Offence: Damage to Property > arson
Verdict: Guilty > no_subcategory
Punishment: Imprisonment > no_subcategory
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DAVISON, Emily Wilding (36, tutor) , attempting to place against a Post Office letter—box a match and other dangerous substances; placing in a Post Office letter—box matches and other dangerous substances.
Mr. Forster Boulton prosecuted.
Inspector Francis Powell, New Scotland Yard. On December 14 I was in Parliament Street from 1.20 p.m. near the post office. I saw the prisoner walk from the pavement up to the letter—box at the post office, which stands slightly back from the pavement. Her back was towards me. I know her by sight. She was wearing a long coat, which hid her arms to a certain extent. When she got close to the letter-box her head was stooped and she appeared to be striking matches. I rushed up behind her and looked over her shoulder. She was holding a small packet in the left hand, one of the top corners of which was slightly alight. She held it in that position for a minute us if to give it an opportunity of becoming more alight. It touched the aperture of the letter—box. I seized the packet with my left hand and is doing so extinguished the flame. I took her into custody to New Scotland Yard. When there she sat in a room; as I was leaving the room she called me back and said, "Do you know I set fire to two in the City this morning, a pillar—box in the middle of Leadenhall Street—it 'burned "(I presume she meant the contents)" as what I put in was well alight and it was the most effective; the other was facing the Mansion House and Mappin and Webb's. I confess that I set fire to a post office, 43, Fleet Street, on Friday last"-that would be on December 8-"and on the Monday following I went up to a policeman to be arrested." I asked her if she had seen the policeman since and she said, "No, but I know his number, it is 185." She immediately corrected herself and said, "'Why he is sitting there." As a matter of fact he was in the room in plain clothes. Prisoner was taken to Cannon Row and charged, but first she was searched. In her presence the matron who searched her handed me two similar packets to this one and told me she found them on prisoner. I held them in my hand and prisoner said, "Yes, they are my property." This is one, Exhibit 3. I opened it. It contained a piece of calico saturated with what I thought was paraffin, but it was kerosene. This (Exhibit 1) is the packet that was alight in prisoner's hand when she was arrested. I examined that and found linen or calico inside, also saturated with paraffin. It was quite wet at the time. At Cannon Row policestation just previous to being charged she made a statement. I said to her, "You know you can make a statement if you like, but whatever you say, of course, will 'be used in evidence." She said, "I did this entirely on my own responsibility; I refer to the whole of the various
attempts." She was then charged and in reply said, "What about the other charges? It was kerosene, not paraffin." On the remand she was charged with the offence in connection with the Fleet Street Post Office on her own confession. In answer to the charge she said, "Certainly, the matchbox was not wrapped up in the linen and paper. That was a separate package. I used one of the matches, then threw the box in. I set the linen packet alight. I threw first the packet in, then the matchbox. A boy saw me do it. You quite understand there was a witness to the Mansion House case. A man saw it. He stopped for a minute." She was taken before the magistrate and committed for trial. She was called upon in the usual way and made the statement which is attached to the depositions.
Cross-examined by prisoner. The reason I was in Parliament Street on Thursday, December 14, at 1.20 was because I had instructions from my superior to keep observation on certain pillar-boxes and post offices. He may have received information which made him think that something was going to happen, but I do not know. When I first saw you I had just come from the Strand Post Office and was going in the direction of the Houses of Parliament. You had not your back towards me. At Scotland Yard I said that I knew you would do something to a post office from your past history. At the time I was not expecting to see you. I know nothing against your character beyond certain matters connected with the movement to which you belong: I believe it to be a good one. You had no object of personal spite in this matter. I do not know whether you had anything to gain in this matter.
Alfred Thomas Skeggs, postman at Fleet Street Post Office. On December 8 at 1.30 I was taking post bags off the collection and tying them up. "When the usual collector came I handed them over.
To prisoner. I did not notice a smell of kerosene, as unfortunately I cannot smell.
