HC Deb 06 July 1953 vol 517 cc863-7

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

93. Mr. G. H. R. ROGERS

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now able to state what decision he has made in regard to an inquiry into the trial and execution of Timothy John Evans for the murder of his child.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will answer Question No. 93.

I have this morning appointed Mr. John Scott Henderson, Q.C., to examine the evidence given in the case of R. v. Evans and that of R. v. Christie relating to the deaths of Mrs. Beryl Evans and of Geraldine Evans; to consider any other information which is, in his view, relevant to these deaths; and to report whether, in his opinion, there is any ground for thinking that there may have been any miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Evans for the murder of Geraldine Evans.

I have also appointed Mr. George Blackburn, Assistant Chief Constable of the West Riding, to assist Mr. Scott Henderson in the investigation.

Any communication for the tribunal should be sent to Mr. G. A. Peacock, of the Treasury Solicitor's Department, Storey's Gate, S.W.1, who will act as Secretary.

I should like to make it clear that Mr. Scott Henderson is in no way concerned with the conviction of Christie of the murder of Mrs. Christie. The due processes of law having been exhausted, it is now for me to consider whether or not to allow the law to take its course.

I hope that anyone in possession of relevant information relating to the deaths of Mrs. Evans or Geraldine Evans will communicate it without delay to the tribunal in the knowledge that information so given can in no way affect the ultimate decision in Christie's case.

Mr. Rogers

Is the Home Secretary aware that the whole country will, I think, applaud this wise decision to have an inquiry? I was not clear, however, from what he said, whether the inquiry was to be in camera or to be an open one. Would he clear up that point?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have carefully considered the question of whether the inquiry should be held in public and have rejected it. Similar previous inquiries were held in private. It would, clearly, be wrong to examine in public Christie or any other person who wished to give information on this matter. It is essential to encourage people to come forward freely and contribute any information they may have. It is also essential that the procedure should be flexible and that any new lines should be speedily followed up. The responsibility for this decision is mine, but I have consulted Mr. Scott Henderson, who agrees, and says that to hold an investigation in public would make his task impossible.

Mr. Paton

Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the latter part of his answer to the supplementary question? While the House would agree that it is essential that in an inquiry of this kind certain parts of it should be held in camera, surely, in view of the widespread public disquiet which has been aroused in this case, it would be far better if at least some important parts of the inquiry were held in public, and as much information given to the public as it is possible to give.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have considered this matter very carefully. The objective of the whole House is, subject to human frailty, to arrive at the truth, and I believe that this is the best method of reaching the truth. With regard to informing the public, the report will be published and will, no doubt, contain a summary of the information on which the conclusions were based.

Mr. Woodburn

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether the proceedings will be carried out according to the law of evidence, as previous tribunals have been loose in their behaviour? Will the inquiry be strictly conducted?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am quite sure that the procedure will be according to the rules of natural justice. The law of evidence is a very complicated code, with formalities of various sorts which may or may not be appropriate, and I should not like to give a ruling on the exact legal point.

Mr. H. Morrison

While congratulating the Home Secretary on the course he has taken, and while not necessarily dissenting from this point, may I ask whether he would be good enough to tell the House the reason for associating Mr. Blackburn with the inquiry, and what his duties and status will be in relation to Mr. Scott Henderson?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

In the first place, the House will have noticed that Mr. Blackburn is the Assistant Chief Constable of the West Riding police force. As the Metropolitan police force had been concerned with the trial, it seemed to me right to take an experienced officer, especially experienced in detective work, from another force. His work will be to make preliminary investigation on any lines that arise—any matters that are submitted by any person—and that information will go to Mr. Scott Henderson, who will then consider what inquiries are necessary. It may even be useful that a preliminary inquiry should be made by an experienced police officer. That has also happened in other inquiries—that a new line has appeared to open up which wanted further inquiry and that inquiry could usefully be done by an experienced detective officer. That will be done, and Mr. Blackburn will also be a useful liaison between any of the police officers involved in the case.

Mr. Morrison

We may take it, therefore, from what the Home Secretary has said, that Mr. Blackburn will be subordinate to Mr. Scott Henderson and subject to his direction?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

That is so.

Mr. Willey

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had an opportunity of considering the request which I made last Thursday, that in view of the interest in the Evans case and the conclusions drawn from it, rightly or wrongly, a transcript of the evidence in that case should be placed in the Library?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am sorry that I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman meant a transcript of the trial. I thought he had in mind—I am sure the fault is mine—a transcript of the proceedings of an inquiry, and I would ask him whether, on the other question, he would allow me a day or two to think it over.

Mr. Paget

Can the Home Secretary tell us whether, historically, a private inquiry ever has exposed a great miscarriage of justice? Is it not a fact that all the great miscarriages of justice have been exposed by the fierce light of publicity, which is being denied here?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I cannot possibly assent to such a generalisation.

Mr. Benn

Would the Home Secretary consider associating one or two lay assessors with this tribunal, in view of the fact that the Attorney-General, the Home Office, the legal profession and the police are interested parties in the case?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have, as I said, after very careful consideration decided that a one-man inquiry by a very experienced lawyer with great criminal and judicial experience is the best method. The House will see that I have taken a Queen's counsel and a recorder and not a judge, because the judiciary, of course, took part in the trial and the appeal. I have taken a police officer from another force, I have taken a secretary from the Treasury Solicitors' Office and not from the Home Office, and I think the House as a whole will realise that I have done everything to see that the inquiry shall be of the most impartial and thorough nature.

Mr. J. T. Price

Since it is obvious that proper consideration of this serious matter cannot be given in complete isolation from certain aspects of the Christie case, has the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman been drawn to an article in a Sunday newspaper yesterday purporting to be the last confessions of Christie? Can he say what special facilities were given to the newspaper, if any, to take down those confessions, and whether the confessions will be heard as evidence at the inquiry which is now to take place?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

That is a different question, of which I should like notice, but I have already asked that any information about the Evans case should be sent at once to the secretary of the tribunal, and I now repeat that appeal.

  1. NEW MEMBER 6 words
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