MR. R. T. REID&c.) (Dumfries,
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether a single person has yet been proceeded against by the police for any riotous or illegal conduct on the occasion of the Silksworth baton charge on 25th February last, although numerous persons wounded in that charge have commenced civil actions for damages against Superintendent Oliver and other policemen; whether his attention has been called to the fact that, on 7th April, Mr. Brewis laid informations against Police Constables Reed and Hodgson for perjury alleged to have been committed on 21st March, Mr. Storey, M.P., being one of the witnesses; and that thereupon, on 10th April, Police Constable Snaith, who was not present at Newport Farm, laid an information against Mr. Storey for perjury alleged to have been committed on 7th, March, 34 days before; that the summons against Mr. Storey was granted by Mr. C. J. Briggs, a County Magistrate, in the absence of the Magistrates' clerk, and made returnable to the County Bench in opposition to the unbroken practice since Sunderland obtained a Borough Bench 50 years ago; whether he is aware that Mr. Storey, having been committed by the County Justices, a Divisional Court quashed the committal with costs against the said Justices; after which a second summons against Mr. Storey was granted by two Borough Magistrates, and that on that occasion Mr. Strachan, the counsel for the prosecutors, stated that the prosecution was retaliatory; whether he is aware that, on 9th July, a Borough Bench, consisting of the usual rota, unanimously dismissed the summons without calling on Mr. Storey's counsel; that Snaith demanded to be bound over under the Vexatious Indictments Act, and was so bound, the Magistrates having no option; and that, on 17th, July, Mr. Strachan, the counsel for the prosecution, offered, in open Court, to withdraw the charge against Mr. Storey if the civil actions against the police were abandoned, and 119 although, this was declined, Mr. Strachan nevertheless withdrew the charge; and whether the Home Secretary will grant an open inquiry into the conduct of the Magistrates and the police, and all the circumstances of the case?
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS, Birmingham, E.)
I am informed by the Chief Constable that no person has been proceeded against by the police in connection with the proceedings at Sunderland of February 25 last. Civil actions for damages are pending, as I am informed, against members of the police force. The informations for perjury were laid on the dates mentioned in the question. The summons against the hon. Member for Sunderland was granted by Mr. Briggs, a County Magistrate, the deputy clerk, who is a solicitor, being present. The Magistrate's clerk informs me that the summons was made returnable to the County Bench because it was a charge arising out of a case heard by County Magistrates, and was therefore considered a county case, and, as such, returnable to the County Bench according to the usual practice. The Divisional Court quashed the committal, with costs against the Justices, on the ground that they had refused to allow the Borough Magistrates to sit with them in the adjudication. A second summons was then granted against the hon. Member by the Borough Bench. I am informed by the clerk to the Borough Justices that the counsel for the prosecution expressed his own opinion that it was to be regretted that all such proceedings had not been allowed to drop when the strike was finished, but, as proceedings were commenced by other parties, his client was bound to proceed. The Borough Bench unanimously "dismissed the summons, and Snaith demanded to be bound over, a similar course having been pursued in the charge of perjury against Inspector Dobson, which had also been dismissed by the Borough Bench. I have seen a newspaper account of the proceedings before the Judge of Assize, from which I infer (and this is confirmed by the Chief Constable, who was present in Court) that both charges, that against the police and that of the police against the hon. Member for Sunderland, 120 were withdrawn in deference to a suggestion of the learned Judge himself, and with the entire concurrence of counsel engaged on both sides. The initiative did not proceed from Mr. Strachan, as suggested in the question. I do not see any ground for inquiry into the conduct of the Magistrates. The County Magistrates were no doubt wrong, in point of law, in the decision they came to as to this exclusive jurisdiction. But when they had had the opportunity of obtaining better legal advice, they did, by their counsel, before the Divisional Court, explain that they had acted upon the advice of their clerk on a point which was new to them, and expressed their regret at the mistake they had made. I see no reason to doubt their good faith. With regard to the Durham police, actions are pending against them which would be prejudiced by any inquiry at this time, and the proper persons to inquire, if inquiry be ultimately thought desirable with regard to the public advantage and to the good of the neighbourhood, are the Standing Joint Committee of the county.
§ MR. R. T. REID
I wish to draw attention to one point which the right hon. Gentleman has omitted to answer. Is it not the fact that, when the case came before the Assizes, counsel appearing for the police, in the first instance, offered to withdraw the charge against Mr. Storey on condition of the civil action being abandoned, and that it was only on the counsel for the accused declining to do so that the charge was entirely withdrawn?
§ *MR. MATTHEWS
I can only judge by the newspaper report, which states that after a suggestion had been made by the Judge, and after the hon. Member for the Brigg Division (Mr. Waddy), who appeared for Mr. Storey, had acceded to it, the counsel who represented the police offered also to withdraw the charge against Mr. Storey. Mr. Strachan said he withdrew it unreservedly, and urged that byegones should be byegones. That, no doubt, involved a proposition that everything should cease, but afterwards the charge against Mr. Storey was unreservedly withdrawn.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I wish to be permitted to suggest that something else followed, namely— 121Mr. Strachan said: I shall call no evidence against Mr. Storey, on the understanding that all the other proceedings will also be stayed.Mr. Waddy: You mean the civil proceedings?—Certainly not. We are prepared to go on with this case.Whereupon Mr. Strachan said: Very well, I will withdraw the charge unreservedly. I offer no evidence.I wish to ask the Home Secretary whether he thinks it a proper use of the Criminal Law to attempt thus to put pressure upon me to withdraw all civil actions?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
It would be extremely improper to use the Criminal Law in order to secure a withdrawal of civil actions; but I may point out that the newspaper report with which I have been furnished is not in accordance with what the hon. Member has just read.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The Durham County Advertiser. It has been furnished to me by the Chief Inspector. The report contains the passage which I have read.
