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To return to the Clarke-Goggins regime in the Home Office, however, the opportunity that they gave me was simple. If I could prove a prima facie case to the chief inspector of constabulary, the issue would be revisited. I am happy to say that the chief inspector agreed that there was a prima facie case, and as a result, Operation Ainstable was launched. It was set up within the
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Metropolitan police in order that the matter could be thoroughly investigated by someone outside the original investigation, in my view.

It would be wrong of me not to mention what an excellent team was put together for Operation Ainstable. It was ably led by Dave Johnstone and Graham McNulty. The members of the team did a thoroughly professional job. They covered a complex history with extremely dated records. Nevertheless, the application, experience and knowledge of those members of the Operation Ainstable team shone through. As the process went on and on, their work made an ultimate conviction inevitable.

Why then, one might ask, am I back in the Chamber tonight? Why am I not happy that these two career criminals are where they belong—banged up in a category A prison? It is because that is only part of the story. A much fuller explanation is owed to Members of this House and to the public as to how such a corruption of the criminal justice system could take place. I know that the two principals have received heavy sentences, and I know that the initial travesty of their release has been corrected, but all the other questions must be answered by someone at some stage. I shall give the House a couple of examples.

It is staggering to me that between 1992 and 1996, the royal prerogative was exercised in 176 different cases. These proceedings take place behind closed doors; we do not even know that they are happening. What brought the Haase-Bennett case to my attention, and through me to the attention of those who also became concerned—it is whereby we ultimately got these convictions—was their arrogance. They were so arrogant, they thought that they could swagger around the streets of Liverpool at their old trade and nobody would notice, or at least nobody would get at them. If they had done what the judge in the original trial believed they were going to do, which was to change their identities and go to South America, nobody would have known what had happened. Nobody would have had a clue, and I wonder in how many other cases that remains so because of the secrecy that obtains in the exercise of the royal prerogative.

I should point out that the figures I mentioned covered the period from 1992 to 1996, and they dropped between 1997 and 1999. But the process started again, involving five prisoners between 2000 and 2002. Those are not the huge figures of earlier years, but we are still oblivious as to what is going on with regard to the exercise of that prerogative. We do not know what conditions are laid down or what deals are being done. In such cases, we are often talking about supergrasses. The supergrasses are well versed in subverting the system for their own ends.

That corruption of the system has happened before and it will happen again. There was a famous case back in 1979 in which Judge Michael Argyle attacked the supergrass system. He was talking about two supergrasses named David Smith and George Williams. Many people thought at the time that measures had been taken to ensure that the kind of failings in the supergrass system that had been exposed would not be repeated. Sadly, they were repeated.

Generally, when people talked about how supergrasses were treated, they meant in a policing context. However, the context is entirely separate when it comes to Customs
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and Excise. For example, only in recent days I have discovered by reading through Home Office material that I obtained under a freedom of information request, that powers analogous to the exercise of the royal prerogative are vested in Customs and Excise. I was completely unaware that Customs and Excise could mitigate sentences—I have mentioned it to a number of senior police officers, and they did not know exactly what those powers were, either. Not only would we not know how the royal prerogative was being exercised; we would not know how the powers of Customs and Excise were being exercised. Where those powers would be exercised today is anybody’s guess—whether through the Serious Organised Crime Agency or the UK Border Agency, or in conjunction with the Revenue I just do not know—but the powers are there and they have been used.

I am particularly alarmed that the handler in the Haase-Bennett case was a customs officer, not a police officer. It was shown in a previous case in the early ’90s—it is known as the Charrington case, because it involved an informer called Brian Charrington—that there was a certain enthusiasm in customs for protecting informers. In that case, a notorious cocaine dealer called Curtis “Cocky” Warren—I believe that I taught him when he was a kid, but I cannot remember him, so he must have been a very unprepossessing boy—walked away. He told the then head of customs, who then told me, that he had just made £87 million, before adding in his own colourful language, “And there’s nothing that you can—expletive—do to stop it.” Despite that history of failure, the practice continued; it certainly did so in the Haase-Bennett case.

The officer who was in charge of the original investigation is key to the systemic problems in respect not only of the lack of co-ordination among agencies, but of how the royal prerogative applies. The reason I say that is to do with how one gets the royal prerogative exercised, so I should explain that to the House. When I set out on this odyssey, I knew nothing about that, so I asked Members who were barristers, but they did not how it was done, either. I have learned since how one gets the royal prerogative exercised.

