HC Deb 07 April 1959 vol 603 cc156-66

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

10.1 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The subject of the debate tonight arises out of the famous, or infamous, trial of just a year ago, when a person was found guilty of seven murders out of eight for which he had been indicted in Scotland. During that trial, there were new sensations daily. The trial was probably unique in two of its features. One was the special plea of impeachment, and the second was that the accused man dismissed his counsel half way through the trial.

Apart from those aspects, there are other features which form the main subject of the debate and which raise questions about which the public was gravely disquieted during the trial. Those features were only vaguely hinted at by the Press at the time. Stronger voices have since been raised and there has recently been published a book by Sheriff Substitute Wilson, of Renfrewshire, a book which has been widely reviewed in the Press. In his book, Mr. Wilson makes very valid criticisms of the procedure following on the arrest of the accused man.

Two questions which arise are: first, why was there such a delay in the first instance in calling in Glasgow police, who have up-to-date equipment and who are the best equipped police force in Scotland for dealing with serious cases of crime? Arising out of that is the second question: why should there not be a central criminal investigation department in Scotland under the direct control of the Scottish Office?

That question was put in the Press. It arises from the mistaken view that Scotland Yard, in England, is under the direct control of the Home Office. As I understand, that is not quite true. Strangely enough, Scotland Yard gets its name from the fact that it is housed in buildings which were formerly the residence of the Scottish representative in London when Scotland and England had separate Parliaments. It is under the direction and control of the Metropolitan Police and not under the control of the London County Council.

What is the objection to the formation of a central investigation department in Scotland? It would be mobile and furnished with the most up-to-date equipment, wireless, and so on, and could move at speed into any area in which it was required. Speed is the essence of the problem because, in the Sexton Blake style, some scientific action, possibly an examination, ought to occur while the trail is hot.

The Glasgow Herald put the case very succinctly when, on 30th May, 1958, it said: The public interest evoked by the trial is probably unequalled in judicial history. It went on to say that the public had had revealed to it a state of affairs which caused horrified disquiet, and it referred to an underworld of housebreakers, gun peddlers and criminals of other sorts. But the paragraph most pertinent to this debate said: There is another aspect of the case which should give cause for thought. The first in chronological order of the crimes of which Manuel was found guilty took place in September, 1956. He was not arrested until January, 1958. That is a period of fifteen months. Although this man had been suspected right from the beginning it was only 10 days after the Glasgow police were called in on 5th January, 1958, that an arrest was made.

The newspaper went on to say: In between— that is, between September 1956 and January 1958— seven persons were murdered. No one who followed the trial closely will be disposed to under-rate the difficulties which faced the Lanarkshire County Police. But any district of the country is liable to be afflicted with crimes beyond the capacity of any but a highly organised C.I.D. such as Glasgow, and, on more modest scale, the other large cities of Scotland possess. The question of reorganisation of the Scottish police forces deserves to be at least re-examined. By way of Questions my hon. Friends and I have asked for such a review, aiming at the formation either of a central, mobile C.I.D. or the selection of an existing competent C.I.D. force, to be designated by the Secretary of State, which can move in either on his direction or request, or at the request of a local police chief.

The public asked why seven persons had to die before the criminal was brought to justice, when he had been suspected from the beginning. They also asked why an innocent man—the father of one of the victims and the husband of another—was incarcerated for 67 days on suspicion. Public perturbation and concern for young people went to extravagant lengths. They were accompanied to dance halls and through alleys and dark passages in order to preserve them from harm.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the state of efficiency of Scottish C.I.D. laboratories and forensic experts? If so, why is there such a large percentage of undetected serious crime? I understand that although the police are very anxious to achieve the highest possible percentage of detection they regard the position as satisfactory if they solve 30 per cent. of these crimes. I do not know whether that can be confirmed by the Joint Under-Secretary. We cannot expect 100 per cent. success in the detection of crime, but we want to be assured that worthwhile efforts are being made.

