§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Some time ago, I directed a question to the Home Secretary about an ex-constable in Ipswich. The question of this ex-constable had been the subject of very considerable correspondence between myself and the Home Office. I was particularly interested in this case because of the long and painful experience I had, covering almost 25 years, with the case of ex-police inspector John Syme. There are many Members, on this side of the House particularly, who will recall what happened in the case of ex-inspector John Syme, and how the grave injustice that was imposed upon that man practically destroyed his life and that of his wife. I do not know when there has been such a painful case of unnecessary suffering enforced upon a man and his wife, and an utterly obdurate attitude upon the part of the Home Office, who refused to do anything to remedy this injustice. Year after year always the most clever evasion, and then, when the time came, after all this unwarranted suffering, after the man's physical condition had almost been destroyed, after he had been in and out of prison under the "cat-and-mouse Act," after all this a new Home Secretary came on the job, consideration had to be given to the question, and it was publicly admitted by the Home Office that an injustice had been done and a certain amount of recompense was made to ex-inspector John Syme. I have had a very close association with ex-inspector John Syme for many years. Even now, he occasionally comes to see me, but he is not allowed into the precincts of this House and I have to meet him outside. A message is sent up to me from outside and I have to meet him there. I have such painful recollections of that case that, when this ex-constable from Ipswich came along and had a talk with me and explained what had happened, I felt that something should be attempted, and every effort should be made, to get the Home 1459 Office to face up to the question before it became another John Syme case, as it probably will.
I do not want to go into all the correspondence that has passed between the Home Office and myself, but I will, in the briefest manner, describe the events. These go back to September, 1941. That is two and a half years that this has been going on. This police constable, Allen Perrins—and the Home Office can take me up on this—was a man of irreproachable character. There was no question of anything against his character; he was a man with a clear record and a good character. He had a motor-cycle. There are two charges made against this man. One of them is that he has stolen a bicycle pump belonging to another constable.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
§ Mr. Gallacher
The second charge is—hon. Members saw the Under-Secretary shaking his head in the negative—that he has been receiving Government petrol. The charge of stealing a bicycle pump may or may not be a serious charge, but the charge of receiving Government petrol is a very serious charge. Before we finish to-day, I want the Under-Secretary to state here in this House—Is this man guilty or not guilty on either or both of these charges?
In connection with the case, Leslie Green, a police inspector of the Borough of Ipswich, made the following statement:I am a police inspector of this borough. During August, 5941, P.C. 69 Agar reported to me that he had missed a pump from a cycle which he had left at the police station. At about 12.40 p.m. on Tuesday, 29th September, 1941, a communication was made to me by P.C. Agar and P.S. Mann, in consequence of which I saw P.C. 108 Perrins in the charge room. Inspector Harrington and Sergeant Oxborrow were present. I said to him that P.C. Agar had reported that a pump was missing from his cycle which had been left at the station. I said 'This morning, about ten minutes ago, the pump was found on your cycle. Do you wish to say how it came into your possession?' He replied, 'Do you think I took it? Are you trying to pin it on me?' I said, 'This pump was stolen and was found on your cycle. Do you wish to give an explanation of how it got there?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am quoting reference number 821/832/31—the statement of Leslie Green, police inspector of the Borough of Ipswich.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The statement that was presumably taken for submission to the chief constable for the consideration of the case. There is a series of statements from all the policemen involved, all of whom made statements that were submitted to the chief constable, who was supposed to decide upon the case. The case goes before the chief constable. Later on, after all the documents have been submitted to the chief constable, Perrins is brought before the chief constable and he deals with him. Inspector Leslie Green's statement goes on:I said, 'Can you tell me of any mark or markings on this pump?' He replied, 'No I don't think I can.' I said, 'Now that this pump has turned up, do you wish to say anything about a cycle lamp, pump and basket also missing from the station?' He replied, 'No, but to finish the job, I would like you to search my house.' Perrins and Oxborrow went to his home, where he invited us to look round. There was nothing there that would in any way connect him with the disappearance of the articles mentioned. I said to him, 'A report has been received that you are using petrol in your motor-cycle which is the property of