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12 Jan 2000 : Column 90WH

PC Gordon Warren

12.30 pm

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to hold this debate.

The House is no stranger to the case of ex-PC Gordon Warren, which was debated here on 15 April 1994. It was raised by my predecessor, Nigel Forman, and reported in Hansard at column 613. In his speech, Mr. Forman said that it was his longest-running constituency case. For Mr. Warren's sake, I do not intend it to become mine as well. I would like to take this opportunity to commend Nigel Forman for his efforts in trying to secure a satisfactory outcome in for the case.

Ministers are no strangers, either, to the case of ex-PC Gordon Warren. I held meetings with two Ministers when they were at the Home Office: the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). The Metropolitan police are also familiar with the case. I held meetings with Sir Paul Condon as recently as last week, and with John Stevens, and also with Michael Bennett and Glen Smyth of the Police Federation. I am sure that the Minister present today is also familiar with the case.

However, for the benefit of hon. Members, it is worth running through some of the key events of this sad saga. It started in April 1982 when Mr. Warren, a serving police officer, was asked by a senior officer to attend a party at Sutton police station while on duty. He of course refused and it is this event that Mr. Warren believes triggered the whole sorry affair. Another key event took place in January 1985 when a medical certificate was issued by Dr. Bott, a medical officer with the Met, certifying Mr. Warren as medically unfit. He was suffering from paranoia, it would seem. This was overturned by the medical referees to the Home Office, but almost a year later another medical certificate was issued by the same doctor.

In 1988, Mr. Warren won damages for wrongful dismissal, and further damages in the Court of Appeal in 1989. In February 1994, an ex gratia payment of Euro 85,000 was offered by the Met, and in April 1994, as I have already mentioned, there was an Adjournment debate in the House on the subject. In 1995, Gordon Warren received an apology from Sir Paul Condon. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Order. There appear to be members of the public in the Chamber. Would they please withdraw from the Floor of the Chamber as quickly as possible? They should not have been admitted through the Members' entrance.

Mr. Brake : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In 1995, Sir Paul Condon wrote to Mr. Warren to issue an apology. Thirteen years after this sorry affair started he received a written apology, in which Sir Paul stated that there were absolutely no grounds for Mr. Warren's dismissal, and no question of mental instability or paranoia.

I could also refer to meetings that I have held over the past couple of years with Ministers and with the Met. It is an extensive case history, and I have some of the

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correspondence here today. I know that Mr. Warren has a much more extensive file. Although there is an extensive case history, there are still, regrettably, certain outstanding issues.

I shall start by mentioning something that is no longer required, which is the apology to which I have already referred. That is the one issue on which progress has been made in the six years since this case was last raised in an Adjournment debate. The apology was issued, and in the letter Sir Paul Condon said:

I turn now to the first obstacle in the case, which I do not believe is insurmountable. It concerns the certificate of conduct stating when Mr. Warren left the police force. He has a clutch of certificates of conduct--I believe that there are seven in total--which contain six or seven different dates for when he was supposed to have left the force. The issue can be resolved, and a mutually acceptable leaving date can be found by the Met and Mr. Warren.

The second sticking point is much more challenging. It concerns the reluctance of the Metropolitan police to record the allegation of perjury made by Mr. Warren against Dr. Bott. The relevant section of the police training manual is unequivocal. It states that

I hope that the Minister can inform me--in writing at a later date, if necessary--whether the police are required, as the police training manual clearly states, to record every allegation of crime, or whether they can exercise a degree of flexibility in this respect, as they have informed me. Can the Minister cite any precedents? Has the issue been tested in court? I would like an answer on that point in the near future, if not now, because the allegation of perjury and its recording are central to the case.

The Metropolitan police will say that the matter has been investigated, but no investigating officer was appointed and Mr. Warren was never asked to produce in evidence his taped conversations with Dr. Bott, against whom he made the allegation of perjury. Mr. Warren is adamant that those tapes would show that Dr. Bott had subsequently knowingly distorted the medical facts, which would constitute perjury. If there has been an investigation by the Met into the allegation, it would appear to have been very one-sided. Is it too much to expect that Mr. Warren's allegation against Dr. Bott should be recorded? He is not even asking for it to be investigated. He simply wants the matter recorded.

