§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn" — [Major Dugdale.]
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I am sorry to have to bring the Home Secretary, a very busy Minister, down to the House in order to raise a matter which I think is of some importance to the subject. May I begin by saying that when a question arises of the action of the police in connection with any particular one of His Majesty's subjects I, like the Home Secretary, am not in the least influenced by whether the person in question bears a title or is Mrs. Brown, of Poplar. If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman's democratic declaration was really not necessary, because it applies to all of us in the House. We want to see justice done. The points which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman are largely of an interrogatory nature. It may be that he will be able to satisfy me and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans), who was good enough to ask me to raise this question on his behalf and on my own, and satisfy any other hon. Members who feel somewhat perturbed at the course which events have taken. On the other hand, it may not be so, in which case my hon. Friends and I will hold ourselves free to take further action, as there is a precedent for calling for a Select Committee.
I will endeavour to deal with the matter very rapidly to give the Home Secretary the maximum of time for reply. I think I can best do that by reading certain extracts from the statement made by Mr. 1956 Humphreys, the barrister representing the police in the court. He said:There are two charges against Lady Lucas, one of wilfully obstructing the free passage of the footway by causing a crowd to collect and, two, obstruction of the police in the execution of their duty"He stated:On the first charge I will say at once that in my view there is no evidence upon which you could convict Lady Lucas, because it would seem from all the evidence before me that the crowd was collected as a result of an entirely different incident, namely, that a drunken soldier collapsed in the street, and therefore she did not cause the crowd to collect. So that there is no evidence upon that chargeHe then goes on to say that he had had the advantage of discussing the matter with the defendant's counsel, and he stated that he did not propose to proceed with the charge. He then goes on to say that he will put the facts before the magistrate. I should have said that in asking permission to withdraw the case he used very significent terms. He stated:We probably need not trouble you any further as it is possibly the making of something approaching a mountain out of an original molehillThese were the words of Mr. Humphreys, who appeared for the police. He also stated:When the misunderstanding is cleared away it may be that there is really no crime leftHe went on to say:In the evening of 8th April a soldier lance corporal was arrested in Argyll Street for being drunk. He was so drunk that the police had to take him in custody, and, indeed, it needed two policemen to do it. As you know the Marlborough Road Police Station was closed, and they had to take him a matter of a few hundred yards to another police station. Then having got him to Marlborough Street and Regent Street, in crossing Regent Street his legs gave way and the police had to decide whether it was worth while to arrange for a conveyance. They thought rightly or wrongly that they could get him to the station without conveyance."If I may say so, Mr. Humphreys' statement was a very mild description of what occurred. I have received a letter from a member of the public, which has been sent to me since I called attention to this matter in the House. It reads as follows:I was interested in your question in the House, yesterday, with reference to the arrest of a soldier in Argyll Street some little time ago. Having witnessed part of the incident, I consider the Home Secretary's answer very inadequate. I do not know what trouble the police may have had with their prisoner before 1957 I saw them, but in any case it could not have warranted the very brutal treatment he received at their hands. The first I saw of the incident was a soldier, a lance-corporal, I believe, being half dragged and half lifted across the road from the East side to the West side of Regent Street. The man was then in a collapsed and unconscious condition. He was dragged by his arms along the West side of Regent Street, his feet trailing behind. Periodically the constables stopped when the man's body sagged to the pavement, the constables retaining their hold on his arms. On reaching the corner of Conduit Street, one of the constables inserted his hand in the collar band of the man's tunic in front of his windpipe and endeavoured to lift and drag him by this means. This seemed to be so brutal, and also dangerous, that at the risk of being charged with interfering I was about to intervene when a lady, whom I subsequently discovered from police proceedings was Lady Lucas, suggested that she should pay for the cab for the man, and at this point a lance-corporal also offered to pay for the cab. A cab was obtained, but no endeavour was made by the police to lift the unconscious man into it, he was just dragged in over the running board, narrowly missing hitting his head on itIn addition to that evidence. there is the evidence of a Mrs. Morris, which would have been given in the court. The lady has not got into trouble with the police, and her evidence would have been exactly the same as the evidence I have just read out. Lady Lucas would have given evidence to the same effect, and so would another lady, and Mr. Lunt. It is only fair to say that Mr. Lunt has himself been charged and convicted with obstruction on two previous occasions. All of them would have drawn attention to the manner in which this man was arrested. My first question is whether any disciplinary action has been taken against this police officer, and whether any inquiry has been held by the right hon. Gentleman about the arrest of this soldier? He gave some answers. He admitted that the police had made a mistake. My hon. Friend asked:May I ask whether it is the case that these officers refused to take a taxicab for this purpose when first requested to do so by a member of the public, who was astounded at the scene, and that they consented to do so only when that member of the public offered to pay for the taxicab? Will my right hon. Friend give instructions that police officers should be authorised to take a taxicab when an ambulance is not available?Mr. MORRISON: I have done so. I agree with the point that my hon. and gallant Friend is raising. There was a hiatus on this short journey. It is true that, as a result of the admirable and generous co-operation of a mem- 1958 ber of the public, help was given which solved the problem" — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1941; col. 962, Vol. 371.]The member of the public who co operated was the defendant, Lady Lucas. She was the person who paid for the cab. [Interruption.'] If it was someone else who paid—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
It was the friend of the soldier.
