§ 53. Mr. McGovern
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has completed his preliminary inquiries into the assault on Francis Healy at Barlinnie prison, Glasgow, on 10th September, 1937; and what action he proposes to take in the matter?
§ Mr. Elliot
I apologise for the length of the reply.
I have again fully and carefully reviewed all the circumstances of this case and have had personal interviews this week with the Secretary of the Prisons Department, the Prison Governor and the Medical Superintendent of Gartloch Asylum. The circumstances of the case are as follow:
Francis Healy was committed to Barlinnie Prison on 1st June, 1937, on a sentence of 18 months' imprisonment with hard labour for assault. Prior to that he had had seven previous convictions of assault. For some days before 10th September, 1937, Healy was observed to be moody. On 9th September he complained to the Governor that other prisoners were "talking about him" and he asked for employment in the stoneyard instead of in a work shed. He was informed that he could not be given priority over the others who wished for this employment except after examination by the medical officer but on 10th September, after Healy had been interviewed by the Assistant Medical Officer, this application was granted. Healy worked in a normal manner in the stoneyard from 10 a.m. till 12.30 p.m. when he returned to his cell, like other prisoners, for his dinner. At 1.15 p.m., when alone in his cell, he suddenly became violent and began to sing and shout, broke 21 panes of glass, and smashed up his cell furniture. Four warders, with periods of prison service ranging from 29 years to 2½ years, were summoned and entered the cell. They found Healy in an aggressive condition, armed with a crockery chamber pot and a piece of wood broken from his cell furniture. One of the warders urged him to-put the pot down. Healy threw the chamber pot at the warder. The pot broke severely bruising and cutting the bridge of the warder's nose. A violent struggle then ensued. The warder struck Healy twice on the head with a baton. These blows caused two scalp wounds, each about one inch in length. Healy, who was struggling and fighting violently, was then taken by two of the warders who had entered his cell, assisted for a short time by another warder who was in the vicinity, from his cell along the narrow iron-railed gallery giving access to the cell, down an iron-railed staircase, and along another passage—a total distance of about 80 yards—to a padded cell where 2151 he could not injure himself or destroy prison furniture. Three warders then removed his clothing and searched it in case he had in his possession broken glass or other articles dangerous to himself or to other persons. Healy was not unconscious at any stage of the occurrence. In it five warders had at one time or another been concerned.
Shortly after 2 p.m. the Assistant Medical Officer examined him, and put two stitches in each of the two scalp wounds. Healy did not make any representation to the Medical Officer that he had been assaulted by warders but said he had gone mad and that all night long he heard voices taunting him and telling him he would soon be insane. In view of Healy's manner, conduct and statements, the Assistant Medical Officer and another doctor who examined him certified that afternoon that Healy was of unsound mind. About 3 p.m. the Governor saw Healy who showed no symptoms of physical injury apart from his head which by this time had been bandaged. Healy expressed to the Governor his regret at what he had done but made no complaint that he had been ill-used. Shortly afterwards the Governor saw the injured warder. The warder, who was in a dazed condition, on the advice of the Governor and the Medical Officer did not resume active duty until the night of the following day.
Healy was removed under Sheriff's warrant to Gartloch Asylum—which he entered about 5 p.m. on 10th September. He was examined there at 5.30 p.m. by the Assistant Medical Officer and again on the following day by the Medical Superintendent. They found, in addition to the two scalp wounds, bruising of both shoulders, of the left thigh and leg, and of the left hand. The Medical Superintendent has informed me that all the bruises were compatible with the foregoing narrative of events in Barlinnie and that the bruises in particular were diffused and not such as would be caused by, e.g., kicking. On 17th September the Medical Superintendent of Gartloch Asylum certified that Healy was of unsound mind. On 26th November the Medical Superintendent reported that while Healy had greatly improved under Asylum care, he would not take the responsibility of discharging him then as he had not had him long enough under observation to certify that 2152 he had fully recovered. On 6th December he made a further report indicating that Healy's history and conduct contained various manifestations of a mental disturbance of maniac depressive type, and that in certain circumstances he could become an impulsive and dangerous man. On 9th December Healy was fully examined by a Deputy Commissioner of the General Board of Control who reported that he was still convalescent from an attack of maniacal excitement amounting to certifiable insanity, and that it was in the best interests of the patient that he should be detained under institutional care and treatment for some time. Since then the Medical Superintendent has informed me that he could not at present certify Healy as being of sound mind, and that, even if Healy had no part of his prison sentence still to serve, he would not be prepared for the present to recommend his liberation from the asylum even on probation—the course which, in a mental case of this kind, would normally precede final discharge.
