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MERTHYR -I.L.P.-I

A Soldier Again. I

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A Soldier Again. I THE STRANGE CASE OF HARRY THOMASI ENDS AT LAST. MERTHYR STIPENDIARY HEARS FRESHI EVIDENCE AND CONVICTS. After occupying the Courts in Mertliyr and the High Courts for upwards of twelve months the case of Harry Thomas, the Merthyr C.O., I who was sent home from Dartmoor without any apparent reason, was settled in the Merthyr Police Court on Friday last, when, after the ad- mission of fresh evidence ordered bv the High Court of Justice, Mr. R. A. Griffith (the sti- pendiary) found that Thomas had become sub- ject to the Army Act and handed him over to the authorities as an absentee. Mr. Giveen and Captain Stanley Evans (in- structed F. S. Simons, of Messrs. Simons, Smyth and Daniel, Merthyr) appeared for the Public Prosecutor, and Mr. Edward Roberts (Dowlais) was for defendant. Mr. V ivecn This case has been returned from I the Divisional Court of the King's Bench Divi- sion again and I think you ha.ve had a lot of I trouble with it. Stipendiary: I hope I am at the end of my trouble, now. (Laughter.) May I make a sug- gestion? trouble,^ The general facts are ancient history in this court. I have here the order of the court above in which I am directed to find upon evidence whether the conduct of the defendant was satisfactory to the Brace Committee and I suggest you go straight to that evidence. It would be more interesting for me to hear you afterwards. Mr. Giveen: This oase has been returned from he had hoped that Mr. Henry Tyrrell, K.C., M.P., a member of the Committee on Employ- ment of Conscientious Objectors, would have been able to attend the hearing but that this arrangement had been found impossible as Mr. Tyrrell was engaged in a big case in the courts, called Mr. Geoffrey Granville Whiskard, of the staff of the Home Office Committee, to give evi- dence as to the events arising from the alleged disturbances at Lyme Regis, for the admission of which the case was referred back from the High Court. Mr. Whiskard, in reply to counsel, stated lie was private secretary to Sir George Cave, the Home Secretary, and was, with a Mr. Locke, ioint-Wslaff_.ajftpai.ited to administer the Home Office Scheme for conscientious ob- jectors. The committee consisted of Mr. William Brace, M.P. (chairman), Mr. Henry Tyrrell, and Major Bristowe. In consequence of certain re- ports he saw in the newspapers as to an alleged "riot" at Lyme Regis, he got into communi- cation with" someone" in the town and was furnished with reports relative to the matter, the result of which was that he directed a letter to be written to Mr. Thomas and the other con- science men concerned in the following terms on May 19th, 1917:- THE ACCUSATION. I Sir,—I am directed by the Oommittee on the Employment of Conscientious Objectors to inform you that your name has been reported to the Committee as having occasioned a. dis- turbance at Lyme Regis on 27th of April last by provocative remarks made to wounded sol- diers. I am to ask you that if you have any explanation to make you will forward the same to the Committee as soon a-s possible." CALL UP THE MEN. I A dossier was made of the statements thus obtained from Mr. Thomas and others. The facts were laid before Mr. Tyrrell,, and after he had had the papers he endorsed them that a request should be made to the War OSce to call up the men. Before this course was acted upon by the War Office Mr. Brace's concurrence was also obtained, his private secretary signing the documents for him. Both Mr. Brace and Mr. Tyrrell had the full facte of the case before them, and the course subsequently followed was in accordance with the usual procedure of the committed. Statements from both sides were presented, and in the letter of the 19th of May the gist of the accusations against Mr. Thomas was given, and Mr. Thomas was told what he was charged with. CROSS EXAMINATION. I Mr. E. Roberts (cross-examining): Am I to understand, Mr. Whiskard, that Mr. Brace and Mr. Tyrrell were not sitting together as a Oom- jmittee when these papers were considered?— No. So that in effect what took place is. this, the papers were first put before Major Tyrrell, who endorsed them, then, at some other time, they came before Mr. Brace, who made a sort of en- dorsement?—That is so. You said that Mr. Locke had signed for Mr. Brace?—No, he did not sign for Mr. Brace. He noted on the papers that the papers kad been before Mr. Brace and he had concurred. In, the appointment of this Committee can you say what are the particular rules which are to guide the Committee in proceedings of this kind ?—There are none. The Oommittee was ap- pointed by the Home Secretary to do certain work. So that they do not hold formal meetings?— They hold formal meetings to consider matters of general policy. Although Major Tyrrell had signed the pa- pers, and Mr. Brace, they were not sent to Major Bristowe then?—Not then. The reply Thomas made in answer to your en- quiry was. in effect, a denial of the charge con- tained in the letter?—It admitted a convoca- tion with soldiers and others but denied provo- cative conversation. The Stipendiary: Have you that letter with you?—I have it here. THE DENIAL. I Mr. Roberts: I would like it to go in. I The letter was 1wn(kd UI Mr. Rol>erts. who I-etid: 1.