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Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) (DUP): At 7.35 on the morning of 7 August 1985, officers of the Essex constabulary forcibly entered White House farm, Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Essex. After a search of half an hour, they had found five bodies: those of Neville Bamber, his wife, June, their adopted 28-year-old daughter, Sheila Cafell, and her twin six-year-old sons. At approximately 3.15 that morning, the Bambers' 24-year-old adopted son, Jeremy, who lived in a neighbouring village, had called the local police informing them that he had heard from his father saying that his sister, Sheila, had gone crazy and had a gun. Jeremy Bamber met the police at the farm at about 3.40 am. The police initially believed that Sheila, who had a history of mental illness, had committed four murders before shooting herself, but members of the extended Bamber family soon started trying to convince the police that Jeremy was responsible. In due course, he was arrested, charged and convicted.
The trial was unusual. The judge ruled that only Sheila or Jeremy could have committed the murders. Consequently, a major thrust of the prosecution case was to demonstrate that Sheila could not have been responsible and that Jeremy was therefore guilty. It was a near-run thing; the jury convicted Bamber on a 10:2 majority vote. If just one of 10 jurors had wavered, Bamber would have walked away a free man. Instead, he has been incarcerated for 19 years, consistently protesting his innocence. Subsequent developments, particularly during the past 12 months, have given rise to grave concern that Bamber's conviction may be another of the great miscarriages of justice, to be bracketed with the Bridgewater Three, the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and others.
With the Bamber case, the key issue has been, and remains, the non-disclosure of evidence to the defence. Early in 2004, Bamber's new defence team looked at the evidence again, and exhibit 29 caught their attention in particular. It was a document listing some radio messages from the scene of the crime. The defence wondered whether it might be the first page of a longer document rather than a complete document in itself, so they sought clarification. Essex constabulary was adamant that exhibit 29 was a whole document and had been available to the defence for the trial. Unconvinced, Bamber's defence team took the matter to court in March 2004. It was successful, and the police produced the entire document. Exhibit 29, it transpired, was not a single-page document, and Bamber's solicitors received by fax a 24-page summary of radio communications. They then took the unusual step of writing to both the trial judge and the chief prosecution counsel, inquiring if either had known at the time of the trial of the existence of the lengthier log of radio messages. Both replied that they had not.
On receiving the 24 pages, the defence immediately noticed that the first two pages had not only been re-written on different paper from the rest, but had been edited. A comparison with police witness statements revealed that several key radio messages that were made had been left out. Why? The defence therefore asked for the original document so that it could be sent for electrostatic document analysis testing, but Essex
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constabulary refused. The request has been repeated many times, and on each occasion the constabulary has refused.
The disclosure of the radio message log was not the only dramatic development last March. Bamber's defence had requested only one document. However, perhaps inadvertently, the police also provided evidence that had not been requestedpages from a contemporaneous telephone log and from a contemporaneous incident report. The defence had not known that either existed. It was immediately apparent that the two logs and the incident report that the police had withheld contained details that were entirely inconsistent with the case put by the prosecution at Bamber's trial. I will give just two examples; others might be used by Bamber's defence on another occasion.
First, at 5.25 am, officers in police car call sign Charlie-Alpha 7the same officers who had met Bamber at White House farm and spent much of the time with himrelayed a message from the tactical firearms team to incident headquarters. The firearms team was in conversation with a person inside the farm. If the police were in conversation with somebody inside the farm at 5.25 am, the case against Bamber collapses. He could not have murdered everybody in the farmhouse before 3 am if at 5.25 am the police were talking to one of his supposed victims. If, on the other hand, the police were in conversation with a third party inside the farmhouse, the judge's ruling that either Jeremy or Sheila and nobody else could have committed the crimes is blatantly wrong. However, neither trial judge nor prosecution or defence had any opportunity to evaluate the 5.25 am entry, because the police had withheld it.
Secondly, four entries in the logs and incident report flatly contradict the prosecution's account that Neville Bamber's body was found downstairs in the kitchen and the other four bodies upstairs. An entry in the radio message log, which the police withheld for nearly 19 years, reads:
We know from their witness statements that at 7.40 am the police had not yet gone upstairs and searched the back of the house, where the other bodies were found. Finally, after they had eventually searched that part of the house and finished their task, they reported:
So, almost immediately on entering the farmhouse, the police had found two bodies downstairs in the kitchen, and later three more bodies had been found upstairs. Most emphatically, that is not what the prosecution said during the trial.
The defence team believes that it probably now knows what happened. It believes that the body of Sheila Cafell, which the police insist that they found upstairs,
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had first been seen downstairs in the kitchen. Of course, dead bodies do not move. The proposition that Sheila Cafell was still alive when the police thought that she was dead in the kitchen might be dismissed as entirely fanciful if there were not supporting photographic evidencephotographic evidence that was not disclosed until 2001. Unfortunately, Bamber's previous defence did not recognise its significance before his 2002 appeal.
