§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
It is eleven and a half years since the trial and conviction of Timothy Evans, and as we got further removed in time from this case the larger, the more vocal and the more authoritative becomes the body of opinion that there was a terrible miscarriage of justice. Lord Birkett is one who has now added his opinion to that effect, and his weighed and written words are of an authority that will not lightly be challenged, I think, in any quarter. Writing in the Observer of 15th January, Lord Birkett said:If the facts, as they are now known, had been known in 1950 no jury could possibly have said that the case against Evans had been proved beyond all reasonable doubt".I myself, with much less authority than Lord Birkett have come to the same conclusion, very reluctantly. I do not like to find a miscarriage of justice and I have come to my conclusion very reluctantly after the most intense reading and re-reading of the documents and publications involved in this case.
650 We are pressing for an inquiry to be set up. When I say "we" I do not mean only hon. Members on this side of the Committee. This is not a party matter. I hope—I am sure—that I am speaking for very many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee whose consciences are troubled about this case. As I see it, the inquiry should go into two major points. The first is whether Timothy Evans was rightly convicted, and the second is whether his remains should now be restored to his mother to be buried in consecrated ground. These two points are connected. The second arises only if one is satisfied that there was a miscarriage, and a clear miscarriage, of justice.
I should like to consider these two things in order, and start with some words about the question of the guilt of Evans and whether he was rightly convicted.
I think that the fundamental cause of the doubt which has grown increasingly widespread is this: if, in the light of the knowledge we now have, we assume that Evans was guilty, we must accept colossal coincidences which could not be swallowed by any twelve reasonable men. We should have to assume that in one small house there were two killers killing victims in the same horribly eccentric way. We should have to assume that these two men were operating independently and in ignorance of one another. We should have to assume that one killed six women and one killed only one woman. We should have to assume that while most of Christie's victims were parcelled up in old blankets, it was by pure chance that Evans parcelled up the body of his wife in the same way.
We should further have to assume that Evans, again by pure chance, accused of murder a man who was the Crown's star witness at his own trial; who was described at that trial, with "judicial approval, as "this perfectly innocent man"; but who in fact, unknown to anyone at the time, had strangled two women and was later to strangle four more. This seems to me to be a set of coincidences that it is impossible for a reasonable person to accept.
But if, in the light of this after knowledge, which no one knew at the time—there is no question that at the time 651 the case seemed overwhelming—we re-examine the Evans case, I think that certain grave doubts arise about the rightness of his conviction which enormously multiply the already enormously high odds against the set of coincidences that I have described.
The Scott Henderson Report, I think it fair to say, contains two main arguments for the conclusion it came to in paragraph 41:…that there can be no doubt about the responsibility of Evans for the death of his wife and child.The two arguments on which the Report relies are, first, that in his confession Evans disclosed vital facts about the two murders which he could only have known at first hand; and, secondly, that Christie's confession to the murder of Mrs. Evans was false.
As to the first point, the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, now the Lord Chancellor, Viscount Kilmuir, in a debate in this Chamber on 29th July, 1953, stubbornly defended this argument in the Scott Henderson Report. He maintained strongly that Evans only knew what Chief Inspector Jennings said in court that he had told him, before Evans made his confession at Notting Hill Gate police station.
In the alleged statement made by Mr. Jennings to Evans there was no mention that the bodies in the washhouse were under the sink. There was no mention that the bodies there were concealed by timber and there was no mention that the baby had been strangled by a tie. In his confession Evans revealed knowledge of all these three things—of the sink, of the timber and of the tie.
When one looks at the transcript of the evidence of the trial I think one may say that it cannot be read without there being very grave doubts whether it is true that Evans could only have known what Jennings told him and was not told anything more. Because there was a second police witness in this case, Inspector Black, who was present when Mr. Jennings was saying these things to Evans. His evidence throws a very different light on the things which Evans was probably told.
On page 76 of the transcript, Inspector Black is being cross-examined. The question was: 652And there did Mr. Jennings tell him (Evans) that he, Mr. Jennings, had first found the body concealed under the washbasin or sink of this outhouse?The answer is, "Yes, Sir". That is evidence that Evans knew from what the police had told him that the bodies were behind the sink.
The next question was:Did he also tell him that he found the body of his baby concealed behind some timber in the outhouse?The answer was "Yes, Sir". Therefore, the only point left, I think, where it can be seriously argued that Evans revealed in his confession something probably not told him by the police is the question of the tie round the baby's neck.
Mr. Black's evidence on this point also was much less strong and clear than the evidence of Mr. Jennings. When pressed by Mr. Morris, the defending counsel, to say whether he clearly remembered whether Jennings had or had not mentioned the tie to Evans he said, according to page 67 of the transcript, "I cannot remember". This is a very much weaker statement than that made by Mr. Jennings when he said that there was no mention of the tie.
It seems that, in any case, there is no need to establish that the tie was mentioned, because Evans had been told that both these bodies were of people who had died by strangulation. He was also shown a separate pile of the baby's clothes with a tie on top of it, still knotted and cut at the back and, as Mr. Jennings himself said, he stooped to pick this tie up before making his confession. He therefore must have known that in the view of the police this tie had been used to strangle his baby. It seems that if one studies the transcript of the trial, as I have done over and over again, at the very lowest one must say that there is very grave doubt about the validity of the main point on which the argument for Evans' guilt must and does rest.
There is another vital consideration here, that Evans' confession—which he withdrew and repudiated in court—is demonstrably false in two very important, indeed crucial, particulars. He said in his confession that he had murdered his wife on Tuesday, 8th November—that is an important date—and had carried the body down to the washhouse the same 653 night. He confessed that he had murdered his daughter on Thursday, 10th November, and at midnight that night had carried her body to the washhouse.
The first statements made by a number of workmen to the police, and backed by time sheets—workmen who happened by the most extraordinary coincidence to be working in this fatal house over this critical week—showed the following things. First, they showed that workmen were going in and out of the washhouse, where the bodies were said to be, between the 8th and 10th and that they cleaned it out on the 11th. They said that there could not have been bodies in the washhouse at that time. It follows inescapably, if that evidence is true, that Evans must have been lying. It could not be true that he murdered his wife on the 8th and his baby on the 10th and carried them to the washhouse, because the washhouse was cleaned up by these workmen on the 11th.
As to the timber, the second thing which the evidence of these workmen showed was that the timber which formed either all or the greater part of the timber used to conceal the bodies was not given to Christie until Monday, the 14th. That was the afternoon on which Evans left London and went to Wales. If the evidence is true that the timber was not given to Christie until Monday, 14th, one of two things must be true.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Is it not true that Evans left after midnight on the night of the Monday and Tuesday?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I think it true that Evans left for Wales on Monday afternoon, the 14th. We can check that up, but I think that that is so.
As I see it, it follows either that Evans must have put all, or at any rate the greater part, of the timber in front of the bodies in broad daylight between about eleven o'clock in the morning and four o'clock in the afternoon on a day when the Christies were at home; or that Christie himself put the timber in front of the bodies. One cannot escape one or other of those conclusions and one is infinitely more probable than the other.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That is true.
There is one disturbing feature about the evidence of these workmen. When the police took the first statements, backed by the time sheets, it became clear to them at once that this evidence did not fit in with Evans' confession. They then recalled the workmen—as they were perfectly entitled to do—and, after long interviews, persuaded them that they had been wrong in their first statements and persuaded them to make rather general and vague new statements which, while they do not altogether support Evans' confession, do not clearly contradict it.
I can understand—although I cannot wholly condone the methods used on this occasion—the police trying to fit bits of evidence into the pattern of events which they honestly and sincerely believed to be true. What appals me is that the whole of this evidence was not made available to the defence. Mr. Scott Henderson, in his Supplementary Report, says, in paragraph 5:The police gave these 32 statements"—that is, all the statements of the workmen—to the Director of Public Prosecutions.Why were they not then given to the defence? They would have been of major value to the defence. Here was Evans repudiating the confession. If there were evidence before the court which showed that at any rate part of the confession could not possibly have been true, that must have greatly aided the defence.
What effect it would have had on the outcome one cannot say, but it would have greatly aided the defence. I hope that the Attorney-General will deal, in particular, with this matter, because it is a vital mattes which goes beyond even the Evans case. It seems that this case might disclose that there is a defect in our procedure which is designed to ensure that evidence which may conceivably be of value to the defence gets to the defence. In this case there was a defect; there may be a general defect. This is one of the matters which, if it were set up, an inquiry could go into.
As I said, Evans repudiated this confession in court.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Will my right hon. Friend make the 655 point clear, because this seems to be the occasion when it should be made clear, that the firms had the time sheets over a period of years and that these time sheets are still missing?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
It is true that they have all the time sheets except one which has been lost, but I do not want to cumber my case with too many detailed points.
Evans repudiated his confession in court and reverted to the second statement he had made at Merthyr Tydvil Police Station, in which he alleged that Christie had murdered Mrs. Evans. The essential feature, I think, of this second statement made at Merthyr Tydvil Police Station was that Evans admitted that he knew of his wife's death—Christie had murdered his wife and he knew of her death—but he did not know of the baby's death. According to this statement made by Evans, Christie had undertaken that the baby should be looked after by a couple he knew at Acton.
It seems that there are strong reasons for accepting the substantial truth of Evans' second statement at Merthyr Tydvil Police Station. There are strong indications that he did not know his baby was dead. There are many others, but, for instance, there is the fact that, whereas he tore up and disposed of his wife's clothes in London, he kept the pram and kept the clothes of his daughter and gave them to Christie. That would be an extraordinary thing to do if he knew that both were dead.
