HC Deb 06 May 1954 vol 527 cc703-14

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

10.9 p.m.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

I want to raise a case concerning the Mines Department of the Government of Nigeria and Mr. Basil Griliopulos, who until a few months ago, was a tin miner in that country. The history of this matter is somewhat complicated, and to develop it properly would require a great deal of time; but on an Adjournment, debate time is limited.

I must first summarise the facts of the case. Mr. Griliopulos was convicted on 14th January, 1953, on a charge of purchasing minerals, namely, tin, without a licence; that is to say, he was charged with having bought tin from a person who was not his "tributer" He was working in Nigeria on the basis of buying tin from natives registered with him as his tributers, and was charged with buying tin from a person not so registered. He was fined £50 several other more serious charges against him were dismissed. It is right to say that Mr. Griliopulos hotly disputed the conviction from the outset, and resisted to his uttermost the charges brought against him. He appealed right up to the Privy Council before he eventually had to give up.

It is not for me, in an Adjournment debate, to suggest that the learned judge who tried the case originally, or the other judges who heard it on appeal, came to an entirely wrong decision for wrong motives, but, having considered the transcript of evidence, I have come to the personal conclusion that this was a wrong conviction. But that is not what I am bringing before the House tonight. I cannot go behind the fact that Mr. Griliopulos was convicted on this evidence, but what I do want to bring to the attention, not only of the Minister of State but other hon. Members, is the consequences which ensued for this gentleman.

Before dealing with those, however, I would point out that he had had no previous convictions of any kind. The offence consisted of the purchase of a comparatively small quantity of tin, not by Mr. Griliopulos personally, but by a young boy who had been employed by him as a clerk for only about three or four days. There was absolutely no jot or tittle of proof that the tin in question had been in any way illegally acquired, mined or stolen. I want to emphasise the fact that the offence was a comparatively minor one in degree, although in name the purchase of tin without a licence is a very serious offence. So is stealing. A person may be charged with the offence of larceny, but there is a great difference in degree between the man who steals £100,000 and the man who steals 6d.

The consequences to Mr. Griliopulos were very serious. He was fined £50 by the judge and then, by administrative action, the livelihood which he had built up in that country was taken away from him. On the advice of the Mines Department, the Governor of Nigeria forfeited no less than 40 leases and prospecting rights which this gentleman had possessed, some of which were very valuable, and he dismissed all the applications Mr. Griliopulos had registered for further leases. In addition, Mr. Griliopulos suffered the loss of plant and machinery, estimated by him as being of the value of £11,000.

This action was taken by the Governor on the advice of the Mines Department and, from all I have heard from Mr. Griliopulos and all I have read from documents he has supplied to me, there appears to have been a long history of hostility by that Department against him, going back to 1944, when he first started mining on his own. I do not propose to give the House many details of that history, because the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs has them; they have been in the hands of the Colonial Office for several months. But, anybody who seriously and dispassionately considers the story will come to the conclusion that for some unknown reason the Mines Department in Nigeria "had it in" for Mr. Griliopulos and was anxious to prosecute him. I make that statement with every appreciation of the consequences that may ensue from it.

In November, 1952, when the offence was committed, there is no doubt that illegal mining of tin was going on at Langlang. No less than 20 mining camps were in the vicinity of that illegal mining, yet it is worth noting that no other miner besides Mr. Basil Griliopulos was investigated or prosecuted.

Here I turn to what, I think, is the most serious aspect of the whole of the case. It will be no surprise to my right hon. Friend, because the facts have been known in the Colonial Office for some time. One of the men who carried out the investigation was a man called Egbuonu, an African who was employed as interpreter. He swore an affidavit on 26th May, 1953, a copy of which I have here, saying that on 21st November he had gone with a Mr. Thomas, who was Senior Inspector of Mines, to see a man called Karkanji Fortlamy. He had a conversation with Karkanji, which went something like this.

