HC Deb 13 June 1950 vol 476 cc16-8
32. Mr. Braine

asked the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been drawn to the case where orders were given to sentries in Germany to shoot to kill in certain circumstances and subsequently Private Gordon Kenneth Linsell of the 1st Battalion the Black Watch was sentenced to death by court-martial for murder; and what action has been taken in respect of the authority issuing such orders.

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir. My attention has been drawn to this case. The proceedings of the court-martial which tried Private Linsell have not yet been confirmed and the case must therefore be considered as sub judice. I cannot therefor comment at this stage on the case itself or on any orders which may be connected with it. In this connection I must point out that Private Linsell's legal adviser has intimated that he is instructed to prepare and submit a petition on behalf of Private Linsell for consideration by the Confirming Authority before the latter takes any action in regard to confirmation, and he has stated that he is fully aware that by his so doing some further delay in the confirmation or otherwise of the proceedings may be occasioned. The petition has not yet been received by the Confirming Authority.

I will make a statement on the case when the proceedings have been confirmed or otherwise.

Mr. Braine

Yes, but in view of the grave anxiety which this matter has caused to relatives of men serving in the Forces everywhere, will the Minister see that orders given to sentries in the future are framed in such a way that men clearly understand them and are not afraid of the consequences of carrying out their duty?

Mr. Strachey

That is another issue and I do not think I could comment on it without commenting on the substance of the case.

Mr. Paget

Could the Minister tell us at this stage whether or not soldiers are expected to obey their orders?

Mr. Strachey

Certainly, but again I should be going into the merits of the case if I said whether or not in my opinion that question was involved here.

Lieut.-Colonel Lockwood

Is the right hon. Member aware how much the public conscience has been stirred, and indeed shocked, by the Private Linsell case, and in order that public anxiety may be allayed, will he give the House an assurance that these proceedings will be reviewed at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Strachey

I cannot help feeling that the hon. and gallant Member is beginning to express views on the case, which is still sub judice, and it would be a great pity if the House committed itself to a particular view in this matter.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Can my right hon. Friend say, without reference at all to the case cited in the Question, whether he was aware that any military authority in Germany at this time was giving orders that, at a time when there are no active hostilities going on, sentries should be given orders to shoot to kill anybody?

Mr. Strachey

That is an entirely different question.

General Sir George Jeffreys

Will the Secretary of State tell the House why there has been this unusual and long delay in confirming the proceedings of this court martial?

Mr. Strachey

I thought that was stated in my reply—that it is at the wish of the defence, which is putting in a petition and desires, naturally, that the decision on the confirmation or otherwise should not be reached until the confirming authority has considered this petition from the defence.