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Column 405

Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)

Rooney, Terry

Ross, William (E Londonderry)

Sheerman, Barry

Simpson, Alan

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Spearing, Nigel

Spellar, John

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spink, Dr Robert

Stevenson, George

Straw, Jack

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Trimble, David

Vaz, Keith

Walley, Joan

Wardell, Gareth (Gower)

Wareing, Robert N

Watson, Mike

Wicks, Malcolm

Wigley, Dafydd

Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)

Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)

Winnick, David

Wise, Audrey

Wolfson, Mark

Wray, Jimmy

Wright, Dr Tony

Young, David (Bolton SE)

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Dennis Turner and

Mr. Jack Thompson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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Neil Latimer (Imprisonment)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]

12.1 am

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : The case of Neil Latimer, who was convicted with three others of the murder of Adrian Carroll in Armagh on 8 November 1983, is complex and disturbing. In the short time available to me, I hope to show that the continued imprisonment of Mr. Latimer, who has served just over 10 years of a life sentence for that murder, is unsafe and unjust. The importance of the issue is well illustrated by the attendance tonight, and the fact that the Secretary of State is on the Front Bench to reply. I am grateful to all.

On the day of the murder, Neil Latimer was a member of a 13-man patrol from the Ulster Defence Regiment. Those convicted, now known as the UDR Four, have always maintained their innocence ; the other nine members of the patrol have corroborated that. Moreover, the evidence of every witness called by the Crown, except for witness A, detracted from the prosecution case.

Among those whose evidence was disregarded was the principal of the local further education college, a site engineer and a contractor engaged in road works in the area, a gardener who saw a car leave the scene at speed, a police constable on patrol in the street along which Neil allegedly made his escape, a neighbour of Mr. Carroll's, a workmate who walked a few yards behind Mr. Carroll on his way home, and Elaine Faulkner, who saw the killer.

Yet the testimony of the alleged eye witness--witness A--was given greatest credence. Three of the UDR Four were freed almost two years ago as a result of an appeal, but Neil Latimer's appeal was dismissed, mainly on the ground that he alone had been identified by witness A.

It was proved during the appeal that 39 pages of interview notes and alleged confessions had been rewritten by the police. On that basis, Messrs. Allen, Bell and Hegan were released, and a number of police officers are facing charges relating to tampering with evidence. I cannot elaborate on that matter as it is sub judice, but 16 of those 39 pages had related to Neil Latimer.

When Mr. Carroll was murdered, no one saw the shooting, but Elaine Faulkner --now Elaine Dunn--an office worker out to post letters, gave evidence that, about 50 yards from the scene of the shooting, she encountered a man who brushed past her, then walked ahead of her for a few yards, before taking a gun from his pocket and going into the entry where Mr. Carroll was murdered. A few seconds later, Miss Faulkner heard shots.

She went almost immediately to the police to report what she had seen and give a detailed description of the person she had seen go into the entry, including what he was wearing. She indicated that he was as small as or smaller than her own 5 ft 4 in. Later, in court, Miss Faulkner gave evidence that the gunman was not Neil Latimer, whom she knew well and who is about 5 ft 10 in tall. As a result of Miss Faulkner's description, the police next day issued an appeal for information, giving details of the gunman and what he was wearing. The case was reported widely, although not always accurately ; the RUC continued to investigate.

Then, two weeks after the incident, a new witness alleged--not to the police, but to two local priests--that she had seen a man, dressed in distinctive clothing similar

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to that worn by the gunman, getting into a UDR Land Rover a few minutes before the shooting. She identified the man as Mr. Latimer. The new witness was witness A. On 29 November 1983, Neil Latimer was arrested on the basis of the statement that witness A had given to the priests. As a result of questioning by the police, he made a number of statements over the next few days.

Significantly, however, the actual confession that was ultimately used against Latimer in court was not made until after the police had, for the first time, formally interviewed witness A on 2 December. It is obvious from the content of the various statements that he made that Mr. Latimer was little more than putty in the hands of his interrogators, and concurred with almost everything that was suggested to him.

Throughout the trial, witness A was found by counsel for the defence to be devious and inaccurate ; but, as she was an alleged eye witness, it was important for her testimony not to be discounted. The trial judge, Lord Justice Kelly, stated :

"The evidence of Mrs. A' is of the greatest importance to the Crown case against Latimer".

