HC Deb 24 June 1960 vol 625 cc924-34

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

4.5 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

It is a very sorry tale that I wish to unfold to the House. To quote one eminent counsel, "There was a wretched air of conspiracy throughout". A number of Members of this House have tried to secure justice for Mr. H. R. Sandford, and many distinguished lawyers have satisfied themselves that a grave miscarriage of justice has occurred. For the convenience of the House, they include the names of such lawyers as Mr. Walter Frampton, Mr. M. Healey, Mr. Eustace Fulton, Mr. Norman Parkes, Colonel S. T. Banning, Mr. D. N. O'Sullivan, Mr. D. N. Pritt, and Mr. Mark Smith.

Before the House can be appraised of all the facts, it is necessary to go back into the history of this case. In 1934, the Government of India did not provide motor cars for officers of the Royal Engineers employed in the Military Engineering Service on the supervision of roads and buildings, but in cases where it was essential for the efficient performance of his duties, an officer who was so employed by the Government of India was advanced money on interest for the purchase of a car. The amount advanced, together with interest, was recoverable by monthly instalments from the officer's pay, the first instalment being payable in the month following the payment of the advance.

The next point is very important and germane to this case. In the case of an advance drawn in India, it was necessary for the officer to execute a mortgage bond and forward the dealer's receipt, with the bond, to the Controller of Military Accounts, whereas in the case of an advance drawn in England the officer executed a personal bond and no dealer's receipt was required. In this case, the bond was drawn in England and the demand by the Controller of Military Accounts for a receipt was an illegal act. Evidence of this was given at the trial by Mr. Batuk Singh, and the Controller of Military Accounts had no authority to demand the receipt from Mr. Sandford, because he had drawn the advance in London. I shall quote in a moment the evidence of Mr. Batuk Singh in this connection.

On his arrival in India, Mr. Sandford, after returning from England on leave, proceeded in his new station. When arriving in India he ordered a new car from Mr. Youett, a partner in the firm of British Motor Services, and was loaned a car by that firm pending the delivery of his new car. Mr. Sandford had continually owned a car for the efficient performance of his duties while employed in the Military Engineering Service since the year 1914. The suggestion by the prosecutor and the Judge Advocate, therefore, that he had not ordered a car from Mr. Youett's firm, was, on the face of it, absurd.

Why did not Mr. Sandford take delivery of the car immediately? When he returned to India he had only been at his station for a few weeks when he was posted for a three months course to the senior officers' school at Belgaum, some 1,500 miles away. He was not authorised by Army regulations to take a car with him, and one was not necessary for the performance of his duties while at the officers' school. He therefore postponed taking delivery until his return on completion of the course, when the next year's models would be obtainable.

Shortly before Mr. Sandford was posted to Belgaum the Controller of Military Accounts requested him to forward a dealer's receipt for the purchase of the car, although, as I have previously said, since Mr. Sandford had not executed a mortgage bond he was not authorised to demand a receipt. Nevertheless, Mr. Sandford complied with the request of the Controller of Military Accounts.

Mr. Batuk Singh, who was the Deputy-Controller of Military Accounts, in his evidence at the trial—page 14 of the proceedings—said: Before an officer is paid through my Department it is the usual procedure to get a receipt in advance from him. A receipt is often in our possession days before the officer gets his pay. In actual fact such a receipt is not exactly true until he gets his pay. Therefore a receipt given in advance is not false because the money has not actually been paid at the time the receipt is given. Mr. Sandford had no idea whatsoever that the signature on the receipt given to him was fictitious, and not one iota of evidence to the contrary was produced at the trial. It is incredible that anyone should believe that he would knowingly have accepted a receipt with a fictitious signature thereon when he could have obtained a genuine advance receipt from the company.

During the trial, evidence came to the knowledge of the prosecution, evidence vital to the case of the defence. This was the evidence of Major Kerr, which was deliberately suppressed by the prosecution. It was unjust and Mr. Sandford was therefore gravely prejudiced in his defence. The prosecutor was well aware that Major Kerr had identified the writing of the name "Williams" on the receipt as being the handwriting of Mr. Youett, as at the time of identification the receipt was in the custody of the military authorities and the prosecutor was the staff officer who both acted on behalf of the G.O.C.in-C. Western Command during the preliminary investigations and was the officer who took the summary of evidence prior to the trial.

In October, 1933, Major-General Matheson requested Brigadier Kemp-Welch, Commandant of the Senior Officers School, Belgaum, to obtain Mr. Sandford's explanation for submitting the advance payment receipt. Brigadier Kemp-Welch was at that time Mr. Sandford's commanding officer and he accepted the explanation given and replied to General Matheson accordingly.