Secondly, Evans was illiterate: he is said to have had a mental age of 10½. But he reproduced in court in every detail a statement he had made six weeks before, which he had not seen since. Indeed, he had made another confession in between. Of course, Evans was a self-confessed and ready liar. That is clear, but it is notoriously much harder to remember a long series of lies than to remember the truth and to remember it in close detail over an interval of six weeks.
There is one other point which has struck me in reading and re-reading these documents. In this mass of conflicting and inconsistent confessions and statements which one finds in both the Evans and the Christie cases there is 656 only one, Evans' second statement at the Merthyr Tydvil Police Station, which, I believe, is not contradicted by any single fact which was then known or which has subsequently become known.
This is an extraordinary thing, because all sorts of things have become known since which throw doubt on many things which were said. But this statement, which he repeated six weeks later—I repeat that he was illiterate and had not seen the statement in the interval—is not contradicted in any respect by any fact which has become known subsequently.
Further, if, as Evans alleged, Christie murdered Mrs. Evans, there is much evidence that the murder of Mrs. Evans fitted in with Christie's pattern of murder, which was not then dreamed of. Evans could not know it. Nobody knew it.
Mr. Scott Henderson dismissed Christie's confession of the murder of Mrs. Evans primarily on the ground that it was falsely made on the principle that the more murders he confessed to the more chance he had of being found guilty but insane. But the same line of argument could be used to explain Christie's denial of the murder of the baby. It certainly would have destroyed the picture of a maniacal necrophilia murderer if he had admitted that he had done a cold-blooded, rational, non-sexual murder in order to remove an embarrassing baby after the death of the mother. That argument could work both ways, and it seems to me that the two things cancel out.
There is a piece of evidence which was not mentioned in the Scott Henderson Report which fits the actual pattern of Christie's murders. Dr. Teare gave evidence at the magistrates' court. There has been some dispute about some of the evidence which he has been said to have given, but there is no dispute that he said that there was a bruise in Mrs. Evans's vagina that, to quote his words,could have been caused by an attempt at forced intercourse in a struggle.That was the horrible hallmark of all Christie's admitted murders, except that of his own wife.
The doubt about the rightness of Evan's conviction is so overwhelming that I need no inquiry to convince me. But I must press the Secretary of State, 657 because he has, in fact, refused to grant an inquiry and in a Written Answer on 16th March last he gave reasons for doing so, which I expect he will repeat and elaborate today. He said this:I have reached the conclusion that a further inquiry could not bring any new information to light, and that witnesses' recollection of the events of 1949 must inevitably have been dimmed by the passage of time and may have been confused by the discussion and speculation to which the case has given rise.I want to say two things about that. First, that line of argument would have stopped the pardon and release of Oscar Slater. It is an extraordinary thing that the very controversy which alone has made it possible to consider giving a free pardon is itself pleaded as an argument for not doing it, because it will obscure people's memories. Secondly, an inquiry could establish the truth, if it made, as the Scott Henderson Inquiry could not because of the timetable that was forced upon Mr. Scott Henderson, an unhurried, calm and thorough investigation into only the written documents of the case. I believe that the truth could be established even if the witnesses or some of them should have disappeared.
The Secretary of State went on to answer, in effect, the petition made to him by Mrs. Evans—that is, the mother of Timothy Evans—praying that a posthumous pardon should be granted to her hanged son and that his remains should be delivered to her for interment in ground consecrated by her church. To that, the Secretary of State replied in the same Written Answer:I have given careful consideration to the suggestion that Evans should be granted a free pardon. There is no precedent for recommending posthumous free pardon…. In any event a free pardon cannot be granted without a certainty which is not possible in this case…I am in these circumstances unable to agree to the proposal that Evans's remains should now he removed from Pentonville Prison."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 142.]I cannot believe that powers do not exist. I cannot believe that the Royal Prerogative does not extend to this. But if there is any doubt, that is an extraordinarily strong reason for setting up an inquiry to find out what the legal position is. The Secretary of State himself is uncertain of his powers.
I put this question to the Secretary of State. If Evans had been reprieved and were still alive, can anyone believe 658 that he would not long ago have been pardoned, released and compensated? It is inconceivable that he would not have been. Why should not this principle apply retrospectively and posthumously? Why should there be a demand now for a greater degree of certainty than would then have been demanded—indeed, an impossible degree of certainty? To ask for positive proof of innocence is to ask for the impossible.
The case will not lie down. This case cannot be stifled by authority. The weight of opinion that Evans was wrongly convicted is increasing and will increase. Sooner or later, justice will be done. The Secretary of State is a fair-minded man. I cannot believe that in his heart he does not agree with us. The choice that faces him is this. If he feels that he cannot overthrow the stand taken by a predecessor of his in office, he will be remembered as another Home Secretary who refused to do right in this great matter. On the other hand, if he agrees to a free pardon, he can be remembered as a Secretary of State who had the courage to remedy a great injustice—an injustice which, sooner or later, will be remedied.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember two things. First, where a miscarriage of justice has occurred, it does more harm to the repute of British justice to stifle it up than to admit it. We have clear evidence of this. The long delayed pardon to Oscar Slater did good and not harm to the repute of our system of justice.
Secondly, on the outskirts of London lives a simple, devout woman whose only son was hanged for a crime which, I think one can now say, the great majority of thinking people are convinced he did not commit. She will receive great human and spiritual comfort if she is allowed to bury the remains of her son in ground consecrated by her church. Common decency, common justice, demand that this simple desire of hers be not denied on the ground of expediency.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I intervene in the debate because I was Under-Secretary at the Home Office at the time of the Christie trial and I replied on behalf of the Home 659 Office to the Adjournment debate on 5th November, 1953. I then gave the Government's reasons for refusing an inquiry. I referred to the inquiry which had taken place, which was conducted by Mr. Scott Henderson. The most important part of my reply was contained in these words:I wish to tell the House plainly that my right hon. and learned Friend"—that is, the then Home Secretary, the present Lord Chancellor—is quite satisfied that there is no question of any impropriety having taken place here. On the contrary, he is completely satisfied that the inquiry was held with skill, care and impartiality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 457.]The Committee knows that those words would not have been spoken lightly of a man who is fully respected by all hon. Members who knew him in the House of Commons.
The object of this debate is to ask for a further inquiry. As the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, the purpose of such an inquiry would be, first, to clear the name of Evans, and, secondly, to allay any public anxiety about the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. I certainly do not wish to question at all the complete sincerity of those who ask for such an inquiry.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I said that because the sincerity of those who oppose the request may be questioned. Therefore, it is right to say at the beginning that we should accept the sincerity of both sides in this issue.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to approach such a question completely objectively. Everybody has strong emotional and moral attitudes to these questions, particularly where the question of capital punishment is involved. We cannot approach these questions as objectively as we would wish. That fact must be borne in mind when we are considering such a question as the present. It is right that it should be pointed out at the beginning of the debate that the law has been changed since the date of the Evans and Christie trials. In fact, there is no doubt at all that, if Evans were tried today on the 660 same facts and all other circumstances except the change in the law were the same, he would not be convicted of murder.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am very interested to hear the hon. Baronet say that. If that is so, how can he possibly defend the Scott Henderson Report, which said the exact opposite on the same facts?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
What I am saying, if I may be allowed to complete my argument, is this. Section 2 of the Homicide Act, 1957, would have been available and Evans would certainly have been able to plead diminished responsibility and would have been convicted of manslaughter and not of murder.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
No one can know that, but the very basis of the case put forward on behalf of Evans is that he was a man of not very strong mental character. I have no doubt that, if that was so, Section 2 would have been available and he would have been convicted not of murder but of manslaughter.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Is it not quite clear that it is precisely because Evans was of such low mental stature and Christie's intelligence quotient was almost double that much of this trouble has arisen? Will not the hon. Baronet take the consequences which arise from that in reconsidering this evidence rather than dismiss them by saying that the man would otherwise have been convicted of manslaughter?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am not dismissing anything. I am merely pointing out that, if the trial had taken place today, the law being different, there would have been a different result. That should be borne in mind when we are considering this problem. What we must do is to disregard the punishment which was inflicted in this case. The question before the Committee and every individual hon. Member is this: has anything now happened or come to light about the deaths of Mrs. Evans and Geraldine Evans which requires further official examination? That is the point, and the whole point, that we have to consider.
661 The main argument which has been expressed outside the House of Commons, and which was very fully and fairly expressed by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, is the same as the argument advanced in 1953 during the debate which we then had on these matters; the argument which rested on the matters that came to light during the Christie case. I think that the answer to that must be, "There has been a full inquiry, a fair inquiry and an independent inquiry into those facts, which was conducted by Mr. Scott Henderson"—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I appreciate that objections have been raised to that inquiry. The first of them, voiced today by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick, was that the inquiry was not a public inquiry but a private one—
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
No. I said that it was not an unhurried one; that it was too rushed. That was the only criticism I made.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The criticism has certainly been made that the inquiry was not heard in public, but was held in private. I gave the reasons for that in the earlier debate, and one of the reasons was—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
One of the principal reasons I gave was that an inquiry of this kind ought to have access to all the available facts, and some of the available facts would not come to whatever tribunal was set up unless the inquiry were held in private.
That view is fortified by the introduction to the book, which I think most hon. Members who are interested in this question have read: Ten Rillington Place, by Mr. Ludovic Kennedy. At the beginning of that book, in the acknowledgments, Mr. Kennedy says, perfectly candidly:A very great number of people have helped me in the collection of material for this book, but as many of them wish to remain anonymous, it would be invidious to name some but not others.That is exactly the position here. If we wished to get at the facts of the case 662 we would have to ask people questions which they would be unwilling to answer at a public inquiry. If we were to have a full inquiry into the matter, it has to be a private one.
