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Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider the possibility of a wide-ranging debate on conservation issues and the responsibility of various quangos for their management in advance of legislation? There is deep concern among those interested in such matters, and, I think, in all political quarters, that the Government will produce half-baked legislation that will satisfy no one. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also give us an assurance that when legislation is presented it will not go first to the House of Lords, which is riddled with vested interests?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's sweeping condemnation of the other place. The House will certainly have ample opportunities to consider the general questions with which he is concerned, however, and I shall bring his particular anxieties to the attention of my right hon. green and friendly Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the quashing this afternoon by the Court of Appeal of the convictions of Patrick Armstrong, Gerard Conlon, Paul Hill and Carole Richardson of murder and other offences connected with the bombing of two public houses in Guildford on 5 October 1974, and those of Patrick Armstrong and Paul Hill of murder arising from the bombing of a public house in Woolwich on 7 November 1974.
I informed the House on 16 January this year that I had decided to refer the convictions to the Court of Appeal. That was because I had received representations alleging that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and putting forward matters that had not previously been considered by the courts. Inquiries were carried out by the Avon and Somerset police into the new issues that had been raised, as a result of which I concluded that there were grounds to justify my intervention. Accordingly, I referred the case to the Court of Appeal under the provisions of section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968. Following that decision the case became, for all intents and purposes, an appeal to the Court by the four convicted persons. In preparing the Crown case, the Crown prosecution service asked the Avon and Somerset police to carry out further inquiries which entailed scrutiny of the large quantity of police documents. The information provided by the Avon and Somerset police led the Crown to take the view that misleading evidence had been given by officers of the Surrey police at the trial, and that this was sufficient to undermine the reliability of the confession evidence on which the convictions had been based. I understand that notes of interviews with Patrick Armstrong have been found which indicate that a record which was presented in court at the original trial could not have been the contemporaneous record which it was claimed to be by a number of police officers. It appears that officers gave misleading evidence about circumstances in which they obtained information from Paul Hill after he had been charged. Detention records also showed serious inconsistencies. None of these matters was made known to the then DPP or to the prosecuting counsel at the trial.
In view of those matters, the Crown concluded that it could no longer support the convictions as having been safe. Accordingly, it asked the Court of Appeal for an expedited hearing at which it invited the court to quash the convictions. This has now been done. Separate confessions were made by Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Hill to Metropolitan police officers investigating the Woolwich offence. The Crown has carefully considered the reliability of those confessions. Nothing that has come to light casts the slightest doubt on the integrity or conduct of any Metropolitan police officer concerned. But it is necessary to put the separate confessions in the Woolwich case into perspective. They were made following interviews by Surrey police officers, in which initial confessions to involvement in the Woolwich bombing had been recorded, and they were made in Guildford police station after Armstrong had been in continuous custody for seven days
Column 279and Hill for two days. In all the circumstances, the Crown concluded that the factors undermining the reliability of the confessions recorded by certain Surrey officers extended to undermine also the reliability of the confessions repeated in the same police station to the Metropolitan police officers.
The new evidence was explained fully to the Court of Appeal this morning and the Attorney-General will place in the Library a copy of the transcript as soon as it is available, which he hopes will be early this evening.
Mr. Hill is being returned to Northern Ireland to continue serving the life sentence for murder to which he was sentenced quite separately in June 1975. I understand his sentence will be reviewed under the normal life sentence procedures in Northern Ireland. This is very grave matter for all who care about justice. A number of issues arise. First, as the Court of Appeal has quashed the convictions on the basis of newly discovered facts, the four persons involved will be eligible to apply to me for compensation under the provisions of section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The amount of the compensation will be determined by an independent assessor.
Secondly, the Director of Public Prosecutions has already set in train a criminal investigation, so that he can determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify prosecuting the police officers involved. It is not possible at this stage to predict how long this urgent task will take. Of the three officers concerned who are still in the police service, the chief constable of Surrey has suspended two, the third being in hospital.
Thirdly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I have decided to establish a judicial inquiry into the circumstances leading to the trial of those convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich offences to establish as far as possible the details of what occurred. Because it has been claimed that the police were led to Anne and Patrick, and to Patrick Maguire and their sons, Vincent and Patrick Conlon, Patrick O'Neill, and Sean Smyth by statements made to the Surrey police by Paul Hill and Gerard Conlon, my right hon. Friend and I believe it is right that the judicial inquiry should also look into the circumstances leading to their trial in March 1976 for possessing explosives.
