HC Deb 31 May 1945 vol 411 cc365-7
75. Mr. Hugh Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that as a result of information communicated to his Department by Ser- geant McCourtie of the Huddersfield police force, and of the Home Office inquiry that followed, the chief constable was reprimanded and an inspector asked to resign, that disciplinary action has been taken against Sergeant McCourtie for making this communication to his Department and that he has been dismissed from the force; and what steps he proposes to take to protect from victimisation persons who bring to his notice irregularities in police administration.

Sir D. Somervell

I cannot accept the implication that there has been any victimisation in this case. When certain members of the Huddersfield borough police force brought to the notice of the Home Office allegations reflecting on senior officers of the force, it was made quite clear to them that they would have nothing to fear from giving in a spirit of public duty information which they believed to be well founded, but that they would have no immunity from disciplinary proceedings should the allegations be made negligently, wantonly or maliciously in breach of the police discipline code. The information relating to the conduct of individual members of the force which came to light in the course of the tribunal's inquiry was brought to the notice of the watch committee, as disciplinary authority for the force, but that committee was in no way bound by any views expressed by the tribunal. The sergeant referred to was dismissed from the force by the disciplinary authority, not for making a communication to the Home Office, but for insubordinate conduct in that he was found by the disciplinary authority to have wilfully or negligently made false complaints against other members of the force.

Mr. Lawson

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, if policemen, who do bring to the notice of higher authority matters which are found sufficiently well founded to lead to disciplinary action against senior officers, are then dismissed, that is going to lead to bad administration, because nobody will come forward with any complaints, however well founded?

Sir D. Somervell

I quite agree with that, but, on the information I have, this case did not in any way impinge on the principle that people who come forward and give honest evidence to the best of their belief, should not be victimised.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is it reasonable to suppose that a member of the police force would bring a mischievous, wanton or unsubstantial charge against any members of the force, knowing that it would be investigated by a tribunal and that, therefore, its falsity would be exposed? Is it not obvious in this case that a man has been victimised and that it will have a bad effect on the police force generally if constables are treated in this way?

Sir D. Somervell

I cannot accept that for a moment. People sometimes do things, although they are afterwards found out. In this case, the disciplinary authorities—and I have no reason to impugn their decision—came to a decision that these complaints had been made in the way I have suggested.

Mr. Bevan

Surely, the point is that the man who brought the charge knew beforehand that they would be investigated? Is it reasonable to assume that he did so knowing that they were not substantial?

Sir D. Somervell

It would not be reasonable to assume that, but the disciplinary authority, after investigating all the facts, came to that conclusion.

Mr. Silverman

Is not the point in this case that the man who lodged the original complaint was sufficiently supported by the tribunal which investigated it to lead to the dismissal of the Chief Constable; and if, in the end, the man who lodged the complaint, which was found to be a true complaint, is dismissed, inevitably, other members of the Force will suppose that he was dismissed for making the complaint, and that that will be contrary to public policy?

Sir D. Somervell

Obviously, we cannot discuss the details of this case, but I think it is right to point out that it was not the only decision reached. His statement was one of a number forwarded by the constable's branch, but it is the only case in which the Committee came to the conclusion I have stated.