Readers Note: This last series post is a repost which I first published on July 24, 2006. You'll all quickly see why I believe it's a very fitting post with which to end the series.
I thank you for your interest in the series and for all the generous and informative comments you've made.
I've especially appreciated learning that some of you became interested in Churchill as a result of this series. I hope you'll now stay with him. He's not only a great statesman to whom we owe so much. He's also a wonderful companion with whom to share life's journey.
Again, thank you, and all the best,
Today marks the four-month anniversary of the Raleigh News & Observer’s publication of the story that first identified the Duke Men’s lacrosse team as suspects in a gang-rape investigation. In its story, the N&O repeatedly told readers the woman was “the victim.” It never once used the conditional qualifier “alleged.”
The N&O’s Mar. 24 story was the first of many biased and inflammatory news stories and columns the N&O produced. They cast the accuser as a victim and framed the lacrosse team as made up of three brutal rapists and their teammates who stood by indifferently while the woman was raped, and then later refused to help police identify their rapist teammates.
Those N&O stories encouraged a rogue DA, intimidated a university to silence in the face of injustices, and created enough hysteria that otherwise reasonable people approved the felony indictments of three obviously innocent young men.
The post which follows recounts events that occurred in England more than a century ago. Those events and the events of the last four months contain some remarkable similarities, including the struggle to correct injustices.
This post is meant as a gesture of support for all the Duke lacrosse familyies who've endured so much pain and injustice since Mar. 14; and as a tribute to everyone working to right the wrongs of the Duke lacrosse hoax.
A special word of tribute goes to the members and coaches of Duke's Women’s lacrosse team who, in the face of foul criticisms, said what many now know to be true but are still afraid to say: “Innocent.”
In May 1902, the first of a series of arson fires broke out at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.
After the fifth fire, the Commandant issued an order: If the guilty were not identified within forty-eight hours, every cadet housed in barrack “C,” where the fires had occurred, would be dismissed for a term unless he could prove he wasn’t in the barrack “C”area at the time of the fire. The cadets, twenty-nine in number, included three who had already been investigated in connection with previous fires and found innocent.
The order also said that if the arsonist(s) was not identified, three aged servants in “C” barrack, all former career soldiers, would be summarily dismissed.
No one came forward. After endorsements by the Army Commander-in-Chief, Lord Frederick Roberts, and the Secretary of State for War, the order took effect: The cadets were sent down; the servants dismissed.
The order’s injustices might have gone uncorrected but for the actions of a handful of members of the House of Commons, and later, a few members of the House of Lords, including Lord Roberts himself.
The Commons members, mostly young and sitting in their first Parliament, began interviewing the cadets and servants, documenting violations of due process and publicizing the case’s many injustices.
One of the members wrote the Times of London. He told readers, “All the cadets I have seen strenuously deny any complicity with the offences.” He said the cadets' and servants’ treatment was a travesty which violated “three cardinal principles of equity:”
“that suspicion in not evidence; that accused should be heard in their own defense; and that it is for the accuser to prove his charge, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.”The member's letter drew a quick, sharp rebuke from the Reverend Frederick Westcott, headmaster of one of England’s leading public schools. Westcott told Times' readers soldiers had to learn the lessons of group punishment:
“The innocent, doubtless, suffer with the guilty; but then they always do. The world has been so arranged.”The member, in his first Parliament and representing the Oldham constituency, immediately replied to Westcott in another letter to The Times.
The member’s biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, tell us about the reply and some of what followed :
“Has it indeed?” Churchill asked in his reply on July 8.Lord Roberts did review each cadet and servant's case individually. No arsonist(s) was ever identified. Twenty-seven of the twenty-nine cadets elected to return to Sandhurst. The three servants were reinstated. The Commandant was dismissed because of "the general disorderliness" at Sandhurst.
No doubt Westcott had taken care “that the little world over which he presides is arranged on that admirable plan, but it is necessary to tell him that elsewhere the punishment of innocent people is regarded as a crime, or as a calamity to be prevented by unstinting exertion.”
So long as the “delinquencies of a schoolmaster” were within the law, Churchill added, “the House of Commons has no right to intervene, but when a Commander-in-Chief and a Secretary of State are encouraged to imitate him, it is time to take notice.”
Churchill wanted to discuss the Sandhurst punishments in the Commons. But [Prime Minister] Balfour…refused to allow time for any such debate [so] Churchill [arranged to have the matter] raised in the Lords.
During the debate there, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Roberts, agreed that each individual case would be investigated and that no innocent cadet would lose a term of study.
It's right to end this post with Churchill’s words, a gift to us across the century:
“that suspicion in not evidence; that accused should be heard in their own defense; and that it is for the accuser to prove his charge, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.”_________________________________________________
Accounts of the Sandhurst events can be found in many, but not all, Churchill biographies. For this post, in addition to Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life, I relied on Randolph S. Churchill’s Winston S. Churchill, Young Statesman:1901-1914, and Ted Morgan’s, Churchill, Young Man in a Hurry: 1874-1915