HC Deb 21 December 1956 vol 562 cc1711-22

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

It is appropriate, I think, that at the Christmas season the last plea before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess should be one for justice and perhaps some generosity from the State on behalf of a poor man who has suffered grievous wrong at the hands of the State. I refer to the case of Mr. J. P. Harrigan who was wrongfully imprisoned.

This is a case with which the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is familiar, but I think it right that I should as briefly as possible state, first of all, the bare facts of the ease. At 4.15 on 5th April last, in Charterhouse Street, two men snatched a wages satchel containing £2,000 and escaped with it in a car driven by a confederate. During the morning of 10th April police officers called at Mr. Harrigan's home and asked him to attend the police station to take part in an identification parade in connection with the crime. Mr. Harrigan told them that he knew nothing about the matter and was on that day engaged in his business as a scrap metal dealer. Later on the same day, when the police called at his home to search the flat, his wife produced his account hooks to prove that this was correct.

Prior to the identification parade Mr. Harrigan told the police that he had committed no crime, but that he had no objection to being put up for identification. At the parade he was identified by a person who, it was subsequently found, had been standing some thirty yards away from the scene of the crime. The man from whom the bag was snatched could not identify Harrigan and said that it was impossible to pick out anybody. Nevertheless, on the identifica- tion of the bystander. Harrigan was charged with the crime of robbery with violence.

A few days later the same bystander was invited to attend another parade and identified a second man whom he said had been involved in this crime. This second man was a perfectly innocent person who had been put in by the police to make up the number of the parade. Naturally the police disregarded that identification.

What is remarkable—and I want the Minister to note this—is that this failure did not cause the police to have any doubts about this witness's earlier identification of Mr. Harrigan. He still protested his innocence, but when asked immediately after the identification where he was at the ime of the crime, he said he did not know. He had some time to think about it—

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Collins

In actual fact he did not then know when the crime had bean committed he had to go to a newspaper office to find out. At the Guildhall, Harrigan—on the advice of his solicitors—pleaded not guilty, reserved his defence and elected to go for trial. Both his solicitor and defending counsel, an hon. Member of this House, told him that on the evidence put forward at the Guildhall no jury could possibly convict, Meanwhile, Harrigan had recalled that at the time of the crime he was in pursuance of his business in the yard of an old-established metal merchant, two miles away from the scene of the crime.

That merchant gave evidence for him at his trial, as did another business man who had called at the yard during the time he was there. A third witness for him was the licensee of a public house adjoining the yard. His alibi proving that he could not possibly have committed the crime was thus supported by three responsible business men, all of good character. There were other witnesses he might have called, but his legal advisers did not think they were necessary.

On 22nd June, at the Old Bailey, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Later, leave to appeal was granted and the appeal was heard on 29th October before the Lord Chief Justice. On that occasion the trial judge's summing-up was called into question and evidence of a new witness was admitted. That witness was an estate agent who had called at Mr. Harrigan's home about the letting of a yard in which Harrigan was interested and was told that he would find him in the metal merchant's yard. The conviction was quashed and Harrigan was released after serving eighteen weeks in prison. Meanwhile, he and his family had been involved in the gravest hardship. He has lost his business. He has had to sell his lorry to raise the cost of his first trial which, with the costs of the appeal, totalled £215. Mrs. Harrigan sold kitchen and bedroom furniture and other things to raise part of the money. They still owe £85, which they had borrowed from friends.

Prior to his conviction, Harrigan's earnings on an average were £10 a week. He was unable to get a job immediately he came out of prison and, in fact, only started at the beginning of this month. He lost twenty-four weeks work and something like £240 in earnings. His total financial loss was something like £500. In addition, there is the anguish suffered by his wife, who had to apply for National Assistance, and the distress caused to his family.

Those are two bare facts of a cruel wrong which the law has done to this innocent man and his family. On three separate occasions I have appealed to the Home Secretary to make an adequate ex gratia payment in compensation, but the Home Secretary has refused to pay a penny. I want to remind the Joint Under-Secretary of the statements he and the Home Secretary have made on the subject of police methods in respect of identification parades.

On 25th October, in a Question, I said that it was a common practice of the police to put up for identification … persons presently at liberty who have previous convictions for the same type of crime. … The Home Secretary said there was no foundation for that suggestion. He declared that men were put up only if they answered the description of the suspected person and there was … some evidence or other good reason to connect him with the crime. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 856.] Will the Joint Under-Secretary still say so in the face of the facts of Harrigan's case? There was no jot or tittle of evidence, no reason whatever to connect him with the crime, and the police did not look for any reasons or any evidence.