What happens is that the officer in charge of the investigation submits a report to the trial judge—I believe that it used to be called a Greenfield report—and says, “Mr. Judge, these two men are contrite. In fact, he wrote that they wouldn’t return to their life of crime.” Anyone who knew anything about Haase and Bennett knew what a risible statement that was, but that was nevertheless part of that officer’s entreaty to the judge, which also included claims about all the co-operation that they had given him. The judge then looks at the report and says, “My word, this is absolutely fantastic”, before writing to the Home Secretary of the day. The Home Secretary then makes a decision based on the judge’s letter.

The Home Secretary does not have to say yes or no—the decision is entirely up to him, but it is presumably based on the merits of whatever the judge sends and can obviously vary from Home Secretary to Home Secretary. The Haase-Bennett case ended with a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. One of the mistakes commonly made in this place and beyond is to assume that all criminals are stupid, but I know that they are not. They may be vicious, nasty, immoral or even amoral, but one thing that they are not is stupid. Haase and
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Bennett knew how to find their way through the system. They knew how the process worked—I did not know; the barristers to whom I have referred did not know—because that is their business.

Haase and Bennett also knew that they needed a pretext on which to go to the judge and say, “This is what we want—this is the quid pro quo.” That was the point at which they became registered informants who were handled by a junior officer. I would argue that they manipulated that junior officer, who went unreprimanded when his senior officer pointed out that there were problems. In fact, it was not until 1998—two years after Haase and Bennett’s release—that the senior officer in that case gave the junior officer an instruction not to have anything to do with those career criminals.

I ask the House: what is any member of any agency doing mixing with such people? That officer has never been able to show whether Haase and Bennett were still registered informants when he saw them after their release. Indeed, it is quite the reverse: the evidence that he gave in 2001 in another trial of John Haase suggested that he was not an informant. There are huge problems of supervision, but let us return to the tale of the criminals and how they justified their cri de coeur to the judge—through their solicitor, of course.

Haase and Bennett decided to become informants and provide information. They effectively gave three kinds of information. They gave information that allowed the police to intercept large numbers of guns, and when I say “large numbers”, the biggest cache was 80 guns. We are talking about 150-plus weapons, including machine guns, pump-action shotguns, automatic weapons, Kalashnikovs, take Semtex and grenades—enough of an arsenal to wage a war. The irony was that there was no war, despite all the rumours and everything that was said. Instead, we are talking about a staged opportunity for the police to take all that weaponry off the streets, even though it had been placed in those locations precisely to be discovered and thereby to form a plank of Haase and Bennett’s argument for being seen as bona fide informants who deserved remission.

The second thing that Haase and Bennett did was reveal to prison staff a secreted gun in Strangeways prison. That gun was allegedly to be used by a man who was on trial for a double murder, for which he ultimately was convicted. I know nothing about the issue of that murder, but I know that it must be prejudicial to that man’s trial if a gun secreted inside a prison is attributed to him and the allegation is made that he was going to take hostages in order to escape. At the very least, I would hope that somebody in authority—somebody in the Government—would ponder that and consider the case again, because that man has been in prison for 14 years already.

Once, when I spoke to John Haase in a high-security prison, I mentioned the prisoner who had carried the can over the gun, Thomas Burke. John asked me, “Have you ever met him?”, and I said that I had not. He asked, “Do you know him?”, and I said that I did not. He said, “He’s mad”, and I asked “What makes you say that, John?” He replied, “When he shot those two blokes, he never wore a balaclava; everyone could see who he was.” So, Haase thought that his madness was not in killing people, but in doing it openly and not hiding his face
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when committing that horrendous crime. Those are the kinds of people we are dealing with, but Haase’s word was taken in that case.

The third area in which Haase and Bennett operated was the traditional area of the supergrass—turning over all the underlings. Haase did that by the bucket load, and probably saved himself a lot of money, as those people are being taxed by other criminals now that they have gone down. That is how the underworld works. Nevertheless, the people in authority thought it was a great deal, and that Haase and Bennett had done the state a tremendous service by bringing those matters to the attention of the authorities. The fact that it was all a conspiracy that was designed specifically to get them out of jail seemed to pass by the authorities, although it did not pass by anyone in the underworld, or anyone with half a brain who looked at the facts. For example, all the gun caches were discovered without anyone ever being apprehended in association with them, and no one was ever near the scene of the crime. Individuals who could see the scam voiced their concerns, but Government agencies collectively and systemically failed. In so doing, they failed the people of this country and let the criminal justice system down.