According to Egbuonu, Thomas began by saying, "Do you know Mr. Griliopulos?" Karkanji said, "Yes, I know him quite well. He is a tin miner." Thomas then said, according to the affidavit, "Can you tell us anything about him?" And Karkanji asked, "In what way?" Thomas replied—and it is the interpreter speaking, be it remembered: "I understand that he buys tin from the pagans who work at the place where the illegal mining is going on. Is that so?" Karkanji replied, "I do not know"

Then comes the most serious sentence in the whole document. Thomas is alleged then by Egbuonu to have said to Karkanji, "Please tell us so, and we will give you some money." Karkanji, not unnaturally, asked, "How much?" Thomas is then alleged to have said, "I will give you £5."Then Karanji said, "Yes. He buys tin from the pagans working there." Thomas went on, "Thank you Karkanji. Here is £2. I shall give you the balance when the case against Mr. Griliopulos is over, because we are instituting a case against him."

If that affidavit is true, it raises a most serious issue of bribery in concocting the case against this man, Griliopulos. I have no means, of course, of knowing whether it is true or false, but the affidavit has been in the hands of the Colonial Office for some months and I have not yet had any kind of indication whether the allegations are accepted as true or rejected as untrue. It is worth noting that the man Egbuonu, who swore the affidavit, with two other Inspectors of the Mines Department, were subpoenaed to give evidence at the hearing of the case against Griliopulos, but they were not called to give evidence. Shortly before the trial, I think only a day or so before, the man Egbuonu who swore the affidavit was sent on leave to his home in the bush, a long distance away from Jos where the trial took place.

These are very serious allegations that I am bound to make of Mr. Griliopulps's treatment at the hands of the Mines Department. The very serious consequences for Mr. Griliopulos and the information I have placed before the Secretary of State arouse suspicion, and I ask my right hon. Friend tonight to say that he will seriously consider the appointment of an inquiry at the earliest possible date to go into the whole conduct of this case against Mr. Griliopulos, who has not only been convicted, falsely as he believes, of an offence, and fined and punished for it by the court, but has also lost virtually the whole of his life's work in that country. I believe that, in justice and equity, this claim I make tonight for an inquiry should be granted, and I urge my right hon. Friend to agree to it.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)

I shall detain the House only for a moment in supporting the plea which has been made by my hon. Friend on behalf of this gentleman, Mr. Griliopulos, who is quite unknown to me. I am interested in the matter only because, as my hon. Friend knows, I take a certain amount of interest in colonial affairs, and so he asked me, as a friend, if I would look at the papers and give my unbiased view. I am not going to enlarge on what my conclusions are, beyond saying that I have studied most carefully all the documents and the transcript of the evidence at the trial to which my hon. Friend has referred.

I am bound to say that I find the whole position rather disturbing, and I earnestly ask my right hon. Friend to consider my hon. Friend's plea to set up an inquiry in the interests of justice so as to make quite sure that there can be no suspicion that the Administration has departed from the high standards which, from personal experience, I know prevail in the Colonies. I do not know Mr. Griliopulos and I have no interest whatever in the case except that of seeing that justice prevails.

10.21 p.m.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Henry Hopkinson)

Knowing my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) as well as I do, I feel quite certain that he would not have brought this case before the House had he not been genuinely convinced that there has been a miscarriage of justice or some maladministration which has led to hardship for the individual concerned. I can only tell him at the outset that, after the most careful study of the papers and the facts, I am entirely satisfied that neither of these things is true.

Indeed, I do not think that my hon. Friend could suggest that Mr. Griliopulos was unjustifiably convicted of this offence, for although Mr. Griliopulos sought leave to appeal against his conviction, first to the West African Court of Appeal and then to the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal decided that there was ample evidence to justify conviction and the Privy Council refused leave to appeal.

The real burden of my hon. Friend's case is, first, that it was unjust and unfair that this conviction was followed by the forfeiture of Mr. Griliopulos' leases and prospecting licences and, secondly, that certain officials in the Nigerian Mines Department had been hostile to him for a long time and were gunning for him. My hon. Friend suggests that the conviction on what he claims to be a minor charge was used as an excuse for depriving this man of his prospecting rights and leases and getting him removed from Nigeria.

As I said, I am entirely satisfied from my own examination of the case that those charges are as ill-founded as any suggestion that Mr. Griliopulos was in any sense unjustly convicted. Nor is that my view alone. The evidence in this case was most carefully and thoroughly examined, first, by the Chief Inspector of Mines in Nigeria, secondly, by the Lieutenant-Governor in the Northern Region, thirdly by the Minister of Mines and Power in Lagos, fourthly, by the Chief Secretary of Nigeria when acting as Governor, and finally by the Governor himself, Sir John Macpherson; and they all declared without qualification that Mr. Griliopulos's licences ought to be revoked.

Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, after an equally thorough examination of the evidence and after a personal discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, decided that there were no grounds which would justify his intervention. Mr. Griliopulos and his legal advisers have throughout been given every opportunity to put their case for more lenient treatment, but they have not succeeded in convincing either the Governor or my right hon. Friend that any leniency is justified.

My hon. Friend based his case that the leases should not have been revoked on the assertion that the charge on which Mr. Griliopulos was convicted was only a minor one and that the loss of the leases was out of all proportion to the seriousness of the offence. I should like the House to be perfectly clear as to the facts. In November, 1952, the police found that extensive illegal mining of tin ore was going on from Crown land not far from two of Mr. Griliopulos's leases. On 19th November, 1952, Mr. Griliopulos and his clerk were arrested and charged, first, with receiving tin ore which they knew to be stolen; secondly, with receiving tin ore from a tributer not registered by Mr. Griliopulos; and thirdly, with purchasing tin ore without a licence.

Despite much evidence in support of the first two charges, the trial judge felt unable to convict, but both Mr. Griliopulos and his clerk were convicted separately on the third charge in January of last year. Although it may appear to the House, as it appears to my hon. Friend, that this third charge was less serious than the other two, in fact the offence was a very serious one indeed, involving, as it did, the violation of vital provisions of the machinery of control.

Here I should explain that illegal mining and trafficking in stolen ore is rife on the Jos Plateau, as I was informed when I was up there last year, and the difficulties of controlling it with scattered communities and scattered leases, can scarcely be exaggerated. So when there is a conviction of this kind which involves these or kindred activities, it is obvious that the most exemplary punishment and action must be taken. Mr. Griliopulos was in fact fined the maximum amount of £50.

As can be well imagined, this particular case caused great interest among the mining community on the Plateau. I am told that, in view of the remarks made by the trial judge concerning Mr. Griliopulos, the average tin miner in that district found it quite impossible to understand how he was not convicted on the receiving count. Certainly had exemplary punishment not followed this conviction, the proceedings would have had the effect of encouraging those miners who deliberately purchase stolen tin, and discouraging those who take the trouble to ensure that the tin they purchase does in fact come from their own leases.

After the conviction, the Nigerian Mines Department, after due and careful consideration, recommended that all Mr. Griliopulos's leases and licences should be revoked under the Minerals Ordinance.

Mr. Hay

I appreciate all that the right hon. Gentleman has said, but is it not a fact that there never was any evidence of any kind given to link Mr. Griliopulos personally with the purchase of this tin? Was it not a fact that the purchase was by his clerk, a young boy who had only been there two or three days, and who bought from a man whom he had never seen before, in circumstances of the greatest confusion?

Mr. Hopkinson

The trial judge was perfectly satisfied that Mr. Griliopulos was involved in this thing and knew all about it. So, as I have said, the Mines Department recommended that these licences should be revoked.

I must make it quite clear that no legal issue is involved. Mr. Griliopulos had no legal right in this matter of the revocation of the leases and licences. Once a man has been convicted under this Ordinance, the Governor has full discretion to revoke all his leases. As I have said, the Governor only confirmed the recommendation of the Mines Department after he and many others, including, at a certain stage, my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, had gone carefully into the matter and were satisfied beyond all doubt that no grounds for leniency existed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley has- suggested that something sinister lay behind all this, that there was hostility and prejudice on the part of the Mines Department against Mr. Griliopulos. Having examined the papers, I am quite convinced that there are no grounds whatever for suggesting that officials of the Mines Department failed to act impartially in these matters relating to Mr. Griliopulos. Of course, one must face the fact that Mr. Griliopulos's relations with these officials were not good, but they were very largely of his own making. After all, dating back till as long ago as June, 1946, there had been a series of irregularities of which I have a list here, in which Mr. Griliopulos or tributers employed by him had been involved.

Mr. Hay

Would not the Minister agree that none of these details has ever been made public? None of them has ever been communicated to Mr. Griliopulos. Is not this a perfect example of the reason why an inquiry should be held so that he can have an opportunity of answering?

