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The Observer, London, 2 August 1964
Parents did not know of birching
By Peter Dunn
The Law Office department on the Channel island of Jersey is investigating allegations that the 15-year-told son of a wealthy businessman was sentenced by a magistrate and given 12 strokes of the birch without his parents' knowledge.
The boy was charged in St Helier last Monday with behaving in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace and refusing to a obey the orders of the police.
He was already on two years' probation for his part in stealing some crates of soft drinks and tipping them over a wall. Police said in court that he was found singing and jostling in a St Helier street at 1a.m. and that he was insolent to the officers who arrested him.
The boy has no record of violence; two older youths arrested with him for the same offence were fined £10; a third was bound over for 12 months.
As a result of this newspaper's inquiries on the island, the Law Office department is also looking into an allegation that during the birching the strapped-down boy got one of his feet free and in the struggle that followed took the remaining strokes across his right hip and groin. Although a doctor was in attendance at the time the boy was not thought to need medical treatment.
Instead, he dressed himself and walked to his father's office in the town a quarter of a mile away.
I interviewed the boy last week in the presence of his parents and saw the results of the birch strokes. The boy's father said he proposed to take legal and medical advice about the matter, probably on the mainland which he visits this week.
I subsequently spoke to Mr Frank Moon, Governor of the island's prison where the birching was administered. "The boy struggled rather a lot," he said. "He didn't get his foot completely free although he did have to be readjusted." Was the punishment stopped during that time? "Slowed down, shall we say," the Governor said.
Mr Moon agreed that the boy was not given medical treatment after the birching. "The thing was done in the presence of the doctor," he said.
The boy's parents knew nothing about either court appearance or birching until it was all over. The reason lies in the court procedure on the island and in the peculiar functions of its police force.
There are about 100 uniformed full-time policemen on Jersey. But for all their Jaguars and modern equipment they are subordinate to the island's 250 honorary policemen who do not wear uniform. This force comes largely under the control of officers called Centeniers. When someone is arrested he or she is seen first by the local Centenier, who can either deal with the offender on the spot or pass him on for a court appearance.
The four youths made a preliminary appearance at 1a.m. last Sunday before Centenier J.M.N. Richardson, a retired farmer who likes to use the title Captain. The youths, it seemed, were told that they would be appearing in court on the following day. But there were no formal summonses and the 15-year-old boy's parents said no court or police official contacted them about it. "Everything's verbal on this island," the father said. "If I'd known he was going into court I'd have briefed a lawyer."
In any event, the boy certainly gave his parents the impression that he was to make another appearance before the Centenier and not before the court.
On Monday he found himself before the magistrate and was asked whether he would like to be legally represented or carry on with the case. He said (like the older boys) that he wanted the case dealt with at once. Although a probation officer was present at the time, the island's court procedure allows a 15-year-old boy to make decisions of this kind for himself.
The boy told me: "After the sentence they put me inside for nearly an hour. I was in a cell by myself.
"I told a policeman I was getting 12 strokes and he said: 'Lucky bloke, you're welcome to it.'
"A bit later a policeman came and put a pair of handcuffs on me - just one of the cuffs, he held the other end. I was taken by van then down to the prison. They took off my handcuffs and measured my height and weight.
"24 next time"
"A warden came along and said 'follow me' and we went off to a big room with a wooden floor. In the middle of the room they had this instrument. They said 'take off your boots,' and I said, 'shall I take my shirt off now?' because I thought it was across the back. I did this and then someone said 'All right take your trousers down' and I said 'I'm very embarrassed.'
"I could see little bits of twig on the floor. I hadn't the faintest clue what they were at first. The doctor examined me; then my feet were strapped down at one end of the instrument and I put my chest across the front end leaving the middle of my body without support.
"Someone held my head under his arm and his two hands were holding my hands near the floor. He'd got my head so I couldn't struggle or see who was beating me.
"Then they started counting: 1 ... 2... 3, and I thought 12 was never going to come. It's just natural that you struggle and about the sixth or seventh I got one of my feet out of the strap and I must have fallen to one side. He got me three or four times on the side. It really did hurt. I kept on shouting 'stop, stop.' You don't even think of crying, it hurts so much.
"Afterwards I got out and stood up. The policeman had this bucket full of water. He put a towel in it and said, 'Wipe yourself with this.' I said: 'No thanks.' I had little bits of twig sticking in my hip and I pulled a couple of pieces out. Then I got dressed.
"As I was going out of the door someone said: 'Don't let's see you back in here; you'll get 24 next time.'"
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