Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
presented a petition from Thomas Lyon the younger, residing at Warrington. It contained a justification of the conduct of those who had been charged by an hon. and learned member, the other night [see p. 211] with forcibly seizing a petition which had been agreed to be presented to the House of Commons praying for parliamentary reform, and in his opinion it was a complete answer to the accusation. Too much stress had been laid upon the fact of Thomas Lyon, the present petitioner, being the nephew of a magistrate. The petition, it would be observed on reading it, showed that the uncle of this young man had been attacked with a paralytic stroke, and for a considerable time past had been unable to execute the active duties of his office.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that with respect to the stress said to be laid upon the circumstance of the young man being the nephew of a magistrate, he wished to remind the House that this was not the point particularly remarked upon: but the circumstance which had astonished him was, that this young man had taken the petition to the house of a magistrate, at which house it was demanded in vain. He was aware that Mr. T. Lyon the elder was afflicted with a lamentable distemper, but the House would do him the justice to remember, that he had expressly delayed to take any steps upon the subject until time should have been allowed for an answer to the accusation. A petition to this effect had now been presented; and it remained for the House to judge, whether it was or was not a sufficient reply to the charge which had been brought against him.
§ The Petition was then read, setting forth:
"That the petitioner hath learnt with great surprise that a petition hath been presented to the House, in which the names of the petitioner and of his relation Thomas Lyon the elder, esq., have been introduced as connected with a recent violation of the liberty of the subject in the town of Warrington, by the removal of a certain petition for parliamentary reform from the possession of the petitioning body, and as the object of those petitioners, although not positively expressed, appears to be to insinuate to the House, and the country at large, that the removal of the
petition above mentioned took place under the direction and with the knowledge of the petitioner and of the said Thomas Lyon the elder, he humbly begs leave to lay before the House the true circumstances of the case, in order to repel the base, unfounded, and malevolent attack which has thus been made upon the characters of himself and his relation by the persons who have given so false a representation to the House; true it is that the petitioner had heard, for a few days previous to the 22d of January last, that a petition for parliamentary reform had been banded secretly about the town for signatures by some obscure individuals; and that, by various arts and false representations, many persons, including very young boys at school, had been induced to sign the same, but he indignantly disclaims for himself and his relation all communication or knowledge whatever, either direct or indirect, with any of the parties concerned in the offence complained of, except as hereafter detailed; about seven o'clock in the evening of Wednesday the 22d of January last, the petitioner was engaged in writing a letter in one of the parlours of his relation's dwelling-house in Warrington aforesaid, when a hue and cry was raised in the street adjacent; as the petitioner had a few weeks before been in-rolled and sworn a special constable for the town, he thought it his duty to hasten to the spot whence the alarm proceeded, and taking his staff' of office, he immediately left the room and ran out of the house; not many yards from the door, he saw several persons standing in the street, and, upon the petitioner's going up to them, he found that two of his neighbours, Edward Coates, of Warrington aforesaid, grocer, and Daniel Pollett, of the same place, pawnbroker, had got in their custody the person against whom the cry had been raised, that he knew the man to be Richard Burrows, a person of extremely good character, to the petitioner's knowledge, for many years past, and the petitioner expressed himself in terms of great concern that he (Burrows) should be apprehended under such circumstances, and took him into the house of the said Edward Coates for safe custody, and for the purpose of inquiring into the cause of his being pursued, which the said Richard Burrows, being almost breathless from his attempt to escape had been unable to inform him of; that soon after, going into Mr. Coates's house, the said Richard
Burrows acknowledged that he had, by way of joke, carried off' the petition for parliamentary reform which had been handing about for signatures, and that he produced two rolls of parchment from his pocket, and delivered them to the petitioner; that the petitioner was at a loss how to demean himself towards the said Richard Burrows on this discovery, but believing, from his previous knowledge of the man, that he had no intention to act criminally, and that he would be forthcoming to answer the charge when inquired into in a legitimate manner, he ventured to permit Burrows to go at large, on his undertaking to appear whenever the parties interested might call upon him to answer for his conduct; that the petitioner did certainly receive the petition into his custody, and he admits that a letter, signed by one Roger Gaskell, was left at his relation's dwelling-house, requiring him to deliver up the petition to him, but that, being advised that he was not the competent authority by whom the petitioner could be called upon, and being afterwards requested by divers persons who had inadvertently signed the said petition to erase their names thereout, he did not comply with either of the requests, but kept the same, in the expectation that the matter would undergo a proper investigation before a magistrate, or other competent tribunal, to whom he has always been ready and desirous of delivering up the same; that the connecting the name of his relation with the petitioner's share in this transaction (as if he had at all interfered therewith) can only be attributed to the vile and malevolent' minds of the petitioners, when the House is informed that it is notorious to them, and the town at large, that for more than ten months past Mr. Thomas Lyon the elder has been labouring under severe bodily infirmity, which has prevented his attending to any business whatever during that period; that, in adopting the above line of conduct, the petitioner had no conception whatever that he should incur the displeasure of the House as committing a breach of its privileges, for which he hath always felt the highest veneration and respect, being conscious that he was actuated by no other motive than a strict sense of what he considered to be his duty as a special constable, and he confidently trusts that the House will dismiss from their minds the aspersions which have been malignantly cast on himself and his venerable relation,
against the latter of whom the breath of calumny hath never before been raised, during a course of more than thirty years service as a magistrate and protector of the public peace of the country."
