HC Deb 31 May 1934 vol 290 cc337-40

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the arrest of Mr. Ronald John Roberts, of Lawn Villa, Harlesden, by plain clothes officers, on a charge of being a suspected person when he was posting a letter late at night, his subjection to finger-print recording, and his immediate discharge by the magistrate next morning without a stain on his character; whether he can state the police explanation of these proceedings; and whether he proposes to institute an inquiry into the whole affair?


My right hon. Friend has received full reports of the circumstances leading to Mr. Roberts's arrest, from which it appears that he was kept under observation by two police officers from 10.55 to 11.15 p.m., and during that period was seen apparently paying special attention to two different houses, outside one of which he stopped for several minutes on two occasions. He was not seen to post any letter. The officers then approached him and produced their warrant cards, but in reply to their inquiries he refused to give his name and address or to give any account of his movements beyond stating that he was having a walk. He was thereupon taken to Willesden Green Police Station and charged with loitering with intent to commit a felony. As the case appeared to be one which ought to be dealt with by a court, the charge was accepted. While he was at the station his finger-prints were taken, with his consent; they have since been destroyed, in accordance with the usual practice. My right hon. Friend much regrets the inconvenience to which Mr. Roberts was put by his arrest and temporary detention and by his appearance in court, but he finds no ground for thinking that the officers concerned acted otherwise than in good faith, and no further inquiry appears to be called for.


Arising out of my right hon. Friend's reply, for which I thank him, may I ask him whether he is not aware that this man, who is an employé of a very large firm in London, and has a guarantee bond of £500 for his good behaviour, went out to post a letter, was arrested, and was not allowed to communicate with his home, and his mother was unaware of what detained him; and, inasmuch as this is the second case that has taken place in Willesden within the last three months, cannot some action be taken to ensure more care in making these arrests?


One of the main duties of the police is to prevent crime, in addition to detecting crime, and, if this particular individual, who knew that he was being interrogated by police officers, had given his name and address in the first place, there would have been no further trouble.

Viscountess ASTOR

Is it not amazing that there are not more mistakes, considering how many people look like criminals?


asked the Home Secretary the number of cases of arrest in the Metropolitan police area in which the magistrates have dismissed the charges, with the intimation that there was no evidence whatever against the defendants, in the last six months; and whether he will consider the desirability of suggesting to the police authorities that greater discretion should be observed to avoid making wrongful arrests?


On an average some 50,000 persons are arrested every year in the Metropolitan Police District, and, without detailed examination of every case over a period, it is impossible to say in how many the charge was subsequently dismissed with some comment of the kind to which the hon. Member refers. Such inquiry as it has been possible to make in the time available indicates that the number is negligible, perhaps amounting to half a dozen in a year. The police are fully aware of the need for care and discretion in making arrests, and my right hon. Friend sees no need for the issue of any further instructions on the point. The primary duty of the police is to prevent the commission of crime, and, so long as they act reasonably and honestly, the public interest requires that they should not be hampered in the exercise of proper vigilance by the fear that on rare occasions they may prove to have been mistaken.


Is it not a fact that most of these wrongful arrests are made by young inexperienced officers in plain clothes, who are anxious to get promotion and make arrests without really sound cause?


My hon. Friend speaks of "most of these arrests," but I have told him that these wrongful arrests have been only six out of about 50,000—not a very large number. I honestly think that the police are doing their best.

18 and 19. Mr. GARDNER

asked the Home Secretary (1) whether he is aware that Alfred Thomas Hodges, of 155, Harold Road, Upton Park, E.13, while under arrest on 1st May, 1934, at East Ham Police Station, asked to be allowed to go to his employer's office near by; that he was allowed to go, still under arrest, escorted by two police officers, who accompanied him into the presence of his employer's representative; that Mr. Hodges had to explain who the police officers were and why they were with him; and that he is a man of unblemished character, who served in the Army during the Boer War and again in 1914–18; and whether, as this arrest has seriously prejudiced Mr. Hodges with his employer, he will state on what information, on whose information, and on whose responsibility this arrest was made;

(2) whether he can state the reason for the arrest in the street on Tuesday, 1st May, 1934, of Alfred Thomas Hodges, of 155, Harold Road, Upton Park, E.13, who was taken to East Ham Police Station at 10 o'clock in the morning by two plainclothes police officers and detained about an hour, then taken to Plaistow Police Station and put in a cell for three-quarters of an hour, and then placed with other men for purposes of identification and later discharged from custody; and whether a warrant had been issued for this arrest?


My right hon. Friend has made inquiries and is informed that Mr. Hodges was arrested on the strength of a statement by a private person who positively identified him in the street as having been concerned in a case of stealing money by means of a trick. Mr. Hodges was within sight of East Ham Police Station and after it had been verified that his appearance was similar to the circulated description of the wanted man, he was taken to the station and the circumstances were explained to him. No warrant of arrest had been issued and none was required. An identification parade was arranged at Plaistow Police Station, and when the person from whom the money had been stolen failed to identify him the charge was refused and Mr. Hodges was released with a proper expression of regret for the inconvenience caused to him. I am informed that he was in custody for about an hour and a quarter and that before leaving the station he expressed satisfaction with the way in which he had been treated; and further that the incident has not prejudiced his employment in any way.


Is it not the ease that Hodges was informed that he was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in a burglary with two other men at Plaistow? Hodges told me this, and it is in the newspapers?


No. The facts of the case are as I have described them.