DESPATCH FROM LORD KITCHENER.
MORANT, HANDCOCK, AND WITTON. CHARGED WITH TWENTY MURDERS. London, Sunday.
The Federal Prime Minister, Mr. Bar- ton, on Saturday received, through the Governor-General, an important cable mes- sage from Lord Kitchener, in reference to the executed officers. "The message," Mr. Barton said last night, "informs me that Morant, Hand- cock, and Witton were charged with 20 different murders, including the murder of a German missionary who witnessed other murders.
"Twelve distinct murders were proved. "From the evidence it appears that Morant was an accessory to crimes which Handcock committed in the most cold- blooded manner. "The murders were committed on four separate days in the wildest part of the Transvaal, at a place named Spelokon, about 80 miles from Pretoria. "In one case eight Boer prisoners were murdered. "It was alleged in defence that what was done was a justifiable revenge for the maltreatment of one of their officers, Captain Hunt. "No such maltreatment was proved. "The prisoners were convicted after a most exhaustive trial, and were defended by a brother officer. "Witton was also convicted, but I (Lord Kitchener), commuted his sentence to penal servitude for life, his crimes having been committed under the influence of Handcock." Mr. Barton at this point finished reading from the message, which was in cipher. The Prime Minister then said : "That message was from Lord Kitchener to Lord Hopetoun, and was in reply to my inquiries for the fullest information. "This message seems to establish murders of such a character that were necessarily subject to the severest punishment. "The question of degree of punishment was apparently considered by Lord Kitchener, as is clear from the commutation of the death sentence in Witton's case. "The message is also open to this further comment that the wild stories of plunder and robbery do not seem substantial. I have not received any information which for a moment justifies the accusation of taking
life for the purposes of plunder." "Will you take any steps," Mr. Barton was asked, "in reference to having Witton's punishment lessened?" "Nothing," Mr. Barton replied, "can be done until we get the evidence." "Will you get it?" "Major Thomas is, I understand, bringing out copies of the depositions. He is the officer referred to in Lord Kitchener's message as having defended the prisoners. He is a solicitor in one of the country towns of this State.