§ On the motion, that the petition do lie on the table,
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he thought that the attack which had been made by the petitioner upon those who in the mildest way had brought forward the accusation was entirely unjustifiable. He trusted the House would observe the great nicety of the petitioner's conscience, who had been afraid to give the petition back to its right owners, though they had made a formal demand of it. The petitioner must have been well aware that the petition which he withheld was property of that description, that unless it were given back immediately, it would be of very little value to its former possessors. He left it to the judgment of the House, whether the conduct of the hon. members who brought the complaint before the House, deserved the epithets contained in the petition, of "base, malevolent, unfounded, and false."
§ Lord Stanley
, not having been present when this subject was brought before the House the other evening, wished to say a few words upon it. He had thought it his duty to inquire into the circumstances of the transaction, and the character of the gentleman who had been implicated in it; and it was but due to that gentleman to state, that every thing which he had heard of his character was highly honourable to him. Whether or not, in the present instance, he had acted with propriety, he was rather inclined to doubt. Certainly he had had nothing to do with the transaction until he heard the cry of "stop thief!" He then ran into the street, and seeing in custody a person whom he knew to be a perfectly honest and industrious man, he took him into the house, when the man immediately told him what had happened, and gave the petition into his hands. So far all was right; but he did not think Mr. Lyon justified in withholding the petition from those from whom it had been taken, and retaining it in his possession. As those persons had followed the party into the room, it would appear that the natural course for Mr. Lyon to have taken was to return the petition to them immediately. This, however, he omitted to do. He concurred with his hon. and learned friend, that the petition became of no value unless re- 354 turned at the moment. Looking, therefore, at all the circumstances of the case, he certainly thought the conduct of this gentleman had been injudicious and improper. He would not apply to it any stronger terms of disapprobation, because he was persuaded that it arose solely from an error of judgment.
Mr. W. Bootle
allowed that Mr. Lyon had not exercised a sound judgment in the affair, but denied that any other imputation whatever could rest upon him.
censured Mr. Lyon's conduct as injudicious and improper. What was the duty of a constable under such circumstances? Had he considered the act a theft, he ought to have taken the thief and the property before a magistrate. Had he considered it a joke, he ought to have returned the property to its owners. The petitioner, however, did not say a single word of having returned, or of intending to return to the owners the petition which had been carried off. In fact, the very tone of his address to the House was censurable, for it was not a tone of contrition, as it ought to have been, but of justification exclusively.
Sir F. Burdett
asked, whether or not the petition which had been run away with, had been given back to the owners?
Mr. W. Bootle
replied, that he knew nothing further of the business than was comprehended in the statement made by the petitioner. The object of the petition was to show that he had no intention to deprive any of his majesty's subjects of any part of their privileges.
§ Sir C. Monck
observed, that there appeared to be a determination on the part of the petitioner to continue that detention which, whether a joke or otherwise, was, in the first instance, an unwarrantable act.
§ The petition was ordered to lie on the table.