Incidents, Blantyre and Livingstonia

Oral Answers to Questions — Nyasaland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th April 1959.

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Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East 12:00 am, 9th April 1959

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he is now in a position to make a statement on the result of his inquiries into the incidents between police and schoolboys at the Church of Scotland Mission, Blantyre, Nyasaland.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if the investigations into the incidents at the Blantyre Mission in Nyasaland have now been completed; and if he will make a further statement.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

As the reply is long and detailed I am circulating it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

This statement also covers the inquiry I said I would make when replying to the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and other hon. Members on 10th March.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

Since this is a most important statement and one for which the House has waited for a considerable time, could not the Minister have given us a shortened version now which would have enabled us to ask supplementary questions?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

There are plenty of opportunities of questioning me, of which hon. Members take full advantage. When they have read this very long statement, I shall be very ready to answer questions on the two days of the week when there are Questions addressed to me on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a long history behind this? Does he recall that on two occasions before the Easter Recess he asked me to put Questions on the Order Paper immediately after the Recess which he said he would answer? Is he aware that there is general anxiety about this matter in Scotland? If the Answer to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred was long, was not this a most appropriate matter on which to make a statement at the end of Questions which could have been subjected to cross-examination from this side of the House?

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

There is nothing whatever to hide in this matter. There are many opportunities for hon. Members, when they have read the facts, to ask me questions. An anxiety to ask me questions before they have read the facts is not likely to help either the House or public opinion.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

On a point of order. We are being put into a difficulty by the attitude of the Secretary of State. To safeguard the position of my hon. Friends and myself, I beg to give notice that, if the statement is unsatisfactory, I shall wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Following is the statement:I have now received further information from the Governor about the incidents at Blantyre and Livingstonia. The Governor has confirmed that the facts given in my reply on 10th March about the Blantyre incident are correct except that four special constables were involved and not three, the fourth being a driver who remained in the vehicle. No physical action was taken by these special constables until they were actively obstructed from returning to their vehicle by the crowd. No tear smoke was used during the incident and the only official statement issued later was in the following terms:Two special constables were injured in a skirmish last night in Blantyre. Four special constables on a normal patrol came across a crowd of noisy Africans outside the Church of Scotland Mission. Three of the party went to investigate and were set upon by the crowd. Two men became isolated and one was cut across the jaw. When the driver of the vehicle turned his vehicle he was attacked and the other special constable in the car was knocked out by a brick which had been thrown at him through the window. The matter was then reported to police headquarters and a party sent from Blantyre Police Station to investigate. They found the crowd in an excited state, but restored order. Later students and teachers went to the police station to assist in inquiries. The Reverend Andrew Doig and the Reverend Alistair Rennie were among those who made statements at the police station. After questioning the students were permitted to return to school. This was the only incident reported during the night.Owing to the confusion at the Mission and because it was dark, it was impossible to carry out an investigation on the spot. The police therefore asked the Reverend A. Doig and the Reverend A. Rennie to go to the police station with five boys who alleged that they had been injured. There was no question of arrest and the schoolboys were accompanied by three teachers, in loco parentis. The boys made no formal complaint of assault, but displayed bruises, and the Assistant Commissioner of Police suggested that they should go to the hospital for examination. The Reverend A. Doig stated that, if necessary, they could be treated at the Mission.As regards Livingstonia, the Governor has received a report from Mr. E. N. Robson, an employee of the African Lakes Corporation, who was involved in the incident. This report states that, because of stock shortages at the Livingstonia store of the Corporation, it was decided that the African supervisor there should he transferred. Mr. Robson made arrangements for this and on 20th February he took a lorry to the store to transport the supervisor and his family elsewhere. While he was in the store a local Congress official entered the building and remonstrated with Mr. Robson about the supervisor's removal. Mr. Robson asked him to leave, which he did, joining a crowd of other Africans who were outside. A few minutes later a brick was thrown through the window of the store. Sensing trouble, Mr. Robson decided to seek the assistance of the Mission Principal, Mr. F. MacPherson. Finding him in the church he explained the situation to Mr. MacPherson who agreed to investigate.Mr. Robson then returned to the store to find a greatly increased and hostile crowd of Africans there. He told the staff of the store to board the lorry but, when they had done this, the crowd surged forward and the driver told Mr. Robson that they intended to wreck the lorry. Thereupon they all left the vehicle and. as Mr. Robson walked away towards the church to look for Mr. MacPherson, stones were thrown at him. When he got outside the range of the stone throwers, they turned their attention to the lorry, breaking the windscreen and side windows. On reaching the church Mr. Robson told Mr. MacPherson of what had happened. Mr. MacPherson then cycled down to the store and called the local Congress official into the store office.After about 15 minutes, during which time there had been extensive stoning of both the store and the lorry, they reappeared and the Congress official addressd the crowd. This had no visible effect, however, but they became silent when Mr. MacPherson spoke to them. Shortly afterwards, however, a small section of the crowd became restive and were seen to be damaging Mr. MacPherson's cycle. Mr. MacPherson, accompanied by Mr. Henry, another missionary who had joined him, then left for their homes and stones were thrown in their direction. Mr. Robson was unable to confirm whether they were struck by any of the stones. The crowd then turned again to the lorry, breaking the headlamps and damaging the interior, and further stoned the store. Shortly afterwards the crowd left the store area and Mr. Robson was able to obtain transport and report the incident to the police.A statement from Mr. Henry, employed at the Mission, indicates that when some fifty yards from the lorry he was hit by a stone, which he considers was deliberately thrown at him.

One arrest has so far been made by the police in connection with the incident and an employee of the Mission, a hospital assistant, has been identified by Mr. MacPherson as one of the persons stoning the lorry.