John Passmore Edwards Web Site

West Briton Newspaper 4 May 1893
Col Hughes Hallett and Mr Passmore Edwards
An Action for Libel

In the Queen's bench Division of the High Court of Justice on Thursday, Mr Justice Hawkins and a special jury commenced the hearing of the libel action of Col Hughes-Hallet, sometime MP for Rochester, against Mr John Passmore Edwards, proprietor of the Weekly Times and Echo. The libel appeared on May 29th 1892, in the editorial columns of "Powder and Shot". It was as follows.-
It is reported that Col Hughes-Hallet, formally MP for Rochester, is going to honour a new Parliament with his presence, if he can get returned. He should stand with Sir Charles Dilke for some double barrelled constituency where the electors are not particular, and then we should have a suitable champion of purity on each side of the House in view of eventualities. Hallet and Dilke, Sodom and Gomorrah might have been proud of such a distinguished pair of representatives.
Mr Edwards admitted the publication, but not the alleged meanings, and paid 40s into Court. But while not pleading justification, he at the same time gave notice of certain matters to be alleged against Col Hughes-Hallet, in mitigation of damages. Mr C F Gill, Mr Horace, Avory and Mr H C Biron were counsel for the plaintiff, and on the part of the defendant, Messers Lewis instructed Mr Wills, QC and Mr Temple Franks.

PRIVATE LIFE AND PUBLIC PROPERTY
Mr Gill, in opening the case, said the Weekly Times and Echo described itself as a Liberal newspaper of political and social progress. The question raised by the case was how far the private life of a man who had at any period occupied a public position was the property of the sensational journalist anxious to make money out of scandalous disclosures. Malice, and only malice, said Mr Gill inspired the libel. So long ago as 1885 MR J Passmore Edwards contested the parliamentary borough of Rochester. At that election Col Hughes-Hallett had the misfortune to be Mr Edwards's opponent, and had the further misfortune to defeat Mr Edwards. It was impossible, said Mr Gill, for a man to compose a more infamous libel than this which Mr Edwards published of the man who defeated him. Mr Gill said he did not propose to put his client in the box. In accordance with modern practice, he simply proposed to prove formally the publication, and to leave it to the other side to introduce outside matter affecting Col Hughes-Hallett's reputation.
OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Mr Wills, in opening the case for Mr Passmore Edwards, expounded the scriptures, with the view of showing that after all, the Cities of the Plain were not so black as they are painted, and that the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah as a suitable constituency for Col Hughes-Hallett carried no criminal imputation; that it only referred to uncleanliness of living, and that in respect of this Col Hughes-Hallett's reputation so stank in the public nostrils that nothing that could be said could affect it. Col Hallett, said Mr Wills, had no reputation to protect or guard. For uncleanliness of life, for seduction, for procuring from the lady seduced, by improper representations, the sum of £5000, for appropriating the property of others, for making false declarations as to money entrusted to him, for all these matters Col Hughes-Hallett's reputation was public property. For (said Mr Wills) in the Pall Mall Gazette in September 1887, the whole circumstances were published and no action for libel was taken by Col Hallett to protect his reputation then.
THE SEDUCTION STORY
This then, was Mr Will's account of the story which in the Pall Mall Gazette , of September 27th,1887, was published with regard to Col Hughes-Hallett. The lady in question he said was a step-daughter of Col Hughes-Hallett's first wife. This young girl was brought up in his society, seeing him frequently. She was the sister of another member of Parliament of high and honourable reputation.. The young girl came of age in 1886. In 1887, according to Col Hallett's own answers to interrogatories, he had immoral relations with her whilst he was a married man. There was every reason to believe, said Mr Wills, that the intercourse had been going on for some years, but Col Hallett himself admitted accompanying her to various hotels- the Bear at Havant, the Crown at Emsworth and the Cannon Street Hotel. The lady gave birth to a child. Col Hallett had also procured from the young lady the sum of £5000, which he falsely represented he had invested on a freehold mortgage in the City. The manner of the discovery was this. The young lady was staying at eth country house of her uncle. Col Hallett procured an invitation for himself to the same house, and in the middle of the night he was discovered in the young lady's room by her uncle, who then and there kicked him out of the house, saying "You ------- blackguard! I have long suspected this. You leave this room and my house directly".
OTHER ALLEGATIONS
Such, said Mr Wills, was the reputation which Col Hughes-Hallett had to protect. All this was published in the Pall Mall Gazette. Copied into other papers throughout the country and never challenged. All Col Hallett did was to offer the young lady's brother the "satisfaction" of a duel. Mr Wills said that he should prove more than this. He should show that whilst this was going on Hallett promised marriage to this young lady, although he had a wife living, and after the discovery, having designs upon the £40,000 which he knew the young lady possessed, he endeavoured to persuade her to continue cohabitation with him and so to give his wife an opportunity of obtaining a divorce. There were other matters besides this of the girl/ Mr Wills went on to tell of Col Hallett's monetary dealings with two elderly ladies, Mrs Von Schomberg and Miss Page, who had entrusted him, his wife being a relative, with the investment of certain moneys, which it was alleged he had appropriated and expended upon a "secret service fund" to secure his two elections for Rochester.
It was a satisfactory conclusion of the story to hear from Mr Wills that after the discovery the young lady never saw Col Hallett again. She had been kept out of his reach, other influences had been brought to bear, and she was now honourably and happily married, and the mother of children.