The next impasse relates to the compensation figure. In fairness, I should point out that this matter has been before the Court of Appeal, which did not award aggravated or exemplary damages. However, the Court of Appeal might have been more generous to Mr. Warren

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if it had not been misinformed about the pension that he was receiving. Their Lordships believed that it was a higher rate disability pension, rather than the ordinary pension that he was in fact receiving.

Regardless of what has happened in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, the Met has offered an ex gratia payment of Euro 85,000. That is the offer on the table. There has also been at least one letter suggesting a higher figure of Euro 95,000, although that offer has subsequently been withdrawn. Mr.Warren and I do not find that acceptable. He has not worked for the past 15 years, or thereabouts, yet he could have expected to work for perhaps a further 13 years in the Met, were it not for the apparent vendetta against him. The offer of Euro 85,000 is insufficient, especially when one takes into account the legal costs that he has incurred, which amount to more than Euro 30,000.

If the Metropolitan police and the Home Office are confident that the compensation on offer is more than adequate, why will they not allow the financial settlement to be determined by an independent arbitrator? Mr. Warren is willing to allow such an independent assessment to take place and to be bound by its outcome. He is also willing to sign a document of full and final settlement promising to take no further action. However, he would of course require a similar commitment to the outcome of that review from the Met and the Home Office. The risk must be shared by all the parties involved.

Can the Minister confirm whether, if the Met authorises such an assessment and agrees to be bound by its recommendations, the Home Office will allow it to proceed? What value would the Home Office place on such recommendations if the arbitrator recommended that Mr. Warren should receive more substantial compensation?

The case smacks of the bad old days of the Met. It features attempts by less principled colleagues to throw a straight policeman out of the force. Dr. Bott, the medical officer working for the Met, produced a medical certificate stating that Mr. Warren was suffering from a personality disorder with paranoid tendencies, which was later found in the courts to be unlawful. It contained offers of unjustified--in Mr. Warren's view--medical pensions designed to get him to leave the force. Perhaps that was because his superiors felt that his face did not fit, or because he was too honest.

Eighteen years down the track, it is time for justice to be done. Mr. Warren has received an apology, but cannot live off an apology. He deserves financial compensation that is commensurate with the injustice that he has suffered, and is entitled to have his allegations against Dr. Bott recorded. Nothing less is required from the Met and the Home Office.

12.42 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke) : I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing the debate. This is a long-standing issue, as he explained, and I respect his sense of duty as a constituency Member of Parliament in taking up his constituent's case in the way in which his predecessor did. I acknowledge the tribute that he paid to his predecessor's work in that respect.

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The case is unusual in that it has continued for 15 years. It was considered by the High Court in 1988 and by the Court of Appeal in 1989, and was raised in the House in 1994. It has been the subject of much correspondence.

Before going into the details of the matter, I should like to respond to an aspect of the hon. Gentleman's speech which was unwarranted. His use of the word "vendetta was not appropriate. The Metropolitan police has demonstrated at very senior levels its keenness to resolve the matter. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman testified to meetings that he and his colleagues have had with senior police officers. That belies the charge that a vendetta of some kind is preventing agreement from being reached.

Mr. Brake : I thank the Minister for giving way. I should put on the record the fact that I have had very positive dealings with senior officers in the Met, who are willing to put some effort into securing a resolution to the case. However, if one looks at the beginning of the case history, it is clear from the behaviour of some of the characters who were initially involved that there was a concerted effort on the part of a small number of officers to get Mr. Warren removed from his position.