the R.A.F.' and he said, 'That is a matter that can be settled by taking a sample of petrol from my motor-cycle. This the sergeant did and we went to the garage and took samples there. Both samples were a pinky colour. Perrins said, 'Yes, I use a petrol economiser and this makes it look pink.' He also produced samples of the economiser to prove it.Those are the two charges brought against the man. He is brought before the chief constable, who tells him that he is going to be placed before the Watch Committee, where the question of prosecution will be considered. Those were the words the chief constable used" the question of prosecution will be considered." In the meantime, Perrins has intimated that he has bought the petrol from a particular garage, and I have here a document signed by the garage proprietor testifying that, at that period, just before the visits of the officers, Perrins had actually bought petrol at that garage. It is as well to get this on record. This is 1461 reference number 826/832/31 of the 14th October:Frederick Wade says: 'I am the manager of the Green Ace Garage, Norwich Road, and I reside at 28, Castle Road. About the last week in August, 1941, P.C. Perrins came to the garage and asked me if he could have two gallons of petrol in a can, as he was due for his annual holiday in September, and he would not have enough petrol on his September rations to enable him to go to his home in Chatham, Kent. He gave me two one-gallon unit coupons and I gave him two gallons of petrol in a square five-gallon can.'And that can corresponds with the can from which the samples were taken, into which, as Perrins said, he had put an economiser. Here is the actual situation. You have a constable, suspended by the chief constable on the ground of stealing a bicycle pump and on the ground that he had been using Government petrol, put on suspension to go before the Watch Committee with a view to prosecution. But what happens? There is a meeting of the Watch Committee, at which Perrins is not present, but the Watch Committee hears a statement from the chief constable, and, apparently, at the Watch Committee meeting, the chief constable turns it into a case of indiscipline because Perrins was asked to sign a misconduct sheet. He refused to sign unless and until he had an opportunity of discussing the matter with a solicitor, and, on the basis of the refusal to sign this misconduct sheet, the chief constable works in the question of indiscipline and gets the Watch Committee to make a decision on these serious charges against a man and against his character. That is the position in which this ex-policeman finds himself. He wrote, as the Secretary of State says, to the Home Secretary.
The Secretary of State, in a letter to me, says that he made an appeal to him and that he set up an inquiry, which found that there had been no injustice and that everything had been carried through in shipshape manner. The Home Secretary does not make it clear that the appeal which Perrins made and which he insists upon, and to which, I contend, he is entitled, is to be taken into open court and tried on these charges. That is all that the man is asking. He is not asking to be put back into the police force or for any decisions to be altered. The man has been charged with theft and it has been spread all over the place. He is a man who had never had a blemish on 1462 his character. These are the charges with which the other police officers were concerned. He invited the police to inspect his home because he was concerned about these charges. They went to his home, and, as the inspector said, they searched it and they found nothing to confirm any suspicions that had been aroused.
There is all this talk in the police force—and if it is talked about in the police force it gets all over the town—that he has been stealing or receiving Government petrol. I cannot understand how the Home Secretary or any of his associates could treat a man in such a manner. I have had a lot of associations with chief constables myself and I have known some very fine men amongst them, one in particular in Glasgow.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Yes, and they have been in my hands. But on various occasions, in different parts of the country, there has been a tendency for chief constables to be over dictatorial and to allow their sense of power to overcome them. It is the duty of the Home Office to see that every possible protection is given to those who, in particular circumstances, might be subjected to unjust decisions. In this particular case the Home Secretary is making all kinds of evasions. He sends out this or that person to make inquiries. They see the chief constable, the watch committee members, and justices of the peace, but that does not alter the fact that, though they may cleverly avoid the issue, injustice remains injustice. The Home Office cannot more cleverly avoid the issue than it did, for 20 years, the issue in the case of John Syme. Let anyone read the evidence in the Syme case of the protests made by Members on this side of the House, the questions that were put, and yet the injustices always remained. Is this man's life also to be wasted before he is given a measure of justice? Is it expected that the man is going to accept this sort of thing? There are many people who know that he is accused of stealing a bicycle pump, but he is accused also of receiving Government petrol, a very serious offence.
