HC Deb 05 February 1960 vol 616 cc1454-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

I am grateful for this opportunity to draw attention to the case of Police Constable Entwistle of the Manchester City Police, who had to pay the costs of his defence after being acquitted of charges of conspiracy to obtain a corrupt gift, and of attempting to obtain a corrupt gift, in December, 1958. Those costs amounted to £135, which I think it would be agreed is a fairly large amount for an ordinary police constable to have to pay. It might be as well if I began by summarising the events which led to Constable Entwistle being charged.

The case arose originally from the theft of some core boxes from the premises of Messrs. Henry Wallwork and Company of Cheatham, Manchester. Detective Entwistle, as he then was, went to the premises of Joseph and Terrence Mullender who were trading as Mull Bros., metal dealers, in Collyhurst, Manchester.

Entwistle thought it wise to have assistance when he went to question these people, and he called on another detective to accompany him. As a result the Mullenders were arrested and charged and were remanded. It was during the course of further investigation to trace the actual thief that the question of receiving amounts from the Mullenders arose. Both detectives were charged with having done this, or to put it more accurately, with conspiring to obtain a corrupt gift and attempting to obtain a corrupt gift. The other detective was found guilty but Entwistle was acquitted.

As I understand it, the actual thief has never been found, but the Mullenders, who were remanded until the two detectives were dealt with, were subsequently found guilty, in the one case of receiving and in the other of being accessory after the fact, and both received prison sentences. It is important to note that the charges against Entwistle, of which he was found not guilty, originated from complaints made by the Mullenders, who were themselves afterwards convicted of the offences which Entwistle was investigating, and which I think it was reasonable to say resulted largely on account of his work.

After Constable Entwistle had been found not guilty, the judge made no order as to costs. Yet, despite the fact that he was acquitted, and despite the fact that his work had led to the arrest and subsequent conviction of the Mullenders, he was taken off detective duties and returned to uniform within twenty-four hours of his trial.

Constable Entwistle subsequently applied to the watch committee of the Manchester Corporation for the reimbursement of his costs. He asked that if the watch committee could not do this his application should be sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department under the provisions of the 1931 Report of the Committee of the Police Council on Proposals with regard to a General Purpose Fund and Claims Department. Paragraph 24 of the Report appears to be applicable to this case, and in sub-paragraph (2) it is stated that when the police authority is deciding whether it would be right to pay costs incurred by a member of the police force it should take into particular consideration, first, whether the man concerned acted in good faith and reasonably, having regard to his instructions. I do not think it can be said that Constable Entwistle at any time acted other than in good faith.

Secondly, it should be considered whether the sums in question are reasonable, and in the case of costs, that the expenses were reasonably incurred. I do not think there would be any dispute about that. Thirdly, it should be considered what is likely to be the effect on the discipline and efficiency of the police force if payment from the police fund is denied.

In his letter to the Home Secretary, Constable Entwistle, in setting out his case, expressed his own views as to the effect of a refusal to help him on the discipline and morale of the police force. I agree with him when he states that a decision of this kind means that a member of the police force can be prosecuted by the police authority without hope of financial redress and can be placed in jeopardy, and his wife and family financially embarrassed thereby, when he was simply doing his job.

I suggest to my hon. Friend that on all the three grounds which I have mentioned the police authority would not only have been justified in paying Entwistle's costs, but that it ought to have done so. In this case, the watch committee refused his request for the reimbursement of his costs on 18th June last year. That decision was confirmed by the City Council on 1st July. On 3rd July, Entwistle sent his application to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and on 19th August he received a letter from the Home Office to the effect that my right hon. Friend did not feel able to suggest to the police authority that it should review its decision.

The matter was first brought to my attention on 10th September last year, and I wrote to my right hon. Friend asking if he would reconsider the matter. On 28th September, I received a reply from my right hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to the effect that the Home Secretary would not be justified in changing his mind. I am bound to say that I found my right hon. and learned Friend's reply unsatisfactory, but at that time there did not appear to be any further argument which I could advance in support of Constable Entwistle's case.

