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JERSEY (Channel Islands)
Judicial CP - September 1973

Corpun file 7222

Jersey Evening Post, St Helier, 13 September 1973

Article in Doctors' Magazine

Former Jersey doctor condemns birching

AN ARTICLE CONDEMNING BIRCHING as a punishment and the "silence" of the medical profession's "ethical leaders" on the subject has been written by a doctor who once worked in the Channel Islands, and attended a birching.

Published in the doctor's only magazine "World Medicine", the article is based on the writer's experience as an eye-witness to a birching at Jersey Prison over 20 years ago. It is believed to be the first account of its kind ever published.


Entitled "Birching as a blood sport", the article appears under an editorial introduction referring to Football League president Mr. Len Shipman's call for the UK authorities to bring back the birch for "football hooligans".

The author of the piece says that, as a young man, he worked as a resident physician at a Channel Island general hospital, which the magazine's editor has since confirmed was in Jersey. It was through his job, says the doctor, that he was witness to a birching.

"It was mandatory for a doctor to be present," he writes, "ostensibly to assess the fitness of the prisoner. The senior doctor who usually attended these activities was not available, so this young doctor, trained to assuage pain, was ordered to attend."

The article relates how he arrived at the prison, with his stethoscope around his neck, to be ushered by a warder into a 12ft. by 12ft. concrete-walled room, whose only furniture was a low vaulting horse without legs.


Crouched in a corner, he recalled, there was another person clutching a birching of freshly-cut, untrimmed branches, all roughly equal in length and still bearing buds.

"They were tied loosely together," he writes, "and the whole instrument was about two inches thick, and about two feet long."

Without sparing a detail, the account continues: "As I remember it, the youth was dragged in by two warders, the doctor with the stethoscope stayed still, the warder with birch moved forward, and another warder rushed in and pinned the prisoner's head so that he couldn't see. (I was later told that this was done so that the prisoner could not retaliate afterwards against those who had beaten him).

"My patient was hauled unceremoniously over the vaulting horse. Two more warders came in and pulled his already loosened trousers down. Then each held a leg. The warder with the birch applied 12 strokes to the bare buttocks. Blood flowed.

Crowded room

"The room was crowded. The birch whistled -- really whistled -- at every stroke and disintegrated at every blow.

"Pieces shot all over the room causing real danger to everyone -- except the prisoner who felt only pain.

"It was all over in seconds. The warder with the bits scuttled from the room. The doctor was pushed out.

The prison gates clanged shut. I found myself outside the building holding a useless stethoscope, and realized that fewer than ten minutes had passed since I was admitted".

The doctor's principal indictment - and professional worry - was clearly the effect of administering, and witnessing the punishment, on those whose duty it is to see that it is carried out.

Vivid memory

His main point being: "The experience may not seem brutal. Yet the cold-bloodedness, the efficiency, the speed, and the ignoring of man's humanity created such an impression that I still remember every moment over 20 years later.

"Many say that what happened was no worse than what happens at many public schools. But this is no answer, just another indictment.

"Others may say a short salutary lesson is good for young hooligans. Let those who say that, experience the humiliation of seeing one human being beaten by others."

The doctor, named in the article as Bernard Hynes, is now a general practitioner in South London.

  • Birching is still legal in Jersey but has not been imposed for several years. In Guernsey, however, a boy was birched earlier this summer for cutting off ducks' heads with a bread knife.

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