HC Deb 27 October 1949 vol 468 cc1524-8
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

In answer to a supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) last Thursday, I told the House that my attention had been drawn to a letter signed John Hadlow—the name is a nom de plume—and that I had informed the editor of the "New Statesman and Nation," in whose periodical the letter had appeared, that if the writer would give me particulars of the date, time and place at which the incidents he says occurred were witnessed by him I would cause a judicial inquiry to be held into the circumstances.

The editor of the "New Statesman" has informed me that before publishing the letter he took such steps as were open to him to assure himself of the good faith of the writer. Since receiving my letter asking him for the particulars before mentioned, he has, he tells me, several times seen the writer of the letter and conveyed to him the assurances he had received from me and from the Commissioner of Police stating that he would run no risk of losing his police facilities from Scotland Yard by coming forward.

The editor, however, informs me that the writer of the letter is of the opinion that his work and his value as a Fleet Street reporter—indeed his livelihood—depend on his capacity to maintain friendly and close relations with the police, and this he feels he will be completely unable to maintain if he is known to have made these allegations. The writer in the circumstances has declined to furnish the particulars asked for or to give evidence.

Such inquiries as I have been able to make without the assistance of the writer afford no justification for the serious allegations made against the conduct of the police. These unsubstantiated allegations are calculated to shake the confidence of the public in the impartiality of the police and ought to be investigated by an independent tribunal, for the setting up of which I had taken the necessary preliminary steps. The Metropolitan Police Force would have welcomed such an inquiry. The refusal of the writer of the letter to give the essential information for which I have asked makes it impossible for me to proceed further.

I say in conclusion that after making most careful and detailed inquiries, I, personally, am satisfied that the police carry out their difficult, disagreeable and arduous duties in connection with the disturbances in the East End of London with complete impartiality and in the best traditions of the British police service.

Mr. Mikardo

As I asked the supplementary question to which my right hon. Friend has referred without knowing—indeed I should not have asked it had I known—that the writer of the letter referred to was using a nom de plume, may I now ask him if he is aware that the statement which he has just made will convince all reasonable people that he will be very willing to take the best possible course if only he is assisted by people coming forward and giving evidence?

Mr. Ede

I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. I want to assure the House that these disturbances, which impose very delicate and difficult duties on the Police Force, are a matter of the gravest concern to all officers of the Police Force and myself, and that if a specific allegation such as this appeared to be, is submitted, it will be investigated.

Earl Winterton

Is it not the case—might I say how pleased I was to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said—that again and again when these cases have come up, magistrates have asked if there was any evidence of action by the police which was not impartial, and that not a single scintilla of evidence has been forthcoming, and that the whole of this matter has been manufactured by people who have evil intentions against this country? Is that not so?

Mr. Thurtle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in this letter, which appeared in the "New Statesman" on 24th September, the writer said that he saw a youth chased by a crowd of 20, tripped, knocked down, kicked and beaten with a car handle, and that he saw 32 policemen within 10 yards of this happening and not one of the policemen raised a finger either to defend the victim or to make an arrest? Now that this has been made public, does he not think that it is a very grievous injustice to the police that a man who made these allegations is not prepared to come forward and have the matter investigated?

Mr. Ede

I think it a gross abuse of the columns of any paper to make such a statement and then decline to give any information on which an inquiry could be held.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Does not the Home Secretary think that it was highly improper for the editor of this paper to allow his columns to be used for such an improper and slanderous attack without making certain that the writer of the letter was prepared to come forward?

Mr. Ede

I have seen the editor of the paper. I have had an interview with him. I gathered from what he said to me that he thought when he investigated the matter before publication that if the statements were challenged the man would be prepared to come forward, and that he feels that he has been let down as well as myself.

Mr. Nicholson

Did he get an undertaking to that effect before publication?

Mr. Piratin

With regard to the statement of the Home Secretary just now that he would like people to come forward and give evidence if they have it, is he not aware that if he will look at a number of court cases which have come up in recent months, he will find that time and time again people have submitted evidence which has either been ignored by the Bench or not taken into consideration in any way?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not say that it was ignored by the Bench. That is a slander on our courts of justice.

Hon. Members


Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Will the Home Secretary consult with the Law Officers of the Crown to see whether there is no legal process which can be instituted, either against the paper or against the editor, in order to drive this underground suspicion into the open and cause the man to be produced?

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. You have described a statement made by an hon. Gentleman opposite in the most serious terms as a slander against one of the courts of this country. Ought not the hon. Gentleman to be made to withdraw that slander?

Mr. Speaker

It is true that I described it as a slander but I did not order the hon. Member to withdraw. I think we had better leave it at that. I am thinking of the Debate which is coming on, and the time is drawing short.

Mr. Platts-Mills

Since my right hon. Friend has told us that he has advanced some way towards holding a judicial inquiry touching the conduct of the police, would he not use that machinery now for an inquiry on the cognate matter of the hooliganism deliberately organised for political purposes which has been spoken of this afternoon, and which has been going on round this little area in the East End, particularly in Shoreditch, in order to see whether we cannot unearth the cause of all these difficulties—[Laughter.]

Mr. Piratin


Mr. Platts-Mills

My right hon. Friend has already been asked if he would not consider an inquiry into this hooliganism because there is a mass of evidence available as to where it comes from.

Mr. Ede

No, Sir, I have no evidence of that kind. This case appeared to show that there was a specific incident which could be investigated. I was at once prepared to investigate it; in fact, I marked the paper on the day after it appeared that this matter must be probed to the bottom, but I am not prepared to have a roving inquiry into nondescript allegations.

Mr. Martin Lindsay

Would the Home Secretary now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) which I think he was just on the point of doing when the noble Lord raised the point of Order.

Mr. Ede

I think it may be for individual officers to consider whether the statements are sufficiently specific for them to be identified. I do not think there is any other action that can be taken on the letter, but there might be an opportunity then.