Mr. Clarke : I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's allegations regarding the time at which the matter first arose. I thought that he was suggesting that a current vendetta was making it more difficult to resolve the situation. I apologise if I misunderstood him, and take it from his remarks that he is not suggesting that that is the case. The hon. Gentleman's correspondence with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, copies of which he has sent to me, makes it clear that the hon. Gentleman is making positive efforts to resolve the matter, and the police are clearly trying to move in the same direction.

Many of the salient facts of the case are not in dispute, but it has still proved to be impossible to resolve. It is primarily a matter for the Commissioner, who has expressed to the hon. Gentleman his view that it is a matter of great sadness that Mr. Warren has been unable to agree a settlement, despite the efforts that have been made over the years by all parties. Everybody involved in this regrettable case is keen to achieve a resolution, and I appreciate that that is the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman made his speech.

I shall not repeat the detailed history of the case, because the hon. Gentleman has already fairly and accurately summarised the key points. The courts--I emphasise that it is the courts--have determined that the appropriate procedures for Mr. Warren's compulsory medical retirement from the Metropolitan police service were not followed. It is accepted that Mr. Warren was treated unfairly and unlawfully. It is important to place that acceptance on record, because it acknowledges some of the hon. Gentleman's points.

The courts awarded Mr. Warren a total sum of about Euro 16,800 in respect of pay and allowances due to him, plus interest. However, in the light of the references that have been made to the history of the matter, it is important to reinforce the point that the courts declined

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to order Mr. Warren's reinstatement. Although they acknowledged the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, and made an award in respect of pay and allowances, they did not think it right to order the reinstatement of Mr. Warren after they had taken the full situation into account.

The courts--I emphasise that it was the courts, rather than the Commissioner, the Government or me--expressed the view that

I turn to the hon. Gentleman's four points about seeking redress and resolving the matter. In addition to the sums awarded by the courts, which is a separate consideration, the Metropolitan police have sought to offer redress in a number of other ways. First, Mr. Warren has received a formal apology from the Commissioner, and I place on the record my appreciation of the generous spirit in which the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that in his speech. I accept, as he said, that it took some time to reach that point. However, the apology was made--and generously made--and I am glad that he acknowledges that fact.

Secondly, Mr. Warren has been offered a further apology, as well as the reissuing of a certificate of service. That is in line with Mr. Warren's wishes. As the hon. Gentleman said, some outstanding matters remain to be resolved--in relation to precise timings, for example. However, the Metropolitan police believe that it will be possible to arrive at a resolution of those matters following good-hearted discussions by all sides.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman raised the question of money, specifically the ex gratia payment. As he noted in his speech, the Metropolitan police have offered Mr. Warren an ex gratia payment of Euro 85,000 in respect of the various judgments and decisions that have been referred to. I understand that Mr. Warren is unwilling to accept that proposed settlement. He believes that the quantum of the ex gratia payment is insufficient--for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman explained in his speech--and wishes the allegations that he has made of criminal conduct on the part of the medical officer involved to be pursued. I shall deal with the latter issue in a moment.

If aggreement can be reached about the ex gratia payment, that is fine, but I have a duty to consider the proper use of public money. No Government would sign blank cheques in that way and I would have to look carefully at the matter. The offer from the Metropolitan police is reasonable and I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will say so to his constituent and argue that it could form the basis of an agreement.

I come to the nub of the matter, which was the hon. Gentleman's third point: the issue of the allegations against Dr. Bott. I wish to emphasise several points in

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this connection. The first is on the history of the case. The then assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, John Smith, considered Mr. Warren's allegation of perjury against Dr. Bott in 1988--11 years ago--and took the view that there was no evidence of an offence under section 5 of the Perjury Act 1911.

Mr. Brake : I am aware that that was the finding, but can the Minister explain how that conclusion was reached when no investigating officer was appointed to the case and the Metropolitan police did not listen to the tape recordings of discussions with Dr. Bott that Mr. Warren says are in his possession and support his allegations that Dr. Bott committed perjury?

Mr. Clarke : That is not my function. I have not had a quasi-judicial role in looking at the history of the case. However, the courts have and I now come to that.