§ Earl Winterton
No, Lady Lucas paid. That is the evidence that she was going to give. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. Mr. Humphreys goes on to say:Amongst the persons whose minds were affected by this sight was Lady Lucas. She is a perfectly respectable citizen. There is not the slightest allegation that she was under the influence of drink. There is not the slightest allegation that she was doing anything other than what it was her duty to do. She saw, without knowing the cause, a soldier in wartime being treated with indignity. In her righteous indignation she was certainly somewhat unduly indignant. She got excited and perhaps lost her temper for the moment.Now let us hear what Mrs. Morris and Mr. Mayon said. Mrs. Morris would have given this evidence in court had the case been proceeded with:I have had no difficulty with the police at any time or been summoned for any offence. I am only giving this evidence because I considered that the scene I saw was a disgraceful one and there is nothing to suggest that Lady Lucas was causing obstruction. The pavement at the point where we were standing is very wide and there is ample room. There was no scene and no shouting. In fact a passer-by could not have heard what we were talking about.At the time Lady Lucas was arrested there were not more than a dozen people on the spot, and she was engaged in getting their names and addresses in order to send the information to the right hon. Gentleman. He goes on to say:She wanted some of the bystanders to give their names and addresses and to agree with her that it was outrageous action on the part of the police. Instead of asking the nearest policeman to assist her in getting the names and addresses, she lost her headAll the evidence of independent witnesses is that there was no shouting and no obstruction. There is a strange admission by Mr. Humphreys:There is this further opportunity for misunderstanding because the police officers when they came across did not know the cause of the crowd and had not seen the incident of the soldier. All they saw was this lady, 1959 very excited, trying to appeal to the crowd and preventing the crowd from disappearing, as they would have done when the soldier was taken awayIt is true that they did not know the cause of the disturbance and the answer is that they did not try to find out. A police constable walked up to Lady Lucas and said, "Who are you and what are you doing?" She said, "My name is Lady Lucas and I am endeavouring to obtain the names of persons who witnessed the incident." He said, "Where is your identity card?" She had not got it. The police would have been entitled to say, You have not your identity card and I must ask you to go to the police station. Instead of that the policeman touched her on the arm. She and her witnesses allege that he undoubtedly pushed her with his hand and said, "Move on" I venture to say, speaking as a magistrate, that it cannot be too widely understood that the police have no more right than the ordinary subject to use force. They can use force only when it is necessary with a crowd that is violent or in the arrest of a prisoner. A police constable has no right to go up to a member of the public and touch him before asking him to move on.