On 15th November, when I again asked for a review of police methods of selecting individuals for identification parades in order to prevent injustices, the Joint Under-Secretary himself declared: There is no ground for suggesting that procedure in connection with identification parades has caused injustice in recent cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1956; Vol 560, c. 1125.] He declared that the Police Commissioner's existing instructions provided all proper safeguards and he refused to review them.

In the face of the Harrigan case, would the hon. Gentleman dare to stand at that Box and say that there was no injustice and that all proper safeguards were applied? Of course he would not, and cannot.

If the Minister and the Home Secretary maintain this attitude, as recently expressed, they deny the truth of something known to every policeman and, I should think, almost to every schoolboy. Of course the police have their crime records—the finest in the world; and, of course, they use them. It would be utterly foolish and wrong of them if they did not. When a crime is committed they look at those records to see who is at liberty and who is on the run, yank them in and, if there is identification, make the charge stick.

That is what I object to in this case. That is what happened in this case, and I say that it is quite wrong. The Minister knows that I am speaking the plain, unvarnished truth. He also knows that on 1st November, and again on 15th November, I put Questions asking what compensation would be paid to Mr. Harrigan. In the course of his answers, whilst refusing to pay anything, he told me that the Court of Criminal Appeal had power to order the payment of costs to an appellant. In this case they had not done so. He said that in the second place ex gratia payments from public funds were made only in exceptional cases, and only when innocence was established, substantial hardship had resulted which was attributable to negligence, or misconduct on the part of the police.

I submit that this case satisfies all those requirements. Mr. Harrigan's innocence was established beyond doubt, and to the satisfaction of the Lord Chief Justice. There was cruel and crippling hardship, and the police were negligent. I do not allege misconduct at all, but I say that they were negligent for these reasons. First, when a civilian is asked to attend an identification parade, there is an assumption that the guilty party is there, and there is a tendency to pick out the person looking most like the criminal. It is negligence on the part of the police if they fail to make it perfectly clear beforehand that there is no certainty at all that the guilty person is among those paraded.

Secondly, in this case the bystander who identified Mr. Harrigan—the only one—and who was, in fact, responsible for his conviction, made another foolish and mistaken identification a few days later. The police were negligent in that, despite this, they proceeded on the assumption that he was a reliable and credible witness. It was their plain duty to make inquiries into Mr. Harrigan's whereabouts, in order to ascertain where he was when the crime took place. They neglected that duty.

Thirdly, they failed completely to satisfy the Home Secretary's own requirement of getting some other evidence, or other good reason to connect the man with the crime. I should like to know whether the Joint Under-Secretary admits that that is true. If the police had not neglected this public duty in these three ways this man would not have had to stand trial. They would have withdrawn the charges.

It seems to be beyond dispute, therefore, that, by the Minister's own rules, my constituent is entitled to a substantial ex gratia payment to compensate him for the wrongs which he suffered. In this, I am supported, as the Minister knows, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and, indeed, by hon. Members on both sides, who expressed the same view when I raised the matter on 15th November. But I appeal also on grounds of justice and common decency. We cannot just hound a man who is trying to make good, drag him from his home, and for no other reason than that he has sinned before put him in prison, ruin and blacken his family and then say, "Sorry—there is nothing we can do".

There is something that we can do. The Home Secretary has power to make payment, and I submit that he must do so. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) raised a similar case. There are, unfortunately, many of these cases, although they may not come to trial or be mentioned in this House in this way. Nevertheless, there are many of them. When my hon. Friend raised a similar case, the Joint Under-Secretary then said that the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed some 25 convictions a year, and that there were some 325 successful appeals at quarter sessions each year. He said it was impossible to consider making payments in all such cases. Why not? There may be exceptions, but, in the main, these persons have suffered grievous loss and shame attaching to wrongful imprisonment. Innocent persons should not be made to carry the whole burden of such misfortunes.

