HC Deb 05 November 1953 vol 520 cc447-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Studholme.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

My belief in the integrity of British justice compels me tonight again to raise the case of Timothy Evans. It is important to realise that Mr. Scott Henderson's inquiry was not to aid the Home Secretary in the performance of the onerous and inescapable duty that lies upon him. Timothy Evans had been executed. It was an investigation into a conviction by a jury made in open court. If any reflection is to be made upon that conviction from that evidence so given, the evidence upon which the reflection itself is made should be made fully available.

It is quite abhorrent to our deep-rooted sense of justice in the open court that Mr. Scott Henderson should have heard evidence from 23 witnesses in private, in a truly Star Chamber manner, treating counsel and others in a way that I find it difficult to understand. There was, for example, a refusal to allow counsel for the Evans family to be present when many of the witnesses were examined and the refusal of Mr. Scott Henderson to put questions submitted by counsel, in particular the refusal to ask Christie about matters incriminating him and about the tie and the blanket. Again, Mr. Scott Henderson refused to receive oral submissions from counsel. He said that he would receive written observations and that they should be delivered to him by Monday evening, 13th July. Later, the request was that these should be delivered by 4 o'clock in the afternoon. In fact, they were delivered shortly before that time.

The Home Secretary has now told the House that Mr. Scott Henderson showed him a draft of his report at 2.45 on Monday afternoon, 13th July, and discussed it fully with him. The final report was delivered at 7.15 p.m. that day. I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Scott Henderson paid any regard whatever to counsel's submissions. It is quite preposterous that in his supplementary report Mr. Scott Henderson should now declare that there is no record of his investigations to which the Home Secretary, or, indeed, anyone else, can refer for the complete facts on which his findings are based.

If Mr. Scott Henderson had found that there was a miscarriage of justice, I should have been among the very first to demand a public inquiry. It would have been intolerable that an inquiry conducted in this matter, on information anonymously given, secretly and privately, without proper examination and without scrutiny in public, should be allowed to reflect upon a verdict of a jury.

Of course, I fully realise the difficulty at the time of taking evidence in public from Christie, but, oddly enough, of all the witnesses it is only in the case of Christie that the complete transcript of his evidence has been made available—at any rate, of the evidence he gave before Mr. Scott Henderson. We still do not know why Mr. Blackburn, of the police, the day before, should go and tell Christie that there was no proof against him that he had killed Mrs. Evans.

The inquiry ought to have been conducted in public and it ought not to have been entrusted to a single person, certainly not to an advocate practising before the courts. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) has shown in his masterly analysis of this case, the moment the facts were known about Christie, if Evans was guilty there had been an incredible series of coincidences.

The essential failure of the Scott Henderson Report, to quote from the excellent article in the "Sunday Observer," is that while the honesty and efficiency of the Report are not in question, the report does not set out the arguments and facts that would seem to point to Evans' innocence and deal with them. Surely it would be quite obvious to anyone that the time of Mrs. Evans's murder is of critical importance. If Christie killed Mrs. Evans, as he said, at lunch time, Timothy Evans had an alibi for he could have been shown to have been at work. As far as I can gather—I do not know whether there will now be a second supplementary report—Mr. Scott Henderson never seriously considered this vital issue.

A friend of Mrs. Evans made a statement that she called on Mrs. Evans about noon on the day she was murdered. She found the kitchen door shut. No one answered, but she had the impression that someone was in the room. Was that Christie? It could not have been Evans. She called the next day and Christie told her that Mrs. Evans and the baby had gone to Bristol. Mr. Scott Henderson saw this witness. We do not know what she said, and we do not know why, when this particular person was questioned, counsel for the Evans family, who had a statement from this witness, should have been sent out of the room. Mrs. Evans had made arrangements to go out for tea on the day she was murdered. She never arrived.

Then there were the building trade workers. What did they know about the movements of Mrs. Evans? Did they see anything of her on the day she was killed? More especially, did they see her in the afternoon of the day on which she was murdered? What about the 14 months old baby? According to the case accepted by Mr. Scott Henderson, it was left upstairs unattended for two days. Did they hear anything of the baby? Have any tests been made to show whether they or the Christies could have heard the baby crying? If not, why not? There may be other evidence, we do not know. We can rest assured that Mr. Scott Henderson failed to obtain any evidence that Mrs. Evans was alive that afternoon or it would have been in his Report. Moreover, the really significant fact remains that Mr. Scott Henderson never mentioned having made such an inquiry at all.

