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Column 1157When the mother of Margaret McLaughlan was asked when she was told of her daughter's murder, she said that it was half -past 11. That was not said off the cuff to a television reporter. It was not said while she was being questioned on the morning that her daughter's body was discovered. It was not said in any informal manner, but under oath in the High Court in Glasgow, on the morning of Tuesday on 2 October at the trial of Beattie.
Let us get to grips with the situation. The court was deceived, the jury was deceived, the defence lawyers were misinformed. I believe that the prosecution counsel was misinformed. Why? I suspect that a policeman in Strathclyde police force made a ghastly error on that Saturday morning, and that everyone involved was told to cover it up. I believe that the police thought that the murderer might return to the scene of the crime, so they waited for him.
In the meantime, the pathologists were not called, and they could not examine the body at noon, as they might otherwise have done, so their estimates of the time of the girl's death, which was very important at the trial, were ruined. The temperature rose very high that afternoon. It was the longest day of the year, and a sunny one. Then, when some senior officer decided that the stupidity had gone far enough, all the officers entered into a conspiracy to cover it all up. How they ever imagined that they could get away with it is beyond belief. But they did--for 21 years. Any conspiracy within the police is unforgivable, but that one is especially so, because it helped to convict an innocent man.
The conspiracy also tells us much about the attitude of the police force that conducted the inquiry, and that will be important when we assess what later happened to George Beattie during the investigation. But before I deal with the events that led to the charge of murder against George Beattie, let me illustrate that attitude in the force and demonstrate its source, because it came from the very top.
The man in charge of the inquiry was Detective Chief Superintendent William Muncie. When he arrived at the scene of the crime on the Saturday, he was shown a knife sticking in the ground by the side of the path leading up to the glen, towards the railway--the general area where the girl had been attacked. He sent the knife off to the laboratory for testing, along with a soil sample that he had taken from around it.
The scientist at the laboratory wrote a letter to Mr. Muncie saying that neither the knife nor the soil sample had any trace of blood on it, but by the time the letter was received Mr. Muncie had already charged Beattie with murder, chiefly because, as he claimed, Beattie had told him where the knife had been, and had described its general shape.
Did Mr. Muncie doubt the validity of his case against Beattie when he learned that the knife and the soil sample had no trace of blood on them? Did he renew his efforts to find evidence of blood on the knife that Beattie had apparently named as the murder weapon? Not at all. He simply suppressed the document that destroyed his case against my constituent. He suppressed the best evidence.
The Lord Justice-General made much of the word "suppression" at my constituent's appeal last November. Well he might, because it was a copy of that document that caused the Secretary of State to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. But of course, the document that
Column 1158Lord Hope had in front of him had not been suppressed; it was the original of the document that had been suppressed.
Show me a copy of the letter from the scientist to Mr. Muncie that has a letterhead on it. Show me the scientist's signature at the bottom of it, and then I shall say that the document was not suppressed. Show me the evidence that Mr. Muncie even asked for a further test for blood. Show me when he asked for the blade to be taken from the hilt so that the dirt from the joint could be examined for traces of blood. Show me any such evidence, and I shall begin to believe that Mr. Muncie might have done otherwise than destroy the document that ruined his case against my constituent.
I invite the Minister to ask the scientist involved, Mr. Hamilton, how a copy of the letter came into the hands of the procurator fiscal and subsequently the Crown Office. Why did Mr. Hamilton deem it necessary to duplicate the evidence in that way--unless, of course, he thought it odd that the knife was never sent back to his laboratory for further testing after it became a production in evidence against George Beattie?
Now, having touched on two conspiracies perpetrated by the police in the case, I shall rehearse the major evidence against the police force that convicted my constituent. At Beattie's trial, the police claimed that they had elicited admissions from him at Carluke police station, during the course of two interrogations. They claimed that he had told them details about the scene of the crime that only the murderer could have known.
There were three key points. The police said that Beattie knew where the body had been, where the large knife had been left stuck in the ground, and where the girl's suitcase had been thrown. The police claimed that this was special knowledge. Beattie, they said, had revealed his guilt during two interrogations on the night of the Wednesday after the murder. He had then shown them the secret locations.