I believe I am expressing the view of the overwhelming majority of ordinary people, and in this I am supported by an editorial in the Star of 16th November, commenting on the Harrigan case. It quoted the following words uttered by the Home Secretary earlier this year when he announced ex gratia payments of £1,000 in another case: When a man has been imprisoned as a result of what turns out to have been a mistake it is right that the State should make some payment as a symbol of its desire to acknowledge error and do what is possible to square the account. That seems simple justice and exactly fits the Harrigan case. Fortunately, of course such cases are rare. They would be even rarer if it were known that mistakes had to be paid for, but, as the Star says, This should not be left to the vageries of Whitehall. It should be the law that an innocent man who suffers the stigma of prison should receive compensation as of right. I think I have proved my case according to the regulation which the Under- Secretary himself has announced. The three requirements have been fulfilled. This man has suffered and has been greatly wronged. It is for the Under-Secretary today to do what he can to put it right and square the account. I ask him to deal justly with the case which I have put forward, point by point, and, animated by the spirit of justice and perhaps, too, by the spirit of Christmas, I hope he will announce his Department's willingness to pay Mr. Harrigan the compensation to which he is entitled; or, at least, I hope he will give an assurance that he will bring before his right hon. Friend the points which I have raised this afternoon in order that the matter can be considered again.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) has made out a glaring case of injustice. He suggested that in this case, as in others, there ought to be an ex gratia payment. I would go further and say that it is not at all a question of an ex gratia payment. I should have thought that this man, as in other cases, should be entitled to compensation, not ex gratia but as of right.

In a civil case when a plaintiff brings an unsuccessful action against the defendant, the defendant gets the costs unless there is some good reason why he should not get them—because of misconduct on the part of the defendant or for some similar reason. In criminal cases it is quite true there is a power to award costs, but it is very unfortunate that that power is very sparingly used.

All the more so is justice called for in a case in which a person is tried, has to suffer the expense of the trial, has all the attendant anxiety, is wrongly convicted and spends his time in prison, after which it is discovered that the conviction is wrong. I am aware of the answer which was given by the Under-Secretary, the suggestion that unless the police are guilty of negligence in some way, compensation ought not to be paid. I strongly urge that that view is utterly and completely wrong. It is not a question of whether the police have been guilty of negligence or not. A man has suffered in this way and the prosecution were wrong in the action they took.

I should have thought that the view which ought to prevail is this simple one that unless the prosecution can show that it was due to some fault on the part of the prisoner that the proceedings were brought, and unless the judge certifies to that effect, the defendant in a criminal case ought to be awarded the costs, and if the matter went further and he was convicted and sent to prison he ought to be given compensation—not ex gratia but as of right. I hope that before very long the time will arrive when we recognise that simple justice demands a course of this kind.

4.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

This is the second occasion within ten days when we have had to discuss a case of this kind. I should like to begin by assuring the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) that neither that fact nor the circumstances in which we are discussing this case, it being the last item before we rise for Christmas, disposes me to treat the matter lightly. Indeed, my approach is quite the reverse. Apart altogether from the position of the individual involved, there are serious principles involved here. I do not dispute that for a moment.

The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury has referred to the background to these cases which I gave on 13th December. I do not propose to repeat what I then said. It would take up time unnecessarily. There are, however, two points which I should stress. First, though this may not be telling the hon. Member anything which he does not know already, it should be put on record that the law imposes no obligation on the Executive to pay compensation to persons acquitted on trial or appeal, or even to those granted free pardons. The hon. Gentleman may feel that it should, but to discuss that would be out of order. As matters stand, it does not; and that ought to be made clear.

Coming now to what has been the practice, I wish to mention the principles which have guided Home Secretaries, not only the present Home Secretary but his predecessors, in these cases. On 13th December I said that the invariable policy of Secretaries of State had been not to make ex gratia payments to acquitted defendants or successful appellants, save in circumstances which I specified, those being—as the hon. Gentleman correctly quoted—where the conviction had arisen through negligence on the part of the police or other public officials.

This is not simply a matter of administrative convenience, a device behind which to shelter. There is a sound reason for it, and I do beg the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury—as I am sure he will—to consider it objectively.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that all those acquitted could be paid. I am bound to say that I dispute that. It would be questionable then for the Government to select among those innocent before the law those whom they thought deserving of payment. Apart altogether from the principle involved, since that involves the intrusion of the Executive in judicial functions, it is not difficult to see how it might come to establish a double standard of innocence and really create more injustice than it remedied.

Mr. Collins

The hon. Gentleman said I was suggesting that compensation should be paid as of right to all persons acquitted. At the most, I have mentioned only successful appellants, those whose appeals are upheld.

Mr. Deedes

I accept that correction, but it does not alter the basis of what I have just said.

The hon. Gentleman has given the sequence of events in this specific case accurately, but with his own commentary. Perhaps I might give the sequence of events with my commentary. First, I do not accept the last point which the hon. Member made that there was negligence on the part of the police. On the contrary, there was a very positive identification by an independent witness whose integrity has never been questioned, and the police would have been seriously open to criticism if, despite the identification, they had not brought the facts before a court. I may add that, since the charge rested solely on the evidence about identification, the police released Harrigan on bail and asked the justices not to remand or commit him in custody.

