HC Deb 17 May 1928 vol 217 cc1215-20
Mr. JOHNSTON (by Private Notice)

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that on Tuesday, the 15th May, at about 1.50 p.m. two police officers called at the place of business of Miss Savidge, and without affording her any opportunity of communicating with her parents or legal advisers—and expressly, forbidding her to communicate with anyone—conveyed her by motor car to Scotland Yard, and that there she was questioned by two police officers for a period exceeding five hours; and whether such action was authorised by the right hon. Gentleman in connection with his Inquiry into the Sir Leo Money case?


Upon an examination of all the material in my possession bearing upon the Sir Leo Money case I came quite definitely to the conclusion that so far as regards the conduct of the two police officers concerned in that case the only question which arises is whether or not they were guilty of wilfully giving false evidence. Having come to that conclusion, I at once referred the whole matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for immediate and full investigation. I must make it clear to the House that in such matters, a case having been placed in his hands for investigation, the Director occupies an entirely independent position, and, pending the issue of his investigations, I should not think it right in the ordinary course to inquire into any action taken by the police in pursuance of his instructions. If I were to depart from this attitude there would be a very grave risk of impeding the course of justice.

In view, however, of the hon. Member's question and of the public interest that has been aroused, I have asked the Director to let me know for the information of the House what action he has-taken. He tells me that in strict conformity with the normal course of procedure in any case in which criminal proceedings may be contemplated he took steps with a view to obtaining statements from all those persons whose evidence would be essential in the event of proceedings for perjury being instituted against the police officers. The statement taken from Miss Savidge, who is, of course, concerned in no other capacity than as a possible witness for the prosocution, was taken in the ordinary course as a necessary step towards the thorough investigation which is required in the interests of justice, and I feel sure that every hon. Member of this House who has had experience of such matters will realise that until I get the Report of the Director of Public Prosecutions it will be impossible for me to interfere. I have asked the Director to expedite the matter.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this young woman was refused permission to go home to change her coat? Is he aware that she was repeatedly warned not to say a word to anybody about having been to Scotland Yard or having made a statement, and is he aware of the third degree methods and demonstrations at Scotland Yard in the absence of Miss Wiles, the woman police officer, who was dismissed from the room at the time that these third degree methods were being carried out?


I have just had telephoned a further message from the Director of Public Prosecutions: Miss Savidge was seen by Inspector Collins at 2 p.m., after she had had her lunch. She was taken in a car by a woman inspector to New Scotland Yard. She arrived at 3 p.m. She was given tea. Her mother was telephoned to and told that she was not to be anxious. Inspector Collins returned her to her mother's house at 8 p.m.—


"Shame!" and she made no complaint at the time. [Interruption.] I am giving the House all the information I have. At the risk of not making too long an answer, may I explain the difficulties of my position. I am the executive officer of the Government, and I have a case which may probably involve proceedings for perjury against two police officers. The Director of Public Prosecutions works, not under me, but under the supervision of the Attorney-General. I have no control over him, and it will be quite impossible and would be very wrong, for me to give him any directions whatever. I have asked him to give me the fullest information, and I have read out the last statement I have had. I hope to get his report very early next week. It might quite likely involve a prosecution for perjury, in which case Miss Savidge would be a witness for the prosecution and, under the circumstances, I hope the hon. Member will not press me for any further information. If he does, I shall conceive it my duty to ask any questions of the Director of Public Prosecutions and make the fullest report I can to the House.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that so far from this young woman having made no complaint she fainted when she got home? There is medical testimony to that effect. Is he further aware that no telephone message was sent to the girl's mother, unless through a sub-police station, until after 6 o'clock at night?


I am not aware of that; otherwise, I should have told the House. I am not aware that the young lady fainted when she got home or anything of the kind. I have given all the information I have got to the House. I sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which is a very unusual course for the Secretary of State to take, but in order that there should be no mistake I sent for him to my office this morning, and I got the information which I have given to the House in my original answer, and I have just read to the House the further information that has been handed to me at the moment. That is all I know at the moment.


Might we come back to the simple proposition. Does the Home Secretary think that this method of getting evidence, this method, of handling witnesses, this method of interfering with the liberties of His Majesty's lieges, is a step for which he has no responsibility, whether it is done by the Director of Public Prosecutions or by anybody else?


If I may say so with great respect, I think the right hon. Gentleman is justified in asking that question. I do realise that, if the police, even under the instruction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, have acted wrongly towards this lady, I am ultimately responsible, and I shall, and will, make the very fullest inquiry into it. At the same time, I am very anxious not to do anything which will prejudice the independent advice which we must get from the Director of Public Prosecutions. He is an independent judicial officer, and, I want to do nothing to prevent him giving me a perfectly clear and unfettered opinion on the main question of the guilt or innocence of the two original police officers concerned. I will undertake to make the fullest possible inquiry into the allegations, some of which have only been made across the Floor of the House to me at this moment. Until this moment, I knew nothing other than the allegations contained in the hon. Member's question. Further allegations have now been made, and I will make the fullest possible inquiry into them.


In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's answer, I beg leave to move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance.


There are some other questions yet.


May I ask on what grounds anyone can be arrested and detained without warrant in this country?


May I ask whether this young lady was taken by the police against her will from her place of business to Scotland Yard, and, if so, under what authority she was so taken?


The only information r have is that nothing of the kind has happened; that they asked whether she would come and make a statement, and that she did come and make that statement, and that she was taken home after the statement had been made. There was no suggestion of a warrant or anything of the kind. She was a witness.


In view of the fact that, whatever action is taken by the police, it was taken on the instruction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in view of the serious character of the allegations made and in the interests of both parties in subsequent proceedings which may be taken, is it not advisable to remove the prosecution entirely out of the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions?


Up to the present moment I see no reason what- ever for doing that. The Director of Public Prosecutions is an officer of very great experience, and, as I have said already, he works under the supervision of the Attorney-General. I have no power and no right in any way to take cases out of his hands when I have once handed them over to him. My duty then is finished.


Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that it is not legal to take anybody from his or her home who may be a competent witness in a case and subject him or her to cross-examination and deny that person access to his legal adviser?


I entirely agree that no person is bound to go at the request of the police to Scotland Yard, and certainly that no person can he asked to go there without their legal adviser going with them. It would be quite improper.



I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely: The circumstances in which the Metropolitan Police conveyed a young woman, Miss Savidge, to Scotland Yard, and, without giving her the opportunity to communicate with her friends or legal adviser, subjected her to close and persistent examination regarding a case already tried and dealt with in Court.

The pleasure of the Rouse having been signified, the Motion stood over, under Standing Order No. 10, until half-past Seven o'clock this evening.