I have not time to tell the House all the story that Mr. Humphreys told, but there is a serious allegation by Lady Lucas that on the way to the station unnecessary violence was used by this constable. There is evidence, which I have not time to read, which would have been given in court by a doctor to the effect that her arms were badly bruised. They could only have been bruised by the action of the constable. When she arrived at the police station she asked for permission to telephone to her husband. She was told that the House of Commons was not on the telephone. It is obvious that the police did not believe her story. I do not want to make an unnecessary charge against them, but they thought she was an unimportant person who would not make any trouble, and they refused to allow her to communicate with anybody. I should like to read a letter from a person who is unknown to me, but he is a well-known doctor in London. He wrote:I was interested to see your action in the House of Commons in Lady Lucas' case. I have been practising for 35 years in the West End, and the trouble is a constant one. Practically in every case I have been involved in 1960 the police authorities do impede as far as they dare the speedy contacting of the friends, doctors or solicitors of the detained person. Until this attitude is changed serious inconvenience, anxiety to friends, and, not infrequently, injustice is caused. Surely in all cases of misdeameanour, as distinct from felony, contact with those I have mentioned should be allowed as soon as possible. There should be no delay in allowing the detained person to telephone, of course in front of the police if they wish it. I could give you half-a-dozen instances of most unfair treatment at Metropolitan Police stations in these situations.This letter is signed by Dr. H. Beckett -Overy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if I give him a copy of this letter, will be willing to see the doctor, who is a well-known West End surgeon, in order to hear from him about these incidents. I say that the police constable who arrested this lady behaved with brusqueness and lack of tact. I say that it was a serious matter that she was refused permission to telephone. The question of the injuries which she was alleged to have received should be inquired into; the doctor who examined her should be seen by the right hon. Gentleman or some person in a responsible position at the Home Office, and, if necessary, disciplinary action should be taken. The police withdrew the case, and they were wise to do so. I assert with the utmost emphasis that whatever happened in the magistrate's court, no higher court would have convicted on the evidence. Unfortunately, counsel for the defence agreed to the withdrawal of the case. He realised his mistake owing to the fact that Lady Lucas had had no chance of saying that there was no truth in what had been said, which had led to such headlines in the papers as "Wife of an M.P. very excited." The next day, therefore, he went to the court and asked permission to make a statement, but Mr. Fry properly said, "We cannot hear you now; you should have made your statement before"
I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant in his answer to a Question on the subject on why the case was withdrawn. On 22nd May he said that it was his duty to protect the police. In what respect? The police had withdrawn the case. I say his duty is to do justice as between the police and the public. The police are not in a privileged position. Though certainly, if an unfair attack is made, they should have his protection.
1961 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Handsworth Division of Birmingham (Commander Locker-Lampson) asked whether this had anything to do with the injury to the hon. and gallant Member who is the husband of the lady in question, and the right hon. Gentleman made a most curious reply. He said:I am aware of that, and it is possible that that was one of the factors in the mind of the police in regard to the police court proceedings. Rightly or wrongly that may have been one of the factors— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1941, col. 1571, Vol. 371.]I do not think it ought to be one of the factors, the fact that a Member of this House, or anybody else, has been injured in deciding that a case should be withdrawn against his wife. I do not understand that. I am sorry to have to say this, but I think the police realised that they had a very weak case, a case which ought never to have been brought, and they decided to withdraw it, and—and here I think the right hon. Gentleman has been rather misled by the information he got from the police—that they were only too glad to do so, because then they could say they had done a very gracious and kindly thing for this lady's husband, who was injured.
§ Earl Winterton
And it left a slur on the lady. I can assure my hon. Friends on this side of the House that the position of this lady did not make the slightest difference to my attitude in the matter. I would recall that once in this House I took part in a most acrimonious Debate with the Noble Lord, Lord Cecil, on behalf of a woman who was alleged to be a prostitute. It was a very famous case in which we moved a vote of censure on the Home Secretary. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for leaving him so little time in which to reply.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The House will appreciate that I have only eight minutes in which to cover considerable ground, and it is physically impossible to go over it all in that time. I am bound to say that I think the Noble Lord has not given an impartial account. I do not complain of that, because it is 1962 very difficult to present a case on extraneous evidence and communications received, sometimes, from people who have their views, of long standing, about the police. But I think the statement he has made is not impartial and that in some respects it is unfair to the police. There is a minor point about who paid the fare. I am told that Lady Lucas was not at the station when the cabman was paid off and that a friend of the soldier paid, but the point is not material. Various complaints which the Noble Lord has made could have been argued and ventilated in court, and he quite properly said that he was sorry that counsel on the other side did not proceed with the case. But if counsel does not proceed, that is his responsibility, and through him the responsibility of his client, and I do not think the police can be blamed if counsel for the defence did not himself insist on the case proceeding, which it would have been perfectly competent for him to do. If that had been the case, any of these charges which the Noble Lord has made could have been made in court and the allegations could have been put forward and examined in a judicial way.
