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8 May 1996 : Column 208

WPC Yvonne Fletcher

1.30 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): My locus in the tragic murder of Woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher is simply that, for reasons deployed in seven Adjournment debates and elsewhere, I do not believe the official view on Lockerbie, or that the accusations against Libya provide the whole story. Like Dr. Jim Swire, Pamela Dix, Rev. John Mosey, Martin Cadman and others of the Lockerbie relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher want the truth.

Very frequently, a Government are justified in dismissing a television programme or a press article as being without foundation--I use polite terminology. But as I watched Fulcrum Production's "Dispatches" programme on Channel 4 on Wednesday, 10 April, I came to the conclusion that casual dismissal simply will not do. I deploy two sets of reasons for that belief.

First, anyone who watches the programme must acknowledge the care and detail with which those responsible for that production have put it together.

Secondly, the people appearing are of a calibre and relevant experience that cannot merely be brushed aside. It is not on to imply that the professional opinion on ballistics of Lieutenant Colonel George Styles is of no value. He had 26 years in the British Army and is one its leading weapons experts.

It is preposterous to imply that the professional opinion of Hugh Thomas on the anatomy of gunshot injuries does not require a serious and detailed response. He is a former chief consultant surgeon to the British Army in Northern Ireland and has dealt with hundreds of firearms injuries in Ulster. Thomas is, quite simply, one of the leading gunshot experts in the world.

The Minister knows that Professor Bernard Knight has been one of the Home Department's most trusted and eminent pathologists for many years. He was entrusted with the investigation at Cromwell street, and much else.

I gave notice to Detective Superintendent Emerton of Scotland Yard, and he to the Home Office, that I would ask the following questions.

First, was Yvonne Fletcher shot from a different direction from that which we have hitherto been given to believe?

Secondly, there is a stark difference between what the pathologist, Dr. Ian West, wrote in the post mortem report and what he said at the inquest. Why is there that discrepancy? In his post mortem report, for example, he suggested that Yvonne Fletcher had been shot from the upper floors of an adjacent building--an angle of wound that he measured as between 60 and 70 deg. At the inquest, however, Dr. West stated:

Why was there this extraordinary change of view? Hugh Thomas said that the post mortem, the first view, was correct.

Thirdly, is Hugh Thomas right in saying:

Fourthly, Dr. West expressed the view that WPC Fletcher must have been turning when she was shot. Turning with the natural curve of her back would greatly

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reduce the angle of the bullet wound. Professor Bernard Knight dismisses that analysis. I ask the Government: is Dr. West or Professor Knight right?

Fifthly, is Lieutenant Colonel Styles right in saying that WPC Fletcher's injuries could not have been caused by a Sterling machine-gun fired from the embassy's first floor because of the range and the tumbling nature of the bullet?

Sixthly, why was the video recorded by one of the Libyan demonstrators not presented in evidence at the inquest, even though the police had a copy of it? It was a student video that recorded far more than either of the professional recordings made on 17 April 1984, and it undermined the analysis of the police ballistics experts in terms of the number of bullets fired and the weapons used.

Seventhly, have the police interviewed those members of the intelligence services who witnessed the exchange of signals between the Libyan People's Bureau and Tripoli, which indicated that there would be a shooting incident? Was that information passed on to the police?

Eighthly, can the House of Commons be told what Ministers said to those members of the Security Service who indulged in what we all know was a smear campaign against the then Home Secretary, Sir Leon Brittan?

This matter goes beyond the simply personal concerns of those involved. I appreciate the presence in the Chamber of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). This matter concerns our relations with the Arab world and our relations with Libya.

I have had seven Adjournment debates on this subject already, which, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would not wish me to rehearse. I shall just draw to the House's attention a statement in The Independent, on 16 February, by the right hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Needham), a former trade Minister. He wrote:

So much for our relations with Libya.

The case refers to a central moral argument. It is not my style to involve such matters in party controversy and therefore it is a pleasure that the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), whose record in searching for the truth is impeccable, should have an opportunity to put his point of view.

1.39 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): In the few minutes available to me I am delighted to associate myself entirely with the specific questions raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and to pay tribute to the tireless campaign that he has conducted to seek out the truth of the tragic death of Yvonne Fletcher. He has not been engaged in any crusade for any purpose other than to seek

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to clarify the facts in the interests of Yvonne Fletcher's delightful mother, her family, her friends and our basic democracy.