I ask the Under-Secretary whether this man is guilty of resetting Government petrol. If he is guilty, why is he not 1463 taken into court? If he is not guilty of resetting Government petrol, then will the Under-Secretary say at that Box, "This man is not guilty of stealing or resetting Government petrol"? That is all I want from him. I have everything else here from the Home Secretary. I have the whole story about the inquiry and of how satisfied the members of the inquiry were, but the one thing I want and which this man is entitled to get—and there is not a Member of this House who would not agree—is justice. Either he is guilty of resetting petrol or he is not. If he is guilty, then let him be taken into open court. Letter after letter was sent by Perrins to the Home Office, through myself, asking to be taken into court and to be given a chance to clear his character. The Under-Secretary will be wasting my time and the time of the House if he goes through all the stuff that I have here. Will he answer the one question, Did the man steal petrol? If so, prosecute him. If he did not steal it, then clear the character of the man.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I do not feel in a position to put a case to the Home Secretary, but as my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has raised a matter which concerns my constituency, the House ought to know where I stand. I do not think that I am known in this House as a person who is not forthcoming in airing his views against the Government, nor indeed, in my own constituency, in not taking up what sometimes might be called lost causes, or indeed good causes. As this case has been made widely known, it would be wrong if I did not put the House in possession of facts as I know them. It is now some two years ago since the matter was brought to my attention. I went to great pains. I probably had all the documents that my hon. Friend has got, though I do not know. He did not consult me before bringing it before the House. I did my best to solve the problem. I received, after some months of discussion with the Home Secretary, what I thought was not a satisfactory reply, because I did not get for my constituent what he wanted, and obviously it was not satisfactory. But it appeared to me from the evidence that the Home Secretary had done what he could. I have not the documents by me, so I cannot refresh my memory. If my 1464 hon. Friend had given me all the documents I would have tried to do it. I sent the documents back, though I forget now whether it was at the request of Police Constable Perrins or his solicitors. But I want to make it clear that I had taken up this case. I was not consulted before my hon. Friend raised the matter and I think, as a matter of courtesy, I ought to have been told. I would not like the House to think that I had not attended to this matter, that I had come to listen, sat silent and had not let the House know that the matter had been investigated, and that to the best of my knowledge, and within the law, the man in question had received justice.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) must admit that when Perrins came to me first about this matter more than a year ago, I mentioned it to him.
§ Mr. Stokes
Now that my hon. Friend reminds me, I do recollect that he mentioned the matter to me. A Member cannot be expected to remember what may have 'been said to him a year ago. Though I do not know the record of my hon. Friend in his own constituency—I am sure it is a very good one—I believe that I have just as good a record in my constituency for looking after my constituents as he has in his constituency.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If I had thought for a moment that the hon. Member was interested after what occurred a year ago, I certainly would have spoken to him about it. I am sorry.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
No one representing the Home Office will ever complain of any hon. Member raising anything where he thinks that some injustice has been inflicted upon some member of the public. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has raised his case with his usual fervour and enthusiasm, but, as I shall show to the House, he has many of his facts wrong. The most important fact he has wrong is that there was never any charge against this police-constable of stealing Government petrol. No such charge was ever made and the hon. Member is not doing this police-constable any good service by suggesting that such a charge was made. The main charge made against the police-constable, the one on which he was dis- 1465 missed from the police force at the instance of the Watch Committee, was a charge of being in unlawful possession of Government petrol, which, hon. Members will appreciate, is a very different offence.
I ought to thank the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) for his intervention. He took up this case at quite an early stage. It was in October, 1941, that the police-constable was dismissed. The hon. Member for Ipswich took up the case of his constituent with the Home Office early in 1942, and by March, 1942, the correspondence with my hon. Friend had been concluded. It was in November of 1942 that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) first became interested in this matter. The constitutional position, which hon. Members must understand, is that ever since borough police forces were instituted the disciplinary authority has been the Watch Committee.
§ Mr. Peake
Whether hon. Members think that to be a good thing or a bad thing, that is the law under which we operate at the present time. Hon. Members will remember that when we introduced the Police Appeals Bill last year, giving an extended right of appeal to police-constables, there was some protest from representatives of local authorities that, by giving this extended right of appeal in cases of reduction in rank or reduction in pay, we were in some way infringing and harming the status of Watch Committees. Therefore, whether the law be good or bad that the disciplinary authority is the Watch Committee, that is the system which we operate in this country at the present time.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)
Does the hon. Member mean to say that, if a person is suspected of having stolen petrol, the Watch Committee have the right to consider the merits of the case and decide what ought to be a decision of the magistrates' court rather than a case for disciplinary action on the part of the police constable? Has such a man not the right to bring his case before the court?
§ Mr. Peake
If my hon. Friend will allow me to proceed, he will see exactly what has happened. Police Constable Perrins was charged with being in unlawful possession of Government petrol and he was charged with a disciplinary offence, that is to say, being guilty of conduct likely to bring discredit on the police force. The disciplinary code under which police forces work is to be found in Statutory Rules and Orders, 1920, No. 1484, as subsequently amended. These are regulations made under the Police Act, 1919. Section 4 of that Act deals with the good government of police forces throughout England and Wales, and the disciplinary code lays down what the proper procedure is when a police constable is charged with a disciplinary offence.
Paragraph 13 of the Regulations reads:Every member of the force against whom a report or complaint suggesting the commission of an offence against discipline is made shall, as soon as possible, be informed in writing of the exact charge against him.That, of course, was done in this case.