I recognise, too, that the validity of the findings of the Scott Henderson inquiry have been questioned. They were questioned this afternoon. In a sense, I think that is inevitable, for the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, namely, that we do tend to take sides on this issue in accordance with our views of the result—in accordance with our attitude to capital punishment—
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am a little distressed. I am not affected in the way the hon. Baronet suggests at all. I have been very much affected by reading these books and, having read the evidence that was available at the time, I have very considerable doubts whether this was a proper decision. I think that the hon. Gentleman is rather side-tracking the case by suggesting there are motives in the minds of many hon. Members who have read these books and are very disturbed by them.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not for a moment suggest any motive, or any insincerity whatever. I merely say that in our approach to these matters we tend to look at them from the point of view with which we wish to look at them. I think that I am within the knowledge of most hon. Members there.
I can certainly assure the House that, as Under-Secretary at the Home Office at the time, I studied the Report and all the papers that were available to me—and which are, I think without exception, available to all hon. Members and the public now. I personally held that the findings of that Report were correct. So did my right hon. and learned Friend, the then Home Secretary, and so did very many other people whose good faith has not been challenged.
If that is so, if there has been an inquiry—even though that inquiry may not be satisfactory to everyone—it would be wrong to say that we should have another inquiry; that we should look into these matters yet again. The only reason for doing that would have been if there had been some impropriety at the first inquiry, 663 or if further evidence had come to light which required further examination. I think that that is the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. A. Woodburn).
That there was no impropriety at the inquiry is, I think, common ground, and accepted by hon. Members on both sides—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt develop that, but I think that I can say that most hon. Members do not regard that inquiry as having been improper—
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose—
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with this one? The evidence has never been published. The House does not know what evidence was given, and in what circumstances, but we do know that it was given in the absence of the legal advisers to Evans, and without their being able to put any questions. What about that?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Gentleman is raising the question of Whether it should have been a private or a public inquiry, but his right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick has not raised that question, and has expressly denied that he has done so. I agree, of course, that there are several views here. My own view is that this inquiry was better as a private inquiry, and was right as a private inquiry. That, I think, disposes of the hon. Gentleman's point—
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. Baronet is confusing two quite different things. It is possible to hold the view that it was better to hold the inquiry in secret, and if one holds that view it is also possible to hold the view that the evidence should not thereafter be published. I hold neither view, but it is possible to hold them. But does the hon. Gentleman really defend a procedure, even in secret—and especially in secret—where those 664 most closely concerned have no right to hear the evidence given, and no right to cross-examine on it?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I think that the hon. Gentleman is going far beyond what the position was at that time—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Yes, far beyond it. And I think, too, that there is no evidence at all which was available at that inquiry—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Well, that is my opinion; I cannot put it higher than that. The hon. Member may argue that there was—
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
On a point of order, Sir Herbert. Is there no way of hearing this as a debate? A lot of us have a good deal of sympathy with the mood that inspired the debate, but I think that my hon. Friend should be allowed to develop his argument.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Herbert Butcher)
Order. I should be much obliged if hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would enable the debate to continue without interruption.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If further evidence were now available I would agree that there would be a case for a further enquiry. There has been a great deal of further argument. I think that all hon. Members have been impressed by Mr. Kennedy's book, to which I have already referred, but that book did not contain further evidence. It merely set out and elaborated the arguments on the known evidence. If I may say so, I think that it was tendentious, and has misled a great many hon. Members, and other people outside the House of Commons.
The method of the book was to tell the story of the two cases as the writer himself saw them—and, I have no doubt, genuinely saw them. The story contains a very great deal that is mere surmise. 665 It gives a flattering picture of Evans, and it damns Christie on every possible occasion—[Interruption.] If any hon. Member reads the book fairly I think that he will agree that he cannot help taking that view.
The writer then deals with the points taken at the trial, and the points made in the Report and, where they part company from the story as he has already told it, he deals with them as though they were deviations from the correct view. That method of procedure is very effective advocacy, but it is not the objective view of the evidence which we should take if we are to judge these matters fairly.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick referred to one piece of new evidence, and it is brought forward in the book. That piece of evidence suggested that Mrs. Evans' murderer was a necrophilic, as Christie has been shown to be. That, I think, weighed a great deal with a great many people. It certainly weighed very heavily with me. When I saw that piece of evidence I thought that it would certainly be necessary to reconsider the matter. But the evidence derives from a statement made by Dr. Donald Teare, and when one considers what Dr. Teare has to say about that evidence when he saw it I do not think that it will weigh very heavily with any hon. Member.
Dr. Teare wrote a letter to the Sunday Times on 5th March of this year, dealing with this allegation in Mr. Kennedy's book, and said:Retrospectively the bruise"—that is, the bruise to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—though small, was so definite that it is a reasonable assumption that it occurred at least hours before death. It was at the classical site in which self-inflicted injuries are found following attempted abortion, and this in my view is the most likely explanation. Indeed, if such bruising were at all common during forced intercourse I should have expected to have seen other cases in 20 years' experience in this type of work. I have in fact, seen none.In the face of that statement, that piece of evidence disappears altogether. No further evidence has been brought forward; there has only been further argument.
The only circumstance which throws doubt, to my mind, on the conviction of Evans, is the improbability of finding two stranglers living in the one house 666 at the same time. That is an extraordinary coincidence but there is no reason why it should not, in fact, have occurred. One only has that one coincidence to set against the very substantial body of evidence on which a court came to the conclusion that Evans was guilty.
In my view, there is no ground for reopening this question at the present time. I am satisfied that the inquiry was such an inquiry as ought to have been held, and I think that the House of Commons should let the matter rest there.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
My connection with this case was rather earlier than that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), and I feel certain that he will realise that I speak only with a sense of the very gravest responsibility this afternoon. I could very well have wished that I should not take part in this debate at all, but I am quite certain that if I did abstain it would be an act of cowardice, which I have no intention of committing.
I took no part in any of the discussions after the Scott Henderson Report. But I had held this highly responsible office and I know the awful loneliness of a Home Secretary. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman was told when he was appointed, but the Prime Minister who appointed me said to me: "You understand that we are not bound to support any decision that you give in capital cases and you are not entitled to come to us and ask for our view. You must make the decision yourself and you must bear the responsibility yourself." I do not imagine that the present Home Secretary is in a much better position, and I am sure that he will allow me to say that he has been perturbed about this case.
I had no intention of alluding to the Scott Henderson Report, but as the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South did so and made high claims for it, I want to read to him what actually occurred. I shall quote from the book Ten Rillington Place, and I have had conversations not only with Mr. Kennedy but also with Mr. Morley Lawson, who was the solicitor appearing far Mrs. Probert, the mother of Timothy Evans, I am assured by both of them that what I 667 intend to read is completely accurate. I do not propose to read anything that is comment. I will merely read history. It is stated in the book Ten Rillington Place:The inquiry started its work on Monday, July 6th. On Tuesday July 7th Mr. Bernard Gillis, Q.C. was instructed by Messrs. Zeffrett Herd and Morley Lawson, a firm of solicitors acting for Mrs. Probert, to represent Mrs. Probert's interests at the inquiry. After consultation with Mr. Scott Henderson, Mr. Morley Lawson told Mr. Gillis that it would be agreeable for him to appear before the inquiry at 2.15 p.m. the following day, Wednesday July 8th. Mr. Gillis made himself available to do this, but shortly before 1 o'clock on the Wednesday he received a message that he would not now be required to appear before the inquiry until 10.30 a.m. the day after, Thursday July 8th. As the inquiry was due to finish on the Friday evening this meant that Mr. Gillis was prevented from attending more than half of the hearings.At 10.30 a.m. on the Thursday morning Mr. Gillis turned up at the inquiry as requested with Mr. Morley Lawson. After Mr. Scott Henderson had outlined the procedure he was going to follow Mr. Gillis made three requests. The first was that he should see the evidence already taken from witnesses during the previous days and, if necessary, cross-examine them. This was refused. The second request was that he might have access to copies of Evans's original statements and other relevant documents. Mr. Gillis pointed out that although Mr. Lawson had applied to every official quarter known to him' for a copy of the transcript of Christie's trial, it had been refused him, and if the Home Office had not given him a copy of the transcript of Evans's trial, his work would have been well nigh impossible. This request however was also refused.Mr. Gillis's third request was that he might call before the inquiry a number of witnesses and he gave Mr. Scott Henderson their names. Mr. Scott Henderson said he had no objection to these witnesses being called, but he emphasised that Mr. Gillis would not be able to examine them himself, and that while he could submit questions far them to be asked, Mr. Scott Henderson reserved the right to decide whether he would ask these questions or not. Further, said Mr. Scott Henderson, while Mr Gillis could be present while his own clients (Mrs. Probert, Mrs. Ashby and Mrs. Westlake) were giving evidence, he could not be present at any other time. Mr. Gillis stressed that as the inquiry was being held in private, it was all the more important that he should be allowed to attend throughout. Mr. Scott Henderson said that he did not intend to alter his procedure without a specific direction from the Home Office,"—
§ Mr. Ede
The passage goes on:but that Mr. Gillis could apply for such a direction if he wished. On hearing this 668 Mr. Morley Lawson immediately left the Inquiry for the Home Office in order to try and obtain the direction. While he was away one of Mr. Gillis's witnesses, Mrs. Vincent, was called to give evidence. After Mr. Gillis had read her proof he was asked to withdraw, and so had no opportunity of hearing Mr. Scott Henderson's questions or examining her himself.I was first appointed a magistrate in 1920, and I have had some experience of the conduct of judicial inquiries of many kinds. Does the hon. Member for Hendon, South still describe the conduct of the Scott Henderson inquiry in the language that he used in his speech a few moments ago? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".] The Committee can judge between the hon. Member for Hendon, South and myself. I say that an inquiry so conducted—into which both counsel and solicitor had the greatest difficulty obtaining admission until they went straight to the Home Secretary to get that permission—is a travesty—[Interruption]—of anything in judicial procedure recognised by the law of this country hitherto.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary came to me as a friend one night to ask me a question after he had been considering the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn in the Committee of Privileges. May I say that I am a friend of the right hon. Gentleman and I am under the deepest obligation to him for the way he treated me when I was his Parliamentary Secretary during the passage of the Education Bill in the House in 1944. As a friend and former Home Secretary I told him what I would do in the present circumstances. I told him, and I went home and wrote a letter to him, in which I set out what I had told him. The thing that alarmed me most about what he said to me was this: "I am advised that I cannot say that this man Evans was innocent". I replied—
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Nottingham, West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) say whether he is repeating a private conversation?