I cannot bring myself to believe that the fault lies with the individual officers, who apply themselves sincerely to this job, and I hope that by raising this subject I shall not bring any solace, comfort or encouragement to any people, to the extent that they think that, as a result of what I am saying, they can take an extra chance. We are anxious to see that the police are properly supported and receive all the help they can be given in achieving their objectives.

I believe that the weakness lies in this point of administration, and the time lag which is possible before the local police chief makes up his mind to request outside assistance. I believe that, as a whole, the facilities at the disposal of the C.I.D. are inadequate, and that the training courses for detectives are inadequate.

In his book, Mr. Wilson poses this question: in the light of modern techniques, was police organisation adequate to prevent some of the murders? He criticises the fact that the first incident which took place, involving Ann Kneilands, early in 1956, two years before the culprit was brought to book, the body was interred without scrapings being taken from under the nails. No samples of the blood or tissue were taken, which would have provided a pointer to an association with the criminal. At least, there was no evidence at the trial to suggest that that had been done. The cross-examination showed that it did not take place in respect of any of the other victims.

Naturally, as no scientific scrutiny took place regarding these matters, the question arises: do the Lanarkshire police have the necessary facilities at their disposal, and if not, why did not they call in the Glasgow police much earlier? Mr. Wilson also refers to a curious gap in the evidence concerning the clothing of the accused person which was removed for examination on more than one occasion, but there was no evidence of that at the trial. Can that be confirmed by the Joint Under-Secretary? If that is so, is not there a plain duty on the Home Department to improve the methods in the C.I.D. departments outside the cities? There is also the question of why Glasgow was not consulted on this matter at an earlier date.

The Joint Under-Secretary may answer that it rests with the chief constable of the area concerned to invite outside aid. The presiding judge at the trial of which I am speaking, Lord Cameron, was the Advocate Deputy in a famous trial before the war, the Buck Ruxton case. He was the man who had to bring together the administrations and co-ordinate the efforts and investigations of Edinburgh, Dumfries and Lancaster to " knock heads together " and get something done.

In the recent case, did petty jealousies exist between Lanarkshire and Glasgow and, if so, does this mean that such petty jealousies must take precedence over the public interest? That is a very important question which I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will attempt to answer. The Press, police authorities and lay and medical authorities, as well as legal authorities, are posing the same question.

I wish to stress that no reflection is cast on the efforts of individual officers. I think that the fault lies in the autonomous position of local officers. I realise that I am in danger of being ruled out of order in suggesting that legislation would be necessary, but I wish to make this point. Is not the Secretary of State entitled to " knock heads together" by issuing a directive? Or is the Lord Advocate or the town council entitled to do that?

A detective cannot solve a crime by his own efforts, despite what one reads in books written about the exploits of individual detectives or what one sees in the serials which appear on I.T.V. and B.B.C. television programmes. Detection involves co-ordination and team-work among officers.

In November of last year, and again in March of this year, I addressed Questions to the Secretary of State. The upshot was to ask whether a central C.I.D. could not be formed and whether the Secretary of State would undertake to issue such a directive. From the reply which I received on 17th March it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman was still of the same opinion and did not think that any other organisation was needed. He pointed out that in Scotland the responsibility lies with the local police force; but how long is it to lie there before action is taken? This was the very essence of the fault in the recent Manuel case.

I must get on with asking one or two other things. What about the training school which has been established? In England such schools were established in the 1920s at Hendon and Wakefield, and courses of thirteen weeks' duration take place there all the year round. My information is that in Scotland the training courses last only for four weeks in any one year. Even at that, there are only brief lectures given to senior officers. Will the Joint Under-Secretary of State say whether he is convinced that the facilities in Scotland in this respect are equal to those which exist south of the Border?

I believe that the school in Scotland is held in alternate years in Glasgow and Edinburgh. There will be one in Glasgow next year. Officers from all over Scotland may go there. What is the present personnel of the C.I.D. in Scotland, and how many of that personnel have been through such a training course? There is so much more that I want to say that I shall not have the time. I am truncating my remarks to give the Joint Under-Secretary of State an adequate opportunity to reply.