Many things have come to light, even since the conviction, that merit further investigation of the case. Back in 1996, the then Home Secretary wrote letters to Members of the House, on the advice of officials, about the original conviction. One letter expressed the view that Haase and Bennett had no part in the importation of drugs, but they did. Everybody knew that, including the authorities and me. In fact, there was a plea bargain, in which the importation charge was dropped. Haase and Bennett pleaded guilty to distribution, because they were already looking ahead at how easily they could manipulate the system. They knew that if they were charged with importation, as well as distribution, it would be much more difficult for them to convince the judge and the Home Secretary that their sentences ought to be commuted. Things were that well planned. Unfortunately, Members of this place were misled, and were told that Haase and Bennett were not involved in importation. Oh yes they were, and the officials knew they were. The fact that a deal was done is neither here nor there. It is quite different to say that they were not involved in importation.

I realise that Haase and Bennett were practised liars, but it has really been struck home to me how badly the different agencies are co-ordinated when it comes to dealing with a sophisticated manipulation of the system. The original trial judge, David Lynch, was in the witness box in the recent court case. I spent three days in the witness box, but it must have been very embarrassing for Judge Lynch to have to appear in it. I was quite taken by one of his widely reported comments. He said that he would never have become involved with the recommendation if he had known how tainted it all was. He was told that Haase and Bennett were going to change their identities and go to South America, but if that had been so, I would not have been on the case 12 years ago. Perhaps, then, Operation Ainstable would never have taken place, and they would not now be incarcerated. The case would just have been another subversion of the criminal justice system.

Thank God for the Freedom of Information Act 2000, even with all its limitations, because I have managed to obtain one piece of correspondence, after just
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about anything else of practical use had been deleted. R. J. Wood of the Home Office’s criminal cases unit wrote, on 11 October 1996, in an advice note to the then Home Secretary:

They knew from the outset. I find that amazing. They knew—as I said earlier, anybody with half a brain knew what Haase and Bennett would do. It is their business and trade; they never change. They were going back to their stamping ground. But who advised the judge? Was this not in the letter that went to the Home Secretary? Is there no full explanation or background briefing note on the exercise of the royal prerogative, or is it just two pals who drop a little billet-doux to each other, on the back of which two seasoned criminals are allowed back on the streets to prey on the people in my constituency and many others in the country? If there is no communication on these matters, that is appalling.

I mentioned earlier that these decisions are taken by the Home Secretary of the day. I have just quoted Mr. Wood of the criminal cases unit. He was a very assiduous adviser—and for all I know he still is, to the present Home Secretary. Perhaps he is in a well-earned retirement. Referring to a 1993 case, he wrote to the then Home Secretary on 27 June 1996 to state:

I would argue that that is wrong.

If I had a choice, I would try to find a way for a panel of senior judges who are in some way fire-walled from the trial judge—that would not be impossible—to take any decision on the exercise of the royal prerogative. Is that not better than one individual—him or her sitting in splendid isolation—taking the decision after being given a half-accurate letter, perhaps guilty of sins of omission, from a judge? Is that a basis for the Home Secretary of the day to make a judgment? That cannot be right.

It worries me that at some time in the future we will have a repeat of this, when others learn how to abuse the system. As I mentioned, it happened in the ’70s and we thought that we had cleared it up; this is a case from the ’90s and we think that we have cleaned it up. It is going to happen again unless there is better co-ordination between the agencies concerned.

In this case, there must also be somebody somewhere who is able to look into the roles of some of the individuals involved. I am very concerned, and always have been, about the role of the customs officer who was the handler for the two informants. He played a most peculiar role in this sorry tale, and more detail is already on the record from the debates that we have had. I would certainly like somebody to look into why a prison officer—albeit a temporary one, allegedly—was able to take a gun into a prison. A report was done, but no one has ever seen it. It is kept in-house; it is another instance of the culture of secrecy that we have in government. A prison officer smuggled a gun into a prison and a report was carried out, yet it has never been published anywhere. There is something radically wrong there: it certainly does not help to create a
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greater degree of faith either in the criminal justice system or the prison system. We need to look into what went on.