Paragraph 14 states:The written charge must disclose an offence against discipline as defined in the code of offences against discipline of the Force, with such details of time and place as will leave the accused under no misapprehension as to the offence with which he is charged.That, also, of course, was done in this case. Paragraph 15 says:The written charge which shall be entered on a form … (hereinafter referred to as the Misconduct Form) together with the complaint on which the charge is founded, and all reports thereon shall be handed as soon as practicable to the accused who shall initial them to show that he has seen them.These are the official documents from which the hon. Member was quoting.
Paragraph 16 says:The accused shall be directed to state in writing upon the Misconduct Form whether he admits or denies the charge, and shall be allowed to give any explanation which he may wish to offer in writing.After those formalities have been complied with the man appears before the chief officer of police; and these are the powers of the chief officer of police in a borough force: 1467In the case of a borough police force the decision of the chief officer of police shall, subject to any general direction of the Watch Committee be either (1) to dismiss the case, or (2) to remit the case to the Watch Committee for further hearing, or (3) to award"——a punishment as provided in Regulation 21. In this case police-constable Perrins refused to complete the section of the Misconduct Form requiring him to admit or deny the charge. He was ordered to appear before the chief constable, before whom he maintained his refusal either to admit or deny the charge. The chief constable, under the Section I have just read, remitted the case to the Watch Committee, before wham Perrins appeared on 24th October, 1941, assisted by a solicitor. He submitted that the Watch Committee had no jurisdiction to hear the charge, since it amounted to an offence against the criminal law and was a matter far a court. The Committee overruled this submission. The constable and his solicitor then intimated their intention of taking no further part in the proceedings, and withdrew from the hearing. The Watch Committee then proceeded, in accordance with powers which are vested in them by the regulations, to hear the charge in his absence. The charge of stealing a bicycle pump was dismissed. The Watch Committee did not find that charge proved. The second charge—
§ Mr. Thorne
May I ask the Under-Secretary whether there is no appeal against the decision of a Watch Committee?
§ Mr. Peake
I am coming to that. The second charge, that of being in unlawful possession of Government petrol, was found proved by the Watch Committee, that is, the properly constituted, democratically elected, disciplinary authority. The Watch Committee thereupon called on police-constable Perrins to resign and, as he failed to do so, he was dismissed. There is an appeal in four cases to the Home Secretary against the findings of police disciplinary authorities. Perrins appealed under the Act of 1927, which provides for a right of appeal by members of police forces who are dismissed or required to resign. Section 1 of that Act says:A member of a police force who, after the passing of this Act is dismissed, or required to resign as an alternative to dismissal, may 1468 appeal to a Secretary of State in accordance with this Act and the rules made thereunder.…Section 2 provides:The Secretary of State, unless it appears to him that the case is of such a nature that it can properly be determined without taking oral evidence, shall appoint one or more persons (one at least of whom shall be a person engaged or experienced in, police administration) to hold an inquiry and report to himOn receiving police-constable Perrins's appeal, the Home Secretary decided that this was a proper case for the holding of an inquiry. He appointed to hold the inquiry Mr. Anthony Hawke, of Counsel, who is, I understand, also a Deputy Chairman of Quarter Sessions, a lawyer of proved integrity and considerable reputation. Mr. Hawke was accompanied by Sir Frank Brooke, one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary. This tribunal, which had the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and to hear evidence on oath, conducted a complete rehearing of the charge. They went over the whole charge again de novo, taking evidence on oath. Whilst I do not wish to trouble the House with the contents of their report, the tribunal found on the facts that had been proved in evidence before them that a breach of discipline had been committed, and that a proper penalty had been imposed. The tribunal explicity added that no miscarriage of justice had occurred. A copy of that report, in accordance with the Police (Appeals) Act, 1927, was duly sent to police-constable Perrins, so that he had the full report before him.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Did this committee of inquiry decide that Perrins was guilty of resetting petrol? That is important.
§ Mr. Peake
I think I had better get the precise words of the report, so that there shall be no mistake whatever about this. The tribunal found that this police constable was in unlawful possession of a quantity of Service petrol contrary to Section 1 of the Disciplinary Code, and the words contained in Section I of the Disciplinary Code are:discreditable conduct, that is to say, acts likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the Force.That was the charge made before the Watch Committee and which the tribunal of inquiry under Mr. Anthony Hawke found to be proved.
§ Mr. Peake
Yes. Perrins appeared before the tribunal, and was represented both by a solicitor and by counsel before this tribunal, and his counsel also submitted, as his solicitor had done at the Watch Committee, that there was no jurisdiction to hear this charge, on the ground that a criminal offence was involved and that the case ought to have gone before a court of law.