As I said, the then assistant Commissioner, John Smith, considered Mr. Warren's allegations in 1988 and took the view that there was no evidence of an offence under section 5 of the Perjury Act 1911. Mr. Warren's allegation then formed part of his application to the divisional court and the Court of Appeal, which both dismissed his appeal for reinstatement. Following that resolution of Mr. Warren's grievance, the current deputy Commissioner--soon to be Commissioner John Stevens, wrote to Mr. Warren on 11 January 1999, almost a year ago today, stating that the matter had been fully considered. As there was no further evidence, the deputy Commissioner did not consider it appropriate to reopen the case.

I am advised that Mr. Warren has produced no new evidence on the matter. I acknowledge the points about tape recordings and other matters, but unless genuinely new evidence is produced--evidence other than that which was considered by the deputy Commissioner and then by the courts--there are no grounds for reopening the matter. It has been dealt with through our legal system, by the divisional court and the Court of Appeal. That judgment will be unwelcome to Mr. Warren, and possibly to the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Warren's Member of Parliament, but a considered judgment of the court can be reopened only if it can be clearly demonstrated that new evidence and new circumstances justify doing so. At this stage, I see no such evidence.

My conclusion is therefore that the deputy Commissioner has made it clear that he feels that he has reached a point where he cannot reasonably do more to meet Mr. Warren's demand. I believe--the hon. Gentleman's speech confirmed this--that Mr. Warren's determination to pursue his allegation against Dr. Bott seems the major obstacle to making progress in the case. Of the four points raised by the hon. Gentleman, the first two are susceptible to resolution, the third, on the amount of money, is a matter about which everyone will have a different opinion, although I am bound by the consideration of the right spending of public money, and the fourth, on the allegations against the medical officer, appears to be an absolute block to reaching an agreement.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is seeking further discussions with the Metropolitan police to try

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to achieve a settlement. I commend him and the Metropolitan police for trying to move the matter forward, but I am certain that reaching any satisfactory agreement is likely to involve compromise between the parties concerned, as in all cases of this type.

Mr. Brake : I raised two specific points that have not been addressed. Maybe the Minister will write to me about them in the next couple of days, but will he tell me now whether the police can avoid recording an allegation of crime and what view, if any, the Home Office has on an independent assessment of the financial compensation package?

Mr. Clarke : I thought that I dealt with the second point in what I said about the money. Perhaps I was not clear enough. I was trying to say that, whatever investigation process is achieved, I shall still need to be satisfied that the amount of money proposed as a solution is a good and proper use of public funds. I acknowledge that one consideration in that regard is the desirability of achieving a solution to the situation so that it does not in various ways keep taking up time, resources and energy. An independent investigation may be agreed by all parties as an appropriate way forward, but I am not in a position to sign the Government up to saying that we will automatically fund whatever comes out of that process. We have to look at the amount of money that is recommended and come to a view about what is proper public spending. I did not address the hon. Gentleman's first point on the recording of allegations and will write to him on it, because he was making a general point about the way in which the police codes operate and how they can be addressed.

I conclude by saying that it is essential that any proposed settlement of the case be fair to the interests of all the parties involved, including the Metropolitan police, Mr. Warren and Dr. Bott. A settlement must be defensible in law and represent a proper use of public money and those criteria need to be taken into consideration in trying to reach a successful conclusion. I shall continue to look at the situation with those considerations in mind and hope that all parties involved seek to reach an agreement that respects those principles and moves them forward. As I think all parties would agree--certainly, judging from his opening speech, the hon. Gentleman would--the case has carried on for an unconscionable time. We must find a resolution that meets the honour of everyone concerned.

I studied the background to the case before the debate, as I knew nothing about it beforehand. I also listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. I remain of the view that the main obstacle to achieving the kind of resolution that I have described remains how the questions and allegations about Dr. Bott's conduct are dealt with. There is a danger that we will be caught between a rock and a hard place and I urge the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of his constituent, to do whatever he can--as I know from past experience he will want to do--to ensure a proper solution.

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