Originally published in the Guardian on 22 November 1969
As the Isle of Man argued yesterday over a petition calling for reform of its corporal punishment laws, a Manx juvenile court sentenced a 16-year-old boy to four strokes of the birch.
It happened in the courtroom inside the medieval stone walls of Castle Rushen at Castletown. The boy admitted two charges of common assault on a 15-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, by firing a 22 pistol at them in the street as he drove past in a friend's car. Three magistrates, one a woman, ordered the birching after a 70-minute retirement to consider sentence. The boy appeared on remand and reports on him were produced by probation officer Mr Robert Kennison.
After the court hearing, the boy's mother, who has five other children, was crying as she said: "I was waiting for this and dreading it as we sat in court. I can't bear to think about what is happening to him. To me it is sheer sadism. It will not help my son at all. He's been in trouble with the police before. But he's just impulsive and this will only make him bitter. One of the worst things was that it had taken weeks to deal with the case," she said.
"The waiting had been terrible. But the worst thing of all is that I can't have my son back to look after him after this beating," she said. This is because he was also sentenced to three weeks' detention in the island's remand home. There was a total of 15 charges against him. Six related to drinking and buying drinks for others while under age and one was for behaviour tending to a breach of the peace. The rest related to possessing the pistol without a licence, firing it in a public street, and being in possession of it in a public street. Fines totalling ?22 were also imposed.
The chairman of the magistrates, Mr George Costain, a Castleton butcher, said outside the court: "In nearly 10 years on the Bench this is not the first birching I have ordered. But I have nothing to say about this case or the birching issue. It would not be proper."
An anonymous donor has offered ?100 to the 15-year-old boy who was birched three times in the Isle of Man, two days after trying to commit suicide. He said yesterday: "It will help to heal his dignity and show that at least someone in the Isle of Man cares." Mr X, as he wants to be known, said that if the boy will get in touch with him through a go-between, he will hand over the cheque. He named the go-between as Mr Gordon McNeill, aged 64, a retired seafarer, of Upper Dukes Road, Douglas, who has already offered a further ?100 if anyone will set up an anti-birching society on the island.
[The last birching on the Isle of Man took place in 1976 but the law was not formally repealed until 1993.]