I am also delighted that the Minister of State, Home Office is on the Front Bench because I can say to him--I hope not to his embarrassment--that, as a difficult Back Bencher, I regard him as one of the straight and honourable Ministers. I hope that this afternoon, if not later, he will disregard any advice that he has from any other Ministry about what is in the national interest and realise that his obligation is to search for the truth.

My interest in the case started some years ago when I had an invitation, which I took up, to resolve what I thought was the issue of that tragic death, which resulted in Colonel Gaddafi being abused for offering £250,000 of what was described as blood money in respect of the murder. When I pointed out to Ministers at the Foreign Office that, far from offering, he was simply responding to a request that I made after long negotiations with officials at the Foreign Office, which was confirmed in writing by one of its senior officials, I was advised that the person concerned had left public service and could not be traced.

As a result of what I describe as active research I was able to go back to the Secretary of State and point out that the official was still employed in the Czechoslovak embassy doing a Czechoslovak language course. I therefore received what I will always treasure to my last day here--a letter from a Foreign Office Minister apologising for the misunderstanding.

I hope that the Minister will accept that the "Dispatches" programme presented evidence that it was simply not possible for the shots to have been fired from the three-storey Libyan embassy and that full details were given of what was happening in six-storey buildings nearby.

As the hon. Member for Linlithgow has said, the issue simply cannot be ignored and the matter is vital to the family and to the people of Libya, who have suffered a great deal from the sanctions that stem from that particular tragedy. I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise, as I believe he does in his heart, that truth is the secret weapon of politics. There is no other way in which we can proceed that is fair to the family and friends affected by that tragic murder without recognising that the crucial thing is to try to establish the facts and tell the people. I fully appreciate that that is not an easy task for a Minister.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and I have clear views about what happened. At the end of the day, going for the truth, a full inquiry and a clear statement of the facts is a much stronger weapon than any other devious arrangement.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow for raising the issue. I hope that my right hon. Friend will once again show the House of Commons that he is one of those who is interested in truth and clarity and nothing else.

1.43 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has followed his usual courteous approach by giving me notice that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) intended to raise certain

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allegations about the murder in 1984 of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, which were aired in a recent Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow for his customary courtesy for letting my officials know that he had sent a list of specific questions to the police.

I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East that I do not have advice from any other Ministry on what is in the national interest. Any information that I can offer the House is based on police information, and it is straight and honest.

Let me say at once that Yvonne Fletcher's murder was a terrible crime; as the then Home Secretary said in his statement to the House about the incident, it was a barbaric outrage. I, too, want to express my deep sympathy to Yvonne Fletcher's family. I hope that the television programme's reopening of the issues surrounding her death has not caused them more unnecessary, undue distress than they have already suffered.

I entirely share, as do the Government, the police and I am sure all in this House, hon. Members' concern that, if at all possible, the person or persons responsible for WPC Fletcher's murder should finally be brought to justice. But the investigation of that crime, which alone can lead to such a desirable outcome, is a matter for the police, not for the Government, this House, or a television company. It is quite right of course that the hon. Member for Linlithgow has passed to the police his questions about this case. I should say to the hon. Member and to my hon. Friend that if it was not for the fact that I respect the issues raised by hon. Members in the House, and treat their views seriously, I would regard the television programme simply as the preposterous trash that it is. There has been an extensive police investigation into the murder. Sadly, it has not proved--

Mr. Dalyell: "Preposterous trash"? But those are the views of Bernard Knight, who is the most distinguished Home Office pathologist. Is Bernard Knight to be described as preposterous trash?

Mr. Maclean: No, I said that the programme was preposterous trash, as I shall seek demonstrate.

I am not attacking any of the so-called experts, but they did not examine the body at the time, give evidence at the coroner's inquest and have that evidence tested by others. Merely giving opinions on a reconstruction by a television company is not the best way to try to get to the truth of what happened at the time.

It has not proved possible to charge anyone with the murder of WPC Fletcher. The investigation therefore remains open, and the Metropolitan police will, of course, consider any new evidence presented to them. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East has also been in touch with the Metropolitan police about some of the matters raised in the programme. I know that the Metropolitan police are aware of the programme and are reviewing its contents as part of their continuing investigation, including giving specific consideration to question No. 6 tabled by the hon. Member for Linlithgow about why the video shown on the programme was not presented in evidence at the inquest.