We have had to consider carefully whether the judicial inquiry that I have just announced should be postponed until the completion of the criminal investigation which I have also announced. But the length of this investigation cannot at present be estimated. We have concluded that such is the importance of this case that it would be right to establish the inquiry straight away, recognising that it would have to adjust or adjourn its work as the interests of the administration of criminal justice might require. The inquiry will be presided over by the right hon. Sir John May, who was until last June a Lord Justice of Appeal. It will conduct its work on a non-statutory basis. Its terms of reference will be
"to inquire into the circumstances leading to and deriving from the trial of Patrick Armstrong, Gerard Conlon, Paul Hill and Carole Richardson on charges arising out of the explosions in public houses in Guildford on 5 October 1974, of Patrick Armstrong and Paul Hill in relation to charges arising out out of an explosion in a public house in Woolwich on 7 November 1974, and of Anne and Patrick Maguire, their sons, Vincent and Patrick Maguire, and Patrick Conlon, Patrick O'Neill and Sean Smyth on charges of possessing explosives and to report to the Home Secretary and the Attorney- General".
Column 280There has been a serious miscarriage of justice which has resulted in wrongful imprisonment for many years. Even though that wrongful conviction has now been righted as a result of police investigations and the decision of the Court of Appeal, we must all feel anxiety, regret and deep concern at what has occurred. The House will, I hope, support the Government's response.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : I am sure that the House has listened to the Home Secretary's statement with many different emotions : relief that innocent men and women are now free, horror that they were wrongly imprisoned for 15 years, incredulity that the miscarriage of justice could have continued for so long, satisfaction that the legal system itself exposed the wrongdoing and profound dismay that such a gross miscarriage of justice could have occurred in the first place.
There is also a deep determination to see that all those responsible for the wrongful conviction--I repeat, all those responsible--should be brought to justice and that every possible step should be taken to ensure that such a tragedy cannot occur again. There is also a general understanding that these wrongful convictions have laid the capital punishment debate to rest.
I support the Home Secretary's decision to set up an inquiry and to include the defendants in the Maguire case within its terms of reference. However, I must express our strong belief that the inquiry should be so constituted as to contain an element within it that is wholly independent of the judiciary. It is no reflection on the individual whom the Home Secretary has chosen to say that an inquiry so related to the operation of the judicial system will not be seen as wholly satisfactory if it is carried out by someone whose entire background and experience is within that system.
I want to press the Home Secretary on the way in which the inquiry he proposes will be run. Will it be compellable? Will the rules of evidence normally operating in court apply inasmuch as it will be taken on oath? We support the view that the inquiry should begin at once, but can we be assured that the consideration of initial prosecutions and the inquiry running side by side in the same time scale will not preclude further prosecutions if the inquiry discovers the implication of other men and women and that participation in the inquiry will be no protection against further prosecution? On the wider question, does the Home Secretary agree that the time has come when British courts should cease to convict solely or mainly on the evidence of uncorroborated confessions? Far too many wrongful convictions--going back to Timothy Evans and including the Confait case--have been obtained in this way and that remains one of the major causes of concern surrounding the men convicted for the Birmingham bombing in 1974.
Is it not also essential, following the recommendations of Justice and the Select Committee on Home Affairs, that some new body be created which could examine dubious convictions with less restrictive terms of reference than those which invariably and inevitably constrain the Court of Appeal?
It is worth emphasising that, despite this morning's events, the overwhelming majority of police officers act honourably and honestly. When the tiny minority transgress, it is almost inevitably the result of pressure--pressure because of the shortage of resources, and emotional pressure quickly to solve a crime that causes
Column 281general public outrage. It is essential that we do all that we can in this country, and in this House, to ensure that such pressures do not produce repetitions of the tragedy that we are discussing this afternoon.
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his last remarks and his general tone. We thought hard about who should lead the inquiry. It is right that it should be not a serving but a recently retired judge, because that is the right way to give the proceedings the necessary stature and authority.