What could be more unsatisfactory than the present position regarding the building trade workers? Their evidence is crucial upon the issue as to whether the particular confession of Evans, upon which Mr. Scott Henderson relied, is accurate, or—this was Evans's defence—false. It is crucial upon the question whether Evans could have disposed of the bodies.

There were four building trade workers. One of them was not there at the material time, and that leaves three. One was a builders' labourer, and at the time of the Evans' case he made two written statements to the police. We do not know what he said to the police, or why he was asked to make a second statement. We now know he told Mr. Scott Henderson that two of the pieces of wood out of the five pieces in front of the sink could have been used for shoring. Presumably the other three pieces of wood could not have been, and must have been wood flooring left later by the carpenter. He is now certain that on the evening of Friday, the 11th November, when they tidied up the washhouse before leaving, there were no bodies there.

The plasterer also made a written statement to the police at the time of the Evans' case. We now know from the supplementary report that the plasterer told the police that they had cleared everything from the washhouse on 11th November. He also was asked by the police to make a further statement. We now know he then said that it would have been quite possible for anything to have been under the sink in the corner with timber in front of the sink. As we left some old wood flooring behind. This further statement is interesting for two reasons. It cannot be accurate because the "old wood flooring" can only be the flooring which the carpenter removed later. Secondly, anyone noticing any inconsistency in the two statements would probably have called for the time sheets. We know that at the time of the Evans case the manager took all the time sheets to the police station. We now know that all the time sheets are still available except for a few pages which are missing. Those missing pages are the relevant pages of the time sheets of the plasterer.

Finally, there was the carpenter. The only reference to the carpenter in the Scott Henderson Report is that a carpenter came to the premises after 11th November but [he] had nothing to do with the washhouse. We now know that Mr. Scott Henderson was in possession of a written statement by the carpenter saying he gave the old flooring to Christie on the morning of 14th November—the day that Evans left London.

The evidence of the carpenter is supported by his time sheets, which were produced before Mr. Scott Henderson. The carpenter also was interviewed by the police at the time of the Evans' case. He says he told them everything he said in the statement submitted to Mr. Scott Henderson, but in the case of the carpenter, for some reason best known to themselves, the police did not take a written statement. Incidentally, all this work was done at the order of the sanitary inspector who must have visited the premises. We do not know when, because Mr. Scott Henderson apparently did not inquire.

As a lawyer, I regard Mr. Scott Henderson's examination of the evidence of the building workers inadequate and wholly unsatisfactory. In his Supplementary Report there is no indication of what the labourer said in his statements to the police. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch alleged that he said that the bodies were not in the washhouse because he had cleared it out. At any rate he is now certain that the bodies were not there. The plasterer gave a second written statement to the police which is demonstrably inaccurate. The carpenter gave an account inconsistent with the Evans' confession and, for some undisclosed reason, the police in this case did not take a written statement.

In any case here we have statements made not by the accused person, then further statements qualifying them, and now statements clearly indicating that the statements made at the time of the Evans' case were inaccurate. None of these statements were brought to the attention of the court during the trial. None of these statements were made available to the defence. Moreover my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church alleged that no names and addresses were supplied to the defence in accordance with what the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster), who has great experience in these matters, described as "the ordinary custom." This appears to be tacitly admitted by Mr. Scott Henderson in his Supplementary Report, and it is obviously a matter which demands further inquiry.

It is quite impossible to deal adequately with this subject in the course of an Adjournment debate. There is the question of the time taken by Evans in making the statement. With all respect to my hon. and learned Friend, the material point is not whether it was humanly possible to write down this statement in the time, but, whether it was possible for Evans to have made this statement and for it to have been taken down in the time, the fact remains that there is an obvious discrepancy between the time taken for the statement at Notting Hill and the time taken for the other statements made by Evans. There is the point which my hon. and learned Friend has made about the phraseology alleged to have been used by an illiterate man.

There is this further remarkable fact. After Evans gave himself up to the police at Merthyr Tydvil, and before he was brought to London, he made a single request, a request about his baby. He asked the police to tell his mother in London that they should get in touch with Christie and get the address of the young couple in East Acton who, according to Christie, had taken the baby. The police were kind enough to transmit this message to Evans mother. Why was this fact, known to the police, not brought to the notice of the court at Evans' trial?

