Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) on initiating a debate about the investigation of misconduct in Cleveland police, which continues to attract interest and concern locally and nationally. I shall not be able to answer all my hon. Friend's points in the time that he has left me, but he well understands that. He believed that it was more important to get his comments on the record.

Public confidence in the police service rests on a reputation for integrity. When allegations of corruption or misconduct are made and the service's reputation is brought into question, it is important that thorough scrutiny takes place to establish the facts and determine the appropriate action.

6 Mar 2002 : Column 396

It would have been entirely wrong if the force had not investigated the serious allegations of corruption. Cleveland police acted robustly by initiating an investigation into allegations in the case that we are considering. Although the investigation concluded in November 2000, the disciplinary process has ensured its continued high profile. That has been especially true of the case involving Ray Mallon.

Mr. Mallon, a senior police officer has, according to his own unequivocal admissions, committed serious acts of misconduct. They include failing to investigate allegations involving the misuse of drugs and giving false statements. Integrity has to be fundamental to the police service, and those matters are therefore serious. Six other officers remain suspended.

I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that if any appeals result from a disciplinary hearing, the Home Secretary may be called to make the judgment as the appellate authority. It is therefore not for me to comment on the details of any ongoing case.

As my hon. Friend stated, neither Mr. Mallon nor anyone else has appeared in court because of Lancet. The Crown Prosecution Service decided that no criminal charges should be brought. Again, that is a matter for the police and the CPS, not Ministers.

My hon. Friend said that there had been calls for issues arising from Lancet to be resubmitted to the CPS. That is entirely a matter for Cleveland police. Neither the Home Secretary nor I can play any role in that.

Let me ensure in the time remaining that I answer all my hon. Friend's specific questions. I can confirm that Ray Mallon entered pleas of guilty on two separate occasions to all 14 disciplinary charges.

The specific charges were serious, and because of that, Mr. Mallon was required to resign from the police service forthwith. He pleaded guilty to giving false statements at interviews, and my hon. Friend is right that the police authority has asked the chief constable to consider resubmitting the issue to the CPS. My hon. Friend knows the answer to his question about whether the issues have been before a court. I can confirm that Mr. Mallon's case concerned failure to investigate allegations involving the misuse of drugs.

I appreciate that the considerable cost and time taken by the investigation has been a source of concern and frustration and that such major investigations can place a significant burden on the budget of a small force such as Cleveland.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: No. These debates are for the Back Bencher in whose name the debate is tabled. It is for them to decide how the time is allocated. It is not for Front-Bench spokesmen to decide how the debates are used.

The total cost of Lancet was £3.25 million. A further £690,000 has been spent on associated investigations and the disciplinary hearing against Mr. Mallon. In these exceptional circumstances, the then Home Secretary authorised a contribution towards these costs of £1.9 million from Home Office funds.

6 Mar 2002 : Column 397

I appreciate the difficulties that Cleveland police and the chief constable have experienced and the burden placed upon them by Lancet. I gladly take this opportunity to recognise the work that they are doing now. With my responsibility for drugs, I can welcome particularly the structures that they have put in place and the efforts that they are making to combat drug trafficking, such as the dealer-a-day campaign.

My hon. Friend called upon the Government to provide a fast-track procedure for all disciplinary measures. A fast-track procedure was introduced when the new police misconduct procedures were established in April 1999. Those procedures provide for exceptional cases of gross misconduct to be dealt with swiftly. The fast-track procedures are used rarely. I think that that is generally right. Most cases should be dealt with through the normal route, but I will reflect on my hon. Friend's comments about speeding up the process.

The important thing is to ensure that lessons from Lancet are not forgotten now and then repeated in the future. The Government are committed to reform of the

6 Mar 2002 : Column 398

police complaints system. We are also determined to learn from Lancet. The Government instigated a review of Lancet as a case study.

Following the unfortunate death of Sir John Hoddinott who was originally asked to carry out the review, William Taylor, formerly Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary in Scotland undertook to complete it—it will be completed shortly. It will not reconsider the conclusions of Lancet; the terms of reference were drawn up specifically with this in mind. It will inform the Government's policy as to the new system that we have in mind.

The problems of the present system in dealing with complex, long-running investigations have been a significant cause for dissatisfaction within the police service and with the public. We need to be confident that the new system will be robust enough to deal with the most testing cases.

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

 IndexHome Page