HC Deb 10 October 1946 vol 427 cc333-5
11. Mr. Norman Bower

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the public anxiety occasioned by the fact that the police re- quested the Press to refrain from publishing a photograph of Neville George Clevely Heath, although they were convinced that he was the murderer of Mrs. Margery Gardner; and if he has any statement to make.

Mr. Ede

When the Metropolitan Police first requested the Press to refrain from publishing a photograph of Heath there was no definite evidence that he was the murderer of Mrs. Gardner. A description of Heath had been circulated to all police stations in London within 14 hours of the discovery of the body, and a taxi-driver had come forward who thought he could identify the man whom he had driven with Mrs. Gardner to the Pem-bridge Court Hotel on the night of the crime. It was evident that if a charge of murder could be brought against Heath, the taxi-driver's evidence would be vital to the success of the prosecution and that if in the meantime Heath's photograph was published in the Press it might enable the defence to. throw doubt upon the evidence of identification. The circumstances of the murder of Mrs. Gardner did not afford any reason to suppose that her assailant would commit a second murder, and I am satisfied that the police were right in asking that the Press should not take a course which might have prejudiced the due course of justice.

I desire to express to the parents and friends of Heath's second victim, Miss Marshall, sincere sympathy in their tragic loss.

Mr. Bower

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask if he can give an assurance that, in such cases, the police are not actuated by any undue solicitude for the feelings of suspects who may subsequently turn out to be not guilty?

Mr. Ede

No, Sir. I am quite sure that they have no such feelings. It is their duty to see that persons are not unnecessarily brought under suspicion, and, at the same time, to take every step to ensure that, when they do present a case to the court, they shall not, by their own actions, have cast doubt upon the evidence which they have to bring forward.

Mr. McGovern

May I ask the Home Secretary why, when some newspapers very definitely stated that there was evi- dence and that the police were convinced that Heath was the murderer of Mrs. Gardner, at that time that photograph was not published; and can he state why the Home Office did not issue a disclaimer regarding that statement in the Press, which must have caused great distress and suffering to the parents when it was stated that the second death could have been avoided?

Mr. Ede

It would be quite impossible for my Department or any other to undertake to deny wrong statements that are issued in the Press. I am grateful to the hon. Member who put down the Question, thus enabling me to make a clear statement on this issue.