What the police forgot to tell anyone was that there was a third interrogation on the Wednesday night, during which Beattie was fed all that information. One may well surmise that there must have been an inevitable conspiracy in a force such as that to suppress the truth about the matter. The first interrogation in Carluke began at 8 pm, and the second began at 9.30 pm. Beattie was charged with the murder at around 1 am.
The interrogators were two police officers from Lanark CID, DC John Semple and Sergeant Dougie Mortimer. A sketch of the murder site was produced in court. Both officers were questioned closely about the rough plan during the trial, because it was claimed that Beattie had described where the attack on the girl took place and where the umbrella had been left after the attack.
If the two officers were telling the truth, and there is no reason to doubt their word, the sketch they produced was a simple plan of the glen that anyone in Carluke would have been able to draw. There is nothing incriminating in it at all. I emphasise that Beattie never touched the sketch; nor did any other officer, according to the police.
The official story is that, after Mortimer finished the second interrogation, Beattie was charged with the murder. He was then taken to the cells in Lanark. During the car journey there, said Mortimer, Beattie mentioned the knife for the first time, and said that he would show
Column 1159the police where it had been left at the scene of the murder. Mortimer took Beattie down to the scene of the crime early the next morning, and Beattie was alleged to have shown him where the knife was stuck in the ground by a concrete post. He also showed the police where the girl's body had been and where the suitcase had been thrown.
The demonstration of that special knowledge--particularly the location of the knife, only 20 yd from the body--left a deep impression on the jury at Beattie's trial. Unfortunately, the police never had to demonstrate in any way the circumstances surrounding any of the interviews that they conducted with Beattie during the inquiry, or the complete background to any of the admissions he made--or that they alleged he made--during the interviews.
If the procurator fiscal had had the duty to make such inquiries to further investigate any suspicious circumstances about the interviews, the case against Beattie would never have been presented to the jury at the trial. No one--particularly no one on the jury--looked at the rough plan. That was the major mistake that cost George Beattie the best years of his life. There were other marks on the plan, which neither of the police interrogators had mentioned. In particular, the three main points of special knowledge were clearly marked. If the Minister cares to take another look at the rough sketch, he may see that for himself. I have a copy of the sketch for him tonight. The sketch clearly shows the location of the concrete post and the knife beside it. All that has carefully been drawn in, and there are dots showing the actual locations, which have been ringed as if someone had pointed them out. None of that information had been discussed during the two recorded interrogations.
The rough sketch is incontestable proof that there was a third, secret, interrogation. So it is not at all surprising that Beattie gave the police the special knowledge when he went to the scene of the crime the next morning. He had been given it during the secret third interrogation the night before. Beattie had even had a picture of it drawn for him.
The story gets worse, but unfortunately I am running out of time and must move to my conclusion. More evidence was suppressed in the case--best evidence, as it is termed. This was deliberately withheld from the prosecution, because of ethics, and was of course withheld from the defence, because the content of that documentary evidence could have severely damaged the police case.
There is a much longer, more comprehensive and more clearly documented version of what occurred when Beattie was questioned by the police. A retired police officer has retained his notebook over the past 21 years, even though he has been retired for several years. He was in attendance during the key interview that the police conducted with Beattie, the interview that caused Beattie to be charged.
His notes of the interview far outstripped in length the paltry 163 words of the sergeant who conducted the interview. His notes take up pages and pages of his notebook. It is and was clearly the best evidence available of the interview. Yet the procurator fiscal never saw the
Column 1160notebook. The Crown Office never saw it, and nor did prosecuting counsel. Perhaps most importantly, Beattie's defence solicitor and counsel did not see it.
Best evidence was ignored by the police. The officer in question appeared at the trial. He was asked whether any record was kept of what Beattie said. He replied:
"Sergeant Mortimer made notes, yes."
The Minister might care to look at that section of the trial transcript. It is on page 262, paragraph D.
At best, the officer's answer was a half-truth. Why did he say, "Sergeant Mortimer made notes"? Why did he not say the whole truth, as he had sworn to do, which was, "I made notes and the notebook is in my pocket at this moment; it is the best record of the interview that is available"? Why should he ever have been instructed to hide his noteboook from the defence lawyers and the jury that day? I can tell the House that the officer knew what Mortimer's evidence had been. He knew the story that was the police version of the interview with Beattie. There were salient alleged "facts" in that version that he could not corroborate from his notebook.
