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NORTHERN IRELAND (OFFENCES) BILL

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

NORTHERN IRELAND (OFFENCES) BILL [MONEY]

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the two motions.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),
 
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Capital Gains Tax



That the draft Tax and Civil Partnership Regulations 2005, which were laid before this House on 24th October, be approved.

Corporation Tax



That the draft Tax and Civil Partnership (No. 2) Regulations 2005, which were laid before this House on 24th October, be approved.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Question agreed to.

PETITIONS

Extreme Internet Sites

7.29 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I present the petition of residents of Reading and others, numbering more than 50,000 signatures.

The petitioners declare their objection to the presence of extreme internet sites promoting violence against women in the name of sexual gratification and private profit. The petitioners note the recent horrific murder of the Brighton schoolteacher Jane Longhurst by a man who had become an avid user of corrupting internet sites. The petitioners wish their views to be taken into account in respect of the Home Secretary's consultation, which ends on 2 December.

The petition continues:

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To lie upon the Table

7.30 pm

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): I rise to present a petition on behalf of residents of Brighton and Hove and others, signed by some 2,000 individuals. The petition

To lie upon the Table.

IsItFair Campaign

7.31 pm

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I rise to present a petition signed by 374 of my constituents from Winchester and the surrounding villages calling for a fairer council tax system.

To lie upon the Table.
 
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Susan May

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

7.31 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I wish to raise the case of Susan May in the light of continuing concerns about the safety of her conviction and against the background of new material that has come to light in recent years.

Mrs. May was imprisoned on 5 May 1993, convicted of murdering her elderly aunt, Mrs. Hilda Marchbank. Mrs. May was Mrs. Marchbank's devoted niece and carer. She has always maintained her innocence, and having served the sentence set down by the court and now been released, she still strongly insists that her name should now be cleared.

The trial judge said that the main plank of the evidence against Mrs. May was the forensic issues, and I therefore start with those. The three forensic experts from the Forensic Science Service, were Mr. Michael John Davie, Dr. Javaid Hussain and Dr. Wilfred Basely. In June 1996, Mr. Davie was discredited in the Court of Appeal in the case of the Crown v. Doheny, where the conviction was overturned. The Forensic Science Service carried out an internal investigation, the Holman report, regarding Mr. Davie's conduct in Mrs. May's case, and was concerned that his work had fallen short of the standards expected. At second appeal, the prosecution asked that Mr. Davie's evidence should be withdrawn. I should add that the defence was only recently made aware of the contents of the report.

Regarding the second of the forensic experts at the trial, Dr. Hussain, in May 2004 forensic science students at Paisley university carried out an examination of the evidence that he presented at the trial. He had testified that in his opinion he was "certain" that the three stains were in blood. Dr. Hussain's area of expertise was fingerprint detection and enhancement, not blood analysis. The students pointed out that the tetra-amino biphenyl test Dr. Hussain used was not a test from which he could draw so certain a conclusion and that it is only a very general screening test. As they said:

Indeed, Professor Jamieson, who was formerly a police forensic expert and is now professor of forensic sciences at Glasgow university, has commented that it is very clear that in Mrs. May's case the prosecution forensic experts made declarations well beyond their remit which were prejudicial and damaging.

Turning to the third forensic expert, after the trial, Mrs. May's then solicitor sought for appeal purposes the assistance of a Forensic Science Service expert, Dr. Basely. That solicitor's behaviour at that time was considered to be "actionable" by Bindman & Co. solicitors who took over representation of Mrs. May's case.

My second main point is that Mrs. May's trial solicitor had been advised by Mr. Gartside QC to procure "independent" forensic expert advice for the defence. That advice was not acted on. The Criminal Cases Review Commission has chosen to use the Forensic Science Service, the same service that carries
 
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out work for the police, for its forensic analysis of Mrs. May's case. Again, I simply make the point that a conflict of interest must occur when the same forensic laboratory is asked to represent both parties.

The third general issue is that the use of DNA evidence in court by the FSS has been growing over the past 15 years, and many convictions have been secured on the basis of such evidence. There is, however, growing disquiet, because the criterion for DNA identification has been raised from identical readings at six locations to identical readings at 10 locations. Even that is now being described as unsatisfactory by Dr. Jefferies, the founding expert in the DNA field, who prefers identification on the basis of identical readings at 15 locations.

In Mrs. May's case, when the police took the cleaner to the house three days after the murder, they did not ask whether she had seen stains on the wall when she cleaned the house on the day before the murder. Her evidence, which was key to the prosecution case, was sought only some four weeks after Mrs. May's arrest, which was seven weeks after the murder. The cleaner was never given the opportunity to see the stains on the wall. The stain was not taken off the wall until five days after the murder, and it did not arrive at Dr. Basely's laboratory until 29 April, which was about seven weeks after the murder.

My fourth point concerns the disclosure of evidence to the defence by the police, which fell well short of complete openness. There are a number of examples of non-disclosure or only part disclosure in Mrs. May's case, and I shall briefly present three of them. First, a red car was seen parked outside the house on the night of the murder at approximately 12.45 am. Although the engine was running, there was no one in the car, which was there for 15 minutes. The defence did not draw the jury's attention to those facts. The three occupants have never been identified. Two separate witnesses saw the car. The defence was told that it was never found. Since the second appeal, it has come to light that the police did in fact locate a red car fitting the description. It belonged to the sister of a violent burglar, Michael Rawlinson, who had been drawn to the attention of the police as having been involved in this murder by two people who knew him. The sister had advertised and sold the car within three days of the murder. Forensic evidence taken from the car was never processed.

Secondly, in the police log for the first day of the investigation, clothing "fibres" are recorded as having been found on Mrs. Marchbank's hand. When taken to the forensic laboratory, they were described as

When that exhibit appeared in Mr. Davie's statement, which is the document from which the defence started its investigation, he had recorded them as "hairs", which would have been of little interest to the defence because in 1992 hairs were not able to provide a person's identification. Further investigation has shown that the police could not match any of Mrs. May's or the deceased's clothing with those fibres. The jury was robbed of significant discussion regarding the origin of the fibres because of the mischievous labelling of the exhibit.

Thirdly, the jury were told of an exhibit labelled, "Craftsman Baker Paper Bag"—a rather odd description—which turned out to be a paper bag
 
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containing meat scraps that tested positive for blood. There were finger marks on the outside of the bag that should have been tested but were not. All that I can say—I do not think that one could go further than this—is that that exhibit presents an innocent source of blood from which it is possible that Mrs. May could have made the stains on the day prior to the murder, but it was lost to the trial by a sloppy or mischievous forensic process.

I call on my hon. Friend the Minister to insist, on behalf of the Home Office, that the Criminal Cases Review Commission adopt a policy of forensic examination that is completely independent of the Forensic Science Service, the organisation that carries out most of the police forensic analysis. I further call on her to instigate a system of total disclosure to the defence of all case evidence, from whatever source, that is relevant to this case, without the need for itemised requests.

After a clearly flawed process, in forensic and legal terms, before and during Mrs. May's trial, those are the minimum conditions required for justice to be seen to be done. I therefore earnestly ask that those procedures be now put in place so that the continuing and significant doubts and uncertainties about this case can finally receive the fullest and most transparent examination of all the relevant facts that have previously been denied.

7.44 pm


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