We also considered the basis of the inquiry. No doubt it would have been possible to constitute an inquiry on a statutory basis under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Hand in hand with that would normally have gone some promise or undertaking of immunity, but we did not feel that that was appropriate in this case. The basis that we have chosen is well precedented--for example, the Fisher inquiry into the Confait case, with which members of the profession who are present will be well familiar--and I think that it is apt for this occasion.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that it is important that if a matter comes to light in the course of the inquiry, that might justify further prosecutions, those prosecutions are considered in the usual way and are not excluded by the fact that the information emerged from the inquiry.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of uncorroborated evidence. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 laid down in statute for the first time strict rules about that, which had previously been in common law. The position in Scotland is, in some respects, different. I regard that, and the general question that he raised of how we are best to insure against possible miscarriages of justice, as very much back on the agenda. I should think it natural that the inquiry that I have announced under Sir John May might get into that territory.
I agree with the final point that the right hon. Gentleman made about the police.
Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this reversal of a serious miscarriage of justice is welcome? His initiative and the prompt action that he has taken and announced today in that regard are greatly to be applauded. Quite separate from that, does he accept that we should always keep fresh in our minds the memory of those five innocent people who were slaughtered on that terrible night in Guildford 15 years ago and the 65 who were injured? Will he reassure us that, quite aside from the action that he has taken, which I fully endorse and support, everything will be done to ensure that those who committed that foul crime pay the full penalty?
Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend is quite right. It is timely to remind the House and everyone commenting on these events that those desperate murders occurred, and that my right hon. Friend's constituents were murdered. That is the basic tragedy from which all else flowed. He is right that the police must now pick up the threads and see whether there is evidence and room for further examination in an effort to track down the murderers. In that context, the evidence of the so-called Balcombe street gang will need to be reviewed afresh.
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich) : Is the Home Secretary aware that the bombing of the King's Arms caused considerable bitterness and anger in Woolwich? There will be equally strong feelings at the realisation not only that the course of justice was deliberately perverted to imprison innocent people but that it has taken 14 years to put the matter right. Does he accept that there is widespread belief that if those four individuals had not had the support of some of the most powerful and influential people in the land, they would still be languishing in gaol?
Although the inquiry announced was extremely welcome, can the Home Secretary give a clear assurance that it will not just investigate the circumstances of this miscarriage of justice but will bring forward recommendations to ensure that such a thing never happens again?
Mr. Hurd : I cannot dictate how Sir John May will conduct the inquiry, but, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, we have deliberately framed the terms of reference in such a way that he will be able to deal with the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred to the extent that he believes them relevant to the three cases he has been asked to consider.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in addition to the thanks that are undoubtedly due to him for taking the initiative that has resulted in the ending of these appalling miscarriages of justice, our thanks are due also to the Avon and Somerset police for their diligence, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Treasury counsel for ending the catalogue of terrible mistakes?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the best legal system in the world cannot be proof against the wilful wrongdoing of human beings, if tape-recorded interviews and the results of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 had been in operation in 1974, it is almost certain that none of these miscarriages of justice would have occurred?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. and learned Friend is correct about the Avon and Somerset police, who have conducted a rigorous inquiry. He is also correct to say that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has created a range of requirements and safeguards for suspects in police stations which have brought about a fundamental change in the framework within which the police operate.
As my hon. and learned Friend mentioned tape recordings, I should say that the tape recording of interviews concerning suspected terrorists arouses particular problems because people coming forward to give evidence may feel that they are exposed to dangers when their evidence is on tape. They cannot be entirely sure where the tapes will end up or what risks they may be running. I mention that to complete the picture and as a factor we must consider. It does not undermine my hon. and learned Friend's basic point.
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : There has been a serious miscarriage of justice and for many years people both inside and outside the House have been concerning themselves with it. We were beginning to wonder what could be done in this instance when something was obviously wrong. I welcome the events in the Court of Appeal today almost with relief. I also praise the Avon and Somerset police, the Crown prosecution
Column 283service, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Secretary of State who brought in the Avon and Somerset police, to whom I gave evidence.
I am glad that there is to be a police inquiry and even more glad that there will be a judicial inquiry, even though I share some of the reservations expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I am glad that the Maguire family have been included. I know that that will also please my noble Friend Lord Fitt in another place, as he first came to me about that family many years ago. That family were not involved but some of them have spent time in gaol. I met the family again the other night. We knew that something was wrong and wanted to know what on earth could be done.