James William Arthur Staines, sorter, Mount Pleasant District Post Office. I received from the Fleet Street branch office a letter bag collected at 1.30 on December 8, which I opened. Amongst other items I found a box of wax vestas not wrapped up in anything, also a flat packet of grease-proof paper with no address on. It was a piece similar to Exhibit 5. It was tied up with a piece of white cotton. It contained a piece of white rag smelling of paraffin very strongly. One corner of the rag was scorched as though it had been set on fire and had gone out. I could not say whether recently or not.
To prisoner. None of the letters around it were charred or burned. One vestal had apparently been used in the bag. That was thrown in separately from the box. The only damage was some grease on one of the packages. I do not think any letter could have been burned completely.
Parliament Street. There were some letters and postcards. There was nothing special to attract my attention.
The RECORDER. I do no know why this witness was called.
Prisoner's statement before the magistrate: "My motive in doing this was to protest against the vindictive sentence and treatment that my comrade, Mary Lee, when she was last charged at this Court received, compared with the treatment awarded to Lady Constance Lytton, who has done far more damage. Secondly, I wished to call upon the Government to put Women Suffrage into the King's Speech on February 14, 1912. As the protest was meant to be serious, I adopted a serious course. In the agitation for reform in the past, the next step after window breaking was incendiaries in order to draw the attention of the private citizen to the fact that the question of reform is their concern as well as that of women. Three points I wish to make about my act. First, I might have done with perfect ease a great deal more damage than I did. I contented myself with doing just the amount that would make my protest decisive. Secondly, I walked on the Thursday, December 14, into the Aldgate district, but would not do any damage there, because the people were of the poorer class. Thirdly, the reason I offered to give myself up on Monday, December 11, was that I thought Post Office officials might have been suspected of the deed as there was trouble in the Post Office just then. Finally, women are now so moved upon this question that they feel that anything necessary to be done must be done, regardless of the consequences, but the consequences do not really lie at their door, but at the door of those who have refused to deal with the question as a matter of justice."
EMILY WILDING DAVISON (prisoner, not on oath) made a long statement dealing with the question of the suffrage for women. She admitted committing the offences, but continued: There was no malice in what I did. It was a purely political act and was done from no motive whatever but to draw the attention of the public to the iniquitous state of affairs now existing; and it has long ago been recognised in England that men who do any act of violence from a political motive must be differently treated from those who do it with a purely personal motive: that is the distinction between the political prisoner and the ordinary criminal.
The Recorder. There is no such thing as a political crime: it is either a crime or not a crime.
Prisoner. I am aware that that has been argued in the Courts, but custom has now proved that that is wrong. For instance, there are the cases of O'Brien, Cobbett, and Dr. Jameson.... Technically, of course, I suppose I must be judged to be guilty, but morally I am not guilty; morally it is you before whom I stand who are guilty; you, the private citizens of this country and the Government that you choose to represent you, who keep women out of their just rights as citizens, and in so doing absolutely prevent your country having the right to be called a democratic country; that is, a country where the rights of the people hold good; and so long as you exclude women
from these rights, upon you lies the blame of any act that they may have to commit in order to procure those rights.
Mrs. ELINOR PENN GASKELL, 12, Nicoll Road, Willesden. I know prisoner very well. The motive with which this act was done was decidedly a political motive. I know that all these deeds are simply done to call the attention of the public to the great cause for which we stand. I know prisoner to be a woman of the very highest character and honour, and that she would not do any deeds of this kind with a personal object.
Inspector FRANCIS POWELL, recalled. I have known prisoner for some years. She has six convictions against her, for assault on the police, obstruction of the police, and doing wilful damage, all in connection with the Women's Suffrage movement. She is highly respectable beyond this movement. She has given the police a great deal of trouble.
Sentence Six months' imprisonment.
BEFORE THE COMMON SERJEANT. (Wednesday, January 10.)