Since then, it seems to me that the position has changed and that this matter ought to be reconsidered in the light of the decision taken by the Metropolitan Police Authority in the Garrett v. Eastmond case which was debated in this House on 18th November last year. My hon. and learned Friend will recall that this case arose out of events which took place on 17th December, 1958, as a result of which, on 27th January last year, Mr. Garrett issued a writ against Constable Eastmond claiming damages for assault and battery and for false imprisonment.

Speaking in the debate on 18th November last year, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said: It has been the practice of police authorities for many years to assist constables against whom writs are served in relation to their conduct on duty with the defence of the action … it has been the practice to allow the Solicitor for the Metropolitan Police to act for a police constable defending such an action if he is requested by the officer concerned to do so. A police officer could, if he liked and asked, employ his own solicitor. In this case"— that is the case of Garratt v. Eastmondthe constable agreed to the Solicitor to the Metropolitan Police acting for him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1959; Vol. 613, c. 1248–9.] It is clear that an experienced counsel was instructed by the solicitor, and on the advice of counsel the solicitor decided that the action ought to be settled. It will be recalled that a figure was agreed and that £300 was paid into court.

I am not a lawyer; I am someone whom my hon. and learned Friend would describe as an ordinary, reasonable man, and to me an agreement to pay £300 rather than defend an action implies that the person agreeing to pay, and his counsel, feel that they would lose their case if they contested it. In that case payment was made out of public funds. I find no fault with that. All I seek to do is to compare the treatment of these two constables.

On the one hand, we have Eastmond, who would probably have lost his case if he had fought it and, on the other hand, we have Entwistle, who was found not guilty. Yet although Eastmond's costs were paid for him—apart altogether from the £300 paid to settle the case—Entwistle had to pay £135 to clear himself of a charge which arose from the complaints of two men who themselves were found guilty of an offence the circumstances of which Entwistle had been investigating, and were therefore hardly likely to feel well disposed towards him when they made their complaint.

That seems very unfair, to put it mildly, and it is hard to avoid feeling that Eastmond must have had friends in the right places, whereas Entwistle did not. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend would wish to do everything in his power to prevent anyone reaching a conclusion of that kind, and I believe that it is in the interests of the good name of the police, as well in the interests of justice, that this case should be reconsidered. I appeal to my hon. and learned Friend to do so.

If he does, I hope that he will bear in mind that a decision to make a police officer pay the whole of the costs of his defence, in a case in which he is found not guilty of the charges made against him, is not a very good way to encourage the police to do their duty, and it can hardly fail to have a detrimental effect upon the morale and discipline of the police force.

4.28 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) has made his case with great force, clarity and fairness. He has pointed to what appears to be a paradox as to the different treatment of two cases which have a certain amount in common. He complains that Police Constable Entwistle, of the Manchester City Police, has not been repaid legal costs, amounting to an even larger figure than my hon. Friend mentioned—at any rate over £100—incurred in a trial for an offence of which he was acquitted.

My hon. Friend compares that case with the case of Police Constable Eastmond of the Metropolitan Police. That case is well known to the House. My hon. Friend says that because Eastmond's defence was financially supported by the police authority—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—so Entwistle's defence should have been supported by his police authority—the Manchester City watch committee.

I do not dispute any of the facts which my hon. Friend has put before the House, but there is one thing which I must dispute and that is his suggestion that the one police officer had friends in the right places while the other had not. That was the only thing which appeared to me to mar my hon. Friend's speech.

Mr. E. Johnson

I gave my hon. and learned Friend the opportunity to prove that that was not so.

Mr. Renton

That is the sort of wild assertion which one should not attempt to disprove, but should merely deny.

The basic facts, so far as we need be concerned with them, of Entwistle's case are these: he was charged with conspiracy to obtain a corrupt gift and attempting to obtain a corrupt gift with Police Constable Critchlow who was charged with him and who was charged with the same offences and also with the offence of obtaining a corrupt gift of £10.

