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Army—The 9Th Regiment—Deaths On The March—Questions

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 7 July 1870

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said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether it is within his knowledge that the Kingston Coroner has refused to hold an inquest on the soldier of the 9th regiment who died suddenly on the march, and that he assigned as reasons for such refusal that "a surgeon had already certified the cause of death," and further "that he had no funds available for the expense of the inquest;" whether these are legal and justifiable reasons for such refusal; and, whether the Home Office has power to order a coroner to hold an inquest, or whether in the absence of a public prosecutor the Home Office can in any other way prevent the withholding of an inquiry on account of such reasons?

said, in reply, that he did not understand that the coroner for the county of Surrey had refused to hold an inquest on the body of the soldier in question until after it had been buried, and that he declined to do so because he was of opinion that no suspicion existed as to the cause of death, and also because he had no funds available for the expenses of the inquiry. It was within the discretion of a coroner to say whether the circumstances under which a person happened to die did or did not call for the exhumation of a body and the holding of an inquest. The Home Department had no power to order him to hold one; but when he neglected to do so, in those instances in which he ought to hold it, the Attorney General might, under the existing law, apply to the Queen's Bench for a Rule on the subject, which Rule, when made absolute, the coroner was bound to obey. There was, therefore, a plain remedy against a coroner who should neglect his duty. Afterwards—

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether His Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief, prior to his issue of the reprimand to the Commanding Officer of the 9th Regiment for neglect of the Queen's Regulation granting a discretion to the Commanding Officer as to the hours at which he might march his command, had asked such Commanding Officer for an explanation; whether His Royal Highness was aware, when issuing such reprimand of the arrangements for the billeting of the 9th at Stratford-le-Bow, and its neighbourhood (the billets being scattered over a two-mile rural radius) did not render it almost impossible for the Commanding Officer of the 9th to parade his men at such an hour as might avoid their exposure to the great midday heat of the 22nd ult.; and, with whom rests the responsibility of proper billeting arrangements for troops on a line of march?

In answer, Sir, to my hon. Friend's Questions, before giving the reprimand, His Royal Highness sent for the officer to the Horse Guards and heard his explanation. While His Royal Highness considers that billeting over a wide surface is a cause of great inconvenience, he does not consider that the billeting arrangements at Stratford-le-Bow materially interfered with the discretion of the officer, who was at liberty to parade his regiment at any hour he pleased. The billet-master is responsible for the billeting arrangements. He is a civilian, usually a constable of the district.