Mr. Hopkinson

In June, 1946, the Mines Department drew attention to an irregularity concerning the placing of beacons. Mr. Griliopulos admitted the irregularity in that case. There are half a dozen irregularities dating back to 1946. Other than putting the Mines Department and the police on their guard against Mr. Griliopulos, these instances played no part in the events which led up to the prosecution in the present case. There is not the slightest evidence to suggest that Mr. Griliopulos has been victimised.

My hon. Friend made some play with the argument that a European senior inspector of mines, when investigating the case, offered a witness money in order to secure evidence against Mr. Griliopulos. I say here and now that that is perfectly true, and of course it was highly reprehensible. The officer concerned has since left Nigeria and there is not the slightest reason for suggesting that it reflects in any way on other officers in the Service or in the Mines Department or in the Administration.

Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)

How much importance was attached to Mr. Thomas's evidence at a later stage?

Mr. Hopkinson

That is the point. The evidence of the witness in question, to whom money was given, although it was undoubtedly true, was not material to the case. It was not material to the conviction. The curious feature is that Mr, Griliopulos's own counsel during the course of the trial did not cross-examine the officer who had given the money or the witness on the point, even though the witness in question had stated during the trial that he had later been offered a far larger sum of money, £25, by Mr. Griliopulos to give contrary evidence. Moreover, neither my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, nor Mr. Griliopulos's legal advisers in this country, appear to be seriously disposed to challenge the justice of the conviction itself.

I repeat that there is not the slightest evidence that the Mines Department did not show proper impartiality towards Mr. Griliopulos, and no ground whatever for suggesting that he was in any way framed. Conviction took place after a fair trial. The revocation of leases and licences was carried out in accordance with the law and after full examination by all concerned into the existence of any circumstances which might justify leniency.

I might tell the House that in fact Mr. Griliopulos commands no sympathy whatever among the Nigerian mining communities on the Plateau, who consider that the revocation was fully justified. Indeed, it is an undoubted fact that it is only by drastic action in cases such as this that it is possible to carry out this extremely difficult task of discouraging the stealing and illegal selling of tin to the detriment of honest miners, tributers and labourers. Having examined the case, as I have, and having heard what my hon. Friend has had to say this evening, I am afraid that I cannot possibly agree that there is any case for reopening the matter, or any case for an inquiry.

I should like to conclude with a reference to the suggestion that Mr. Griliopulos has suffered heavy losses as a result of this matter. Of course, he has suffered loss of good will and some loss of capital. But when my hon. Friend was invited by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies to produce figures in regard to the investments made by Mr. Griliopulos in the leases, he produced figures of, I think, £27,000 as being the investment. I cannot give the exact figure, because it would not be proper for me to do so, but that is more than twice as much as the amount which Mr. Griliopulos had given in his tax return. Consequently, if the figures given by my hon. Friend are correct, Mr. Griliopulos may be open to prosecution on the grounds of tax evasion.

Furthermore, there is reason to believe that he has been earning no less than £15,000 a year from his activities there. I understand that he has transferred a very large sum of money—I have had the figure of £100,000 given to me as a possibility —

Mr. Hay

That is altogether disputed.

Mr. Hopkinson

I also believe he has bought a mansion in Avenue Foch, in Paris. This is not the case of a little man who has been victimised. It is the case of a man who has been mixed up in undesirable activities for a long time, who has been convicted, and who, properly and rightly, but after full and most careful examination by all the authorities concerned, including my right hon. Friend, has had the licences and leases in the Jos Plateau revoked.

Mr. Hay

Before my right hon. Friend sits down, may I put this to him? In view of the most important information which he has given the House tonight about Thomas, who, it is now accepted, was going about trying to bribe the witness, does he not realise that one of the principal witnesses, if not the principal witness, against Griliopulos was this man Thomas? If Thomas was doing that sort of thing, although we may have information only as to one case, does it not throw the greatest doubt upon the whole of Thomas's evidence, upon which the prosecution rested? Is that not reason for a further inquiry?

Mr. Hopkinson

All I can say is that that knowledge was available to both sides at the time of the trial, but that no attempt was made by defence counsel to cross-examine either Mr. Thomas or Fortlamy on it. As far as I know, the trial judge was aware of it and took his decision with full knowledge of it.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-two Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.