Saturday, 3 November 2012

3rd November 1812: General Maitland gives Earl Fitzwilliam his view of the cases for the York Assizes

3rd November

Dear Lord Fitzwilliam

I have returned from Scotland where I was forced to go about some Election business the day before yesterday, and have since been principally occupied in making myself master of the Cases that had occurred during my Absence.—

There can I think be no doubt that there is full Food for a Special Commission and that the sooner it takes place the better.

The number of Persons now committed including the Barnsley People are about 48, but I much fear there are many of these Cases it will be impossible to bring home to a Jury.

There are some however I think most fortunately of a very different nature and of these stands pre eminent the Murderers of Horsfall.

The Case against them is as strong and as well supported as any one I ever had occasion to see or read of, and if we merely succeed in bringing them to Punishment of which I have no doubt we have done the greatest good I hold that can be done to this part of the Country.

In respect to the Case of Schofield, it by no means strikes me to be so fully made out, though it is still the Case that I think ought to go to trial.

There are too, three of the Cases of the Horbury Gang where there is very strong Evidence and such if I am rightly informed as will lead to conviction, and latterly there are 16 Men taken up for Shear breaking &c against at least Six of whom where there is unquestionable Evidence.—

Against the rest generally speaking I own the Evidence appears to me, to be extremely doubtful, though in some Cases it may probably be brought home.

Through then I must perfectly agree, with Your Lordship in the propriety of bringing to early trial the Prisoners now in York Castle, it appears to me to be most important that the gravest consideration should be given by Government to the Point of what Case it will bring forward and what it will allow to drop.

We have I hold quite enough of certain Cases to answer every purpose of Public Justice. We have the Case of Horsfall, in point of Murder, We have the Case of the Horbury Gang in point of Plunder and House breaking. We have the 16 Men lately taken up, in point of Shear breaking and destroying Machinery, and lastly, we have the Barnsley Men and one or two others in point of Illegal Oaths.

With these nearly certain I cannot help thinking it would be highly impudent to press to ultimate trial many other Cases of which we ourselves are doubtful, and what I think of doing upon the whole of the Subject is to recommend to Government in the strongest manner to send down forthwith to Huddersfield, some Government Solicitor in whom they have confidence, to revise and examine minutely into the real nature of each Case and into the Character and discription of the Evidence, and having so done to decide what Cases shall be pushed and what shall be allowed to drop—

Independent of any general reasoning upon the Subject, my Opinion is very much formed from a perfect knowledge of the Parties who have been principally employed in bringing forward those Cases, and though I certainly do not mean to mention them with disrespect, still I much fear their over Zeal unless it be corrected by the calm and considerate Judgement of some disinterested Person may lead to numerous Acquittals which I think Your Lordship will agree with me is a thing extremely to be avoided.

On talking this Subject over I find it would not be possible for any one to go through all this in less than a fortnight, and I understand it will take nearly the same Period to prepare the Cases to be brought forward to ultimate trial and under this impression I apprehend the earliest possible time the Court could meet, would be in the beginning of December, to which time if I am not misinformed, the present Commission is adjourned.

Whether they ought to be tried under the old Commission or under a Special one, is a Subject upon which I can form no Opinion, and I have only to add though no Man is more thoroughly convinced than I am of the propriety and necessity of bringing the Prisoners to speedy Justice, still I would be sorry indeed to see that Measure carried into effect, till all the Cases were maturely weighed and considered in all their Points and Bearings.

From all the Accounts I have the State of the Country is daily improving, but upon this Subject I shall write more fully to Your Lordship in a day or two, and am

Dear Lord Fitzwilliam
Your’s most truly
T Maitland

[To] Earl Fitzwilliam
&c &c &c

This letter can be found at HO 42/129.

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