As for the assertions made in the programme about the activities of the intelligence agencies, including the allegations that the murderer of WPC Fletcher was privy

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to information available to intelligence services here and in the USA; that "rogue elements" in those services had a motive to kill WPC Fletcher, an allegation on which the hon. Gentleman based his final question, No. 8, of which he gave me notice; and that members of the intelligence agencies attempted to smear the then Home Secretary,Sir Leon Brittan, the House will be well aware that it is not the Government's usual practice to comment on speculation, however bizarre or preposterous, about the activities of the intelligence services. Nor can I help the hon. Gentleman in respect of his two questions Nos 7 and 8, which relate to intelligence matters.

Having said that, there are several points of which I should like to remind the House.' At 10 am on 17 April 1984, a peaceable demonstration was taking place outside the Libyan People's Bureau in St James's square. The police were fully in control and there were no problems of public order. Without any warning, a number of shots were fired from an automatic weapon from a window on the first floor of the bureau. Twelve people were injured with bullet wounds and were taken to hospital, including WPC Yvonne Fletcher, who died shortly afterwards. WPC Fletcher was not the only one to be shot in that frenzied, cowardly attack, but she was the only one to die.

After the shooting took place, the Government immediately asked the Libyan authorities to instruct those inside the bureau to leave the building and to allow it to be searched for weapons and explosives. The Libyan Government refused repeatedly to agree to that request or to co-operate in the criminal investigation into the death of WPC Fletcher. For that reason, we broke off diplomatic relations with Libya, with effect from 22 April.

The programme was wrong to suggest that the incident transformed what had previously been a benign Government attitude to Libya. Our relations with Libya had been particularly bad since 1980. Following Colonel Gaddafi's announcement that all Libyan nationals should return to Libya or be "dealt with", two Libyan dissidents were murdered here and two children of a third were poisoned. The newly accredited secretary-general of the Libyan People's Bureau stated publicly his approval of the killing of Libyan dissidents in the United Kingdom and was required by the then Foreign Secretary to leave the country forthwith. An attempt was made to burn down the British embassy in Tripoli.

On 26 April 1984, the Libyans removed their diplomatic bags from the bureau building. The following day, the 30 people in the bureau left the building. The "Dispatches" programme failed to mention that those people were taken, accompanied by diplomatic observers, to the Civil Service College at Sunningdale, where they were interviewed by the police. They left for Libya that evening.

On 30 April, the police entered the former bureau building. In the course of searching it, they discovered several handguns and a quantity of ammunition. Firearms residue was found on the carpet below the window from which the weapon was believed to have been fired on17 April and a spent cartridge case of the same calibre as that weapon was found in the same room. Elsewhere in the building, the police found accessories for sub-machine guns of the same calibre.

At that stage, the police view was that there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution for the murder of WPC Fletcher against any individual, and that they

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would not be able to obtain evidence to sustain a prosecution without the co-operation of those who were in the Libyan People's Bureau. None the less, the police were of the view that it was likely that the murder was committed by one of two people who were in the bureau. Both of them possessed diplomatic immunity and, therefore, could not be prosecuted under English law even if the necessary evidence had been available.

It was claimed in the "Dispatches" programme--solely on the basis of a reading of the post mortem report and the proceedings of the coroner's court--that the angle of entry and the terminal velocity of the bullet that killed WPC Fletcher were such that it could not have been fired from the first or any floor of the Libyan People's Bureau. The programme cast aspersions on the pathologist involved in the case, Dr. Ian West, who I stress was working purely for the coroner and not for the police; and on the coroner, who is of course an independent judicial officer. The analysis of a soundtrack, which was said to reveal a loud shot that we are asked simultaneously to believe was fired from a silenced weapon, was also said to support that assertion.

The programme asks us to believe that WPC Fletcher was murdered by, or with the connivance of, a British or American intelligence officer. If it were not so offensive and obscene, it would be laughable. WPC Fletcher's murder horrified all of us in this country because no one ever imagined that, in a quiet London street in broad daylight, someone would be so mad as to fire a machine gun from an embassy window. The programme asks us to believe that there are assassins in the British or American secret service who are willing to murder a British police officer; that it was some sort of plot that their bosses did not know about, but everyone covered up; and the most preposterous suggestion of all is that that assassin anticipated, or had some knowledge, that some maniac in the Libyan embassy would fire a machine gun into the crowd and, at that point, could simultaneously fire a shot that would kill WPC Fletcher.