There is one other thing concerning the selection of men for the C.I.D. In Glasgow, such men must have had four years' experience and be in possession of the Police Elementary (Scotland) Certificate. Can the Joint Under-Secretary of State tell me whether the same standard is expected of the C.I.D. in the rest of Scotland, and if not, why not?

Lastly, I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to something which the police, in Glasgow at least, are finding a handicap. They have wireless communication with their officers on a wavelength which they know is being listened to and interfered with. The result is that when they want to send a message to an officer they cannot impart information to him straight away, but have to ask that officer to telephone back to headquarters so that they can pass on the real information. They have to go to that trouble in the interests of security. The Joint Under-Secretary can inquire at Glasgow if he wants any more information. We shall be grateful if he can try to answer some of the points I have put to him.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

On a point of order. Before the Joint Under-Secretary of State replies, may I ask whether this discussion is in order? We know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) has asked for a C.I.D., but we also know that we cannot get the Scottish chiefs of police to consult a C.I.D. Is it in order for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to tell me now whether new legislation will be required to compel Scottish chiefs of police to consult such a C.I.D. when the time comes?

10.20 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

Perhaps I might answer the hon. Lady's question when I come to it. I think it would fit in rather better if I dealt with matters as quickly as I can and cover as much ground as I can.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) has raised an important question tonight and one which is very much in the public mind, especially at a time when crime is showing a tendency to increase.

The public are perhaps most anxious of all about the personal security and protection of their wives and children and of old folk from assault, but it is not crimes against the person but crimes against property which are showing a marked increase. Nevertheless, we should never be content until every author of such an assault has been brought to justice. The hon. Member talked about 30 per cent. of cases being cleared up. At present 87 per cent. of crimes against the person in Scotland are cleared up. That is roughly six out of seven. He asked about crimes in general. He can get these figures from the annual statistics, but the numbers which are cleared up are running at about 40 per cent. I must say that Lanarkshire is rather above the average in the number of crimes cleared up. He also said that it is important that crimes should be cleared up quickly, and with that I fully agree.

The hon. Member expressed dissatisfaction with the system and methods of crime detection in Scotland and cited in particular the Manuel case. Before dealing with more general points, I should like to deal with the hon. Member's question why there was delay in calling in the Glasgow police in that case. I have no special knowledge of the Manuel case. I have read about it in the Press and have also read the very interesting account of the trial by Sheriff Wilson, including the opinions expressed in the last chapter.

Perhaps I could make these brief comments. The Watt murders were discovered on 17th September, 1956. On the 2nd October, 1956, Manuel was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment for housebreaking in Hamilton and was released on 30th November, 1957. The three murders or sets of murders, that followed were between then and New Year's Day, 1958. So it is not true that Manuel was at large all this time.

The second point was that it is true that Manuel was not charged until after the Glasgow police had been called in, but the post hoc propter hoc argument is very dangerous. It would not be fair to the Lanarkshire police. Glasgow police would, I think, be the first to agree that Manuel was not brought to book just because the Glasgow police were called in. Sheriff Wilson, in his account of the trial, described Peter Manuel as the man who talked too much. What appears to have put the police on to his scent was the lavish way in which he used notes stolen from the Smarts' house and what led to his conviction above all was his own tongue and confessions which tallied with the facts.

The third point the hon. Member made was that it is said the Lanarkshire police were remiss in not taking scrapings of the fingernails of Anne Kneilands and samples of blood after her death. The hon. Member and Sheriff Wilson are apparently not aware that ex-Superintendent Hendry, formerly superintendent of Lanarkshire C.I.D., has strongly denied that such elementary investigation was not undertaken. He has expressed resentment at the slur on Dr. Imrie, the Glasgow City Police surgeon, who examined the body of Anne Kneilands together with Professor Allison. While the public were naturally disturbed about the case, there are no grounds for concluding that something was far wrong with the system of detection. These were callous, purposeless crimes and the murder of Anne Kneilands was the most callous of them all.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

He was not convicted of Anne Kneilands' murder.

