3 August 1916 – No negligence

An interim report of the R.F.C. Inquiry Committee chaired by Justice Bailhache was issued on today as a White Paper in the House of Commons. The report begins:

‘The Committee appointed “to inquire into the administration and command of the Royal Flying Corps with particular reference to the charges made both in Parliament and elsewhere against the officials and officers responsible for the administration and command and to make any Recommendations in relation thereto” make this interim report.

In so doing, the Committee, apart from one general observation at the end of the report, deal only with the charge of criminal negligence made by Mr. Pemberton Billing against the and higher command. The Committee take this course because their and report must be delayed owing to the mass of evidence they have had before them, evidence given for the most part in a spirit of informed and genuine criticism pointing out alleged shortcomings and suggesting means for their future avoidance.

Mr. Pemberton Billing’s charge of criminal negligence is one which readily separates itself from the criticisms referred to, depending as it does upon specific instances selected by
Mr. Pemberton in proof of his accusation. The charge, moreover, was made an Parliament. It caused a considerable amount of uneasiness, and as all the cases have been investigated into which Mr. Pemberton Billing desired the Committee to inquire, it seems advisable to present an interim report upon the charge so made without loss of time.

In order to make the report self-contained and the more easily intelligible, the precise words in which the change of criminal negligence was made are here set out. Speaking in the House of Commons on March 22nd last, Mr. Pemberton Billing is reported to have said of men of the Royal Flying Corps who had met their deaths in flying:

“I do not want to touch a dramatic note this afternoon, but if I would suggest that quite a number of our gallant men in the Royal Flying Corps have been rather murdered than killed.” (See Official Report, Vol. 81, col.244.) The Official Report is hereafter referred to under the more familiar title of Hansard.

Speaking again in the House on March 28th, Mr. Pemberton Billing is reported (Hansard, VoL 81, col 615) to have used these words: “I would like that it is extremely difficult, even in law, to draw a hard and fast line between murder and manslaughter or between manslaughter and an accident caused by criminal negligence.

When this negligence is caused by the official folly of those in high places, with ignorance coupled entire ignorance of the technics (sic) which in this case can alone preserve human life. Official folly becomes at any rate criminal negligence. When the death of a man ensues. the line between such official folly and murder is purely a matter for a man’s conscience.”
This extract is ret out at length in order to make it clear that the charge of criminal negligence is levied against the administration and higher command of the Royal Flying Corps and not against the subordinate officers or pilots.

When, therefore, in this report the question of negligence is considered and discussed, it must be understood that the Committee have in mind this question: Does the particular
instance under consideration show negligence on the part of the higher command or the persons responsible for the administration of the service.

In support of his allegation of criminal negligence Mr. Pemberton Billion gave to the House on the same March 28th a number of specific instances. (See Hansard, Vol. 81, col. 611, et sec.) Mr. Pemberton Billing appeared before the Committee he was invited to give the instances into which he desired inquiry to be made, and to give the evidence upon which he relied. He informed the Committee that many of the cases mentioned by him in the House had occurred in the naval service, but he selected for investigation a number of cases in the Royal Flying Corps.

The Committee have inquired into every one of the cases so selected and deal with them seriatim in this report. This report sets out in every case the statement as it appears in
Hansard, where the case is there mentioned.Then a summary of any further information given to the Committee by Mr. Pemberton Billing. Then the facts found by the Committee and, lastly, their conclusion. Where a case is numbered the number is that given by Mr. Pemberton Billing in his speech in the House.

It is only necessary to add that in no case has any direct evidence been given in support of any allegation of negligence. Mr. Pemberton Billing informed the Committee that the source of this information was time talk Of the messroom or statements or oral made to him by persons whose names he was not at liberty to disclose. The Committee appreciated the difficulty experienced by him and others in getting officers of the Royal Flying Corps to come forward in public, and, in order to meet this objection, made arrangement to take their evidence in the absence of General Henderson and any of his staff, and in such a way as to prevent disclosure of their identity. These arrangements were communicated to Mr. Pemberton Billing, and it is to be regretted that, while certain officers availed themselves of the opportunity none of Mr. Pemberton Billing’s informants did so. Under three circumstances the Committee have followed up such information as Mr. Pemberton Billing could give them by their own enquiries and have obtained the best evidence available.’

The report then goes on to detail each instance.

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