That was despite his admission in the summing-up of the evidence that

"Mrs A' did reveal inconsistencies in her evidence, mistakes, some faulty recollections, some contradictions, some inconsistencies between her evidence in court and what she said in her statements to Fr. Murray and to the Police. Many of these were labelled lies' by defence counsel. I need not set them out exhaustively. Here are some : she undoubtedly hedged about admitting a conviction for larceny of a pound of butter in 1967, she was wrong as to when she came forward for the first time to Fr. Murray and to the Police, not 6 or 7 days and 10 days, but 14 days and 24 days respectively. She did not make her statement to Fr. Murray in the Parochial House, but in her own home. She did try more than once to telephone him. She was quite wrong in denying that she sought directory enquiries as to Fr. Faul's telephone number. The BBC 9.00 pm news contained no mention of the Carroll murder that evening and certainly not a description of the gunman or anyone running She was confused as to how many soldiers in Lonsdale Street were about, or got into the Landrovers. She only assumed but did not see Latimer and the others getting into the back of the Landrover. She showed contradiction as to whether the Landrovers at the time had headlights on. She said they had back doors, but admitted that she could not see the back. She described the garment worn by Latimer as a dark brown anorak Mrs. A' said the events occurred in Lonsdale Street in daylight, fairly bright, clearly visible, although the lights of the College were on and the headlights of the Landrover in one of her accounts were on I have noted all the discrepancies, mistakes, inconsistencies referred to as lies' by the defence. I must say that these are all peripheral". It should be noted that the Land Rovers did not have back doors, and that the coat worn by the killer was a light blue duffel coat, but had been incorrectly reported in a local newspaper as having been a brown anorak. It is little wonder that Lord Justice Kelly pondered the matter when he asked :

"Why should Mrs. A' invent her story? I have asked myself this many times during the course of this trial".

He responded to his own question in saying :

"I have interposed it to some defence counsel during their eloquent closing speeches. I have not found any reasonable answer other than that she is not inventing it, and that her story is true." There the matter might have rested if my secretary had not, on 31 July 1990, received a telephone call from someone who stated that he was Roman Catholic but knew that the UDR Four were innocent. He said he was

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astonished that witness A, who he alleged was known for her exaggeration and lies, had been accepted as a credible witness. I investigated and was able to confirm that that was true. A few months later, I received, from an anonymous source, a copy of that lady's medical notes, which I asked a well-known and well-respected consultant psychotherapist, Dr. John Alderdice, who is also the leader of the Alliance party in Northern Ireland, to evaluate. Dr. Alderdice's opinion is contained in the recent publication, "Witness for the Prosecution", which, with other booklets pertaining to the case, is in the Library. He confirmed that witness A had been a patient in St. Luke's mental hospital in 1964, and that she was recorded as imagining men running around her house with guns, trying to kill her. Let us remember that there was no terrorism or common usage of guns in Northern Ireland in 1964, or for long afterwards. Dr. Alderdice states :

"she was described as being hallucinated and persecuted, and was felt by the admitting doctor to be a danger to herself and to her children".

Later he records that Dr. McCallum, who was a doctor in the hospital,

"notes that she had had an unstable upbringing' and expressed the view that this must have an effect on her future stability'." Dr. McCullum's assessment was :

"Witness A was so given to fantasy' when telling her side of the story that it was hard to sort out the true story".

The lady's husband, when interviewed, told how he had, for the first five years of their marriage,

"defended her in what turned out to be lies".

He discounts most of the stories that witness A told the doctors as being untrue. In one instance, she had said that her husband and she were both keen to move back from the country into the town, but he responded by saying that he had no intention of moving, that that sort of thing was typical of her, and that, if they did move, she would be unhappy again in a very short time.

Dr. Alderdice points out :

"It is worth noting that, in interviews with the husband, he is described as being co-operative, convincing and giving a good description of things."

Alderdice's opinion, based on Dr. McCallum's assessment, is : "the evidence of her early history of rejection' by her mother, who died in childbirth, and her father, who abandoned her in a more active way would be very congruent with this type of disturbed personality construction, and Dr. McCallum's use of the terms Mixed Psychoneurotic Reaction', and then on the second admission, Psychopathic Personality', are again absolutely in line with such a picture.

The material in these notes would therefore suggest a very unhappy and unstable woman with a disturbance of personality which would make her unreliable and difficult in relationships and the disorder is likely to be lifelong, though it may with certain circumstances be modified as she grows older, and with long-term phychological treatment".

I would point out that the records show that witness A refused to submit to any long-term treatment.

Dr. Alderdice concludes :

"If the question is asked, Would such a patient be a reliable witness', I would have to give the opinion that, on the evidence of these notes, one would be advised to be extremely cautious in setting too much store by a witness with such a personality and history. Such a patient could be given to fantasies and stories that are more to do with her own wishes than with objective reality, as is pointed out a number of times in these notes".