§ Mr. Ede
If the hon. Gentleman will wait until I have gone a little further he may then be able to ask that question. I wrote this letter to the Home Secretary and I was very careful not to mark it "Private and Confidential". I told him 669 that, in my view, his advisers had misdirected themselves. What everybody in the English legal system has to bear in mind, no matter how high they may be—Lord Chancellor and Home Secretary included—is that in this country people are not called on to prove themselves innocent. Very few of us would be able to do so. The question before the Home Secretary now, and that will remain before Home Secretaries until this matter is cleared up, is this: in the light of all the evidence now available, can you regard this man as guilty beyond all reasonable doubt?
I had placed in front of me certain papers which are still in the Home Office. None of the persons who drafted those papers knew that this man Christie had already murdered two women and that he was using the leg-bone of one of them to support a fence on the curtilage of 10, Rillington Place.
Let us suppose that this case had occurred recently and that at the trial of the man Evans and at the time of his appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeal nothing more was known than was known at the moment when those papers came on to my table. Then suppose that the Home Secretary, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman says about the alteration of the law, came to the conclusion that the diminution of responsibility was not such as to bring the case within Section 2 of the Homicide Act, and said that the law must take its course; and then, between that date and the date of execution, the story of these other six women became public. What would the House be expected to do? Suppose the man was to be executed next Thursday.
No man can do more than deal with the evidence in front of him in making any decision. Have not many of us in the course of our private lives had to make a decision and then a new fact has come to our notice the next day and we have said, "If I had only known that yesterday". That is the difficulty about this case.
Lord Birkett wrote:The case against Evans at his trial on the facts as they were then known was quite overwhelming. There was no failure in the administrative machinery of the criminal law. No human skill could have prevented the conviction, and no human judicial system, whatever its checks and safeguards, can ever pro- 670 vide complete security against the exceedingly rare and utterly exceptional case such as that of Evans.People may say that I have an interest in this matter. Lord Birkett has no interest in the matter, beyond the service of truth and the upholding of the system of justice in this country to which he has rendered many an eminent service.
Lord Birkett went on:If the facts, as they are now known, had been known in 1950 no jury could possibly have said that the case against Evans had been proved beyond all reasonable doubt. This is the real ground of complaint against the Scott Henderson Report. The report was honest and painstaking enough, and contained most cogent reasons for the conclusions it contained; but there are equally cogent reasons for believing these conclusions to be wrong.There are hon. and learned Members on both sides of the Committee. If they had to sum up to a jury when they reached that conclusion, would they not lay heavy stress on the duty of being satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt before they allowed the jury to go into the jury room? I know that many of my hon. Friends think that Evans was innocent. I did say to one of them that I had been confronted with a demand that I should prove Evans innocent. He said, "Do not trouble about that, Kennedy has done that." I do not today ask the Committee to declare that Evans was innocent. What I ask the Committee to say is that the elements of doubt in this case are so overwhelming—what I have just read from Lord Birkett ought to be sufficient conviction for everybody as to the exact position—that this man's name ought to be given the benefit of the doubt that has arisen in subsequent years.
Now I come to the other point which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). The three surviving women relatives of this man hold a view which I do not share. They believe that while his remains are in unconsecrated ground he will remain in purgatory. I do not accept that view. I doubt if there is any Member present who shares that view. But by my own claims to have my religious beliefs respected I am compelled to respect the beliefs of every other person, and I say that this is a state of spiritual anguish for these three women who took the utmost care themselves to question the man in his last hours 671 whether he was guilty or not and received throughout all their inquiries a stout denial from him that he did it and his affirmation that Christie had done this particular deed. I hope that steps will be taken so that their spiritual anguish might be relieved, even if it should involve an Act of Parliament.
With the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), I have been inquiring into what has happened to some of the members of the nobility and higher aristocracy who at times have found their blood corrupted and their estates and good names forfeited because they were convicted of high treason. As a result of my hon. Friend's inquiries in the Research Department of the Library, I find that there are listed on the Statute Book of this country 121 Acts relating to men and women who have suffered that penalty for high treason and then a later generation has thought it well to wipe it out and restore the good name.
As one goes from the central lobby into the Members Lobby, the first picture one passes on the left of the corridor is that of Alice Lisle, the widow of a Puritan Member of Parliament, to whom after the Battle of Sedgemoor two refugees from Monmouth's army fled to refuge, with James's soldiers very close behind. In that picture one sees the two men escaping to some part of the house and this old woman being questioned by the Royalist soldiers. She was sentenced by Bloody Jeffreys at Winchester Assizes to be burned. The only good thing I know about James II is that he altered the sentence from burning to being executed by another means. But she was just as dead at the end.
In the First Session of William and Mary, which was 1688–89, there was an Act for annulling and making void the attainder of Alice Lisle. As for the dukes who backed the wrong horse temporarily and paid the penalty and whose descendants thereafter managed to get back not merely their goods which were forfeit but their good name, the list is far too long to read out.
The strategy and tactics of this debate are arranged by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I conform lest I should share the fate of my hon. 672 Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
§ Mr. Ede
I am not sure that I am entitled to call him my hon. Friend.
I put the matter to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary in this way. In my judgment, the overwhelming mass of opinion in this country believes that a mistake was made—a mistake which, in the circumstances of the case, I regret to think that most people believe was inevitable—when this man was sent to the scaffold and that at least so grave is the doubt that very few would feel, if all the facts were before them, that they could return a verdict of guilty. If we are to commit an act of grace, let us do it gracefully and graciously. Let us say that we have grave doubts about the case, doubts which are increased as the years go by and as men study the facts, and that the right hon. Gentleman should recommend Her Majesty to grant a posthumous free pardon to Evans.
I am told that there is no precedent for this. I am not so concerned with precedents as some people are. There come times when the urgency of the situation demands the creation of a precedent. It has been well said that if a thing has to be done it is either wrong or, if it is right, unless it has been done before it will be a dangerous precedent. We are concerned here today not so much with the law as with justice. One of the difficulties for all of us, whether we be lawyers, magistrates or Ministers of the Crown, is to reconcile law and justice. If one has to go, let us be quite certain that, for the safety of the State, it must not be justice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who was associated with me in this matter a few weeks ago, was perturbed at the position of the three humble women of Evans' family. He went to the authorities of their Church and asked them whether, if the remains were made available to them, they would agree to inter them in their consecrated soil. After full inquiry, they gave him the statement, which they have allowed me to repeat today, that if that were done they would reinter the remains where this man's mother desires them to 673 be interred. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley went into all the details. He worked out an arrangement, which was communicated to the Home Secretary, by which the reinterment could take place without any public demonstration, which is the last thing that either the family or any of the rest of us who are interested in them would desire to have.
The House of Commons in this Committee this afternoon has an opportunity to end a story, which I started, in the light of what is admitted by the highest legal authorities to be overwhelming evidence. Just before I wrote the six fatal words on the document, the then Permanent Under-Secretary of State said to me, "Sir, you must not forget that this man has stuck to his story that he did not do it and that Christie did". Apparently, legal opinion thinks that I took the right course. I discharged my oath in the light of such evidence as was then available. No man can do more. The right hon. Gentleman could do neither more nor less. But I say now that, if the people of this country are to believe that justice will be done to the poorest when new facts benefiting them appear, the steps which my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick and I have suggested should be taken. My right hon. Friend thinks that there is need for a further inquiry. The hon. Member for Hendon, South, so proud of the last inquiry, thinks that one is unnecessary. I condemn the last inquiry so unreservedly that that alone, in my view, reinforces the plea made by my right hon. Friend.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
After the speeches of my right hon. Friends the Members for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and South Shields (Mr. Ede), I think that it would be an impertinence on my part to endeavour to add anything to the two aspects of the case with which they dealt. I wish to devote what I have to say to another and more general aspect of the problem with which we are faced.
Twelve years ago, Timothy John Evans was executed for the murder, on one occasion, of his wife and, on another occasion, of his child. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who alone has spoken so 674 far from the opposite side of the Committee, has suggested that if the present law had then been in force, in spite of those convictions, Evans would not have been executed. I think that he is mistaken, because among the exceptions in the Homicide Act to the abolition of the death penalty is the case of a man who commits more than one murder on different occasions.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I was careful to say, under Section 2 of the Act. I appreciate fully the force of the argument that Section 4 is caught again by Section 6 in the case of multiple murder, and I made no reference to that Section.
§ Mr. Silverman
All I am concerned with is that it seems to me, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that if Evans had been convicted today in the same way and on the same evidence as he was convicted twelve years ago he would still have been executed. However, that is not the point.
