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Norman Fairfowl (Reforma-Tory School Detention)

Volume 155: debated on Monday 12 June 1922

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(by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary for Scotland whether he has received representations from a public meeting held in Edinbane, Isle of Skye, and presided over by Dr. Farquhar MacRae, protesting against the character and severity of a sentence of four years' detention in a reformatory, passed in the Sheriff's Courts at Portree, upon a school-boy named Norman Fairfowl, 15 years of age, on his pleading guilty to having "lifted" from a shop counter, when no one was present, a pocket book, which he afterwards discovered contained a sum of money, and which he delivered up intact to the policeman the following morning; whether he is aware that the boy bore an excellent character in the community and in the school, and that the local people do not believe there was any intention to steal; whether he has made inquiries into this case; and whether he proposes to have the sentence reviewed?

I have received representations of the nature referred to in the first part of the question. I have made full inquiry into the circumstances of the case. The youth in question pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing a pocket book containing £15 10s. in money and a postal order for 9s. 1d. The father was present during the Court proceedings. When charged by the police with the theft Fairfowl at first denied it, but later he admitted it, and produced the pocket book, postal order and money with the exception of £1. This sum, I understand, his father offered to repay. Representations regarding the boy's previous good character have been made to me, but after careful consideration, and having regard to the power of the managers of the reformatory school to release him on licence should his conduct in the school justify this course, I do not feel justified in advising any interference with the order of the Court. I may add, that the case was fully investigated on the representation of my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire, in whose constituency Fairfowl resides.

Has the right hon. Gentleman asked the schoolmistress in whose school the boy was receiving his education as to his character, and has fie made independent inquiries of independent persons in the community as to the character of this boy, and is he aware that, on behalf of the boy, it was said that the reason why he did not at once go back with the pocket-book was that he was frightened, and is he not aware that to anyone who understands boys' psychology that is a reasonable explanation?

I do not know what my hon. Friend means by independent inquiry. I have made the inquiry which is always made in cases of this kind, when representations are made to the responsible Minister, and it was only after inquiry of that kind, and being satisfied that all the relevant circumstances were before the Court, that I declined to take the unusual course of interfering with the decision of an experienced judge, who had decided the case after all the circumstances had been laid before him.

I beg to give notice that I will call attention to this scandal on the Adjournment to-night.

Had the judge his attention called to the provisions of the First Offenders Act, dealing specifically with these cases?

I have not the least doubt that the judge had that Act before him and decided in the exercise of his discretion that this case was more suitable for reformatory treatment than for the application of the First Offenders Act.