Again we have important differences between the evidence at the trial given by Chief-Inspector Jennings and Inspector Black. Mr. Scott Henderson now suggests that Inspector Black misled the court of trial by being mistaken. He may be right, but Inspector Black is a most experienced officer, and surely this calls for a more convincing examination than appears to have been given by Mr. Scott Henderson. We now know that it was at the Scott Henderson inquiry that for the first time Chief-Inspector Jennings revealed that the bundles of clothing had been in separate parcels.

One final point. My hon. and learned Friend complained that when counsel asked Mr. Scott Henderson whether he would take a statement from the chaplain who had seen Evans. Mr. Scott Henderson refused. In his Supplementary Report, Mr. Scott Henderson says: I never refused to receive the evidence of the chaplain. Later on he explains that all he did was to tell counsel that he would not send for the chaplain.

Mr. Scott Henderson called before him Christie's chaplain. I think that the public would have understood if he had called Evans' chaplain and would have respected the conscience of the priest if he had declined to give evidence. But I do not know whether the priest would have declined to give evidence, because Roman Catholic priests have been known to give evidence to right a judicial error. That was done quite recently. What the public cannot understand was Mr. Scott Henderson's failure to ask the priest to come before him. I have evidence on which I feel that I can rely which confirms what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has written—that Evans died protesting his innocence to the last.

In conclusion, I quote again from the "Observer" article, which continued: Further, by including in support of its conclusions facts which are of little positive significance and demonstrably weak, it lays itself open to the conclusion it is a 'whitewashing' report. There may be good and proper explanations of the many puzzling features of the Evans case. But unless the Home Secretary, who has some direct personal responsibility, for, after all, he fully discussed this Report with Mr. Scott Henderson before its publication-unless the Home Secretary holds a full and public inquiry the Evans case may well become a second Dreyfus case.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I owe an apology to the House for the fact that when this matter was discussed on 29th July I was not present. I regret that, but I was given no notice that this matter was to be brought up on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and I was informed that my presence would not be required when I inquired of those who advise us on these matters. I do not think that at that time they knew that this matter was to be raised.

As the person who was Home Secretary at the time that Evans was convicted, I have, of course, a double responsibility in the matter. In the first place, at that time I was responsible for the conduct of the Metropolitan Police whose conduct in this matter has been attacked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) tonight and previously. Also it was, of course, my duty to consider whether any reprieve could be recommended to His Majesty, arising out of the evidence.

I want to say this as a first point. I hold, and have always held, that it is the duty of the police and the public prosecutor to see that all the evidence in a case is in front of the court, whether it tells for or against the prosecution. After all, the prisoner, up to the moment of his conviction, is a good citizen and the services of the State ought to be as much at his disposal as at the disposal of whatever may be the interests that are appearing against him. I took occasion every time I addressed an audience of policemen—and I addressed a great many in the course of the six years during which I held the office of Home Secretary—to bring this before them.

I am not to be taken as accepting the views that have been put forward with regard to the conduct of the police in this matter. But I would point out that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in a book that he published after the first Report by Mr. Scott Henderson had appeared, said: The most worrying aspect of the Evans case is precisely that Evans's guilt appeared so clearly proved. No criticism against judge, jury, counsel or police,"— he goes on, because of the line he took on the case— and yet the apparently cast-iron case was unquestionably a false one. At that stage no allegation against the probity of the police was made.

This is not the only case in which it has been alleged that officers of the Metropolitan Police manufacture or deflect evidence. If that were ever believed by the majority of the people of this country, all faith in our judicial and police systems would vanish.

As I have pointed out, it is not for me to say, as I am one of the persons implicated, whether a further inquiry should take place or not. If I flamboyantly asked for one, it might be said that I was so certain of my own vindication and that of the service that I was challenging a further inquiry. I thank the Home Secretary for having instituted the first inquiry. I regret that he is not here this evening. He is being adopted as the Tory candidate for Epsom tonight—a very fitting thing to do on Guy Fawkes night.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government and all others concerned in considering whether this matter can now be regarded as closed will have regard to the necessity of giving full assurance to the public of this country that the police forces are not guilty of the kind of things with which they have been charged.