I wish to indicate first my own view about the Scott Henderson inquiry. Mr. Scott Henderson was given certain terms of reference. I quote the relevant one:and to report whether, in his opinion, there is any ground for thinking that there may have been any miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Evans for the murder of Geraldine Evans.I hope that hon. Members will note strictly the terms. He was not asked to decide whether there had been a miscarriage of justice, or whether Christie's confession or Evans' confession was true in circumstances in which both could not be true. He was asked only to decide whether there was "any ground for thinking"—not whether the grounds were overwhelming or conclusive or even whether the balance of evidence was one way or the other—"that there may have been"—not that there was—any miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Evans for the murder of Geraldine Evans.He reported in his ultimate findings:I have therefore to report that in my opinion there is no ground"—not that there is insufficient ground—for thinking that there may have been any miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Evans for the murder of Geraldine Evans. I have already referred to the fact that I am satisfied that all the material bearing on my Inquiry in the possession of the police was made available to me.675 He had previously said in paragraph 41:Having carefully considered all the foregoing material I am satisfied that there can be no doubt about the responsibility of Evans for the death of his wife"—which he was not asked about—and child. There is nothing"—not insufficient, not little, not a suggestion of a doubt or a hesitancy—to suggest that his confession of these two murders was false other than the belated and inconsistent statements by Christie that he killed Mrs. Evans but not Geraldine Evans.Mr. Scott Henderson is now an elderly man. I am told that he is a rather sick man. I have no doubt that this matter has been on his conscience for many years, and I do not willingly say anything harsh or unnecessarily harsh that could add to the burden which I am sure he carries. But we have our duty to justice and to the dead. We have a duty to ourselves, and I say that no honest man, on the evidence before Mr. Scott Henderson, could have made the report which he made. It is just not true that there were no grounds. Mr. Scott Henderson must have known that it was not true. If he had reported, "On the whole, I think that the convictions were probably justified", no complaint of this kind could have been made. But to report that on the evidence that was then before him, which, be it noted, is the same evidence as is before us now, there was no ground for thinking that there was any possibility of any miscarriage of justice in that case was a report in defiance of all the evidence before him. Is there any Member of this Committee who will endorse that Report now? Is any Member of this Committee in any quarter of it prepared to say that on the evidence as we now know it, which is the evidence which was before Mr. Scott Henderson, there is no ground whatever for thinking that there may have been any miscarriage of justice? Of course there is not.
My own view is that Mr. Evans' innocence has been established. I go considerably further than some others have gone. The evidence before Lord Justice Birkett was the same evidence as was before Mr. Scott Henderson, and he says that on that evidence no jury should have convicted. This is evidence which, in the opinion of Mr. Scott Henderson, repudiated the bare 676 possibility of any miscarriage of justice in the case.
Where does the fault lie? The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South suggested that people's views on this case are subjectively influenced by the fact that they may be in favour of or opposed to the capital penalty. I confess that I cannot follow that argument. I cannot imagine that the most convinced and sincere supporter of the necessity of retaining the death penalty in all cases of murder, or in any cases of murder, does not have the same interest as everyone else—perhaps even a greater interest—in making sure that this death penalty which he regards as a social necessity in our country is not unjustly inflicted and borne by innocent people.
One of the arguments—and, I suppose, something of this kind was in the hon. Baronet's mind—that people have used against the death penalty is that mistakes can be made and that if mistakes are made nothing can be done to rectify them afterwards. One would have thought that it was very much in the interests of those who wished to retain the death penalty to take a leading part in seeing, first, that mistakes are not made and, secondly, that if they are made they are not concealed.
As I said on another occasion, and I repeat it now, no one in our country expects the administration of justice to be infallible. It is administered by human beings. I do not altogether share the view that proper investigation at the time could not have established the truth of this case. But the mistakes that were made were understandable mistakes. Nobody expects infallibility. It does not undermine the confidence of the people in our system of justice to be convinced from time to time that a mistake has been made. They can tolerate that and understand it. They can forgive it. What undermines the confidence of the people in our justice would be if they became convinced that when a mistake had been made all the forces of the State were used, not to uncover it, but to conceal it.
That leads me to say to the Home Secretary—I am sorry he is not present, but no doubt the Attorney-General will listen—that I cannot understand why he is so rigid and so obstinate in this 677 matter. Why does he hold out? He will not persuade the majority of the people that Timothy John Evans was rightly executed.
I am not a party to it, but I understand that a decision has been taken not to force a Division on this matter at the end of the day. For myself, I regard that as a mistaken decision, although I understand and respect the reasons for it. One reason which is given for it is that, perhaps in loyalty to the Government, the vote would be lost and, therefore, in some way damage would be done to the cause of putting this tragic error right. I do not believe it for a moment. I do not believe that anything the House can do will alter what has become the conviction of most people that Evans ought not to have been hanged and that he would not have been hanged if the evidence that was before Mr. Scott Henderson and that is before all of us today had been known at the time of his conviction.
The Home Secretary can remove such a difficulty. He can accept the suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick so eloquently pressed upon him and which was supported almost more eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. Why should not the Home Secretary hand over the poor remains of this man to his surviving relatives so that they may be buried in accordance with the rites and ceremonies of the faith in which they believe? What damage would be done to our prestige by doing that? What harm would be done? What is the danger of a precedent that might be created? Why resist that suggestion? There is no real difficulty, and such difficulty as there is can be easily removed.
I beg the Home Secretary to do now what might have been done before—to bring this argument to an end, to hand over the remains and to declare, as, I think, we all would like to declare, that we are satisfied that justice according to our British conception of justice was not done in this case and that we are ready to make such amends as are in our power.
If ever another inquiry of this kind becomes necessary, let us never again have this kind of inquiry conducted in this kind of way—an inquiry almost con- 678 fessedly conducted not so as to expose a miscarriage of justice but to conceal one. If we have to have an inquiry of this kind, let us have it in the open. Let everyone with an interest in the matter be present. Let all the evidence be heard, as it would be heard in an ordinary case. Let it be subject to cross-examination and let it, for heaven's sake, be heard and decided, with the assistance of a jury or without it, by a man of judicial quality who will not allow his decision and his verdict on the evidence to be influenced by any other kind of consideration.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) because, whether one agrees with him precisely or not in what he has said on any one occasion, it is always a pleasure to listen to the lucid and forceful way in which the hon. Member unfolds his argument. I always think it is a little appropriate that the hon. Member should have so many of the qualities of Labouchere, occupying as he does the same seat in the House of Commons and wearing almost a Labouchere beard. Indeed, one feels that one is taking part in a debate which has been ranging over many generations of Parliament.
I should like to follow the hon. Member straight away in one point he made and one which was not quite in full accordance with the standards of debate which he usually follows. In what the hon. Member said—I hope I am wrong; if so, I am sure that he will correct me, and I shall be glad to accept it—I felt that in some parts of his speech he might be understood to be saying that although this was no time to be harsh about the personal feelings of Mr. Scott Henderson, the inquiry was, as the hon. Member put it, designed to conceal rather than to expose a miscarriage of justice. I noted the hon. Member's use—I assume that the word came from his mouth into my ears as I wrote it down—of the word "dishonest"—
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Iremonger
I will give way to the hon. Member. That word seemed to carry an imputation which the hon. Member might appreciate the opportunity to clear up.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not want to quibble about words, because in substance the hon. Member is right. I did not actually use the word "dishonest". I thought carefully in advance of the words I would use. What I said, and I stand by it—I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member—was that no honest man could have made the report that Mr. Scott Henderson made.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am glad the hon. Member has had the opportunity of clarifying what he said, and I must say that I agree with him in that I find what he said a little disappointing. If I may say so, it will be very difficult for Ministers of the Crown to put upon learned counsel the very onerous and odious responsibility of carrying out inquiries, perhaps not only in matters of this kind but in other circumstances which may arise, when they may be subjected in the House of Commons in their absence to imputations of a very personal character which are privileged and which they cannot answer. I know that the hon. Member would not have done so if he had not felt it right, but I am sorry that he felt it right to go as far as he did. I repudiate the thought that this was either a put-up job or that counsel was a venial and cowardly man upon whom a duty was put which no honourable man would have accepted. I absolutely repudiate that, and I hope that I carry the Committee with me.
I hope that I also carry the Committee with me in another point. Speaking from this side of your Chair, Dr. King, I do not feel that this is an issue which divides the Committee on party lines, because there are very important issues underlying the subject which has been raised on Supply on which every hon. Member must take his own view. The first and fundamental issue which we are debating is the confidence of the people in their parliamentary and judicial institutions. I think that that is recognised on both sides of the Committee, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not take it in a partisan way if I try to establish it, that those who may not entirely agree with them are no less sincere in their attachment to the importance of that confidence being maintained.
The second question, quite apart from the merits of the case of Timothy Evans, 680 is, "What is the right procedure that should be followed in a similar situation if it should arise again?" I will try to address myself to that point in a moment. The third consideration is, I think, the most important of all to realise. This debate is a further blow being struck on behalf of the case, whether one agrees with it or not, for the total abolition of the death penalty. I do not quarrel with that. It is perfectly fair, and this is absolutely a case in point, but the Commitee had better consider it in that light. What has been said in the Committee—and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has said it—is that the country would do well to think again about the death penalty, because it must accept the fact that, if it wishes to maintain the penalty for one purpose or another, it is not impossible that it may end for ever in certain cases the chance of remedying later a decision the justice or injustice of which it cannot be sure. This is something that we must all face. If I would be in order in widening the debate to that extent, it is an argument against the death penalty to which I am very sensitive.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I should like to be clear about the hon. Member's attitude towards this. Surely he would agree that what we are concerned with here is exclusively justice to this man. The repercussions on big issues of capital punishment, of confidence in Parliament and of confidence in justice are matters for comment afterwards. This debate is bound to have repercussions which are open to argument afterwards. I accept that, but what we must concentrate on is this simple question of justice to one man.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member, but you, Dr. King, are in the Chair, and if you feel that in the wider view I am taking and in referring to the wider aspect I am out of order, then I am in your hands.