The second thing that it is fair to stress is that it was open to Mr. Harrigan to have called Mr. Greenland, who was the relevant witness in the last stages of the case, as a witness at the trial. For his own reasons, he did not do so. The hon. Member mentioned that Mr. Greenland's evidence was ultimately admitted. That is not a fair presentation of what happened. For his own reasons, Mr. Harrigan did not call Mr. Greenland at the trial. I do not think that it now lies with him to blame the authorities if, as a result, he was convicted when he would otherwise almost certainly have been acquitted.

The third point I wish to make is in respect of delay in dealing with the appeal, which has a great bearing on the hardship to which the hon. Member referred, resulting in four months in prison. Harrigan appeared at the Central Criminal Court on 22nd June. After a retirement of an hour, the jury convicted him of robbery, and he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Four days later, Harrigan applied to the Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal against the conviction. In his initial grounds of appeal, he said that certain evidence had not been brought up which would have placed a different aspect on the case, but he did not say what the evidence was.

Three months later, on the 29th September to be exact, Harrigan applied to the court for leave to call a further witness, Mr. Greenland, and on 11th October the Court of Criminal Appeal received from Harrigan's solicitors additional grounds of appeal. On 22nd October, the Court of Criminal Appeal gave leave to appeal and took the exceptional course of allowing Harrigan to call Mr. Greenland, notwithstanding that he could have been called at the trial. The appeal was heard on 29th October, and after considering the further evidence, the Court of Criminal Appeal decided to quash the conviction.

It is true that Harrigan was in custody as a convicted prisoner from 22nd June to 29th October—a period of four months—but it is apparent to me, and, I hope, to the hon. Member, that the Court of Criminal Appeal would have been ready to proceed either in the last week of July or in the Long Vacation Court had it been required to do so. The case appears to have been delayed because the solicitors were not ready to proceed.

It is fair to stress, in answer to the two points made by the hon. Member, first, that if Mr. Greenland had been called by the defence at the trial, although one can never be certain about these things, it is more than likely that the jury would have reached a different verdict, but this vital witness was not called. Indeed, the defence that Harrigan had been with Mr. Greenland at the time of the crime was not disclosed until Harrigan applied to the Court of Criminal Appeal on 29th September for leave to call further evidence. It was clearly not possible for the police to verify Mr. Greenland's evidence before the trial, as, I am sure, the hon. Member will accept.

The second thing I want to stress concerning the last remarks made by the hon. Member relates to the identification parade.

Mr. Collins

The police could have checked upon the other three witnesses, but they did not ask Harrigan.

Mr. Deedes

The really important witness was Greenland, and as I have just said, it was not until 29th September that permission was sought to call the further evidence that Mr. Greenland could give.

Concerning the identification parade, on which the hon. Member and I have had exchanges at Question Time, I think the hon. Member will accept that there is no evidence of irregularity at the identification parade at which Harrigan appeared. I know that the hon. Member does not suggest that. Harrigan quite readily agreed to be put up for identification. He was paraded with eight other men of similar height, description and age, and he afterwards expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the parade.

Perhaps I might make these general observations in reply to the hon. Member. The circumstances of cases for identification parades obviously differ widely. In some cases, the evidence of identification by a single witness might be almost conclusive—for example, where the offender is known by sight to the witness or where the witness has had a particularly good chance to observe the offender's appearance. I can think of occasions when such evidence would be worth more than the identification of several witnesses who had only a fleeting glimpse of the offender. The weight to be attached to evidence of identification is essentially a matter for the jury, subject to the direction of the judge, and judges can be left to give the necessary guidance to the jury when the occasion arises in a particular case.

I do not want to go beyond that. I wanted only to put the hon. Gentleman's remarks on identification parades in rather more perspective by adding those general remarks of my own. I am sorry, particularly at this Christmas period, that I cannot accede to the request which the hon. Gentleman made, but I have at least met his request that I should answer the points which he made. I think that I have answered them point for point.

I have only, for my part, if I may so trespass on order, to wish you, Mr. Speaker, your staff, the hon. Gentleman and others present a happy Christmas.

Mr. Collins

Mr. Speaker, may I also trespass on order to wish you, Sir, and your staff, on behalf of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, a restful, peaceful Christmas and an invigorating New Year?

Mr. Speaker

I am greatly obliged for what has been said, and I heartily reciprocate the good wishes for Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Four o'clock, till Tuesday, 22nd January, 1957, pursuant to the Resolution of the House yesterday.