§ MR. STOREY said
I am prepared to raise this question in the House either by moving the adjournment or by making a personal explanation, but I am extremely unwilling that there should be any heat or controversy in the House on a matter personal to myself, as there would be if I were to move the adjournment. I prefer, therefore, after consulting with Mr. Speaker, to make a brief personal statement on a matter sufficiently notorious and which recently affected not only my personal liberty but the character which I had won by 30 years of public life. I do not at all assume that a Member of Parliament ought to be treated with more favour than another man, but, on the other hand, neither do I think the Criminal Law ought to be used as an engine of oppression against a Member of Parliament. The charge brought against me was that I had been guilty of wilful and corrupt perjury. I will not enter into the circumstances. I will not take the trouble to deny on the floor of this House that that charge was true, or that it had any truth in it. 122 What I want is to enlist the sense of fairness, which has always distinguished this House, while I state the exact circumstances of the charge. It was brought in respect of an action of mine which took place 34 days before, and it was not brought until actions had been commenced against the police by persons who thought they were aggrieved. The Chief Superintendent did not make the charge; the Superintendents of Police had not the manliness to make it, but they put forward an ordinary policeman who was not present during the circumstances at all; he knew nothing about them; and yet this man was put up to go to the Court and swear that he knew I had been guilty of wilful and corrupt perjury. It was a police prosecution, but they did not venture to take the money out of the county funds. They went to private persons—the owner of the colliery, the Marquess of Londonderry—for the money wherewith to prosecute me; and, finally, they insisted, instead of taking it to the Borough Bench, on sending it to the County Bench, which had no jurisdiction whatever in the matter except in conjunction with the Borough Magistrates. I shall say nothing about the proceedings before the County Bench. The whole world is aware of them. They committed me for trial, and the Court of Queen's Bench held that it was illegal. When the second summons was issued against me the counsel for the prosecution distinctly stated that it was applied for because civil actions had been brought by me as the defendant in the case against the police. That is the point to which I desire particularly to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and I will give the right hon. Gentleman exactly what was said, because fortunately I have a shorthand note of it. Before the second hearing the Chief Constable had offered to compound the charge against me and to withdraw any reflection upon my character if the civil actions against the police were withdrawn. The Chief Constable made that offer in a letter to an hon. Member of this House. [An hon. MEMBER: What name?] I do not want to give names. I, of course, indignantly rejected the idea of any compromise, and I think the Home Secretary ought to take cognizance of 123 such a suggestion on the part of the police as that. If it was a bonâ fide criminal charge against me, the police were not doing their duty in trying to compound it. The matter came in due course before the Borough Magistrates, and I must say, in justification of the Borough Magistrates, that it was not a packed Bench, but there was this remarkable fact—that while on the first occasion there were 13 witnesses against me, on the second hearing there were only seven, the other six being witnesses who had on the first hearing given evidence more or less in support of my view. Therefore the prosecution did not again produce them. When the matter came before an unprejudiced tribunal it was speedily dismissed, without any one being called upon to say a word on my behalf. And then what happened? It only shows the hardship of the case. As soon as the case was dismissed, this ordinary policeman applied to be and was bound over to prosecute under the Vexatious Indictments Act. I, as the defendant, had no power to prevent the policeman from doing so; the Magistrates had no option in the matter, and therefore I was subjected to the indignity of being compelled to attend the Assizes in order to meet the charge that was brought against me. Well, the case came on at the Assizes, and what happened there? The learned Judge expressed his opinion, after reading the depositions, that the case had better be stopped. The counsel for the prosecution—Mr. Strachan—thereupon in open Court suggested a compromise, which appears to have been in his mind from the first, and offered to withdraw from the prosecution if the civil actions against the police were withdrawn. That proposal I declined to accept, and the case against me was then unreservedly withdrawn. The Home Secretary told the House that the newspaper reports did not contain this statement. Now, I know what newspaper reports are, and, fortunately for myself, I had taken means to supply myself with a verbatim shorthand note. The charge, I say, was unreservedly withdrawn; but I have been subjected for three or four months to intense annoyance, to much pain of mind and body, and to much discredit in the eyes of people who did not know the facts. What is my 124 remedy? I could commence an action for damages against the policeman Snaith. That is to say that Colonel White, the two Inspectors, and Lord Londonderry, who combined in the matter or found the money for the criminal proceedings, will escape scot free. I have no power over them, and if I want a remedy I can only go against the policeman. I think the House will agree with me that the whole proceeding is monstrously mean and most unfair. I have nothing more to say in regard to the matter. I thank you, Sir, for having allowed me to make these remarks, and I thank the House for having listened to them. I have never condescended to deny these charges, and I will not do so now. If any hon. Member can conceive that I would commit wilful perjury or say what I knew to be untrue, even if I were not on oath, he is welcome to his opinion. I have been a Member of the House for more than 11 years, and I hope, please God, to be a Member of it for some years to come. However much hon. Members may differ from me politically, I hope that they believe me to be a man who would stand to his opinion and who would stick to the truth, and would not commit wilful perjury. I think that I have stated some things which call for the interference of the Home Secretary, because, although the police are not under his control, if the right hon. Gentleman would give me the opportunity I will prove up to the hilt that the police in the County of Durham have used the law as an instrument of oppression against me in order to get civil actions against themselves abated.