He remained there until the 6th of February. On that day all unconvicted prisoners were transferred to the new remand prison which had just been completed. Mr. Pratt elected to share a cell in the remand prison with two other prisoners.
  4. 5.In the new remand prison the unconvicted prisoners are entirely segregated from all other inmates and receive in addition privileges which had not hitherto been practicable in the main prison. Mr. Pratt's cell was opened each day at 6 a.m.; and until 9.45 a.m. he was permitted either to exercise with other unconvicted prisoners or to remain in his cell with the door open. From 9.45 a.m. his cell was locked until 11.30 a.m., when the day duty staff returned from their morning 1542 meal. From 11.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. he passed the time by walking round the exercise ring with his companions or by reading in his cell. He was permitted to use the prison library and the librarian reports that he borrowed eight books a week. While on remand Mr. Pratt was never approached nor spoken to by any military or police officer. He was permitted to wear his own clothes and to receive food from outside sources.
  5. 6.Shortly before his discharge from prison he was interviewed by Mr. Thompson, a visiting justice, who asked if he had any com plaints. His answer, which was in the negative, was recorded by Mr. Thompson in the Visiting Justices' Book. He was also interviewed by two Members of Parliament. As regards this interview I would invite attention to the reply given on the 29th of March to the question by the hon. Member for West Fife. Mr. Pratt was finally discharged from prison on the 8th of March.
  6. 7.Allegations have been made that while he was on remand Mr. Pratt was tortured by police and military officers. The only reference that has been found to these allegations in any representations submitted by Mr. Pratt himself, appears in a statement sent under cover of a letter dated the 13th of April addressed to my right hon. Friend direct, in which Mr. Pratt states that he told the two Members of Parliament who visited him in prison that he had"serious complaints against the police and military authorities in connection with their attitude towards him while in prison, but was not going to make any statement while in confinement."Mr Pratt was released from prison on the 8th o. March and acquitted on the 17th of May; he has had, therefore, every opportunity of making these allegations while at liberty. He has not done so. In view of this fact, and in view of the Governor's statement that during the period he was on remand he was never approached nor spoken to by any military or police officer, my right hon. Friend is not prepared to cause an independent inquiry to be made into the allegations relating to the conditions of Mr. Pratt's imprisonment, which he regards as totally without foundation. It is not at present clear what are the serious charges against the administration to which reference is made and my right hon. Friend is communicating with the Governor on this point.

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