§ Mr. Peake
I should not like to be definite on that point, but I am pretty certain it was. I am pretty certain all the evidence that Perrins had was available to the tribunal. I do not think my hon. Friend ever suggested that any new evidence had come to light since the tribunal sat. I think it is perfectly clear that the tribunal had all the facts available before them at the time the inquiry was held. I was saying that counsel submitted to the tribunal that there was no jurisdiction to entertain these charges. The tribunal dismissed that plea. They were satisfied that it was competent for the Watch Committee to entertain these charges. Mr. Perrins—
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
On that point, may I ask whether a Watch Committee is competent to try a criminal charge?
§ Mr. Peake
If I may, I will say one word about that when I have finished this part of my speech. I think the House ought to know that this question of jurisdiction was subsequently taken to the King's Bench Division of the High Court on an application by Perrins, but before I come to that may I say that the Home Secretary duly received the report of the Tribunal, which was adverse to Perrins, and the Home Secretary therefore dismissed Perrins's appeal, acting in accord with the report made to him by the independent tribunal. After the dismissal of his appeal by the Secretary of State, Perrins applied to the Divisional Court of the King's Bench Division for what, I am told, is called a writ of certiorari, and that application was refused. His ground of 1470 appeal there, also, was that the Watch Committee had no jurisdiction, because the charge involved a criminal offence.
Now I will come to the point made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield: Where a criminal offence is involved, should the Watch Committee institute criminal proceedings before proceeding to treat the matter as an offence against discipline? I think the answer to that question is one on which it is difficult to lay down hard-and-fast rules. Clearly, where the offence committed by a police constable is one which would be regarded as a serious offence if committed by any member of the general public, it is perfectly clear that the police disciplinary authority should institute criminal proceedings forthwith. But there are many offences which, if they were committed by a member of the general public, would be regarded as comparatively trivial offences but which, if committed by a police constable are, in his office as a police constable, much more serious matters.
§ Mr. Logan
May I submit the following question? If one of our unfortunate labourers at the docks in Liverpool were to take a tin of petrol, would it be possible for somebody to say that they have the power vested in them to decide whether this petrol belonged to the dock authorities and have the right vested in them to dismiss the man from his employment, or should the matter not go before a bench of magistrates? I think it is giving a privilege to the police that this charge should have gone before the tribunal to be dealt with.
§ Mr. Gallacher
When this charge was being made before the Watch Committee, some evidence would be submitted. Was the evidence given under oath?
§ Mr. Peake
It really is not fair either to me or to the police constable to introduce phrases of this sort into the case. The charge was one of unlawful possession. Any Member of this House or of the public may be found to be in unlawful possession of petrol, but that is quite a different thing to saying either that he has stolen it or that he is a receiver of stolen goods. How Perrins came into the possession of this petrol nobody knows, and so far as the criminal law is concerned this was, in fact, a comparatively trivial charge. If such a charge had been made against any member of the general public, I do not believe that any court in the land would have imposed a serious penalty, but, as I was saying in reply to the interjection of the hon. Member for Chesterfield, what may be a trivial offence for a member of the general public may be a very serious offence for a constable or for a member of a police force.
§ Mr. Peake
It is hardly for me to pass any judgment to-day upon town clerks. The charge was one of unlawful possession. That charge was proved to the Watch Committee after Perrins had refused either to deny or to admit it in accordance with the prescribed regulations. He appealed to the Secretary of State, who ordered an independent inquiry. That inquiry was held, it satisfied itself that no miscarriage of justice had occurred, it reported to the Home Secretary and the Home Secretary accepted the verdict of that independent tribunal. Subsequently the policeman applied to the High Court, 1472 and his application there was again dismissed on the grounds which I have stated. I do believe that the proper process of law has been followed throughout this case, and that this man has had a perfectly fair investigation into his case at all stages. In conclusion, however, I would emphasise this matter. In these cases of police officers we cannot allow ourselves to be governed by sentiment. Hard cases do arise of men upon whom serious punishments are inflicted for what may seem to some comparatively trivial reasons, but the Home Secretary must always have in mind, and disciplinary police authorities must always have in mind, the governing consideration that the public must have absolute confidence in the integrity of our police, and it would be a very serious thing if that confidence were to be seriously shaken. Therefore, although in individual cases these disciplinary punishments may seem to hon. Members to work hardly, that is not a factor which the Home Secretary or a police authority can take into account. They must have regard for the much wider interests of public policy which are here concerned. This is a case, as I say, where the man has had the fairest possible treatment at all stages, and I am afraid there is nothing more which the Home Secretary can do about it.