They were prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General having given his consent to the prosecution. Both men were acquitted on the conspiracy charge, but Critchlow was convicted of obtaining a corrupt gift of £10 and sentenced to imprisonment. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Entwistle was acquitted altogether. His counsel applied for costs on his behalf, but the court declined to make an order. That was in December, 1958.

The Manchester watch committee, as police authority, was then asked by Entwistle to reimburse the cost of the defence, but it refused to do so. The decision was the watch committee's to make and it did so, as I shall hope to show, in accordance with long-established practice. In June, 1959, Entwistle wrote to the Home Secretary saying that, in accordance with a recommendation made by a committee of the Police Council in 1931, he had asked the watch committee to send the papers to him for consideration. Entwistle said that he had acted in good faith and reasonably and had a moral right to be reimbursed his costs. After considering whether there was any case for asking the watch committee to reconsider its decision, the Home Office informed Entwistle that my right hon. Friend could find no grounds for suggesting that the watch committee should be asked to do that.

I point out to the House the important difference between this and Eastmond's case, but in doing so I must remind hon. Members that although the Home Secretary, being the police authority for the Metropolitan Police, had full responsibility for Eastmond's case, he had no responsibility for the decision in Entwistle's case, where the police authority was the watch committee. Garratt v. Eastmond was a civil action brought by a private individual against a police constable. The case of the Queen v. Entwistle was a criminal case. That distinction is not decisive in itself and that is not where the line is to be drawn— between a civil action and a criminal case. If Mr. Garratt had prosecuted Eastmond, the police authority might well have stood behind Eastmond as it did in the civil action.

The important distinction is not that Entwistle's case was a criminal case and Eastmond's a civil case, but that Entwistle's case was a public prosecution. The line is drawn not between civil and criminal proceedings, but between civil proceedings and private criminal prosecutions on the one hand and public prosecutions on the other.

Subject to there being good faith and reasonableness, a police authority will generally stand behind a police officer who is sued or prosecuted by a private person; but to stand behind an officer who is prosecuted by a public authority is an exceptional step. That, therefore, is the distinction between the two cases, and I should like to consider that distinction in the light of the general principles on which police authorities justify the expenditure of public money in meeting the legal expenses of members of their forces who have been sued or prosecuted in respect of matters arising out of the performance of their police duties. It is essential that police officers who are sued or prosecuted by private individuals should have the assurance that, given that they acted reasonably and in good faith, the public purse will meet their expenses. But it would obviously not be right for police officers to be allowed to feel that, no matter how they act, their personal pockets will not suffer. Therefore, each of these cases must be considered on its own merits.

In some private prosecutions, it is highly desirable, in the interests of the reputation of the police force concerned, that the defence should be contested resolutely and with the greatest skill. It may then be in the public interest for public funds to back the officer, but where a chief officer of police or the Director of Public Prosecutions considers that the public interest demands that the policeman should be prosecuted on behalf of the public, clearly, different considerations must apply. If a police officer is then acquitted, the court has a discretion as to the award of costs, and if the court feels that the case is one which should never have been brought, costs will generally be awarded in favour of the accused.

Where the court makes no order, as in this case, the police authority has a discretion as to whether public funds should be used to reimburse the policemen or not. The Home Secretary has, that discretion with regard to members of the Metropolitan Police; but as to other police forces, he is responsible only for deciding whether or not to advise the police authority to reconsider the matter. Theirs remains the final decision. It is unusual to pay defendants' costs at all in a public prosecution.

Reverting to the present case, this matter was fully considered in the Home Office in June last year, but bearing in mind that the court had made no order for costs, that the watch committee had carefully considered the matter, and that there were no exceptional circumstances which clearly pointed to the desirability of asking the watch committee to reconsider the case, my right hon. Friend decided to let the matter stand.

I know my hon. Friend's strong feelings about this matter, and I acknowledge the paradox to which he has drawn attention. The effect of his having raised the matter this afternoon is that I have to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no locus to intervene in this matter, but, of course, it is open to the watch committee, if it is persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley, to consider the matter further if it wishes. It is not obliged to do so, but, in any event, the decision must be that of the watch committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Five o'clock.