Mr. Macpherson

I hope the hon. Member will not—

Mr. Fraser

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the interests of accuracy and veracity, I wish to point out that the hon. Gentleman has connected Peter Manuel with Anne Kneilands' murder, but Peter Manuel was not convicted of that murder.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Macpherson

I understood that he confessed to the murder of Anne Kneilands—

Mr. Fraser

He was not convicted.

Mr. Macpherson

—after the appeal.

The first suggestion made by the hon. Member for Maryhill was for a central C.I.D. The hon. Member said that it should be called in either at the request, as I understood, of the Chief Constable, or on the instructions of the Secretary of State.

The hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) is quite right in saying that it would require legislation to empower the Secretary of State to give a direction for such a C.I.D. to be called in, but that does not prevent the C.I.D. being available to be called in when it is desirable.

The matter of giving directions in this way was considered when the 1956 Act was in contemplation and there was very strong opposition to it from all sides. Indeed, the main principle is the constitutional one of the independence of the police authorities. There is also the great practical difficulty as to how the Secretary of State would know when to issue such a direction. Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary could advise the Secretary of State if he thought a case was not being properly handled, but the likelihood is that if there was not a fairly quick arrest public pressure for him to give the direction would develop, and he might find himself either having to resist it or to intervene—perhaps quite unnecessarily—at an inopportune moment. As it is, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary can suggest to a chief constable that he might benefit from assistance from another force.

It is not realised how frequently other police forces make use of the Glasgow C.I.D. as well as those of the Edinburgh and other large forces. Another C.I.D. may be called in to a case, either to take over the case completely--and that is done from time to time—or to assist in a particular way. For example, in the case of a murder in Inverness, experts from Glasgow were invited to examine the scene of the murder and to report to the Inverness Chief Constable. Or they may make use of the facilities of the Identification Bureau which has an admirable library of fingerprints. They may consult Glasgow about the methods of criminals in Scotland. It is Glasgow which does the ballistic tests. There are scientific methods of detection available there and also a very good photographic unit.

The hon. Member asked about forensic science laboratories. Glasgow has a laboratory, and something like three-fifths of the total use of the Glasgow laboratory is made by outside forces; two-fifths by Glasgow and three-fifths by outside forces. The Glasgow laboratory works very closely with the city analyst and University Forensic Medicine Department, and other forces also work with the forensic medicine departments of other universities.

There is a good deal to be said for a police force having its own laboratory, but, as far as I know, there are no complaints about lack of facilities in Scotland although individual forces vary considerably as to the facilities they have.

The second suggestion was that detective training should be improved. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that at the present time there are four-week' courses organised in alternate years in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Some 30 to 40 detectives attend each of these courses. The syllabus is considered and approved by the Advisory Council to the Board of Governors and the Scottish Police College, and the Chief Constables I: Scottish) Association is consulted on various matters. Last year they were con-stilled about the length of the courses and they recommended that the period should remain at four weeks. The Central Conference of Detective Officers also considered the length of the course this year and decided that the matter should be discussed further at the six-monthly conference of the groups— that is the East, North and West groups.

The longer the course is, the more work of a practical character, schemes and exercises and so forth, it is possible to do. The difficulty for the smaller forces is to spare the detective officers to attend longer courses, although of course detective officers can be attached to other forces for instruction, and frequently are.

Of course, the chief constable may feel it worth while to send a good man on a comprehensive course whereas he may not be so particular in his choice for a short course. That was a common experience in the Army with those who had to organise and fill up courses during the war.

These matters are very much under discussion at the present time—how long the courses should be, what their contents should be, and who should be sent on them. These are professional matters for detectives but I would not like it to be assumed from the Manuel case that there is anything radically wrong with crime detection in Scotland. There is always room for improvement, and we hope to be able to go on making improvements to what is well known to be a very fine force, a force that is characteristic of all that is best in this country and one of which the country is proud.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Eleven o'clock.