The idea of deliberate deception or conspiracy, which the trial judge had considered, appears to have been wide

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of the mark, but he would have had no reason to consider the possibility of a psychiatric factor. Nor would the judges in the 1988 appeal.

Like the trial judge, the 1988 Court of Appeal judges could have had no inkling of the contents of witness A's medical notes. The same applied to those people who subsequently sat in the 1992 Court of Appeal. Here, Lord Chief Justice Hutton also ruled out comparison with other cases where confessions and interview notes had been tampered with when he asserted :

"The case against Latimer is completely different from the case against the Guildford 4, the Birmingham 6 and Silcott, Braithwaite and Raghip. In the case against Latimer there is, for instance, the very important evidence of Witness A which strongly confirmed his confession".

Lord Chief Justice Hutton continued :

"Accordingly the position is that either Witness A's evidence and Latimer's confession are incorrect or Mrs. Dunn's evidence is incorrect. Therefore, under section 2 of the Criminal Appeal (Northern Ireland) Act 1980 the crucial question for this court is the following one : is it safe and satisfactory to uphold the conviction of Latimer on the basis that the Witness A evidence and Latimer's confession made on the night of 2nd/3rd December are correct and Mrs. Dunn's evidence is incorrect? We are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Dunn's evidence that the gunman was not Latimer and that the gunman was much smaller in height than Latimer is incorrect and that, in truth, Latimer was the gunman." However, Latimer's confession, like those of Allen, Bell and Hegan, has been wholly devalued because of the extent to which it has been rewritten and altered by the police, so the direct comparison falls between the evidence of Elaine Faulkner, who went to the police within minutes, and that of witness A, who did so 24 days later. Witness A, who knew Neil Latimer less well than Elaine Faulkner, had her evidence accepted that Latimer was wearing glasses and a tartan cap, although she had allegedly viewed him from a considerably greater distance than had Elaine Dunn, who had been within inches of the gunman.

I have run out of time, but I argue that there should be a referral, again, of Neil Latimer's case to the Court of Appeal. I draw attention to the fact that well over 200 right hon. and hon. Members from every party in the House feel strongly enough about this apparent injustice to have signed early-day motion 525. I have personally spent too long as a soldier and a politician opposing terrorism to have devoted the past five years of my life to trying to obtain freedom for Neil Latimer without being convinced that he is the victim of a gross injustice.

The reality is that, in this case, confessions were extracted in unreasonable circumstances, as was shown when Private Warton was found not guilty and discharged during the original trial. Notes and confessions were tampered with, as was shown when Allen, Bell and Hegan won their appeals. There has never been one iota of forensic evidence produced to link any of the UDR Four with the murder, and there is now serious doubt about the reliability of witness A's evidence.

The latter, together with what has gone before and the way in which it conflicts with evidence given by others, must make us ask whether, if the death penalty still existed, we would send Neil Latimer to the gallows on the basis of the evidence given by witness A. If the answer is no, surely he should be freed and the necessary referral made to the Court of Appeal without any further delay.

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12.17 am

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has campaigned assiduously on behalf of Mr. Neil Latimer, and I welcome his success in securing this Adjournment debate.

I shall explain at the outset my powers to refer a case to the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland. They are the same as those available to the Home Secretary in England. I emphasise that the judgment about guilt or innocence in a criminal case has to be entirely a matter for the courts, and that Ministers cannot substitute their own assessments of the evidence in a case for that of the courts.

However, I am always ready to consider representations about any alleged miscarriage of justice to see if there is a justification for using my power to refer a case to the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland, if necessary for a second time. Such a reference effectively constitutes in law an appeal or, as the case may be, a further appeal, by the convicted person.

There is a criterion which, consistent with my predecessors, I would normally expect to be fulfilled before I would use this power. It is that there is some new evidence, or other consideration of substance, which has not previously been brought before the court by the defendant and which now appears to cast doubt on the safety of the conviction.

I remind the House that Mr. Latimer's case has already been before the courts on three occasions. The first two were the trial of the four UDR soldiers, of which he was one, and the appeal to which they had an automatic right. In 1991, after very careful consideration of representations made to him, and the production of new evidence, my predecessor referred the cases of the UDR Four back to the Court of Appeal.

The new evidence had been produced as a result of electronic document analysis--known as ESDA--carried out on the police interview notes relating to the four men. The tests showed that some of the police interview notes had been rewritten, and that those parts of the notes had not been made at the time of the interviews, as had been claimed at the trial.