Do we need to wait for the result of the inquiry? There is the report of Justice with which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been associated. There is to be a criminal justice Bill. In that can we have changes in the law and procedures on confessions? There was a report by the Select Committee and its recommendations could be in a new Bill in the Queen's Speech. I came to the conclusion years ago that the procedure that the right hon. Gentleman and other Home Secretaries has had to operate in the Court of Appeal is far too narrow to get at the major issues of miscarriage of justice. I believe that the time has come to have an independent review body to look at these issues. It is all very well to say that the Home Secretary can refer the matter to the Court of Appeal, but I did that on one occasion and the court's attitude was, "Why has this come back again?"
I hope that the Home Secretary will speak to the press. I hope that the people coming out of gaol after 15 years, particularly Carole Richardson, whom I know, will not have chequebook journalism coming at them. This morning, I fished out a transcript of the trial, at the end of which the judge said to the four young people that, had capital punishment been in force, they would have been executed. I hope that that will be sent to the Prime Minister, and to the IRA, which is pontificating about all this. Last night, its members killed an alleged Protestant paramilitary and nothing will bring him back from the grave. They are not the people to pontificate about British justice.
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I would not underestimate the energy and sincerity that he and a good many others associated with him have used in pursuing this case. The difficulty for him and for them has been the absence of fresh evidence against convictions that was not before the original court or the Court of Appeal, but that evidence has become available, with the result that he welcomes, although he believes it to be belated.
I know the right hon. Gentleman's views about the system. I shall give him the figures, which I have looked up, because they do not corroborate his view that the Court of Appeal never acts on these referrals. Since I became Home Secretary in September 1985, 17 cases have been referred to the Court of Appeal, involving 27 defendants ; this is under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968. Of these 17 cases, convictions were upheld in nine cases involving 16 defendants, and in six cases involving nine defendants, the convictions were quashed. There has been a measured response, and there are two outstanding cases involving two defendants.
Column 284This debate will start again, and both the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will no doubt participate in it. It will not wait for the report, but it will be reasonable, before we reach conclusions on that debate, to see what the report has to say.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : Following these sad events, is it not important to reassure the public that the police are a body that is to be supported, and that the major changes introduced by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service have enabled us to ensure that what happened in this case will not happen again? Most importantly, under the present system, the detention sheets that would probably have been made available by the CPS, and which were one of the major factors leading to the vindication of these four people, would have been made available to the defence, as they were not at the trial, would have been used and would probably have undermined the confession evidence put forward by the Crown.
Mr. Hurd : It is worth remembering that the Avon and Somerset police investigated this matter, at my request, and brought out the evidence on which the Crown has acted. I agree with my hon. Friend. In addition, we now have the Police Complaints Authority, which did not exist in 1974, which now has the power to supervise such investigations. My hon. Friend is right. The framework within which the police operate as regards suspects in police stations has been reformed.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : However ample the financial compensation may be, it can never adequately recompense the four who have been wrongfully convicted for their suffering. Does the Secretary of State accept that the differences in Scottish and English laws of evidence and police procedures are not such as to make it unsuitable to proceed immediately, in the forthcoming criminal justice Bill, to reform the law on uncorroborated evidence in England to bring it into line with that of Scotland?
Does the Secretary of State also accept that the investigations that are to take place should look not only at possible criminal wrongdoing by the police or other officials, but at whether there were procedures that were followed in this appalling case that allowed the wrong-doing to go undetected for so long?
Why has the Secretary of State not given a more forthcoming response to the proposal that there should be an independent review body involving lay people, because he has been in difficulties, throughout this case, over the lack of such a body to channel the evidence towards him?
Does the Secretary of State agree that this case must damn for ever the repeated parliamentary attempts to reopen the issue of capital punishment?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the action taken now and whatever financial compensation is eventually agreed does not obliterate or compensate effectively for years of wrongful imprisonment.
