Politics turns nasty in Capel

Beginning in 1911, an acrimonious and on-going dispute between two political opponents in Five Oak Green eventually came before the High Court in an action for slander in May 1912. On the one side was farm manager Harry Hayward who was a member of the Capel Committee of the Conservative party and a Parish Councillor. On the other was another Capel resident William Joy who was in the employ of Rev. W. R. Holman (who was later to gift the land that became Five Oak Green recreation ground) who was Honorary Secretary of the Capel Liberal and Radical Association.

The alleged slander arose during the campaigning for the local government elections of 1912. The tone of the campaign became disagreeable when the Rev. Holman appealed, during a public meeting in Five Oak Green, for the working man not to be intimidated in casting their vote. Although Rev. Holman did not provide details of any instances of intimidation in that speech, the Liberal party subsequently distributed campaign literature that highlighted the serious penalties for this offence.

The allegations then gained momentum when William Joy declared at a later meeting that he knew of a case of intimidation involving Harry Hayward attempting to influence Mr. White of Beltring to sack a man in his workforce for his political views. This assertion was made again at a meeting in February 1912 and twice more after that even though by then Joy had received a solicitor's letter asking him to cease making the allegation and eventually served with a writ for slander.

Local press coverage of the trial to decide on the level of damages is below

From the Tonbridge Free Press - Friday 19 July 1912

A POLITICAL SLANDER: Capel Farmer gets Damages.

At the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells. on Friday morning, before the Under Sheriff of Kent, Mr. Francis R. Howlett, and a special jury, the case came up for the assessment of damages to Harry Hayward, a farmer, of Capel, in respect to a writ for slander against William Joy the younger, also of Capel.

Mr. R. Vaughan Gower appeared for plaintiff, and said it was not for the jury to decide whether plaintiff was entitled to damages, but simply to assess the amount, as judgment had been obtained against Joy in the High Court on May 13th last. He regretted defendant was not present and was not represented, but this was simply part of a systematic series of contempt. The action was one of a political nature. Mr. Hayward was a member of the Committee of the Conservative party at Capel, and a member of the Parish Council, and William Joy, the younger, was in the employ of the Rev. W. R. Holman, hon sec. of the Liberal and Radical Association of the same village, and the slanders had reference to the last two elections in the Tonbridge Division. Mr. Holman, Joy, and plaintiff all took an active part in the elections, and Mr. Holman attended a public meeting at Five Oak Green, and appealed to the working men not to allow themselves to be subject to intimidation. Mr. Holman would give no information with respect to the alleged intimidation. The matter went on, and a postcard was issued by the Liberal party throughout the Division calling attention to the penalties for intimidation, an offence which both parties regarded as very serious, and which they both put their foot down upon. If the Liberal party believed there had been intimidation they were perfectly justified in sending out the postcards. At an auction sale on Mr. Holman's premises, Joy declared that he knew of a real case of intimidation, and that plaintiff had tried to get a man dismissed by Mr. White of Beltring, on account of his political views. Joy also repeated this statement at a meeting in February, and had repeated the allegations upon receiving a solititor's letter, and after the service of the writ.

He thought they would come to the conclusion that no man, whatever his politics, would make allegations of this nature unless he was prepared to prove that the allegations were correct.

As a result of defendant's statements, pressure was brought to bear upon Mr. Hayward, and it was pointed out that with a charge of this kind hanging over his head he could no longer occupy a position on the Committee of the Unionist Association, because it was considered that both parties should at once put a stop to any intimidation. He did not ask for heavy damages although the plaintiff was entitled to them, judges having given £100 or £150 for far less slanders. He asked for small damages because Mr. Hayward did not want to be vindictive, but only wanted to have the opportunity of proving that the allegations made against him were absolutely untrue.

Mr. Harry Hayward said he was a farm manager at Five Oak Green, He was a member of the Capel Conservative Committee, the Parish Council and other public bodies. He had not on any occasion been to Mr. White, of Beltring, and asked him to dismiss a man on account of his political opinions. During 1911 charges of political intimidation were made against some unknown member of the Conservative Committee at Capel. In about January, 1911, he was present at a meeting when the Rev. W. R. Holman made allegations of intimidation. Mr. Holman was challenged to give paticulars, but he did not do so. In September, 1911, witness was present at an auction sale at Five Oak Green, at Mr. Holman's. He got into conversation with defendant, who was in the employ of Mr. Holman. Defendant declared that witness had tried to get a man the sack for his political opinions. Witness treated the matter with contempt at this time but on 21st witness went to a meeting at Capel, at which a Mr. Clifton said the working men there were afraid to show their political opinions because they would get the sack. Mr. T. D. Harris challenged Clifton, and defendant then came forward and said "I have a clear case of intimidation." Turning to witness, he said "You went to Mr. White to get a man the sack because he was a Liberal." Joy repeated the statement. Witness denied the truth of defendant's allegations and said he would make him prove his words. Joy said the man's brother was in the room and he knew it was true. Witness had suffered a great deal of inconvenience and annoyance with regard to the matter, which had been talked about ever since. He had received an intimation that unless he cleared himself his position on the Parish Conseil would be affected. The majority of the men on his farm were Liberals, and many of them had been for years on the farm. He had never dismissed a man because he was a Liberal.

Mr. T. D. Harris, farmer, of Shernden, Capel, said he was present at the meeting in February, 1912 described by Mr. Hayward. Witness challenged Mr. Clifton to prove intimidation, and the defendant made the allegation spoken of by Mr. Hayward three times. Many people in the parish thought the allegations of defendant were true. Both Mr. Hayward and witness had men who for years had been active Liberals.

Albert Barton, bailiff, gave corroborative evidence of what occurred at the meeting referred to.

Edward Albert White, hop-grower, of Beltring, said he employed a large number of men. He never made any enquiries as to the men's politics. Until a few days ago he did not know Mr. Hayward.

Roland Perrett, bailiff to Mr. White, said the matter of employment and dismissal of men was under his management. There were large numbers of men employed of all political opinions. Mr. Hayward had never come to witness and asked him to dismiss a man on account of his political opinions.

This concluded plaintiff's case and he Under Sherriff pointed out that by putting in no answer to the writ, defendant had practically admitted the slander. Mr. Hayward appeared to occupy a somewhat prominent position, and it was his duty to clear his character.

After a short retirement, the jury awarded plaintiff £5 damages (approximately £675 today). Mr. H. D. Brown as foremen of the jury, said they felt that this would meet the case, as there was no desire to make the damages vindictive. They felt, however, a nominal sum would not have met the case, as it might appear to cast some aspersions upon plaintiff.

The Under Sheriff said he thought the jury had taken a very common-sense view of the matter.