If people want to sit in the bowels of some television production company and invent those feverish fantasies, that is up to them. However, I do not know what hurt they have caused the parents of WPC Fletcher and all her other relatives who must be suffering the anguish of not seeing her killers brought to justice. Clearly, the programme makers do not care. However, I do care that the memory of that brave officer should not be sullied by preposterous suggestions that she was murdered by other servants of ours or of a friendly country as part of a treacherous plot. It is a fact that a hail of bullets came out of that embassy window and injured 12 ordinary people. One of those people was a British citizen in uniform, WPC Yvonne Fletcher, who died while on duty protecting the people and the community she served.

Mr. Dalyell: It is all very well for the Minister to use words such as "feverish" and "preposterous", but what about the considered view of Lieutenant Colonel George Styles, who is an expert in ballistics? Do those adjectives apply to his professional views?

Mr. Maclean: My adjectives apply to a programme that second-guessed the evidence and conducted reconstructions. It asked people to comment on evidence

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that was prepared by a professional pathologist and presented to an independent coroner during a full inquest. It was a re-reading of history and no doubt a dozen experts could make of the evidence what they will.

The problem with experts looking at evidence 12 years after the event is that none of their opinions has been tested in court before a jury. Dr. West's opinions, his analysis of the body and his painstaking reconstruction of the bullet's angle of entry into the body and through the tunic were presented at the inquest. His evidence was tested and the jury believed the evidence that was presented to it. It is preposterous that a programme should do a reconstruction and invite any number of experts--who did not examine the body and who were not present at the time of the incident--to offer opinions and comments when they do not have the full facts.

Several of the questions that the hon. Gentleman asked me arise from the assertions in the programme: was Yvonne Fletcher shot from a direction different from that which we have hitherto understood? Is Professor Thomas, who was interviewed on the programme, correct in his belief that the bullet must have been fired from the top of a high building? Is Dr. West right that WPC Fletcher must have been turning when she was shot, or is Professor Knight, who was also interviewed on the programme, right to dismiss that analysis? Is Lieutenant Colonel Styles right that WPC Fletcher's injuries could not have been caused by a Sterling machine gun fired from the embassy's first floor?

My response to all those questions is as follows. I understand that Dr. Ian West--the pathologist who worked on the case--in co-operation with eminent scientists from the Metropolitan police forensic science laboratory, carried out detailed experimental work following the murder on the question of the angle of entry of the fatal bullet, including a reconstruction using the tunic that WPC Fletcher had been wearing. The question was explored at the coroner's inquest before a jury, and the evidence given convinced that jury that WPC Fletcher was unlawfully killed by a bullet coming from one of two windows on the west side at the front of the first floor of the bureau.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's second question, it is simply not the case that Dr. West changed his mind between writing his post mortem report and giving evidence at the inquest. The programme's claim that he did is based on a misreading of the papers and an insufficient understanding of a number of the scientific issues involved--including the fact that the angle from the horizontal of the entry of a bullet into a body lying flat is different from the angle if the body were erect and different again, as was demonstrated experimentally, if the body were turning and the shoulders dropping. I understand that it also remains the view of the police, on the basis of substantial physical evidence collected immediately after the shooting, that the shots that killed Yvonne Fletcher were fired from within the Libyan People's Bureau.

If the hon. Member for Linlithgow and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East believe that the inquest was in some way flawed or unsatisfactory, there is provision for the matter to be reviewed by the courts. Under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, an application may be made to the High Court, with the consent of the Attorney-General, for a fresh inquest to be ordered. All coroner's decisions are subject to judicial review.

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However, I stress that it is not open to politicians, such as the Home Secretary or any other Minister, to comment on the decisions taken by coroners in individual cases.

As I have said, I share the concern expressed by the hon. member for Linlithgow and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East that the full truth of the matter should be established and that the person or persons responsible for WPC Yvonne Fletcher's murder should finally be brought to justice. I believe that the best way of making progress towards that end is for the Libyan nationals who were in the bureau at the time of the shooting to co-operate fully at last with the investigation into the murder. The Libyan Government, whose

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representatives were not among those who spoke to the programme, should accept responsibility for the actions of their officials.

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.

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