On receipt of that communication, however, the latter, realising that as Mr. Sandford's commanding officer had condoned his action no further proceedings could be taken against him under military law, refused to accept the explanation and immediately caused a criminal case to be instituted in the civil court at Quetta against him. That, however, was not disclosed to Mr. Sandford, who was ordered to be placed under military arrest at Army headquarters at the request of General Matheson. It was not until his arrival in Quetta, two days prior to the commencement of the trial, that Mr. O'Sullivan, Mr. Sandford's counsel, discovered the true facts.

At the trial, Mr. Sandford's counsel submitted to the court that the trial should be adjourned until the case against Mr. Youett had been concluded in the civil court, but that request was refused. It is, perhaps, not without significance that when finally in the New Year the case against Mr. Youett was proceeded with in the civil court, he was acquitted. It is submitted that Mr. Sandford was as gravely prejudiced in his defence as Mr. Youett was unwilling to give evidence while a case was pending against him in the civil courts.

Why is it that so many eminent counsel who have seen all the papers—and I emphasise the phrase, "all the papers"—in this case and who have had an opportunity of discussing the matter with and cross-questioning Mr. Sandford are all convinced of Mr. Sandford's innocence and that only successive judge advocate generals are out of step? Before proceeding, I point out that the legal opinions of the Judge Advocate General's Department over the years have been suspect and have been twice upset.

With regard to procedure, the composition of the court, for example; the first part of Rule of Procedure 21 (b) provides that the members of a court-martial for the trial of an officer shall be of equal if not superior rank to that officer. But, with a degree of circumlocution which would be the envy of a roundabout, the Judge Advocate-General persuaded the Secretary of State that the court need not be so composed as Rule of Procedure No. 21 (b) provided. This was subsequently overruled by the Lewis Committee. At the trial, on the advice of his counsel on the grounds that he had no case whatever to answer, Mr. Sandford did not give evidence.

The reason why the Judge Advocate-General's advice to successive Secretaries of State has been against Mr. Sandford quite simply is that the record of proceedings held in the Judge Advocate's office is not the original but a tampered with version of it. In 1937, Mr. Duff Cooper said to the late Sir William Allen: … nor am I able to say that it is the original copy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th March, 1937; Vol. 321, c. 2014.] There are innumerable answers from Secretaries of State on this subject, both in the House and in writing, to the effect that the record of proceedings held in the Judge Advocate-General's Department is not the original record but an altered version of it.

With the time at my disposal, I cannot give too many examples of this. I am bound to say, however, that the statement prepared by Mr. Sandford's lawyers on the alterations and omissions covers nine foolscap pages. The three examples which I propose to give are as follows. The first concerns the sworn affidavit of Mr. Dennis Neil O'Sullivan, barrister-at-law, who was Mr. Sandford's counsel at the court-martial. I shall read only the relevant parts. He stated: (2) That I have been a member of the Indian Legislative Assembly and a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Sind. I have also held Judicial Office, having acted as a Judge of the Court of the Judicial Commissioner of Sind. (3) I am at present officiating as Public Prosecutor for the Province of Sind. … (5) That the record of proceedings was taken down in Court by the Judge Advocate in his own handwriting. (6) That to the best of my recollection on the first day of the trial after the adjournment for lunch I inspected the record and found that the proceedings had not been correctly recorded by the Judge Advocate. (7) I accordingly, to the best of my recollection, protested to the President of the Court. I subsequently handed to the Court a written submission, a copy of which is attached herewith marked A. (8) That on subsequent occasions I found that additions and alterations had been made to the record out of court; that is when the court was not sitting. (9) That on or about 19th January, 1934, I handed to the Judge Advocate a further written submission, copy of which is attached herewith and marked B. (10) That the Record submitted to the Confirming Officer was not the Record of the Court Martial Proceedings as made in Court. The fact is that annexes A and B which were submitted to the court are not in the documents held by the Judge Advocate-General at this time. They have been deliberately suppressed by the Judge Advocate.

The second example, the most serious of all, relates to the evidence of Mr. Batuk Singh. During cross-examination, counsel asked Mr. Batuk Singh this question: You cannot say therefore that the accused owes 39,000 rupees? The witness replied: I cannot say. The record of the proceedings has been altered to say: I can say that the accused, therefore, owes at least 39,000 rupees. This is in direct opposition to the statement made by Mr. Batak Singh in the cross-examination.