On corroboration, the hon. Gentleman may have been misled by something that he heard earlier which I did not correct. I cannot reveal what will be in the Queen's Speech but it is wrong for him to gallop away with the assumption that it will include a criminal justice Bill. Scots law imposes
Column 285a general requirement that evidence should be corroborated before it can be used to convict. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are differences between English and Scots law, and the requirement may be met, for example, by the account of the police officers who are present during an interview. I do not dismiss solutions to this problem or suggestions that there should be an independent review, but it would be sensible, as the debate gets under way again, to have regard to what Sir John May concludes.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. I have to have regard to the subsequent business which is an important debate on the defence estimates in which many hon. Members wish to speak. I request hon. Members to ask brief questions and not to repeat questions that have already been asked.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : While the Government's actions should effectively repudiate the outrageous attacks made on British justice by Mr. Patrick Ryan in Dublin, my right hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that my constituents whose 17-year-old daughter was killed in the Guildford bombing are distraught to learn that her killers are still at large. My right hon. Friend has told my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) that the inquiry will be reopened. Will he assure the House that no effort will be spared by the police in reconsidering the evidence to make sure that Caroline Slater's killers are brought to justice?
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the system of justice that has been the basis of our society for a thousand years has been severely undermined by the decision of the Court of Appeal today and by the events which led to the imprisonment of the Guildford Four? I welcome his comments about a judicial inquiry which will look at miscarriages of justice and uncorroborated evidence. Will he give the House an assurance that any recommendations made by the inquiry will be brought rapidly before the House so that we can participate in ensuring that such miscarriages of justice do not take place again?
Mr. Hurd : There has been a serious miscarriage of justice, which, at length, has been corrected by the criminal justice system, in this case by the Court of Appeal. I do not wish to truncate or stifle the discussion that the hon. Gentleman describes. I expect that the House will want to take an active part in it.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : The Home Secretary has spelt out the principles on which he came to the decision, which I wholeheartedly welcome. I believe that it is the duty of the Government to see that justice is done and seen to be done, no matter who is held to ransom in the prisons of this United Kingdom. Is he saying from the Dispatch Box today that other cases will be dealt with according to the principles that he has spelt out?
Column 286There are people in the prisons of this United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, who are in similar circumstances because new evidence has surfaced. I am thinking of four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who are in prison today. The one person who brought the vital evidence has now stated publicly that she was forced by pressure from the security forces to make false statements. Those men are behind bars. We have tried to have the matter brought forward in the House. What happened? The Northern Ireland Office informed us by letter that the case would not be reopened. Will all cases, irrespective of who is involved or where they are, be dealt with on the same basis of the principles that the Home Secretary has announced today?
Mr. Hurd : The three parts of the United Kingdom--Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales--have separate legal systems and separate exact provisions on these matters. However, I believe that the principles are the same. The case to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not one over which I have any jurisdiction, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is aware of the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I welcome the righting of any injustice, irrespective of how belated that may be. However, we must learn lessons from the mistakes. In the light of the experience of this case, can we assume that the Home Secretary will now prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland immediately to take appropriate action to review the case of the four Ulster Defence Regiment men from Armagh who were convicted of murder on the evidence of a witness who has now retracted that evidence?
Mr. Hurd : I have no detailed knowledge of that case and therefore I have no right to comment on it and no intention of commenting on it. However, I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this case will cause the police grave concern because they recognise that it will damage the reputation of which they heve been justly proud for many years? Does he also agree that the officers concerned must not be prejudged by premature conclusions of guilt? Is he aware that the Police Federation very much welcomes the full judicial inquiry that he has announced, but it wants the inquiry to cover all concerned and not just the police officers to whom my right hon. Friend has referred?
Mr. Hurd : It is a matter of grave concern to the police as indeed it is for us all. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. The terms of reference of the inquiry are deliberately wide to enable Sir John May to range widely. My hon. Friend would agree that the integrity of the individual police officer must be the foundation of policing, and all other things are secondary to that.
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West) : Does the Home Secretary agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that public emotions run highest in the most serious cases and those are the cases in which the police are most tempted to falsify
Column 287confessions and juries are most likely to believe them? Does he accept that no procedural safeguards can preclude that? Whatever the outcome of Sir John May's inquiry, would it not be wise to invite the Law Commission to consider whether a conviction should be sustained on an uncorroborated confession which is subsequently withdrawn?