On 11th September, 12 prisoners addressed representations to me about the case. None of the 12 claimed to have been eye witnesses, but eight stated that they had heard the struggle in the cell. Their representations were carefully considered at the time, but as none of the prisoners had been an eye witness no inquiries were made from the prisoners. On 22nd September all prisoners had an opportunity of making complaints to a member of the Prison Visiting Committee. One prisoner (who was one of the 12 who made representations on 11th September but had not claimed to have seen or heard anything of the occurrence) referred to this case. The member of the Visiting Committee decided to take no action in the matter. The facts of the case have also been investigated by the Lord Advocate who has found no ground to justify proceedings for assault against any of the warders concerned. I am, myself, satisfied that there is no evidence to support the suggestion that Healy was subjected on 10th September to a measure of force or restraint beyond what was necessary in all the circumstances of the case. I am further satisfied that his certification on that date and his subsequent detention in Gartloch are fully justified by the facts of the case as known then and subsequently to the medical officers concerned.
2153 Consideration of the course of events in the present case, however, has shown the desirability of ensuring that, if a prisoner whose sanity is in doubt becomes violent, there should be present from the earliest possible moment the medical officer, or, in his absence, the prison governor. Directions, as I informed the House on 23rd November, have been given accordingly. I have now further arranged that, in all cases in which force has had to be used against a prisoner and he is bruised or wounded in consequence, the circumstances shall be immediately reported to the chairman of the Visiting Committee (as well as to the Prisons Department, as at present) so that he may, if he thinks fit, have them inquired into independently by the committee forthwith.
§ Mr. McGovern
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he also personally interviewed Francis Healy; can he state, from the results of his investigation, how this man's body was one mass of bruises from his head to his heels, black and blue and yellow, at the time that I myself saw him, in company with a witness; and can the right hon. Gentleman tell me how the man's back, body, hips, legs, and arms received these bruises if he did not receive them from the warders in the cell?
§ Mr. Elliot
I have not personally examined Francis Healy, because, as the hon. Member will see, he saw him some time between 10th September and the end of that month, and he did not raise the matter in the House until nearly six weeks after, on 23rd November, by which time it would have been impossible for me to see any evidence of this bruising. Consequently, I have had no opportunity of examining the evidence which the hon. Member saw at the time. It is for that reason that I have made arrangements that after any violence has had to be used in prison, the matter is to be reported forthwith to the Chairman of the Visiting Committee, as trying to go into such matters a long time afterwards inevitably raises great difficulties.
§ Mr. McGovern
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my reason for not raising the matter earlier was that I did not want the man to be sent back to Barlinnie after these incidents and thought it better if he remained in the asylum under better conditions, and that his 2154 parents and himself thought that such a tremendous reflection on his mental capacity was unfair? Owing to the severe beating up which this man has received and from the evidence that I myself have seen, they pressed for the matter to be raised, and I have raised it in consequence, and that is the cause of the delay. Further, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there was no undue force used on this man in taking him into this padded cell?
§ Mr. Elliot
I sympathise with the reasons for the delay, but, as the hon. Member did not raise the matter for several weeks, he will see the great difficulty that inevitably arises in any subsequent investigation of the case. I have already stated, in my answer to the question, that considering the violent nature of the struggle, I am satisfied that no undue force was used.
§ Mr. McGovern
May I give notice that, owing to the completely unsatisfactory nature of the reply—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If it had been you, you would have something to say about it—I deem it my public duty to raise this matter on the Adjournment to-day, if possible.