10.22 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

The House will be grateful to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for his intervention in this debate. The Home Secretary understood, of course, why the right hon. Gentleman was not here in July last.

As a former Home Secretary he will appreciate the amount of thought and care which this matter has cast upon my right hon. and learned Friend. He himself would have been here this evening but for the circumstances mentioned by the right hon. Member. As he said, the right hon. Member was Home Secretary during the time when Evans was tried and executed. The right hon. Member can certainly rest assured that no one on this side of the House—and I believe no one in any part of the House—wishes to level any criticism against him personally.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) was kind enough to give me notice of a number of questions which he hoped to have an opportunity of raising this evening. He told me he would raise the point that Mr. Scott Henderson's inquiry should have been a public one and he developed that in his argument. As Mr. Scott Henderson said, in paragraph 6 of his Report, the Home Secretary in fact decided that the Report should not be a public but a private one. Mr. Scott Henderson gave four reasons why he agreed with the Home Secretary in that conclusion. Indeed, they were such as have occurred to my right hon. and learned Friend and which would inevitably occur to anyone approaching this problem with an open mind.

In the first place, the tribunal might have to see Christie. In fact, Mr. Scott Henderson did see him. Christie was at that time a condemned man awaiting execution and I think, and I believe the great majority of hon. Members will agree, that it would not have been proper to put a man in that position open to examination or cross-examination in public.

The second reason was the great mass of written material which the tribunal would have to consider. Examination of that material would necessarily have to take place in private; in the nature of things that had to be so. Thirdly, it would be necessary, or at least desirable, to consider many matters which would be privileged in legal proceedings, such things as conversations between solicitors and their clients or instructions given to counsel.

In the fourth place, it was highly important that no one who might be in possession of any relevant information should be deterred from coming forward to give that information by fear of the publicity which it would inevitably attract. In fact, as the House knows, some who did volunteer information asked that their identity should not be disclosed.

May I remind the House that, in addition to those reasons, it was not the tribunal's function to re-hear the trial of Evans? That would have been impossible. The task before Mr. Scott Henderson was to consider the evidence given at that trial and any other relevant information, whether it had become available before the trial or whether it was revealed after the trial. That was the task of the tribunal. If the inquiry had been held in public it is perfectly clear that what would have been made public would have been a quite incomplete picture of the evidence upon which the tribunal was coming to a conclusion, because by far the greater part of the evidence would have been that already in existence, which would not have been brought to the attention of the public.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

May I—

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am afraid that I cannot give way.

The hon. Member has said that the inquiry ought not to have been entrusted to a single person, but the Home Secretary decided that the form of inquiry most likely to arrive at the truth would be one conducted by an independent and experienced person. He had the weight of two important precedents on his side. There was the inquiry into what was known generally as the Ware case in 1947, which was a case very similar in certain respects to the one which was the subject of this inquiry, and in which just such a tribunal was set up. Again, in the Devlin and Burns case an inquiry was held by a tribunal consisting of a single Q.C., sitting with an assessor. In each of these cases there was a single person. Incidentally, in each of them the inquiry was held in private, so there was a very strong body of precedent for what the Home Secretary decided to do.

The hon. Member has asked that there should be a fresh public inquiry. The only ground for my right hon. and learned Friend reopening this inquiry would be if it were shown that there had been some impropriety. I wish to tell the House plainly that my right hon. and learned Friend is quite satisfied that there is no question of any impropriety having taken place here. On the contrary, he is completely satisfied that the inquiry was held with skill, care and impartiality.

I wish to deal with one further point if there is time; the right hon. Member for South Shields referred to this. In his note to me, the hon. Member said that the conduct of the police appeared to be open to criticism and that he especially wanted to make the point that it should be the responsibility of the police to make available information obtained. The Attorney-General has already answered a question in that connection. It is a fact that the statements taken from the building workers which had been referred to, and all papers in this connection, were laid before the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was his responsibility to decide whether any of those papers were to be used in evidence or whether any matters in connection with them were to be communicated to the defence. He acts under the directions of the Attorney-General, at that time the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross).

The Director of Public Prosecutions decided that there was no reason to take any other action than he did take in the circumstances or to give the names of the witnesses in question to the defence, and if it is suggested that this information was improperly withheld from the defence the only implication is—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.