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Mr. Evans: How that can be said to be an appropriate way to legislate is beyond comprehension. The problem with the Bill is that it is both vague and impracticable.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Remaining Private Members' Bills


Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),

Question agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment; read the Third time, and passed.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that in the course of today's proceedings, two Bills proposed by Tory Members of Parliament have received full co-operation from Labour Members and members of minority parties to facilitate their going through all their stages, yet on a Bill that would have assisted 10 million pensioners and put money into their pockets, the Cold Weather Payments (Wind Chill Factor) Bill, the Tories have combined in a sinister conspiracy to stop that Labour Bill getting through?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): The Chair confirms that two Bills have completed all stages this day.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 February.


Mr. Deputy Speaker: Not moved.


Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),

Question agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment; read the Third time, and passed.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 February.


Mr. Deputy Speaker: Not moved.

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Criminal Justice, Salford

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

2.36 pm

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley): I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville). He has had a busy morning again.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to failures in the criminal justice system that have led to cases painstakingly investigated by the police and brought before the courts being frustrated by one means or another. The fact that such cases have occurred in Salford is a coincidence. I have made the title of the debate "Criminal Justice, Salford", but it is of little significance, for the failures could have happened anywhere. In fact, some of the courts involved are not in Salford; among those involved are Bolton Crown court, Manchester Crown court and Salford magistrates court. I am certain that we shall find parallel cases throughout the north-west and, indeed, throughout the country.

The Minister represents a Bolton constituency. I live in Bolton. He must be aware, as I am, that the matters before the House apply equally to Bolton, Salford or anywhere else. I also urge the Minister to consider, when I have concluded my remarks, whether there is a need to inquire into the way in which the lawyers have conducted themselves in the three cases that I shall pray in aid for the purpose of this short debate.

The first case that I wish to bring to the Minister's attention is one about which I have engaged in conversation with the Home Secretary and Ministers in the Department. To some extent it has been investigated, but I continue to challenge some of the conclusions that Ministers have drawn about it.

Two masked men entered licensed premises. Ammonia was thrown in the manager's face and the manager's wife was attacked for the jewellery that she was wearing. In the fracas, the mask was displaced, revealing clearly the features, and therefore the identity, of the robber, who was well known to the police and, as they say, had form.

The people involved were subsequently arrested. The Greater Manchester police witness protection team came into play, as did the Salford city council witness liaison officer. The witness was placed in safe housing, with the usual paraphernalia of safe keeping: a pendant alarm and other protective measures were installed.

Before the court hearing, the victim telephoned the police to report, with some dismay, seeing the accused outside the safe premises where she was then living. The police were able to reassure her that she was mistaken, and that in fact the accused was still in custody, remanded in Strangeways prison. No significance was attached to the call by the police at the time. When the case reached court, however, defence counsel raised the question of the telephone call out of the blue, exploited it to the full and cast doubt on the victim's observation skills. The case fell.

The Minister of State, Home Office responded to me in terms which my subsequent inquiries still challenge. I maintain that the defence lawyers posed the question to the victim; the Minister of State claimed that it was the prosecution lawyers. As I have said in correspondence,

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the case has sinister overtones, suggesting a sophisticated method of intimidating witnesses. I do not retract my remark that lawyers may have been implicated in the scheme.

The second case raises questions about the competence of the Court Service and--again--about the lawyers. To be fair to him, the Attorney-General has to some extent acknowledged that in letters to me, especially the one dated 6 August 1996. He is still consulting the leader of the northern circuit, so in this case at least I am prepared to be less critical of ministerial activity.

The case was a catalogue of errors that would not have occurred had the trial been conducted expeditiously. Three young women, two of them my constituents, were assaulted by three youths when returning home from an evening out. Three middle-aged men went to their assistance and, in the ensuing fracas, were badly beaten up and eventually hospitalised. Some police passing the incident intervened and arrested the three youths. Subsequently, one pleaded guilty and two pleaded not guilty.

After four Crown court adjournments, some misleading by a trial judge who was new to the case, and a catalogue of legal incompetence, the judge decided to stay the proceedings. That is wholly unsatisfactory and yet another example of the system failing the public.

The two cases I have outlined took place in early and mid-1996. The third occurred later in the year. Here again I do not know whether to blame deficiencies and incompetence in the system or more sinister forces contriving to interfere with and undermine the criminal justice system in my area. It concerns a serious robbery. Two men responding to an advertisement in a newspaper for computer equipment entered a house in Salford, where they were threatened with a machete and disabled by ammonia, and more than £3,000 was stolen from them.

Later, a man was arrested. He was picked out at an identification parade and committed for trial in September of last year. The day before it was due to be held, the trial was cancelled owing to a lack of court time. The witnesses were stood down, and a new date was arranged for November. When that date was reached, the witnesses again attended and were sent away with no future date given.

A December date was arranged, and witnesses were alerted for a third time. This is where it becomes tricky. The day before the new trial date, the case was omitted from the list given to the police. On checking with the court, the police were advised of a further cancellation, again due to lack of court time. The police stood down the witnesses yet again.

The next day--the original trial date--the Crown Prosecution Service contacted the police seeking the witnesses. It was told by the police that the case had been cancelled, but the CPS advised that it had been relisted. The excuse was that court administrators had mistakenly omitted the case in the first place. In seeking to reinstate the original date, a correction was faxed--so it is alleged--to police headquarters on the previous night when the police office was unmanned. It was too late and, despite the best efforts on the trial day, the willing witnesses could not be mustered. The incredible consequence was that the case was thrown out again due to non-attendance of witnesses.

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Was there a genuine mistake, or are forces at work in which the criminal fraternity is involved? I do not know; it may be my suspicious mind, but the matter is serious and the fact that at least two hardened criminals who are well known to the police and the community are now at large because of the malfeasance that I described--and three others who are not habitual criminals as far as I know were not brought to trial for serious offences--is ample reason why Ministers should investigate these matters thoroughly. Indeed, some kind of inquiry should be set up to give the public some confidence.

The police are totally frustrated in their efforts to bring people to justice--and, I accept, to make life not too difficult for themselves--and to make life better for the people whom we represent and whom they are paid to protect. The Minister and his colleagues must do more to restore public confidence. In the extremely short time left to them, I hope that they will make some move that can be picked up after the general election by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

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