After discovery on what Hallett referred to as "the dreadful night" the colonel wrote letters to the young lady. Some of these Mr Wills had in hand. This was one of them:-
August 17th 1887, Wednesday evening.
Sweetie darling,- For God's sake write and tell me where you are, You have left------- I take it by this time, and being 22 years old, have become a free agent. The horrible suspense of your silence is almost impossible to bear. If I could have taken you away on tha dreadful night: but I was forced out of the house with hardly time to get my things together. And I counted on your leaving the next day, and watched every train to no purpose. Write to me, for I am all alone now- You loving KISMET.

APPEALS TO JUDGEMENT
The next letter was sent a fortnight after:-

They tell me, sweetie darling, you have sent back the ring I gave you onyour twentieth birthday. You used to be so fond of it. And you have sent back the purse I gave you. Surely you don't mean you have broken with me! You can't mean that. You cannot mean that after all that has passed. What baneful influence has been brought to bear to estrange you to me- I am sure against your own heart's best judgement. What have I done since that terrible night I was forced out of your presence by the vulgar howling mob. I was powerless to take you away. I wrote to you. I advertised for you in the Morning Post. I wrote to you through your bankers, dear heart, entreating you to fulfil your promises to me. But no line from you yet. The very criminal at the bar of justice is heard in his own defence. You don't give me dear, even that satisfaction. Let me see you, if only for ten minutes. Let me speak in my own defence, for I have done nothing except to love you dearly, passionately, honestly, as you know. If that be an offence it is one that you yourself taught me to commit. Now that the opportunity comes for us to knit our lives together you seem to hang back.

And so on. The letter went on to remind the girl of some affectionate expressions of her own in former letters to him.

What reputation had this man to lose? Asked Mr Wills. And if the expressions in the paragraph went unintentionally too far, how much damage could Col Hallett have suffered?

The first witness was Mr George Lewis, who said he was a solicitor for the other person mentioned in the libel in the divorce proceedings, of which Col Hallett was the correspondent. The charge against the plaintiff, to which the libel referred, was that of seducing a young lady, who was the step-daughter of his wife, the sister of a brother member of |Parliament, and the daughter of a judge; that immediately before seducing her, he had obtained from her £5000 by the sale of Consuls.
Mr JAMES KIBBLEWHITE said he was the editor and manager of the Weekly Times and Echo, of which Mr Passmore Edwards was the proprietor. He took no part in the conduct of the paper. Witness wrote the paragraph complained of, but not at all at the instigation of Mr Passmore Edwards. He received information that Col Hughes-Hallett would stand for the new Parliament, and therefore he wrote the paragraph in question. He did not intend by that to impute to the plaintiff that he had been guilty of any criminal practices. He meant that Col Hughes-Hallett was not fit to represent any constituency which cared for the moral character or honour of its representative. When he wrote the paragraph he had no malice or ill feeling of any kind towards Col Hughes-Hallet.
Mr PASSMORE EDWARDS said that he was the proprietor of the Weekly Times and Echo and contested the Rochester at a cost of £250.
Mr Wills- Then I am not surprised that you did not succeed: it is not sufficiently liberal. (Laughter)
Some evidence was given by Clerks from Messers Cox's of Charing-cross, and from several insurance offices, to show the monetary position of the plaintiff, and this constituted the case for the defence
Mr Wills therepon summed up his case, and commented strongly upon the fact that the plaintiff himself had not been called.- Continuing his address on Friday, Mr Wills said Col Hughes-Hallett first obtained £5000 by false pretences from this girl of honourable family. The he debauched and degraded her, then he insulted her by denying that he was the father of her child, then he debauched the constituency of Rochester by spending £1,100 in secret service- which meant bribery- there; then to pay the money he sold £2000 worth of property, which two elderly ladies had placed in his charge; then when one of these elderly ladies died he insulted her memory by insinuating that there were confidential relationships between himself and her, and so on. "My answer" said Mr Wils, with a sounding thump on the desk in front of him, "My answer" is this- That Col Hughe-Hallett's reputation is so bad that nothing that can be said of him can injure it, and Col Hughe-Hallett has no right to ask for consideration from any man".
Mr Justice HAWKINS, in summing up, said the jury had bee asked to give a verdict in the interests of the public that would not be sanctioned by law and would be abused. A man was entitled to damages to the extent to which his character was injured. He was surprised not to see Col Hughes-Hallett in the witness box.- The jury, after deliberating for twenty five minutes, found for the defendant, adding that the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah was ill-advised.
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July 15, 2007