Before the trial in 1986, Bamber's defence had access to a large bundle of scene of crime photographs, which included photographs of the dead bodies. In the cases of June and Neville Bamber, rigor mortis is evident, as is skin discoloration, and the blood is congealed. The defence wrongly assumed that the first bundle contained all the photographs that had been taken. Before the 2002 appeal, however, the defence team was shown another, smaller bundle of 80 to 100 photographs that had previously been withheld.
At Bamber's trial, the prosecution argued that if Sheila had committed the murders and then killed herself, she would have trodden in blood as she moved about the house; but no trace of blood was found on her feet. Interestingly, no photographic evidence was produced at the trial to support that assertion. Curiously, the first bundle of photographs contained no pictures of Sheila's feet. That is not so with the second bundle of photographs, which were withheld. In that bundle were photographs, which were not available at the time of the trial, clearly showing blood on Sheila's feet.
The withheld second bundle contains even more dramatic evidence. There are several photographs of Sheilathere is no rigor mortis, the skin is not discoloured and the blood from her wounds has not yet congealed. Bamber's defence team have shown those photographs to leading pathologists. Independently, they have concluded that Sheila could not have died much more than one and a half hours before the photographs were taken. However, the police photographer did not arrive until a little after 9 o'clock. According to the pathologists, therefore, Sheila died at about the time the police entered White House farm, and Bamber could not have murdered her.
The points that I have madeI could make many others if we had more timegive rise to grave concern about Bamber's conviction. Their common theme is the non-disclosure of evidence by the police. Nearly 16 years after the White House farm murders, the defence first saw the second bundle of photographs. After nearly 19 years, the defence team discovered that there was a full radio log, a telephone log and an incident report, of which it had previously been unaware. It is the understatement of all understatements to say that such non-disclosure is deeply worrying. Even worse, it is still going on.
Bamber's defence team has repeatedly asked for access to the following: first, the notebooks and other papers of Inspector Jones, who headed the initial investigation and firmly believed in Bamber's innocence; secondly, the findings of the coroner who inquired into Inspector Jones's sudden death, which have never been made public; thirdly, the audio recordings of all telephone and radio messages from White House farm; fourthly, the audio recordings describing the scene of the crime; fifthly, the video
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recordings of the scene of the crime; and sixthly, the original radio and telephone messages log and incident report. All are still being withheld from the defence. On every occasion on which the defence team has asked for them, Essex constabulary has refused to provide them. I put it directly to the Ministerand ask her to respondthat that is surely an intolerable state of affairs.
In December I tabled a written question asking the Home Secretary to instruct Essex constabulary to give Mr. Bamber's solicitors all audio tapes relating to events at White House farm. The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety replied:
"If the information requested is available under the access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Freedom of Information Act, then Mr. Bamber may have his own rights to gain access to such information under this legislation."[Official Report, House of Commons, 21 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1556W.]
Those possible rights have been explored, but appear not to exist. It is now time for the Home Office to take matters seriously, and consider carefully not only the few points that I have made, but the whole Bamber affair. In particular, it should look at the issue of non-disclosure and the behaviour and attitude of Essex constabulary. It is also time for the Criminal Cases Review Commission to expedite matters so that the case of Mr. Jeremy Bamber is not left in judicial limbo. Such action is necessary to avoid perpetuating what a growing number of people fear may be one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of our times.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) : I thank the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and congratulate him on securing this debate on the important and, in many ways, sensational case of Jeremy Bamber, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his adopted parents and sister and her twin sons.
The hon. Gentleman has stated that he believes that the Home Office should look closely at the Bamber affair, and in particular at the issue of non-disclosure and the behaviour and attitude of Essex constabulary. I shall begin by saying that, on previous occasions, the Home Office has looked closely at the Bamber affair, as have the constabulary and the City of London police, following a complaint by Mr. Bamber to the Police Complaints Authority under the previous system. Its 14-month study did not uphold Mr. Bamber's complaint. Since then, there have been reforms to the Police Complaints Authority, and I do not know whether Mr. Bamber has made a further complaint to the new Independent Police Complaints Commission. Perhaps, however, it would help if I explained the recent handling of requests to review cases such as Mr. Bamber's, because that is relevant to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.
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Parliament agreed with that when it passed the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, setting up the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Accordingly, the Home Secretary's powers to consider alleged miscarriages of justice ended on 31 March 1997, and were replaced by new powers vested in an independent body, the CCRC. It has the power to review and supervise investigations into possible miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; to approve the appointment of investigating officers; to gain accessI emphasise thisto documents and other material that may be relevant to its investigations; and to refer any cases when there is a real possibility that the conviction or sentence will not be upheld to the appropriate court, which will treat the referral as a new appeal.
The Home Secretary is answerable to Parliament for the work of the commission, but as it is operationally independent, he cannot intervene in its determination of a particular case. That being so, in many ways, it is not within the Home Secretary's remit to examine Mr. Bamber's case. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is asking not for a general re-examination of the case, but for a particular investigation of the role of Essex constabulary. Further allegations of non-disclosure by the Essex constabulary are a matter for the CCRC, rather than for the Home Office, because non-disclosure can be a ground for the CCRC to refer a case back to the Court of Appeal. The commission referred Mr. Bamber's case to the Court of Appeal in 2001, following an earlier investigation, but those grounds were not based on non-disclosure. Mr. Bamber's solicitor added a number of non-disclosure arguments at the appeal hearing, although they were dismissed by the full court.