§ Mr. Iremonger
But if the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) is saying that I ought to confine myself to a narrower point in debate, that is merely his opinion and I accept his strictures 681 with more equanimity than I would accept yours, Dr. King.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I am not concerned with a point of order. I am not raising this matter as a point of order at all. All I am saying to the hon. Member is that wider questions on capital punishment are merely repercussions which will arise inevitably from the decision made one way or another in this case, but the decision with which we are concerned tonight should be made exclusively upon the ground of justice to this one man and not on wider considerations.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is a point which the hon. and learned Member is perfectly entitled to urge upon the Committee, but in so far as it is calculated to restrict my animadversions, I hope that he will allow me to resume what I was saying, which was that whether we like it or not and whether here or later, this debate is bound to raise in the minds of those who favour the death penalty the horrible thought that if they make a mistake they cannot put it right afterwards. This is a consideration which influences me very much. My attitude to the abolition of the death penalty, for what it may be worth, is not a very happy one. I am convinced by the arguments of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, which they advance with such sincerity and passion, but I think of St. Augustine who when praying to his God said, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet".
I feel that the arguments, however powerful they may be, are not the whole story, and I am afraid that in making a political decision of this major kind one has to have regard to something more than the mere logical arguments advanced. We have to ask how far we are justified in outraging the very deeply held convictions and feelings, rightly or wrongly, of the great majority of people for whom we are responsible in the House of Commons. I should like to carry these people with me faster than I can. Perhaps I ought to say that their feelings should be outraged because I think that they are wrong, but it is a matter of judgment, and if my judgment is wrong I must answer for it. I therefore merely take this case as an extra warning to be put into the minds of those who feel that they must support the death 682 penalty. I take note of this Evans case as one which these people would do well to remember. If they feel that their convictions are right, then, when they hang a man, they must abide by that decision for they cannot modify it later.
I should like to refer to the terms of an early day Motion bearing directly on this subject in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, because it raises certain important questions, particularly in respect of pardons.
[That, having regard to recent experience in the case of Mr. Scott Henderson's inquiry and report in the case of Mr. Timothy John Evans and to similar previous experience in a least one other case, this House considers that this form of inquiry is inadequate in its methods, contrary to natural justice in its procedure, and conducive in its results to the concealment rather than the exposure of miscarriages of justice; it therefore expresses the view that in all future such cases the inquiry shall be conducted by a High Court judge with the assistance of a jury, that all interested parties shall have the right to attend, to call evidence, to cross-examine witnesses and to be legally represented; and meanwhile, being of opinion that Mr. Evans was not guilty of the charge on which he was executed, deplores the refusal of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to recommend a free pardon and to hand over the remains to his surviving relatives so that they may be decently buried in accordance with the rites and ceremonies of the faith in which he believed.]
It raises the point which the hon. Member made in his eloquent plea today, that the bones of Timothy Evans should be removed and given to his family for burying in consecrated ground. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who I assume will reply to the debate, whether he can give us a little elucidation on the subject. Many people would like it explained exactly what considerations govern the burial of executed persons, whether or not a pardon is given. Supposing that a pardon were given, is it practicable to find and remove the remains of an executed prisoner? What could be done if the Government had the will to do it? What are the considerations that apply to the burial of executed prisoners? Do they 683 have to be buried within the prison, and, if so, why, and what is the statutory authority or compulsion for that? It is something which I think is bound to strike the public as emotionally very compelling in the argument that has been put forward from the benches opposite. I think it would be very difficult, if a free pardon is not granted, to remove the bones, but in any case there may be other arguments against removing them and it might save a great deal of pain if those arguments could be explained.
I think that the question raised of the granting of a free pardon is a rather difficult one which it might be well for the Committee to get into perspective. I understand that the legal situation is that a pardon is something which can be granted only by the Crown but is granted upon the advice of the Secretary of State. I understand that in respect of the death penalty we are in a rather particular situation. The Home Secretary may not refer to the Court of Criminal Appeal a petition for pardon having reference to the sentence of death, and before he tenders his advice to the Sovereign, he is responsible to the Sovereign and not to the House of Commons at all, as we have often found. I think I am right in saying that before the Home Secretary tenders his advice to the Crown he is responsible to the Crown and not to the House of Commons. After he has tendered his advice, he is responsible to the House for it. But his advice cannot be debated in this House until the execution, if his advice has been against a pardon, has been carried out. Thereupon it becomes debatable.
§ Mr. Ede
If it is decided by the Secretary of State that the execution shall take place, no communication at all is made to the Crown. A communication is made to the Crown only when the Secretary of State decides to recommend a reprieve. That is the exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy.
Prior to the accession of Queen Victoria, a death warrant was required which the Secretary of State recommended the Sovereign to sign. But immediately after the accession of Queen Victoria the Whig Government of the day decided that to send to the Sovereign a recommendation for the death warrant—in 684 which, after all, the Secretary of State had to prove that the murder, possibly a very villainous one, had been committed—could not be contemplated when one had a girl of only just over 18 years of age on the Throne who would have to read the document and consider it. Then the present system was inaugurated.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am sure that the Committee will be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that. It does not actually alter, thought, indeed, it greatly enriches, the substance of what I was saying.
We had reached the point at which it becomes debatable in the House of Commons as to whether or not the Home Secretary should have advised Her Majesty to exercise the Prerogative of Mercy. We are in that position now. It is now debatable in the House of Commons. The question arises as to whether that debate should take place after inquiry, and, if so, what sort of inquiry should be held as a basis on which the House should debate the Home Secretary's decision, whether it should be an inquiry of what might be called with reference to this debate the Scott Henderson type or some other kind of inquiry which seems to be envisaged in the Motion to which I have referred, some other form of inquiry presided over by a High Court judge with the assistance of a jury and so on.
In regard to the question of the pardon for Evans in particular, the inquiry has been made. We are now debating the Home Secretary's decision. In respect of that decision an inquiry has been made, and that is the inquiry on the basis of which we are now debating in the House of Commons. It may be that there could be another inquiry, but the inquiry has been made, and it was of the Scott Henderson type, the non-High Court judge, non-jury type. If hon. Members like so to describe it, it was the secret inquiry.
That Report has been made. Whether the Committee likes it or not the fact is that that Report did not uphold the proposition that there had been a miscarriage of justice. That is the Report on the basis of which the Committee is now debating the question. But hon. Members are not persuaded by that 685 Report. They think that its conclusions are mistaken. It is a matter of opinion. As a matter of fact, with great respect to the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and other hon. Members who have spoken, I think that rather more than justice has been done to the case for the innocence of Evans and rather less than justice has been done to Mr. Scott Henderson's Report. I do not myself feel that if I had been on the jury and if everything that was known afterwards had been known then and used by the defence I would have been altogether likely to have sent Evans to the gallows. That is a personal opinion. It does not vitiate the sincerity or the validity, in his own view, of the conclusions reached by Mr. Scott Henderson.
I will give examples, which just happened to occur to me while I was listening to the right hon. Gentleman, of two ways in which he was unjust to Mr. Scott Henderson in a degree far more culpable, I think, than Mr. Scott Henderson is supposed to have been unjust to the case for the innocence of Evans. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was quite sure that the train which Evans caught to Wales was a mid-day train.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I think that we are making the same point. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was an afternoon train.
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. Member must be fair in matters of this kind. My right hon. Friend was interrupted by someone who said that it was not on a Monday. In reply to an observation to the effect that it was not Monday, my right hon. Friend said that it was Monday and that he thought it was the afternoon. It was, in fact, just after midnight, if the hon. Gentleman wants to make that point.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Because the intervening hours in the afternoon are the vitally important hours when Evans could have disposed of the bodies. [Interruption.] I do not think that it is really part of 686 the function of this Committee to re-conduct the two trials.
§ Mr. Iremonger
It is all very well for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to tell me not to do it, but every other hon. Gentleman does it. I am trying to resist the temptation. I have fallen into temptation in one respect, and I shall fall into temptation in one other respect in criticising the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman said—this is my last point about the Scott Henderson Report—that the murder of Mrs. Evans showed the characteristics of the murder by Christie of the other women whom he murdered. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention—I think it is relevant, and I think that he should have mentioned it—that an autopsy was carried out on Mrs. Evans some considerable time after her death and that the Home Office pathologist said that there were in the body no traces of carbon monoxide such as would have been there had Mrs. Evans been murdered by Christie in the way in which Christie murdered his other victims—namely, by gassing.
§ Mr. Iremonger
There are in Christie'e confession three separate examples of how he gassed his victims first and sent them off to sleep. He said in his confession that he murdered Mrs. Evans and that he had done that to her, and the autopsy was carried out in order to see whether that could be proved by the carbon monoxide in her body, and, in fact, it was not. It would have strengthened the right hon. Gentleman's case if he had been fair enough to take that into account in criticising Mr. Scott Henderson's Report. I got the impression generally that nothing is too bad to be said about Mr. Scott Henderson, and no point is too small to be made against him, but where he has powerful arguments to support his case, these are not accepted with the same degree of enthusiasm. May be I am unfair about that.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Gentleman says that there are none. I do not think he is doing justice to himself.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not want to be misunderstood. There are plenty of arguments which might convince reasonable and honest minds that there was doubt as to who was guilty and whether it was Evans or Christie. There is nothing whatever in this evidence to justify the Scott-Henderson Report in suggesting that there are no grounds for thinking that there was any possible miscarriage of justice. We may say that the evidence is one way or the other way, but when Mr. Scott Henderson said there were none, he was saying what he must have known not to be true.
