Suffragettes June 18 1913




The trial concluded yesterday at the Central Criminal Court, before Mr. Justice Phillimore and a jury, of the six women Suffragists and a male defendant named Clayton, on the charge of conspiring to commit damage contrary to the Malicious Damage to Property Act, 1861, and also of inciting other to do so. The defendants were Harriett Roberta Kerr, fifty-four, manageress and officer of the Women’s Social and Political Union; Alice Lake [age refused], manageress of the Suffragette; Rachel Barrett [age refused], assistant editor of the Suffragette; Laura Geraldine Lennox, thirty, sub-editor of the Suffragette; Beatrice Helen Sanders, thirty-eight, financial secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union; Annie Kenney, thirty-two, organiser of the Women’s Social and Political Union; and Edwy Godwin Clayton, fifty-four, scientific chemist and author. The jury returned a verdict of guilty and the defendants were sentenced: Miss Kerr to 12 months’ imprisonment, Miss Lake six months’ imprisonment, Miss Barrett nine months’ imprisonment, Miss Kenney 18 months’ imprisonment, Mrs. Sanders 15 months’ imprisonment, and Clayton 21 months’ imprisonment.

Counsel for the prosecution were the Solicitor-General [Sir John Simon, K.C., M.P.], Mr A. J. Bodkin, Mr. Travers Humphreys, and Mr. G. A. H. Branson; for the defence Mr. R. D. Muir and Mr. Adrian Clark for Mrs. Sanders, Mr. Theobald Mathew and Mr. R. Primrose for Miss Kerr, Mr. C A. McCurdy, M.P., for Miss Lake, Miss Barrett, and Miss Lennox, Mr. C. Walsh and Mr. Thomas for Clayton. Miss Annie Kenney defended herself.

As soon as the Judge had taken his seat Miss Kenney began her speech. She first disclaimed responsibility for the documents at her address in Mecklenburgh-square, stating that they belonged to her sister, and that she [defendant] knew nothing about them until they were read at Bow-street Police Court. She also told the jury how at the age of ten years she was a “half-timer” in a Lancashire cotton factory, and how the injustice of the laws as they affected women in the industrial world caused her to throw in her lot with Mrs. Pankhurst. Describing the trial as “the most ridiculous thing that was ever brought in this Court,” Miss Kenney said the Government wished to stop the constitutional work of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and were trying to do it by locking a few of them up. She asked the jury, if they could not find her “not guilty” to refuse to convict her, and concluded by saying that she and those with whom she was associated were prepared to face death in order to get this suffrage question settled.

The Solicitor-General, replying for the prosecution, commented on the evidence, and contended that it clearly demonstrated the guilt of the defendants.

Mr. Justice Phillimore, summing-up, said that that was one of the saddest trials which in nearly sixteen years’ experience as a Judge, he had presided over. A number of women and some men, some of whom were before the Court – people of education, enjoying all the advantages of civilisation – were accused of committing, and inciting others – perhaps younger women – to commit, crimes against property – against property in cases where great misery, penury possibly of the attack, though it was not intended, might be to bring much injury – personal physical injury – and charge. If untrue what a wicked and horrible charge for the Government to bring. If true what a terrible indictment against the people against whom it is brought. How sad that in this day there should be people who could bring themselves to believe that they were entitled to do such things as the Government said these people had done. The law – and not only the law of England but the law of God – said that they must not do evil and good might come. It was urged that great causes have never been won without breaking the law as it stood. It might be true of some causes; it was very untrue of others. Many causes had been won without one act of an unlawful king. The religion of the world which had done most to elevate the position of women was Christianity. The religion of the world which probably had done most to repress women was Mohammedanism. Christianity in all its earliest and purest days and Christianity during the last great revival of the last eighty years had been a religion which had never advocated, but which had always repressed, acts of outrage and lawlessness. Mohammedanism was a religion which had been promulgated by the sword. That case had been treated by one sex against the other. It was not womanhood against manhood. It was some women against all other women and children; some men against all other men. The Judge then analysed the evidence, and dealing with a question which had been put to him by the jury – who had asked if the officials would be proceeded against if they continued to advocate militancy – he said that everybody disobeyed the law at his own risk, but he would remind the jury that, whether the defendants were warned of not of the consequences of their attitude, they knew, because they said, “Our policy is defiance of the law.

The jury retired, and after an absence of nearly an hour, found all the defendants guilty, and added a strong recommendation “to leniency of sentence” in the cases of Miss Lake, Miss Barrett, and Miss Lennox.

Evidence as to character was called on behalf of Miss Kerr and Clayton, a clergyman saying he had always found the latter an upright man.

The Judge, after paying a tribute to the police officers for the manner in which they had prepared the case, turned to the defendants, and said that in his belief some of those who were taking part in the Suffragist movement were actuated partially by ambition, pride, and love of power; others, young people chiefly, joined it from a spirit of mischief, others as a matter for pay, and many from the sincere belief that they were forwarding a good object. He assumed that this latter was the motive which actuated the defendants, but it did not make the case the less difficult for the Judge who had to pass sentence. Some of the defendants as least must be religious people. Whether they were all religious or not – if they were not atheists, if they believed in a moral Governor of the Universe, he commended to them the statement of a modern writer – he believed a woman writer – who described the belief that the end justified the means as “that treason to the Almighty.” He agreed with the jury in the discrimination which they had made between the younger women and the older women and the man, and they fortified him in the distinction he proposed to draw in the sentences. What he was thinking of more than anything else was the incitement with the defendants and those who were not present with them had given to young chivalrous women, whose emotions were not balanced by their reason, to do things which in future years they would wholly regret. “I make an appeal particularly to the younger three – as an old man, and one nearing the end of his career, to young people with their lives before them. I am certain, as certain as I am of anything, that long before the end of your lives you will look back on this time, whether you gain your end or whether you do not, with astonishment that you ever could have dreamed or thought of the outrages in encouraging which you have so far departed from your natural good sense and decorum.

His Lordship proceeded to state the power of punishment which was given his by the law, and said he had come to the conclusion that it would not be well to fine the defendants. But he ordered each one of them to pay one-seventh of the cost of the prosecution. Further, he intended to bind them all over to keep the peace for twelve months after the expiration of the sentence which he proposed to pass upon them. They would have to find two sureties of £100 each and would each of them be bound over in £200. Their imprisonment would be in the third division. One distinction between the third and second division was that there were fewer means of communication with outsiders, and, having regard to this particular case, he thought the less opportunity they had for giving bad advice, or, still more. For receiving it while in prison the better. Kerr, who was a women old enough to know better, would be imprisoned for twelve months, Lake for six months. He had been watching Lennox during the trial, and he thought the imprisonment would go very hardly with her. He asked the three younger women not to make their punishment worse by punishing themselves, but to do their best to bear it and to some out as soon as possible.



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