In short, I believe that we need a full, open and independent inquiry into this case, which strikes at the very heart of our criminal justice system. In fact, for quite a while, these people were successful at completely subverting the criminal justice system. On the face of it, the customs were duped, the police were duped, the Home Office was duped, the judge and the judiciary were duped. Everybody was duped by two career criminals. Yet to the best of my knowledge, no one in government has ever accepted any responsibility for this. It is as if it just happened as an act of God. It did not; it happened because the systems were not in place to deal with it.

I hear whispers, but no formal announcements, that procedures have changed in the police forces, in Customs and Excise or whatever agency is involved now—the Border and Immigration Agency or the Serious Organised Crime Agency—and all over the place. I do not believe that. I fear that until someone has investigated what took place in what amounts to a scandal involving the subversion of our criminal justice system and has put that on the record, we shall merely pass time until we see a repeat of what happened.

8.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) not only on securing the debate but on the extensive and assiduous way in which he has pursued this matter for at least 12 years. Anyone who has stood where I stand now during that time must be well aware that my hon. Friend, who is known to be tenacious and inquiring in Liverpool, has repeatedly proved himself to be such in this place, on behalf of his constituents. He has, of course, raised this matter in the House before: in March 2001, when he produced a number of allegations along with information about the men involved—which he made public—and in an Adjournment debate in May 2004. Now, at the end of the most recent court case involving Haase and Bennett, he is here again.

I can only congratulate my hon. Friend on his tenacity in pursuing his concerns, but he can take some satisfaction, and indeed has done so, from the convictions of the two men at Southwark Crown court last week for perverting the course of justice. I think that the prison sentences of 22 and 20 years imposed on them constitute recognition of not only the seriousness with which he has done his work, but the seriousness with which the criminal justice system treats what has happened. It is clearly a good thing that these two men are back behind bars where, as my hon. Friend said, they so clearly belong.

I know my hon. Friend will appreciate that it would not be proper for me to comment too much, or go into too much detail, about decisions made by an earlier Administration. However, it is public knowledge that the initial impetus for the reduction in sentence in these cases came, entirely and properly, from the trial judge, and that in supplying information to the judge, Customs and Excise was properly fulfilling its obligations to the court. My hon. Friend made a number of observations about the way in which that operated in this case, which
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I intend to take away and look at rather more closely. I hope that he will forgive me for not dealing with them in more detail this evening.

My hon. Friend asked for an assurance that the events that he described could not be repeated, while making clear his belief that, as things stand, they probably could. I want to say something about these matters—to the extent that I can—and particularly about the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy and the way in which it is currently used, given the detailed concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed about it. I also want to say something about the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. My hon. Friend will be aware of some of it, but I also want to respond to a few of his more general points.

By constitutional convention, the Secretary of State for Justice in England and Wales is now responsible for recommending to the sovereign the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy; at the time to which my hon. Friend refers, it was the Home Secretary. Three forms of the royal prerogative of mercy are used to grant pardons to convicted criminals. I do not want to discuss the conditional pardon, which is used to commute death sentences to sentences of life imprisonment, because—for somewhat obvious reasons—it is not currently in use. The two main forms of pardon that are still available are free pardons and remission pardons.

The form of pardon most commonly understood is the free pardon; in this context it means that the pardon is free from any conditions, rather than “free” in the more common usage of the word. Free pardons are rarely granted; the last was in 1996. The Criminal Cases Review Commission now investigates alleged miscarriages of justice and, where it concludes that there is a real possibility that a conviction is not safe, can refer the conviction to the Court of Appeal, the route most commonly used for dealing with these matters.

A decision by the Secretary of State for Justice to recommend the use of the royal prerogative of mercy to grant a free pardon is restricted to cases where it is impractical for the case to be referred to an appellate court and, secondly, where new evidence has arisen that has not been before the courts, demonstrating beyond any doubt either that no offence was committed or that the defendant did not commit the crime. The applicant must be technically and morally innocent. These criteria have proper regard to the constitutional position that the courts decide whether a person is guilty of an offence, not the Government.

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