Mr. Hurd : Speaking from memory--the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be more aware of this than I--I believe that the Criminal Law Revision Committee considered that specific point before we placed the present provisions on the statute book in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I will study the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion, because he speaks from experience of these matters.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I should have confirmed that it is crucial that the criminal investigation that the Director of Public Prosecutions is undertaking to discover whether there is evidence for charges against the police officer, should be conducted in an atmosphere without prejudice. That is very important and I hope that everything that I have said and all the comments made in the House will bear that point in mind.
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : While I share the general relief that justice has at last triumphed in this case and the general dismay that it has taken so long, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the action was taken purely on legal grounds and that there was no question and is no question of the verdict of any British court being set aside as a result of political pressure? If we were to allow the due process of law to be diverted at the behest of cardinals and archbishops, British justice would be no better than that of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend should look again at the statement that I made in January in which I explained why I was referring this case to the Court of Appeal. I covered the ground fully then. I distinguished between the perfectly genuine and sincere efforts of people to persuade me that the original court had got it wrong and my looking for any fresh evidence or substantial material which the original court could not possibly have considered. After I made that reference in January, the matter was out of the hands of Ministers and the Government. It was in the hands of the Avon and Somerset police, then the Crown prosecution service and then the Director of Public Prosecutions. On Tuesday, the director announced in summary that the Crown would today be placing before the Court of Appeal its conclusion that the convictions were not safe.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : Like other hon. Members, I very much welcome the Home Secretary's statement which arises not so much as a result of the legal and judicial process, but from the unshakeable faith of the families concerned in the innocence of those convicted so many years ago and the people who sustained the campaign to have their innocence vindicated.
Will the Secretary of State accept the comments made by hon. Members that convictions on confessions alone are very suspect? When he translates that into the Northern Ireland judicial system where there are no juries, such convictions are even more suspect. Will he ask his
Column 288right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to review the Diplock court procedures in Northern Ireland?
The case of Paul Hill has been referred back to Belfast and the Northern Ireland judiciary. Hon. Members may be aware that Paul Hill, in his innocence, sustained 1,641 days of solitary confinement. Would it not be a generous gesture to release him immediately with the other three Guildford people?
In view of the revelations, will the Home Secretary undertake to ensure that the judicial inquiry that he has put into train could be applied to similar cases, particularly that of the Birmingham Six? Is the Home Secretary aware that in many instances there is considerable anti-Irish bias in certain police forces and that three of my constituents arrested a week ago today were branded in the press as "Thatcher Bomb Gang Arrested"? I will not defend the tabloids. However, that headline occurred as a result of information from the Cheltenham police and that has put the lives of those men in danger in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman has ranged very widely and this case has nothing to do with the Diplock courts. I have covered the point about Mr. Hill and his future is not a matter for the criminal justice system in this part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) seems to be the first hon. Gentleman to raise the Birmingham case and I will not deal with it at length now-- [Interruption.] I apologise if I missed other points.
In January 1987 I referred the Birmingham case to the Court of Appeal. The Devon and Cornwall police carried out a full police inquiry into the relevant actions of the West Midlands police which was comparable to the investigations which have now been carried out by the Avon and Somerset police. As a result of that, the case was fully reviewed by the Court of Appeal, which found that the convictions were safe. The court hearing lasted more than a month and it spent five days considering the crucial point about the validity of the confessions. In those circumstances, I do not believe that it would be useful to refer the case again.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Crown court or Court of Appeal can act only on the basis of admissible evidence before it? If the evidence that has subsequently come to light in this case had been available to the original hearing or before the Court of Appeal subsequently, matters would have been different. However, the House has heard nothing to cause us to impugn the conduct of the Crown court in the first instance or the Court of Appeal subsequently or in any way to impugn the integrity of the judiciary involved.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 289four more Opposition Members and then I will call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. Now we will have Mr. Chris Mullin.
Mr. Mullin : Does the Home Secretary agree that today's decision entirely vindicates those who for the past 10 or 15 years have been attempting to draw his attention to the miscarriage of justice in this case? In future will he listen with more respect to those who have been telling him, also for the past 10 years or so, that the persons convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings are also entirely innocent and were convicted on the basis of confessions which were fabricated in a similar way to those of the persons convicted at Guildford?