§ Mr. Iremonger
This is a point on which the hon. Gentleman and I differ, and this is the crux of the matter and the difficulty of the whole debate. The point is that, having had the inquiry, the Committee is now debating the Home Secretary's decision, and because hon. Gentlemen do not accept the Report made by the man who carried out the inquiry, they are now moving, in effect, that, notwithstanding the Report, the Home Secretary should recommend a pardon. [Interruption.] I am actually discussing the Motion on the Notice Paper which says that, meanwhile, a free pardon should be given. I feel that it is not unfair—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
It is unfair. The main question before the Committee is the Motion which has been moved from the Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman starts off the argument completely bare of any justification for the Scott Henderson Report, and goes into a disquisition on hanging and imputes motives, and now he wanders off on to a side Motion which is not before the Committee. His speech is something like a filibuster.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I think I should be more right in saying that the hon. Gentleman's intervention is something like a filibuster. As a matter of fact, I am coming almost immediately to the point of the inquiry, which I know is put forward by the Front Bench opposite. In passing, I am observing that what the hon. Member's Motion does is to ask that the House of Commons should itself take the place of the further inquiry, and that it should decide that the Home Secretary should grant a pardon and arrange for the bones to be moved. I do not myself think that this is con- 688 stitutionally at all desirable, and I am surprised that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who, among his many other attainments, is a lawyer, should have put forward a Motion which in fact undermines the division between the Legislature and the judiciary, and makes this Committee of the House of Commons in Committee of Supply a judicial tribunal—
§ Mr. Iremonger
—which should conduct a judicial inquiry. It is, in fact, what is being done in this Committee, and no tribunal, no collection of human beings, could possibly be less well-equipped to conduct a judicial inquiry into the merits of the issue—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Dr. King)
Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman a fair amount of latitude. He is in order in making passing references to the Motion on the Notice Paper, but I hope that he will keep to the main debate.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged, Dr. King, and will at once leave the hon. Member's Motion, having made perhaps more than a passing reference to it, and return to the main point, which is that an inquiry should be held.
What I do not like about this suggestion that a further inquiry should be held in this. It would be quite impossible for the Government to accept this suggestion without in fact making what would be tantamount to a directive to the inquiry on what its findings should be. This Committee would be saying to the Government, "You set up one inquiry, and we do not like the answers. You must try again." I think that would be highly objectionable on constitutional grounds. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will not accede to the plea, with which on emotional and sentimental grounds one has a great deal of sympathy, but which on constitutional grounds is highly objectionable, made by the right hon. Member for Smethwick. For a shadow Home Secretary, he has a great deal more homework to do 689 before he will be able to assume responsibility.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am talking about the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am sorry that he has not been here all the time, but I am sure that his hon. Friends would not want me to go over it all again, so that we could have the benefit of his replying. I was actually talking about him.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does the hon. Gentleman think that nothing further whatever should be done in this case at all?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I have suggested to my right hon. Friend that he should explain to the Committee what, if anything, can or could be done, if it were felt right, as an act of grace, in respect of the bones. Constitutionally, I think that for a further inquiry to be set up by the Government at the command of the House in Committee would be highly objectionable, and I think that the constitutional considerations are over-riding there.
What hon. Gentlemen are also saying is that in future the kind of inquiry that should be held in such circumstances should be quite different from the Scott Henderson type. That type of independent inquiry by counsel in private is, they say, objectionable, and not likely to arrive at the truth. I agree that it is a very difficult question. I think that every Englishman's instincts run against the private inquiry. If the private inquiry results in a recommendation which one does not like, one's abhorrence of the private nature of it is even more intensified, though if it recommends something with which one does agree, possibly one is inclined to be slightly more tolerant. There are serious considerations, which were obviously in the mind of the Government of the day when the Scott Henderson inquiry was set up, serious considerations in favour of a private inquiry, which, if they had not been taken seriously, might very well have defeated the object of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends. It cannot be denied that the object of this inquiry of Mr. Scott Henderson was to probe into all matters, whether admissible in evidence or not; and to see people who were invited to come and to give 690 evidence on the understanding that they would be heard in private and not referred to in public.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I suggest that the debate might proceed faster if we do not have interruptions of the hon. Member who is speaking.
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Nottingham, West)
My hon. Friend said he felt that had he been a member of the jury, he would have found it difficult to agree to a guilty verdict. If I understood him aright, he went on to say that he neither favours the granting of a free pardon nor the establishment of another inquiry.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is perfectly true, Having appointed an inquiry and having had the inquiry, it would be quite wrong, constitutionally, simply on the grounds that this Committee did not like its findings, to appoint another inquiry with, in effect, a directive to reach a certain conclusion.
§ Mr. Iremonger
As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne says, we should do nothing. I think it far preferable to do nothing than to set up an inquiry with a directive from the Government that it should reach a certain conclusion.
§ Mr. Hale
On a point of order, Dr. King. Would it not be possible for you, in view of what is now clearly happening, to stop the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger)? The hon. Member did not even rise to speak in this debate until he observed that no one from his side of the Committee was proposing to speak, and he has now been 691 guilty of repetitive observations time after time. Most of those repetitive observations have little relevance to the subject of the debate. I am not challenging your Ruling, Dr. King, because I know you are always kind, but the hon. Gentleman's observations have no related relevance to the subject. After the Committee has listened with attention to one of the most moving speeches in the history of the House of Commons: after the Committee has been talking over the grave of a dead man, cannot you appeal to the hon. Member to give some effect to what Lord Sankey called the golden warp which runs through the weft of justice and ask the hon. Member for Ilford, North to end this indecent exhibition?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I take note of the point of order which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has expressed a little more eloquently than was necessary. It is not for the Chair to comment on the quality of any speech. It is for the Chair to note when repetition becomes tedious. I must be frank, and say that there has been repetition in the speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and I hope that he will take note of the fact that there are many other hon. Members who wish to take part in this debate.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The plea of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) would have been enough. Although it is a case of Satan rebuking sin, I am perfectly prepared to be rebuked by the hon. Gentleman. But I think that in justice to myself I should say that the last ten minutes of my remarks have been spent in trying to cope with interruptions which have drawn me from my argument. I will no longer weary the Committee. I am obliged for the attention which has been paid to me. I think that it would be a mistake if my right hon. Friend appointed a further committee of inquiry, but I think that it would be helpful if he could give an explanation of the considerations with regard to the disposal of the bones.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. G. H. R. Rogers (Kensington, North)
In the short time which remains for this debate I wish to speak as an hon. Member who first asked for the Scott Henderson inquiry, and who first 692 believed in the innocence of Evans long before anyone in this Committee—and only immediately after his own family. Although I only knew Evans and Christie superficially, I did meet them, and apart from being their Member of Parliament, I had some personal interest in the case, in that it was brought to my attention at a time when Evans was awaiting execution in the death cell. His mother came to me after his appeal had been dismissed and when it was too late for me to do anything. At that time the Labour Government were having difficulty in trying to maintain their majority of six. It was a time when we were all overworked and in any case the resources of a private Member of Parliament which would enable him to engage in inquiries of this nature are extremely limited and inadequate.
I must say that it must have been intuitive, but I formed the view that Evans was innocent after his mother came to see me. Perhaps I was moved by her faith in her son's innocence, but in fact I believed that he was not guilty as charged some considerable time before the Christie murders made clear to the country that there was doubt about Evans's guilt. I was engaged in an inquiry into this case and I thought, when the Christie murders were disclosed, that at last there was an answer to our request for evidence in favour of the innocence of Timothy Evans.
Although perhaps in the beginning my conviction of the innocence of Evans may have been purely intuitive, nothing which has happened since has in my view tended to confirm the verdict that Evans was guilty but rather has tended to weaken the verdict arrived at at that time. I am just as convinced—more so—now, aided by the evidence which has appeared, of the innocence of Evans, as I was intuitively at the time when his mother came to see me.
It is extremely difficult for us to try this case, to examine the arguments backwards and forwards. It is an impossible task and that is why I hoped that the Home Secretary would agree to a further inquiry. I am very disappointed about the Home Secretary. We know that the right hon. Gentleman is not a perfect man, as he knows well himself, and probably he knows—as the House of Commons knows—that he is 693 not a perfect Minister. No such person exists. But I did think that the right hon. Gentleman was big enough and generous enough to recognise that the only way to set at rest the minds of people in this country over this issue was to agree to another and a fuller public inquiry. I did think that the right hon. Gentleman would realise that, because, whatever hon. Members may think, there is a widespread cynicism about the conclusion given in the Scott Henderson Report.
At the time of the debate on the matter, and after it took place, several of my hon. and learned Friends quite openly labelled the Report as a dishonest one. I say, and I must say this frankly—I do not think that I am an irresponsible person—that I was rather sickened by what I thought was the cynicism of the Report. No attempt was made to give full value to the evidence of Timothy Evans. I do not understand how the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) can be so sure to the contrary when he does not know what evidence was put before the inquiry. I do know what was put before the tribunal, at least so far as I was concerned.
Much of the evidence which I gave to the Scott Henderson inquiry was, in my view—though I am not a trained lawyer—of sufficient force to cause considerable doubt about the verdict which was given at the trial. I think that the evidence which I submitted—some of which had been given to me by Peter Baker of the Daily Mirror, who pursued a lonely task in investigating this case long before anyone else ever thought of doing so—ought to have received more serious consideration than it did. I am disappointed that the Home Secretary will not agree to have another inquiry.
What harm could a new inquiry do unless everyone is prepared to try to pretend that the legal system is infallible? I must say, frankly, that I got the impression, at the time when I was attempting to inquire into this case, that the whole of the Establishment was lined up against me to prevent me from proving that Evans was innocent. I got this impression at the time of the Scott Henderson inquiry because of the hurried way in which it was held, and because of the factor of secrecy, although there might have been some argument 694 in favour of that. When I went to see Christie in the death cell I was limited to inquiring about one single factor. Had I been left alone, instead of being in company with several other people, I believe—knowing Christie—that I could have got much further along the road to proving that Tim Evans was innocent.
