HC Deb 16 July 1953 vol 517 cc2221-4
6. Mr. Edelman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what compensation he proposes to give Mr. Allan Child, a dustman, particulars of whom have been sent to him, who, wrongfully accused of theft, was denied access to his foreman, incorrectly described as of no fixed abode and detained in gaol for seven days.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Mr. Child was arrested on 17th June. He appeared before the justices on 18th June on a charge of stealing and was remanded by them in custody for a week. On 25th June the charge was dismissed. Mr. Child did not ask to communicate with his foreman, and he was not reported to the court as being of no fixed abode.

While I regret that a man subsequently shown to be innocent should have been arrested and detained in custody, I have no reason, on the full reports before me, for thinking that there was any negligence on the part of the police, and I can find no grounds for authorising any payment to Mr. Child from public funds.

Mr. Edelman

Is the Home Secretary aware that this blameless gentleman was not only kept in prison on invalid grounds—he had a fixed and reliable address—but, in addition, was brought handcuffed from gaol back to Kenilworth court where he was ultimately acquitted? Will not the right hon. and learned Gentleman offer some compensation to Mr. Child, who was subjected to so many indignities which are so contrary to the normal practice of British justice, to compensate him for the injury and damage he suffered?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

My information is, and I have no reason to doubt it, that Mr. Child was asked whether he wanted legal aid and whether he wanted to communicate with any person, and that his answer was negative. He was asked whether he wanted bail, and he said he did. He was then asked to provide a surety, and he could not. The magistrates then, in their discretion—it is not a matter for me—decided to remand him in custody. Mr. Child was never handcuffed by the police—I want to make that clear—as rather might have been thought. What happened was that on his being removed from the prison to the police court he was removed among a group of other prisoners who were being taken to Warwick Assizes in a hired car, and the practice is that when a number of prisoners are taken together they are handcuffed so that there may be no united attempt at escape. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] That is a rule of the Prison Commissioners, and it was carried out.

Mr. Carr

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend for further information about two points which seem to be particularly important in this case? Is he satisfied that the police were justified in bringing a charge against Mr. Child and that they were not too quick on the trigger in charging him without first making adequate inquiries? On that point, what evidence is provided by the inquiry which my right hon. and learned Friend has made? Secondly, and this has already been mentioned, is my right hon. and learned Friend really satisfied that, once having been charged, Mr. Child was given every opportunity to obtain bail and communicate with relatives and employer, and to apply for legal aid, and that these rights were not just put before him, as it were, as a written notice, but were explained to him?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am sure that the House will consider this point sympathetically. To go into and restate the case against a man who has been acquitted might be for the disadvantage of Mr. Child. I can do it. I have all the points in front of me. I think the House would appreciate what is in my mind. If I state the facts as they appeared to the police at an early stage it will not do the person to whom we feel sympathetic, and to whom I have expressed my sympathy, any good. I have had a full report, including the facts, the complaint and the evidence that were given to the police at the time they decided to bring a charge. I think that the police were not guilty of over-quick action or of any negligence at all in bringing a charge on the facts then made known to them. I must make that quite clear. If the House presses me, I will give the facts, but I would rather not.

The second point that my hon. Friend raised is very important, and is whether this was just a common form routine or whether care was taken. I have made inquiries from the clerk to the justices and he tells me that great care was taken to make the defendant understand that he could get legal aid, that there could be a communication to anyone he wanted and that he could get bail if he could get a surety. I am sure that that was not a matter of routine, but that care was taken to ensure that Mr. Child knew his rights.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is it not most undesirable that a person who was on remand and against whom no prima facie case had been found, should be treated in the same way as a person against whom a prima facie case has been found and has been committed for trial at the assizes? Is that a matter of routine? Will not the Home Secretary undertake to look into this practice, if it be a practice, with a view to its early termination?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

If I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point correctly, he was referring to the fact that this man was sent with a group of prisoners going to the assizes and was handcuffed. I think the House will appreciate that in the case of those going to the assizes for trial the Prison Commissioners must take precautions to see that there is no joint effort at escape. I have in mind the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has stated and which, I think, finds favour with the rest of the House, and I shall be very pleased to look into it.