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not credible to pretend that what has happened today is the fault of a handful of Surrey police officers? Everyone knows that after the arrest of the Balcombe street IRA unit, who were responsible for the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings, everyone involved in that case up to the level of Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Michael Havers the prosecutor and Commander Imbert knew that they had got the wrong people and chose not to face up to it. Will the inquiry announced today address that matter and the culpability of those people?
Finally, it is only a matter of time before the Birmingham pub bombings case will have to be reopened. Already, many of the police officers involved in that case have been caught forging confessions in other cases in a manner identical to what was alleged at the original trial and what was conceded today by the Crown. It would be better for the judicial system as a whole and for the respect with which the police wish to be regarded if that scandal is brought to an end as soon as possible.
Mr. Hurd : I listened with respect to all those who have approached me on those matters, as most of them at any rate will corroborate. I listen with respect to the hon. Gentleman so long as he keeps his remarks and arguments within reason. But when he goes on as he did just now and makes such wild personal attacks, the respect with which one listens to the rest of his arguments lessens quite quickly. I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), that, as the Court of Appeal has so recently gone in great detail into the Birmingham case following a police investigation which was comparable with that undertaken by the Avon and Somerset police in the Guildford case, there really is no purpose in my again referring that case to the Court of Appeal.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the investigation into the activities of the West Midlands serious crime squad, which is being supervised by the Police Complaints Authority. I have no reason at this stage to suppose that that investigation, which is into quite different cases, will touch the Birmingham case, but if anything arises from that investigation that causes doubt about the safety of any conviction, of course we would have to consider whether any further intervention would be justified.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the problems that has arisen in the past is the power of the Court of Appeal in these matters? Would it be wise for the inquiry to broaden its scope just a little to encompass the problems that arise in the Court of Appeal when looking at cases of
Column 290miscarriages of justice? Of course the court cannot put itself back into the place of the jury at the original trial and then raise the question whether the new evidence would have affected the original jury. Surely the Home Secretary should agree that one of the matters that we need to look at in this inquiry is the position of the Court of Appeal.
Mr. Hurd : Lord Devlin put that point to me when he came to see me with the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) last year. I understand that point. It was later dealt with by the House of Lords in another context. I do not think that it arises directly out of the inquiry, but it is certainly relevant to the debate that we have been talking about.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Does the Home Secretary accept that these cases got into court and the acquittal was granted today because of the steadfast campaign by the families and supporters of the Guildford Four over the past 10 years, and that influenced opinion which finally brought the matter to light and the excellent books that were written on it? Does he recognise also that any inquiries that are made through judicial inquiry must not stop at a small number of police officers but must involve those who led the prosecution and the investigation that was headed by Sir Peter Imbert? If necessary, investigations must be made right up to the highest level. Four people have wasted nearly 15 years of their lives for a crime that they did not commit.
Will the Home Secretary now recognise that the conviction of Paul Hill in Belfast in 1975 was made on confessional evidence which was taken at the same time as the confessional evidence surrounding the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings? In those circumstances, is it not right for the Home Secretary now to refer that case also to the Court of Appeal for exactly the same treatment as in the case of the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings?
Mr. Hurd : The last point is not one for me. The future of Mr. Hill under the Northern Ireland criminal justice system as a result of his conviction for murder in that jurisdiction is emphatically not a matter for me. This partial righting of a miscarriage of justice--this righting of a wrong conviction--came about because I referred the case to the Court of Appeal and there was a police investigation which turned up matters that no one had known of before. I pay tribute to the sincere campaigning that has gone on all this time. It is right to record exactly how these things happen.
There are two things going on, both of which I touched on today. One is a criminal investigation--that is to say by the director--into whether there is evidence that certain police officers were guilty of criminal offences in their handling of this matter. That is a criminal investigation.
Secondly, there is an inquiry which goes wider--it has wide terms of reference--which I have announced. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) raised the same question as the hon. Gentleman about what happens if the inquiry throws up suggestions that other criminal offences may have been committed. In those circumstances, prosecutions will be considered and decided on in the usual way. I should repeat that there is nothing which has been uncovered by the Avon and Somerset police which casts any doubt on the conduct of the Metropolitan police's investigation into the Woolwich bombings.