§ Mr. Morrison
That may be, but the allegations about the treatment of Lady Lucas could have been made in court, and I think it is a little unfair, after counsel for the defence has consented, and I may say willingly consented, to the case not being proceeded with, that subsequently arguments which he could have made in court by insisting on the case proceeding should be made against the police in the House of Commons. I conceive it to be my duty, as the Noble Lord said, to be fair and impartial as between the public and the police, and in particular to see that the police do their duty. But when serious allegations are made against the police, and I have formed the conclusion that the police are right in the difficult situation in which, in my judgment, they were placed by Lady Lucas conducting herself in such a way that she was becoming a public nuisance—I say again, as I said then, that I will defend the police, whoever the person involved may be, whether a lady of title or a working woman. That must be so.
1963 Let me give the House the facts as I have them and, indeed, as I believe them. A soldier was drunk in Argyll Street, not far from the station to which he was being taken. He was arrested. In the ordinary way, if the drunken person can walk, he does so, and if he cannot walk and collapses, the police call a police van or a taxi. At the beginning, the soldier was able to walk, but there came a time when he collapsed and there was some uncertainty whether he would be able to get along by walking for the rest of the distance, which was very short, or whether he would not. In fact, he was helped along, dragged along, for a short distance. Then it became apparent that he could not go on. At this point, his soldier friend called a taxi, and the man was put into it. If that had not happened, the police would have got one. In any case, the distance was short, and I cannot see that there is anything to make a first-class crisis about the fact that a soldier should, for a short distance, be dragged along in the hope and belief that he would be able to walk for the rest of the distance. That is the case of the soldier, and I cannot see, on the face of it, that the police can be held guilty of anything beyond this, that it is a matter of individual judgment whether they should have called a police van or a taxi before then. It is arguable. With great respect, I cannot see that the Noble Lord has a case about which to make a first-class crisis.
§ Mr. Morrison
The whole distance from beginning to end—and the soldier walked part of it—was 440 yards. That was all, and the distance that he was dragged was very short. Then he was taken into the taxi.
Now I come to Lady Lucas. It is now said that she had bruises and that a doctor had so testified. That allegation was not made by Lady Lucas at the police station, and it was not made by her counsel in court. I really think" it is very unfair to the policeman. Some people have their views about policemen. Here is an ordinary policeman, a member of a disciplined service. It is unfair that the charge was not made in the station or in the court but is bandied about at this stage in this House.
§ Mr. Morrison
If I see the doctor, it does not prove or disprove anything at this stage. If there were bruises, that evidence should have been brought forward in court. It could have been. [Interruption.] The Noble Lord has taken his time, and he might let me proceed. I am not a policeman, but even I expect fair play. The only reason why these things were not argued in court was that her counsel did not insist upon the case proceeding, and her counsel willingly did not insist. It was suggested that she was roughly treated. I am informed, and I believe it, that she was not roughly treated but that a hand was put behind her arm so as to indicate where the police wanted her to go. I do not believe there was rough treatment. What happened? There was this case. The lady admittedly got excited. [Interruption.] Her counsel admitted that she got excited.
§ Mr. Morrison
What happened was that Mr. Christmas Humphreys said that she got excited and hysterical. Her counsel said that substantially speaking, he did not commit himself to every detail, but he did not fundamentally or substantially dispute the statement of Mr. Christmas Humphreys. The lady was indignant at the sight of a soldier in uniform being taken away in that way. That is according to the summary which I have. What happened is pretty clear. She got indignant, she became excited, and there it is. She then asked the crowd for names of witnesses, and she addressed the crowd. I am told she talked to them in an excited way and that this went on for a quarter of an hour. [Interruption.] I am sorry but the Noble Lord ought to be fair. I had eight minutes, and I have now only half a minute. She got excited, and she caused the crowd to increase—so it was held by the police, but that charge was not proceeded with. There was a quarter of an hour during which a police officer asked her if she would be good enough to move on, because she was causing trouble and obstruction. In the end, she would not go, and he warned 1965 her that he would have to arrest her. She was treated with every courtesy and consideration at the station in circumstances of considerable provocation to the police. If there was delay at the station, I do not believe it was caused by the police; I think it was caused by the lady and her arguments in her excited condition.
That is all there is to it, as far as I can tell, and I really think the noble Lord is making a mountain out of a molehill. I would only add this, that if he and the hon. Gentleman would like to see the 1966 Commissioner of Police, I should be very glad to arrange a meeting, and I hope and think that the Commissioner of Police will be able to satisfy them, as I indeed feel satisfied, that there is no grave charge which can be substantiated against the police. They will, however, form their own view. I really do not think the case is worthy of an elaborate inquiry.
§ It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.