Another astonishing fact about the officer's evidence is that he failed to hear a conversation that Mr. Muncie claimed to have had at the scene of the crime on the Thursday morning. It was a crucial conversation, which was read out to the court from notes with great solemnity. In that conversation, Beattie described the handle of the knife that was supposed to be the murder weapon. It had a kind of hook at the end of the handle. And that clinched the matter. Why is it that the officer who was taking the most comprehensive notes of these events did not take a note of a crucial conversation? That is strange. He might have claimed, as his partner Sergeant Mortimer did in court, that he did not hear the conversation. Mortimer told the jury that he, Beattie, spoke with Mr. Muncie, but he did not know what he said.
Perhaps Mortimer could have wandered off and not heard Beattie's final comments--but not the officer whose notebook has recently come to light. He must have heard the conversation, if it ever took place. He must have been within a couple of feet of the conversation. He was handcuffed to Beattie throughout Beattie's visit to the scene of the crime. Yet he did not hear what was one of the most crucial conversations in the entire investigation. He made no note of some of the most important evidence supposed to have been given by George Beattie.
How can that be explained away? The long arm of the Lanarkshire law extends to the men involved even to this day, for the retired officer will not give up his notebook. I understand that he has even said that he has disposed of it. I ask the Minister to order an independent inquiry into the affair with such speed that the notebook in question can be obtained and secured in a safe place.
The Minister would no doubt like to see the details set out in the police officer's notebook--the best evidence that I mentioned earlier. The notebook may be burned even now, so that my constituent will not gain freedom from conviction.
I have a copy of a verbatim minute of that notebook in my possession, which I shall hand to the Minister when I take my seat. It was taken during a two -hour interview by two investigative journalists with the former police officer concerned.
Column 1161The Minister may well like to know what the officer in question has to say when confronted with the evidence that is so at variance with what he now knows from his own knowledge. I present the Minister also with a signed statement containing that information from Peter Hill, an investigative journalist and a television producer.
The Minister may well care to know the name, address and telephone number of the retired police officer who is currently obstructing my inquiry into these matters by refusing to give up his notebook. I decided to name that officer in the House tonight. I cannot allow him to hide from his public responsibility.
I discussed that person with the Minister early this afternoon, and I sought assurance from the Minister that, when I presented this evidence to the House tonight, he would immediately hold an investigation into the allegations made, and seek to obtain possession of that book and put it in safe keeping.
The officer's name, address and telephone number are included in the documentation that I shall hand to the Minister when I take my seat, along with a signed statement and a copy of the sketch from the scene of the murder.
The Minister has assured me that he will investigate the matters that I have mentioned tonight, so on this occasion I have agreed with the Minister not to name that police officer, so as to allow the authorities the opportunity to go to that person and seek to obtain his evidence from him.
In the near future, I shall petition the Secretary of State for Scotland for another appeal for George Beattie.
Tonight, the BBC Scotland "Front-line" programme will run another programme on the case of George Beattie, including more evidence that proves that he is innocent. I hope that all Scotland will watch that programme tonight. I hope that the Minister will watch that programme tonight. I hope that the Secretary of State, Lord Fraser and Lord Hope watch that programme tonight.
George Beattie is innocent. In his words,
"he is free on parole--but he still has the ball and chain around his ankle".
It is for the House to give him the justice that he deserves. 12.31 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) on his success in securing a further debate on the Adjournment about the case of George Beattie, and on his obvious commitment on behalf of his constituent.
The present position with regard to Mr. Beattie is that there is no petition before the Secretary of State, following the decision reached by the Court of Appeal on 2 December 1994. The court concluded then that no grounds had been put before it would show that there had been a miscarriage of justice at Mr. Beattie's trial. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's worries about Mr. Beattie's case with great attention tonight. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is prepared to consider any further representations that may be submitted on Mr. Beattie's behalf.
Column 1162The hon. Gentleman mentioned conspiracy on the part of the police. He mentioned the withholding of evidence in relation to the notebook, and he made certain statements in relation to Mr. Muncie. The appropriate procedure is for those matters to be laid out in a petition so that they can be properly considered, and the hon. Gentleman, as I understood it, said that that course would be adopted on behalf of Mr. Beattie.