From the purely technical point of view, the third may be considered to be even more grave. After the promulgation of the sentence has taken place in Quetta on 5th March, 1934, the record of the proceedings remained in Quetta for more than five weeks when they should have been in the War Office in London; and after the date of the promulgation they were tampered with to the extent that two documents were withdrawn and two more submitted in their place. The person who did this was not very clever because the documents were dated 12th April, 1934, some five or six weeks after promulgation of the sentence.

We shall no doubt hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that this case has been reviewed over and over again and in answer to Questions in this House, I have been referred to the Oliver Committee, to the High Court and to the Court of Appeal. In my submission, the reference to the Oliver Committee is a deliberate attempt by the War Office to create in the public mind the idea that this case has been properly reviewed.

What was the Oliver Committee set up to do? It was simply to look into the question of the procedure at courts-martial and to see whether any improvement in the arrangements could be made. On 3rd June, 1938, the War Office wrote to Mr. Sandford: I am directed to enquire whether you desire to place your views before the Committee on any matter which falls within their terms of reference which are:—'To examine the existing system of trial by court-martial under the Army and Air Force Acts and matters incidental thereto, and in particular to consider whether it is desirable and practicable that a person convicted by court-martial should have the right to appeal to a civil judicial tribunal against his conviction, and to make recommendations.' If you so desire, the Committee will be glad, in the first place, if you would forward to me a memorandum embodying your views … In the last paragraph the letter goes on: While the Committee will consider any particular case as illustrating some suggestion for the improvement of the existing system of trial by Court-martial they have no power, as a court of appeal, to review the merits of any decision in any particular case. Any memorandum which you may send or any oral evidence you may give will not be made public. In his letter to me on 15th March the Secretary of State said—I was asking for a review, a public tribunal— …in effect this is what happened in 1938 when Sir Roland Oliver held his enquiry into alleged miscarriages of justice at courts-martial. He made a very through study of the proceedings in the Sandford case and Mr. Sandford gave evidence to him. What was the evidence Mr. Sandford gave? He was asked one question and only one question, not by Sir Roland Oliver but by Mr. Tristram Beresford. The question he was asked was, "Is it your opinion that when the court is reaching its verdict the Judge Advocate should not he present?" to which Mr. Sandford replied, "That is my opinion." It is perhaps not insignificant that one member of the Oliver Committee was Sir Felix Cassel, a previous Judge Advocate-General, who himself previously reviewed Mr. Sandford's case.

Having been dismissed the Service with all that that means, upon appeal to the War Office four of the charges are quashed and Mr. Sandford is awarded a pension by the War Office amounting to half his retired pay. Subsequently, it was pointed out to the War Office that this might be regarded as a mitigation of sentence. Once the possibility of that was known at the War Office immediately the payment of his pension was transferred to the Colonial Office where it became a compassionate allowance, and there it remains to this day.

Finally, after his conviction a memorandum from Headquarters Western Command India was sent to Sandford stating that Army Headquarters India were prepared to arrange a free passage for him to go to any British Colony but not to England. Mr. Sandford proceeded to England by air at his own expense and when he arrived in England he asked for repayment of the money. Although it was alleged that financial embarrassment was the cause of his troubles in India, he was refused repayment of the money on the ground that he had adequate funds at his disposal.

I could read the sworn testimony of Mr. Dennis O'Sullivan, which is a dreadful indictment of this case. Sufficient to say that he said: That case has caused me to change my opinion and has left a bad taste in my mouth. The utter ineptitude displayed and the subterfuge resorted to, I shall never forget. There was a wretched air of conspiracy shrouding the whole proceedings, and all through I felt that the members of the court felt that it was as much as their promotions were worth to let off Sandford". The conduct of General Matheson and the Judge Advocate throughout this sordid trial were reprehensible in the extreme.

I regret that I have given my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War so little time in which to reply. I had so much that I wanted to say. But I must beg of him in the interests of everybody, the good name of his own Department and of the Judge Advocate-General's Department, and certainly for the honour of Colonel Sandford, to set up a public inquiry to settle the matter once and for all.

4.27 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) has left me little time in which to reply. He has already circulated to many Members a series of documents relating to this case. I have, however, only a few minutes left in which to deal with it.

First, may I turn to the question of Mr. Justice Oliver's Committee. The hon. Member has said that only one question was asked of Colonel Sandford. I must point out that I have here a typescript record, and in at least 11 pages of it Mr. Sandford was asked a variety of questions. As far as the Oliver Committee was concerned, the Chairman personally studied the whole of the proceedings and was satisfied, as were the Committee, that in not one of the cases disclosed—one was the case of Mr. Sandford—was there any miscarriage of justice.

