Mexborough Times, July 24 th , 1920
The Denaby Slander Action
Lady Mabel Smith Sued
At the West Riding Assizes, at Leeds, on Friday, before Mr Justice Shearman and a special jury, the hearing was opened with the action in which the Denaby and Cadeby collieries Ltd, sued Lady Mabel Smith, wife of Col W. McKenzie Smith, of Maltby Hall, Rotherham, for an alleged slander made in the course of a lecture delivered at Denaby Main, under the auspices of the local branch of the Workers Educational Association, on March 25th.
Mr W. J. Waugh, KC, with whom was Mr Willoughby Jardine (instructed by Mrs Johnson, Weatherall, Sturt and Hardy, London) was for the plaintiff company, and Mr G. F. L. Mortimer K.C.(recorder of Rotherham), with whom was Mr C. F. Lowenthall (instructed by Mrs Lewis and Lewis, of London) defended.
Jury View Denaby
When the case was opened on Friday, Mr Mortimer said that his learned friend and himself had had an opportunity of consulting, and they thought that it would be to the advantage of the jury if they have a view of the locality.
His Lordship: Would it not be better to hear the case opened first?
The case was accordingly adjourned until Monday.
Case for the plaintiffs
The alleged slander
Denaby housing conditions
In opening the case, Mr Waugh said the plaintiffs were a colliery company, carrying on their business in Denaby and Cadeby, and as the jurors had had a view of the district, it would be unnecessary for him to open the case at any length. In conjunction with a business as colliery proprietors, the plaintiffs were the owners of some 1709 houses, which were let to the Colliers, who worked in their mines, and they had provided an Episcopalian church, a Roman Catholic Church, a Salvation Army church,a recreation ground, a very large Hall, a cricket ground, and allotments – acres and acres of them – in various parts of the town; and generally they had looked after the mental, moral and physical welfare of the collieries in a way which, he thought redounded to their credit. The jury had had an opportunity of going over the place and seeing the things pointed out to them.
What was complained of was an attack made by Lady Mabel Smith in a lecture she gave on “Model Housing,” at a meeting in Denaby. The portions to which objection were taken were the following:
“I know a good deal about Denaby, and more than I care to know for my peace of mind, of the conditions of Denaby ….”
“I read it in the urban powers enquiry that the colliery company holds land on which it intends to build houses in future. It rests with you now to say how these houses will be built.”
“I don’t want to say what it is like. If you’re going to see in the 20th century houses, streets, open courts, and all the other horrors there are here perpetuated again.”
“I dare not walk about Denaby alone. Not that I’m frightened of the people, but I was so easily lose myself in the place …. I do know something of the scavenging, or want of scavenging, in Denaby.”
“It is incredible to me how you can have gone on so long in these conditions. The same conditions exist here today as existed when I first came …”
“It must be difficult and nearly impossible to bring up your children under proper moral conditions. How can you bring up children in such surroundings?”
Continuing, he said that the words suggested that unless the people of Denaby, through their representatives on the Rural Council, insisted on a better class of hours being built in the future by the colliery company than had been built in the past, then the company were prepared to perpetuate the horrors she had been described as existing before the war in Denaby. He was not there to defend the rural district Council – they could defend themselves – but he was there to our security say that on the facts, as it will place them before them, that was a slander on the Denaby main colliery company.
The first lot of houses – a batch of 138 – were erected in 1864; 100 were erected in 1870, 101 in 1882, 304 between 1888 to 99, 229. In 1898 and in 1901 Plans were submitted for 606 houses, of which 406 were erected between 1903 and 1911; the remaining 200 had not yet been erected. In 1905, 16 houses occupied by deputies, were erected.
When his learned friend suggested that the jury should visit the locality, he welcomed it, because the company had nothing to conceal. The defects – if there were any defects – were not the fault of its clients. They were defects either of the local authority or of the people who occupied the houses. They had one class who dealt properly with privvy middens, and one class who did not. Certain conditions did not depend on the owner, but on the occupier. The sanitary authorities had bylaws by which, if they liked, they could make things very much better than they were, but in any circumstance, they would not find conditions which differ from those in any other colliery village, to an extent which would justify the slander.
His Lordship: the defence, I see, on the records, is one of fair comment.
Mr Mortimer: Yes my Lord
Mr Waugh: I should just like to add a fair comment must be based on fact. You can’t invent your facts, and then make the comment.