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Admiral John Byng

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Petition of the friends of All Saints Southill, the parishioners of Southill, Byng family members and the supporters of Admiral John Byng,

Declares that the conduct at his trail and the verdict of his trial in December 1756 and January/February 1757, which resulted in his execution on 14th March 1757 was unfair and unjust. Further declares that he was made the scapegoat for the inadequacies of the Government and his Naval Superiors at the time, whom the Petitioners believe to have been responsible for the loss of Menorca to the French.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Ministry for Defence and the Ministry for Justice to review the trial and the verdict of that trial, resulting in Admiral John Byng being declared innocent posthumously; his Honour should be restored for him, his family and supporters.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Alistair Burt, Official Report, 19 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 1050 .] [P000153]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence, received 30 July 2008:

The Admiral’s case is well documented and I am aware of the considerable sympathy and admiration that many have felt for him. Indeed, one cannot fail to admire his courage and generosity of spirit when faced with execution.

The petition alleges unfairness and lack of justice in the conduct of his trial. However, I should point out that the conduct of the Court Martial, its verdict and the sentence were the subject of comprehensive and extensive review at the time. Whilst fairness is a subjective concept, the matter of unjustness is not. A properly constituted Court Martial was held in accordance with the regulations in force at that time, and resulted in a sentence that was fully in accordance with the, then, Articles of War. Although the thirteen senior naval officers who presided at the Court Martial were unanimous in their verdict, the Admiralty, Courts and Parliament exhausted all avenues available to them in seeking to absolve Admiral Byng of the charges against him. This included the final step in the appeal process, an application to the Monarch for clemency. This was refused.

This petition asks for the trial and verdict to be reviewed and for Admiral Byng to be declared innocent posthumously, thereby restoring his honour. Having considered this request several times previously, my view remains that it would not be appropriate to attempt to re-open this case. I take this view notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of the case but because it is a matter which has passed out of living memory and into history. In these circumstances, it has become a subject for historical scrutiny and not for Government intervention.