I understand that the commission has recently been asked to investigate the new allegations, and I can confirm that under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act it has the power to gain access to documents and any other material that may be relevant to its investigations. I have been told that there are something like 4 million items of material in this case, so there is a large range of matters that the commission needs to investigate. If it has not already done so as part of its earlier review of the case, which resulted in the unsuccessful appeal in 2002, it may, if it believes it appropriate, obtain the material to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
It would be inappropriate for the Home Secretary to become involved in this or any other alleged wrongful conviction. The safety of the conviction is a matter for the courts rather than the Home Secretary. Accusations about the Essex police are a matter for the chief constable of the force or the new Independent Police Complaints Commission. There is an important public policy reason why both the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Independent Police Complaints Commission are independent of the Home Office: to create public confidence in those authorities.
Mr. Bamber is of course aware of the Criminal Cases Review Commission's remit, as his second appeal in October 2002 followed its reviewing his case and
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referring it back to the Court of Appeal on 23 March 2001. In that case, the Court of Appeal did not find that there were sufficient grounds for finding the conviction to be unsafe. In its judgment, the court went so far as to say:
"It should be understood that it is not the function of this court to decide whether or not the jury was right in reaching its verdicts. That is a task that is wholly impossible in virtually every case because this court does not have the advantage of hearing and seeing the witnesses give evidence, and deciding which of the witnesses are trying to tell the truth and which of those who are trying to do so are accurate in their recollection. Our system trusts the judgment of a group of 12 ordinary people to make such assessments and it is not for the Court of Appeal to try to interfere with their assessment unless the verdicts are manifestly wrong, or something has gone wrong in the process leading up to or at trial so as to deprive the jury of a fair opportunity to make their assessment of the case, or unless fresh evidence has emerged that the jury never had an opportunity to consider.
We have found no evidence of anything that occurred which might unfairly have affected the fairness of the trial. We do not believe that the fresh evidence that has been placed before us would have had any significant impact upon the jury's conclusions if it had been available at trial. Finally the jury's verdicts were, in our judgment, ones that they were plainly entitled to reach on the evidence. We should perhaps add in fairness to the jury that the deeper we have delved into the available evidence the more likely it has seemed to us that the jury were right, but our views do not matter in this regard, it is the views of the jury that are paramount."
It is open to anyone to re-apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission if they can present an argument or evidence not raised in previous court hearings or demonstrate that the case would, exceptionally, otherwise merit a reference back to the Court of Appeal. I am informed that Mr. Bamber's solicitor reapplied to the commission in March 2004. I understand that the commission reached a provisional decision but that his solicitor has since provided further material that will take time to investigate. I am confident that the commission is dealing with the further application both fairly and thoroughly.
It is neither in my remit nor in that of the Home Secretary to consider the said to be newly discovered police logs or any other new evidence that may have been made available to the commission. However, the commission can ask for that material and assess whether it demonstrates that the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman that there has not been a fair trial is sufficient to merit re-referring the case to the Court of Appeal.
I believe that it is at best premature to discuss a call for a further inquiry into the suggested withholding of information by the Essex constabulary. At the second
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appeal, the court found no evidence to support Mr. Bamber's allegations of serious wrongdoing, including deliberate non-disclosure, by the police; nor did the results of the internal inquiry and the 14-month investigation of Mr. Bamber's complaints by the City of London police confirm that there was any justification to Mr. Bamber's allegations.
I understand that there is no current recorded complaint to the new Independent Police Complaints Commission. If there is a complaint that the police are deliberately withholding material, that is the proper authority to deal with the matter. Only if a third appeal contradicted the earlier findings of the re-referral and of the previous court might it be reasonable to consider whether an inquiry was needed into how the matter had come to that pass.
Before us is a concern that evidence has not properly been made available to the body that is rightly charged with judging it. There is an independent body, which is sifting through that evidence and which has the powers, given to it by Parliament, to call for that evidence if it believes that it is in any way relevant to the case for a re-hearing by the Court of Appeal. It is doing that job. I urge the hon. Gentleman to depend on that process. The Criminal Cases Review Commission has been pretty efficient at dealing with the matters before it.
Mr. Hunter : Is not the point that the CCRC may be evaluating submissions from Mr. Bamber's solicitor and has the power to request evidence, but the defence does not? The defence's submission to the CCRC is the weaker, because it does not have access, or powers to gain access, to the evidence that the police are allegedly denying it.
Fiona Mactaggart : The hon. Gentleman points out that these are allegations. The record of the CCRC in its independent role is good. It has referred a number of cases back to court. I do not have the figures before me, but I think that, to date, there have been more than 60 cases in which the judgments of previous courts have been overturned as a result of its work. The CCRC is not anybody's patsy. It has the power to require the material. It is the mechanism that has the power to ensure reconsideration if a case merits reconsideration. We have established a powerful independent way to deal with miscarriages of justice. If the concern is that there has in this case been a miscarriage of justice, that body must have the opportunity to do its job and to ensure that that matter is dealt with effectively.