I am sure that those who attended Mr. Beattie's appeal last November, or who subsequently read the detailed opinion delivered by the Court of Appeal, will be ready to acknowledge the careful and meticulous scrutiny that the Court of Appeal gave to his case in November and December 1994.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland refers a case to the Court of Appeal under section 263, the court is not restricted by the particular grounds that caused my right hon. Friend to request the review; it is the appellant who is responsible for identifying in his note of appeal all the grounds on which he claims that there was a miscarriage of justice at his trial.
Mr. Hood: The petition and the appeal will be pursued. Can the Minister confirm what I assumed he agreed with tonight, when I put forward the evidence concerning that former police officer who has in his possession a notebook that is relevant to the case--that he will take steps to try to get the authorities to obtain that notebook and put it in a safe place?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The hon. Member for Clydesdale said that he will submit the documents, and I have assured him that the matter will be investigated as is deemed appropriate. We will obviously have to study those documents, and I will be grateful to receive the papers concerned at the conclusion of the debate. Counsel for Mr. Beattie was pressed by the court to ensure that his note of appeal identified all the grounds on which he claimed that there had been a miscarriage of justice at the original trial. In consequence, the single ground on which Mr. Beattie's appeal originally rested was extended to four grounds of appeal. They focused on: an erroneous statement by the Court of Appeal in 1973 to the effect that Mr. Beattie had himself given evidence at his trial; the sufficiency of the evidence at that trial; the time of death of the victim; and the fact that the forensic scientist's letter of 7 July 1973 had not been made available to the defence.
Significantly, however, none of the grounds lodged for last November's appeal made any suggestion whatsoever of police malpractice. In particular, it was not suggested that the special knowledge which Mr. Beattie had revealed by his statements to the police and his actions at the scene of the crime had been imparted to him by the police themselves; nor was it suggested at the trial or at the recent appeal hearing that the police evidence about what he said and did was in any respect incomplete or inaccurate. I shall look very closely at the information which the hon. Gentleman intends to submit tonight.
The Court of Appeal considered the submissions made on Mr. Beattie's behalf last November in the light of the evidence which had been led at his trial, but it concluded that the appeal had to be refused. The Court of Appeal indicated that it was satisfied that there had been sufficient evidence at the trial for a conviction.
Column 1163The court was also satisfied that the evidence of the bloodstains on the tissues, when taken together with other evidence from which it could be inferred that Mr. Beattie had the tissues with him at the locus and had the opportunity to commit the murder, was sufficient to corroborate the inference of guilt which the jury were entitled to draw from what Mr. Beattie said to the police and pointed out to them at the locus.
The court was not satisfied that the evidence of testing of the deceased's blood on the MN system revealed by the letter of 11 July 1973 would have had a material part to play in the jury's decision on the question whether the bloodstains on the tissues could have come from the deceased, as there was no evidence as to what the result of testing the bloodstains on the tissues on the MN system would have been.
I should like to clarify a misunderstanding on a question of fact. In the last Adjournment debate held on Mr. Beattie's case, I referred to correspondence between the late Dame Judith Hart, the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, and the then Solicitor-General. I make it quite clear that the then Solicitor-General confirmed to Dame Judith that no blood was found near the scene of the crime belonging to a group to which neither Beattie's nor the victim's belonged.
Column 1164In a subsequent press article, my reference to that statement was quoted out of the context, and it was made to imply that blood of Mr. Beattie's grouping was found near the scene. It is important to clarify for the record that there was no forensic evidence available to indicate that blood of Mr. Beattie's grouping was found at or near the scene of the crime. There is no disagreement between the hon. Gentleman and me on that point, which I have sought to clarify tonight.
My right hon. Friend is prepared to consider any further petition which may now be submitted. I have noted the number of criticisms made of the police investigation of the case in the media. Allegations of police malpractice, if substantiated, would be a matter of grave concern to any civilised society. However, it is equally important for society to protect the reputation of its police officers, whether serving, retired or dead, against unfounded allegations.
We therefore stand ready to review the case further. Any evidence which may be submitted on Mr. Beattie's behalf--
The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to One o'clock.
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