§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I bog to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that nearly 50 persons were wounded, some of them dangerously, and all of them but three with blows behind, in the recent baton-charge by the police at Silksworth; that respectable unoffending persons, both male and female, quietly walking home by the very side of the police, were struck and kicked by them; what time, if any, was allowed to those persons to get out of the way between the time when the police faced about and the charge was delivered; and whether, in view of the serious allegations publicly made against the police, and in view of the probable renewal of 238 the evictions, with the consequent excitement, he is prepared to order a public inquiry into the matter? Is it the fact that none of these persons made or attempted any resistance whatsoever?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I have received a Report from the Chief Constable and have also seen reports of newspapers of different shades of opinion concerning the conflict that unhappily occurred on February 25. Those reports do not bear out the allegations of the hon. Member. The Chief Constable informs me that some 30 persons were more or less injured, but none dangerously, and that only only one female, a little girl, was slightly hurt, having been (it is supposed) crushed by the crowd. It appears that the bailiffs were returning home, escorted by the police, when they and the police were assailed by a riotous crowd, chiefly, as I gather, from Sunderland, and not connected with the Silksworth mines. This crowd continued to shout and pelt the officers with stones and small rivets of iron from the shipyards, hitting many of them, until the superintendent in charge, an old and experienced officer, halted his party and loudly cautioned the mob to desist or he would be compelled to drive them away by force. No attention was paid to this warning; the police charged with drawn batons, and the crowd was dispersed. I am not prepared to say whether or not the police, after making this charge, kept within those bounds of moderation and self-defence which they ought to observe. I have, however, no information before me to show that serious allegations have been made publicly against them. I am informed that the hon. Member for Mid Durham and the miners' officials have openly praised the police for their forbearance in the performance of difficult duties in connection with this strike. The Chief Constable does not apprehend a renewal of excitement or disturbance. I would point out to the hon. Member that the police are reponsible to the Standing Joint Committee, and not to me; and that, if there has been misconduct or excessive violence on the part of the police, complaint should be made to the Local Authority, who will, I have no doubt, make whatever inquiry is necessary. I should be guilty of disrespect to them if I ordered a public inquiry 239 without any evidence that they are not prepared to do their duty.
§ MR. STOREY
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to allege that respectable and unoffending persons, male and. female, quietly walking home, by the very side of the police, were not struck and kicked. What time was allowed to these respectable people to get out of the way?
§ MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask whether the term "praise" he has applied to the conduct of the police refers to their conduct during the evictions?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I stated, with as much accuracy as I could, that the praise was given to them for the manner in which they performed a difficult duty, and not in reference to any specific charge. With reference to the question of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) I can give him no answer beyond that which I have already given, that I cannot find either in the Report of the Chief Constable, or in the reports of the newspapers submitted to me, any confirmation of the allegations he has made. I do not undertake to deny them; all I say is that I do not find any confirmation of them.
§ SIR W. LAWSON
May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman will make any further inquiry into the matter?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I think I have given an ample answer, and I would suggest that any further question should be addressed to those responsible for the conduct of the police.
§ MR. STOREY
I beg to give notice that I shall take the earliest opportunity of bringing this serious matter before the House, and of placing the real facts of the case before the right hon. Gentleman.