Let me run over the events leading to the court-martial of Mr. Sandford in 1934. In October, 1932, Sandford went on eight months leave from India to the United Kingdom. He had previously signed an application form for an advance of 3,000 rupees to enable him to purchase, while on leave, a motor car which he would use for duty purposes on his return to India. Sandford drew the money, but he did not purchase a motor car either in this country or in India. On his return to India he failed to supply the required documents to the Controller of Military Accounts, but when requested to do so, a few months later, he sent documents purporting to show how he had disposed of the loan of 3,000 rupees, and he sent what purported to be a dealer's receipt for a Ford motor car.

The signature "L. Williams" on the receipt was not that of any person engaged in the motor trade in Quetta. It was common ground that it was a false signature. It was also common ground that although this receipt expressed to be an acknowledgement of the sum of 3,000 rupees in full and final satisfaction for a Ford touring car, no sum whatever had been paid.

As a result of this Sandford was tried by general court-martial in January, 1934, and convicted on five charges and sentenced to be dismissed His Majesty's Service. On review, the Army Council set aside four of the convictions against Sandford on the technical point that certain documents relating to the purported but non-existent car purchase were misrepresentations and not forgeries. But the remaining conviction of uttering a forged document, which was the dealer's receipt, was sustained as was the sentence of dismissal from the Service.

The essence of Sandford's offence was that he borrowed money from official sources for a specific purpose which he did not fulfil, but purported to show that he had done so by uttering a forged receipt. He was found guilty of uttering a forged document contrary to the Forgery Act and was dismissed the Service. He was, of course, guilty of conduct which made him unworthy of trust and the Army could not properly have kept him in their service holding the King's Commission. What was at issue was not only a question of law, but also a question of honour relating to his conduct as an officer of field rank, holding a particularly responsible position. Those are the basic facts.

I believe that today and over the past years neither my hon. Friend nor the other paladins of Mr. Sandford in this House have really challenged the correctness of the decision as to the facts. What they have challenged again and again, and always unsuccessfully, are the technical legal grounds as to the processes of justice at Sandford's court-martial and trial in India.

The main points which my hon. Friend has tried to put forward this afternoon, and the essence of his pleading, are that the trial, the court and its procedure, including such points as the record of proceedings, were incorrect, irregular and misdirected. I have been through these points at considerable length. I would merely say that, having gone through them, I am convinced that the points which my hon. Friend has attempted to raise about the Judge Advocate in this trial are incorrect.

There were, as my hon. Friend knows, at this trial no shorthand notes. It was a question of the notes being taken by the Judge Advocate, and those notes being available to all and being circulated. At the time of the trial, the summary of evidence which was circulated was not questioned. It was only about four years later that this attack was made.

This matter has been through the hands of a great variety of Secretaries of State: Lord Hailsham, in 1934, who later was Lord Chancellor: Lord Halifax, in 1935; Mr. Duff Cooper, in 1935, 1936 and 1937; Mr. Hore-Belisha, in 1937, 1938 and 1939; the right hon. Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell), in 1948; the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), in 1953. All have considered this case. In addition, every possible means of appeal by Mr. Sandford has been exhausted—appeals in this country to the Sovereign, to the Court of Appeal and to the Divisional Court. I am certain that excellent legal brains have gone through all the points raised in the memorandum circulated by my hon. Friend and the various points raised by Mr. Sandford's attorneys through this last quarter of a century.

None of these numerous and distinguished reviewing bodies has reached, nor can I reach, any other conclusion than that this officer was rightly convicted in law and that the Army was right to dismiss him. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that Mr. Sandford was rightly convicted and rightly punished. To agree, as my hon. Friend suggests, to a public inquiry would be to undermine the rule of law and to make a mockery of the whole system of checks and safeguards on which our legal system is based.

I have given this case great study. I myself have been through scores of documents. Over twenty-five years files have accumulated in the War Office, full of what I believe to be tedious repetition. Today, not a single new point has been raised. Every one of the points raised by my hon. Friend has been looked at by Judge Advocate-Generals, by Secretaries of State and, finally, by me and by people today who, previously, had no knowledge of this case in the War Office.

Only one conclusion can be reached—that this officer, after he had attempted to defraud, was a man in whom His Majesty and the Army could no longer place sufficient trust and that, rightly, he was dismissed from His Majesty's Service.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Five o'clock.