The Argus at KellyGang 12/11/1881

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Sir, – Your leader in this morning's issue respecting the case of Sergeant Steele is calculated to arouse public curiosity as to the explanation that can be offered to Parliament of the apparently lucus a non lucendo conclusions of the Police Commission. Pending the additional light that may be thrown upon the subject, will you permit me, without unnecessary comment, to refer you and your readers to one or two patent facts that you appear to have lost sight of in pleading the cause of the sub-officer in question, and through him the cause of the superior officers, whose friends are naturally indignant at the slaughter of the innocents, who, to their minds, should have been accorded a triumph for their heroic efforts, instead of being relegated to the seclusion of private life.

The officers and constables in their evidence, as will be found upon reference thereto, were emphatic that red tape was never permitted to stand in the way of their immediately utilising any fairly authentic information respecting the gang which they might individually receive. You will remember it was the general complaint of the newspapers at the time that the men were not allowed to act until a variety of forms had been gone through, even though the Kellys were actually in sight. Now Sergeant Steele was not so trammelled by orders, as your readers might suppose, if Superintendent Sadleir's line of cross-examination of that sub-officer carries any significance. First, however, let Steele speak for himself. Question 8,856 – "He (Constable Twomy) told me that the horses were shod and with very large feet, and that he had tracked them in the direction stated by the boy. I asked him when they heard about it and what was done, and he said nothing had been done so far. I then told him that it was undoubtedly the outlaws, and that it was owing to the flooded state of the creek at that time. The water was bank and bank, and it was evidently Steve Hart who had piloted them over the bridge. There was a narrower ledge under the bridge that no man could keep unless he knew the bridge well, and I was aware that Steve Hart was well acquainted with that ledge. They would have been swamped in the creek otherwise. I told him my opinion was that the outlaws would make for the Warby Ranges, and to go up at once and report the matter to Mr Smith. I then proceeded to carry out my instructions at Rat's Castle and the main divide." Question 8,863 – "I sent up word by a constable (to Mr Smith) to tell him that it was undoubtedly the outlaws , that Steve Hart had piloted them over the bridge, and added, 'Start at 4 in the morning, and you are bound to catch them in the Warby Ranges.' "

The following is the cross-examination of Sergeant Steele by Superintendent Sadleir:-

Question 9,218 – In regard to that report about the outlaws passing over the One-mile Bridge, were you not the first to tell me about that? Answer. – Yes; I told you.

Q. 9,219. – Were you not the first to give me the rumour? A. – Yes.

Q. 9,220. – And it was then only a mere rumour? A. – Just a rumour.

Q. 9,221 – I could give you no instructions on that ? A. – You did give some.

Q. 9,220. – Not further than telling you that you were to go on to Wangaratta, and to act as you thought best?! A. – No.

Q. 9,223. – I will put it in another way. You were at perfect liberty ? A. – No.

Q. 9,224 – If there had been no party under Mr Smith at Wangaratta might you not have felt justified in staying ? A. – Yes.

Q. 9,225. – Your only reason for not staying was because there was a party ready to take it up ? A. – Yes,

Now, sir, with this statement in Steele's mouth, what becomes of the assertion that he was bound by his orders to go to Rat's Castle ? Was he not acting upon his own discretion in going? Does not Superintendent Sadleir plainly indicate that he was not absolutely bound by his instructions?

You lay it down that Steele was bound by his orders. Why ? Simply because Steele relies upon that fact in a portion of his evidence to screen himself from the consequences of his want of vigour and judgment which are what the commission blame him for. You quote from the report as follows :-

"It would be unjust to lay down as a general principle that an inferior officer may be punished for the laches of a superior, but the circumstances of this case are exceptional. No one know better than Sergeant Steele the personal peculiarities and unsuitability of Mr Brooke Smith for the work, and to have referred his informant to that officer was simply an attempt to evade responsibility. You will observe that above this expression of opinion there are the following remarks, which explain, I think, the precise view taken by at least, some members of the commission :- "If, as has been frequently urged, the   men and more particularly the sub- officers, were allowed to act upon their own discretion upon the receipt of reliable intelligence, then surely it was the clear duty of Sergeant Steele, when in- formed by Constable Twomy of the gang's appearance, to have gone immediately in pursuit.

The voluminous and somewhat contradictory nature of the evidence may mislead casual readers, but I think the above extracts from Steele's evidence show that the Commission were not so wholly inconsistent or unreasonable in their finding in this case as might at first sight appear-Yours &.c,


[Our correspondent, who appears to be familiar with the evidence, should know that the denials of the officers and sub-officers  that they were tied by red tape, refer to the general search, and not to those particular occasions on which explicit orders were admittedly given. There is no such conflict of testimony between Sergeant Steele and Superintendent Sadleir as our correspondent would argue. He suppresses evidence that tells in favour of Steele. At the close of the examinations, after Steele had given his evidence, Superintendent Sadleir stated – " My instructions to Steele were to halt at Wangaratta, make inquires there, and if report reliable, to inform Mr Brook Smith, who was supposed to have a strong party there." Sergeant Steele frequently states that he dare not abandon his own position to undertake duties expressly devolved upon Inspector Smith. Our correspondent ignores the important points: (1) that the commission state that they hold Steele responsible for the laches of Inspector Brook Smith, and (2) that they argue that his conduct is made "more reprehensible by the failure of the Kellys to afford another clue! Men of common sense will pronounce both contentions to be ridiculous, and we do not admire the attitude of the writer of the above letter, who, secure himself from discovery, endeavours, with detective-like ingenuity, to hound down a man who gallantly risked his life in capturing the most reckless of the outlaws. Ed. A. ]

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