(,gi [-(I to the disturbance at Lyme Regis we send you the fotlowin? rt,siliil(?1 of the actua l aceu lTenc() on hhf date in ques- 11 ion. *W e were aUowed on April 27th to do onr I }>[lcI;ing anù to clean the ho<M? ?cncr?IIy, as we I [I Wf.re to leave early the following morning. \Vc j had finished when we went to Lyme R-egis. As we were walking along the promenade we w?re shouted at by a few wounded soldiers and some of the town folk. These remarks we absolutely ignored and continued on our way to the end of the promenade, where we turned back. When we were approaching the soldiers their remarks became more persistent. We were deliberately accosted and compelled to stop. A few ques- tions were put to us which we answered. While this was going on the town folk gathered round and noticing signs of restlessness amongst them we left the promenade. We purposely went into the Cinema Refreshment House to avoid any further questions. Allowing, as we thought. sufficient time for the soldiers to leave the vicinity we left the Cinema to go on the beacli and read. We passed the soldiers, however, on their way home. With the exception of one man no hostile feeling was shown. We proceeded towards the beach and sat- down, where we stay- ed until tea-time. We had tea in a restaurant in town after which we went for a short walk and .separated. We would point out that for about a fortnight previous a press campaign against C.O. 's had been waged, and this showed its effect in a greatly increased antagonistic feel- ing. As an instance a cutting frora 'John Bull was exhibited for over a week in a prominent shop-window with various phrases underlined. Some of these were shouted at us on a few oc- casions, which proves that even this article was having a big effect. The knowledge that this was our last night in Lyme Regis was widely known, and we were convinced that the disturb- ance was in no way provoked by our answers to the soldiers' queries. It was with great sur- prise that we saw the newspapers' reports after- wards attributing the riot to alleged jeering on our part at. wounded soldiers. No jeering took place. We would further mention that the sol- diers have to be in their quarters at 4.30, while the actual disturbances did not commence until eight o'clock." Mr. Roberts: That letter is signed by Thomas and three others. AN USUAL CHARGE. I Mr. Roberts: There have been several de- monstrations against C.O.'s in different places? —Witness There have. And in the press they have been said to be due to jeering at wounded soldiers?—To various causes. That among others. The Committee did hot have the men before them personally ?—No; well, they did not in this instance. It depends upon circumstances. There is no written communication given to the men concerned on the decision of the Com- mittee? No; not necessarily. Mr. Giveen (re-examining): There are no particular rules regarding the Committee in these oases?— None laid down from outside. And in taking this course they were following the usual proeeedure of a busy oommittee?— Their usual proceedure. The whole of the information obtained from both sides was laid before Major Tyrrell and Mr. Brace?—The whole. And they arrived at that conclusion?—Yes. COULD NOT CONTEST. I Mr. Roberts, addressing the Court, said: In view of the decision of the High Court I am afraid I cannot contest the proceedings. They have decided that where this Committee did come to a decision then that is a matter which rightly or wrongly we have to accept. Apparent- ly there arc no instructions as to how this Com- mittee are to meet, what is a quorum, or any- thing of that kind, but they have met as Mr. Whiskard has told us; whether that is satisfac- tory I am afraid we cannot- say. But I want to say this, that Thomas all ajong-as he has put forward in that letter-has denied that he has been guilty of the charge made against him. He says it is a false charge, and he has all along been quite prepared to meet the people who have made this charge in order that it might be decided, as a matter of this kind would be decided in a court of law. The conse- quences of these charges and the Committee's method of investigating them is that these men have to suffer long terms of imprisonment out of all proportion to the charges made against them. Mr. Whiskard has admitted that when- ever demonstrations are made against conscien- tious objectors this charge of jeering at wound ed soldiers is made in the press. Thomas denies that charge and he is quite prepared to submit to investigation &o far as that matter is con- cerned. I only hopo that as to-day we must submit to being handed over to the military authorities, Thomas will be allowed to go back to Alternative Service, as he offered to do twelve months ago after the first hearing. THE DECISION. I The Stipendiary, in giving judgment, said. Now that the prosecution has seen fit to face the real issue in this case I trust that I shall be able to come to a final conclusion, and to dis- pose of the case in such a way that it may not have to conic before me again. That issue was whether the aiTangements entered into by the Army Council with the defendant, that he should be placed on certain work and c-f-ave to be subject to military sen-ice and the Army Act. had been properly and effectively termin- ated. My sense of legality would not permit me to treat a pact of that kind as a mere nullity, and I am very glad indeed to find Mr. Justice Shearman in the Court above referred to it as a solemn undertaking on the part of the gov- ernment." When the case was before me on the 29th January I said that if there was evi- dence that the Committee had decided whether the defendant had complied with the conditions imposed upon him I should have to accept that decision. To-day Mt. Whiskard. who is a mem- ber of the staff of the Committee, has given the evidence on that point. It appears that the Committee did investigate certain allegations in connection with an unfortunate incident at Lyme Regis, and came to a conclusion unfavour- able to the defendant. I think it would have been more satisfying if the defendant had been called before the Com mi tree to make his de- fence and certainly it would have been less (Continued at foot of next column).

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A Soldier Again. I