In a very fully argued written judgment, delivered on29 July 1992, the Court of Appeal unanimously quashed the convictions of Winston Allen, Noel Bell and James Hegan on the grounds that they were thereby rendered unsafe and unsatisfactory. However, the court was unanimously satisfied on separate evidence, including his admitted confession statements, as to Neil Latimer's guilt, and that his convictions were safe and satisfactory.

The Court of Appeal drew attention to the fact that, in giving evidence at the trial, Mr. Latimer accepted the accuracy of the police evidence as to his statements of admission. The Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland, in the judgment on behalf of the whole court, said :

"We are satisfied that the ESDA findings in relation to the interview notes of Latimer do not create a doubt as to the correctness of his convictions because of his own evidence at the trial as to what happened in the interviews and as to what he said in the interviews, it is clear that on the night of 2nd-3rd December 1983 he confessed to murdering Mr. Carroll. We are further satisfied that those confessions were true and were the confessions of a guilty man and not of an innocent man who, by improper police conduct, was pressed into confessing to a murder which he had not committed." The judgment of the court continued :

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"No one reading the full transcript of the evidence of Latimer at the trial, and reading that transcript in an impartial way and with common sense, can doubt that he was a guilty man who, from a very early stage in the interviews, realised that, by reason of the information which Witness A' had given, the police had a case against him that he was involved in the murder of Carroll, and who in the second interview on the day of his arrest said that things looked bad for him, and in the third interview told the police that he had shot Carroll, but tried for a period through a number of interviews to protect the other soldiers involved with him. But eventually, after the police had taken a further statement from Witness A' on 2nd December, in which she confirmed that she had seen the mock arrest of Latimer in Lonsdale Street and him getting into the landrover, and the police had told him of this statement from Witness A', Latimer on 2nd December made a full and truthful confession of what had happened and of his part in it."

The Court of Appeal was clearly satisfied that Mr. Latimer's written statement made in December 1983 was true in describing his part in the murder plan and how he shot Mr. Carroll, and that it was admissible in evidence against him. That part of the statement that described the parts played by Messrs Allen, Bell and Hegan was not admissible in evidence against them, and as a matter of law the court was not entitled to have any regard to that statement in considering the Crown case against them. The Court of Appeal drew a clear distinction between the total weight of evidence against Mr. Latimer on the one hand and Messrs Allen, Bell and Hegan on the other. The involvement in the case of the woman known as witness A has been closely scrutinised, and indeed is the focus of the booklet "Witness for the Prosecution" prepared by the hon. Gentleman, to which he has referred in his speech tonight. While witness A did not see the murder being carried out, the gunman was observed by another witness, Mrs. Dunne, who gave the police a description of his appearance and clothing.

Witness A told the police that, shortly before the shooting, she had seen a man, whom she knew to be Mr. Latimer, dressed in clothing that resembled the description of that worn by the gunman. She was cross-examined on the basis not that she was mistaken but that she had concocted her story.

It is true that the witness Mrs. Dunne, who saw the gunman, also knew Mr. Latimer and said that he was not the gunman. It is clear from the detailed written judgments of the court of trial and the Court of Appeal that the conflict between that woman's evidence and that of witness A was considered most thoroughly by the courts. In that context, the Lord Chief Justice said the following :

"Witness A's evidence, if it is true, establishes that a few minutes before the shooting of Mr. Carroll, Latimer, dressed in civilian clothes, was behaving with members of a UDR patrol in a most unusual manner. Moreover, according to Witness A's evidence, Latimer was wearing a tartan cap and gold-rimmed glasses, and, according to Mrs. Dunne's evidence, the gunman who shot Mr. Carroll a few minutes after Witness A had seen Latimer in Lonsdale street was wearing a check or tartan cap and gold-rimmed glasses. After his arrest Latimer, on the night of 2nd-3rd December made a full confession confirming Witness A's account of what he had done in Lonsdale street and going on to describe how, after he had got into the landrover in Lonsdale Street, dressed in civilian clothes and wearing a cap and glasses, he had gone on to shoot Mr. Carroll. However, Mrs. Dunne stated in her evidence that the gunman who shot Mr. Carroll was definitely not Latimer and that the gunman was only 5 foot 1 inch or 5 foot 2 inches in height and was smaller than her, whereas it is the fact that Latimer is 5 feet 10 inches in height."

The judgment continues with a passage that the hon. Gentleman has just cited, so I need not repeat it. I pick the quotation up at the point at which he stopped :

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