I shall refer to the particular thing which I talked to Christie about. It has been said that there is nothing new in this case. I read Mr. Kennedy's book with great interest, but so far as I am concerned there is nothing new in it. All he wrote about I knew, and therefore, presumably, the Home Office and the police knew about these things at that time. There is one point which I do not think has been given enough importance. At the time of the Christie trial I received many anonymous telephone calls and some anonymous communications and I was given much information. I was told that Mrs. Evans, when she was going to see Christie—as we now believe to have an abortion—had given her child to a neighbour to look after.
The Home Secretary would know that if a young woman were going to have an abortion she would not be likely to leave a baby only a few months old in her own room, but would probably ask someone to look after it. I was informed by telephone that in fact this was done. I was told that in fact there was a woman who looked after the Evans baby in this period. That woman must therefore have taken the baby back and given it to Christie or Mrs. Christie because Mrs. Evans was at that time dead. I believe that woman exists. I was told where she lived. I did what I could to get her to come forward, but she never did. I believe that it is not too late, if we had an inquiry, to get that woman to come forward and give evidence which might prove that at the time when Evans was supposed to have killed his child she was in fact in some other place, either in Christie's hands or in the hands of this neighbour.
§ Mr. Iremonger rose—
§ Mr. Rogers
I am sorry, I have not time to give way. I was also informed that while Evans was in Wales he bought a yellow coat for his child. In the course of the opening remarks of my right hon. 695 Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) it was said that on the weight of the evidence Evans did not know that his child was dead. If it was true, and I have reason to believe that it was, that he bought the yellow coat for his child, that again is circumstantial evidence pointing to the fact that he did not know that his child was dead. Added to a number of other circumstantial matters, it would tend to the same conclusion.
I believe that when Mrs. Evans gave the neighbour this child to look after it was dressed in that new yellow coat which Timothy Evans had bought for the child. This was the thing I was allowed to question Christie about in Pentonville. That yellow coat was never discovered. It was not in the pile of clothing placed before Timothy Evans and it was not in the clothing at the house which later was disposed of. I believe that those two things, the yellow coat plus the neighbour who looked after the child, might throw a new light on the case. They might establish the time when the child was in Christie's or Evans's hands, whichever the case might be. A proper inquiry, even at this stage, although I admit the trail is very cold—heaven knows, at the time of the Christie trial, when we tried to follow it, it was very cold and a number of witnesses have disappeared could investigate a number of facts to determine whether or not Evans was guilty as charged.
I appeal to the Home Secretary. If he agrees to an inquiry and it gives a verdict that Evans was guilty, the whole country will feel reasonably satisfied. It will feel that an attempt has been made to prove the truth. If, on the other hand, the inquiry establishes Evans's innocence, equally the country will be glad because it will prove the intuitive belief held by a great majority in the country that Evans was wrongly hanged. Reference has been made to Mrs. Probert. I do not want to bring too much sentiment into this matter, because that is not the proper way to deal with it, but I know that after the Evans execution Mrs. Probert lost her job as soon as it was known that she was the mother of Evans, a murderer. She has undergone a great deal of suffering in these years.
696 The Home Secretary must know—he is too intelligent not to know—that there is a strong case for a reasonable doubt. A proper inquiry could do no harm at all; it could do nothing but good. I beg of him, if only for the sake of the family as well as for the reputation of our British system of justice, but primarily because I want to see the name of this man cleared, not to leave it until we get into office. I beg him, because I can assure him that we shall do it, but we do not want to make a party issue of it. He knows that there is a big doubt in the public mind about this case. If he gives us this inquiry, whatever its verdict, he will go down in history as the Home Secretary who was prepared to put right before the Establishment.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I intervene for a few minutes in the debate because I should not like the impression to be given that only the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) represented the view of those on this side of the Committee.
We have a very difficult problem before us tonight. I do not think that anything is achieved by trying to re-try this case at this stage, or by going over all the evidence which was given at the time of the trial. We who have had to consider these matters have had a lot of advice from many different quarters. Few subjects come before the House in which we have the benefit of two whole books written about them.
I have read some of the stuff which has come to me and much of it I have not read because I do not think it matters whether two or 200 books are written, for in the end it boils down to the fundamental question: if the jury, the court, the police and the public had known at the time of the trial what they afterwards knew, would Evans have been convicted? Surely the answer of any reasonable man is that he would not have been convicted. He would have the benefit of some doubt and, by Jove, there was some doubt, as we afterwards discovered. What is the point of going over a whole mass of details and evidence again? There is one simple, narrow issue. One of the most moving speeches I have heard in this House was that which was made tonight by the right hon. Member for South 697 Shields (Mr. Ede). He did not attempt to get himself out of the many difficulties with which he must have been faced. He did not try to excuse himself, but said quite simply that what was done at the time was justice on the facts that were before him.
I accept that, but I ask the Home Secretary and any other hon. Member if he can enlighten me on this. Has there been any other case in my lifetime—about forty-eight years—where a person has been convicted of murder and, within a relatively short time afterwards, a whole mass of new evidence has come forward which has made people say, "We would not have hanged that man had we known it at the time"? I cannot think of such a case, but maybe I am wrong. I am open to advice if anyone can give it. Here was a case where the most fantastic events were revealed after the hanging had taken place—the most amazing story of this monster, Christie, and the things he did. If those facts had been known, of course Evans would never have been convicted or hanged.
The request made to the Home Secretary is that he should grant an inquiry. I feel some diffidence in rising to ask for another inquiry, because there is already a Motion on the Order Paper in my name and the names of 256 others asking for an inquiry. Perhaps it is appropriate for us to ask that there should be an outright pardon. That seems to be a reasonable thing to do as there is doubt. The facts which afterwards came to light would have been regarded at the time as reasonable doubt. If the facts come to light after the event, there is still reasonable doubt. As we would have given the man the benefit of the doubt when he was alive, why do we not give him the benefit of the doubt when he is dead?
I do not think that the public's faith in our judicial system would be shaken if a pardon were granted, nor do I believe that it would be an implied criticism of those who were concerned with the events at the time. It would strengthen the public's faith in our judicial system if we had the courage to do something which we know to be right.
I am sorry that all sorts of things have been said this afternoon about Mr. Scott Henderson. I do not think that the case has been strengthened by say- 698 ing that he was dishonest or anything like that or that the inquiry he conducted was designed to cover up the facts. I do not think that is true. I think that the simple, narrow issue is this. Would we have done what we then did if we had known all the facts that came out afterwards? The answer must surely be "No", and I ask the Home Secretary to respect this feeling, which is not confined solely to the other side of the Committee.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I do not think that it would accord with the spirit of the debate if I spoke at any length. I do not intend to do so. I desire to make a most earnest appeal to the Home Secretary to accept the suggestion that there should be a further investigation into the circumstances of this case. The question before us is whether an innocent man has been hanged. We all of us have been brought up in the tradition that it is better for a hundred guilty men to go unpunished than for one innocent man to be punished. In the spirit of that tradition, ought we not to say to ourselves that we must do absolutely everything that we humanly can to try to reach a conclusion as to whether Evans was innocent and, though innocent, sent to the gallows?
What is the premise from which we start? It has been stated several times in the course of the debate that had the true facts been known about Christie no jury could possibly have come to the conclusion that it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that Evans was guilty. That view has not only been expressed by hon. Members in this debate. It is the advice given by Lord Birkett, one of the greatest advocates of our time, with an unrivalled experience in the defence of persons accused of serious crime.
I ask the Committee to say that that is the point of departure. This man did not receive the trial which we try to give to persons accused of crime—a trial by a jury properly directed, having before it all the material facts to enable it to make up its mind. The most material fact, namely that Christie was a sordid, bestial murderer, capable not only of murder but of trying to put upon others the blame for what he himself had done, was a fact which through 699 nobody's fault was veiled from the jury. The judge and the jury came to their conclusion in ignorance of that fact. In spite of the most spirited and courageous defence by Evan's counsel, Mr. Malcolm Morris, the jury reached the only conclusion that it could possibly reach on what it had before it upon which to reach a conclusion. That is the point of departure from which we start.
All right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate are agreed at any rate about this, that at least there is doubt and grave doubt as to whether Evans was guilty. Many hon. Members go further and say that it is clearly shown that he was innocent. All agree that there is at least the gravest doubt whether he in fact was guilty of the offence with which he was charged. If we value the principle that no innocent man, in so far as human prescience can prevent it, is to be convicted or punished for any offence under our system of criminal justice, we surely owe it to ourselves and to the public conscience to take this step of reinvestigating the facts in order to try to reach some more safe and solid conclusion as to where the guilt lay for the murder of Mrs. Evans and Geraldine in 1949.
Hard things have been said about Mr. Scott Henderson. Mr. Scott Henderson is a fellow Bencher of mine, and I have known him intimately for years. I say without the slightest hesitation that he brought to the inquiry the complete and perfect integrity that all of us who have known him for years would have expected of him. But that does not prevent one from saying that some of the decisions that he took in the course of the inquiry were open to question as to whether they were wise or not. It does not prevent one from saying, as I do say to the Committee—other hon. Members have said so—that the process of reasoning by which he reached his conclusions and the conclusions themselves do not carry conviction to very large numbers of people. When the Committee differs as to whether there should be a further inquiry, the very fact that his conclusions still seem to many people to leave the question unanswered is in itself a ground for a further inquiry.
700 I do not suppose that the House of Commons ever before has heard—I hope that it will never hear it again—one Home Secretary, in a case in which he has written the words "Let the law take its course", appeal to another Home Secretary to grant a free pardon in the same case. Is not that in itself a reason why we cannot let this matter rest?
There is the human aspect—the mother and the two sisters who ask that the remains of this man who was hanged should be returned for burial in consecrated ground. On any view it is not a barren, sterile inquiry. It is an inquiry which may lead to the giving of some redress not to the man who has been punished, but to his mother and sisters who may receive it in a sense on his behalf. This is surely another reason for an inquiry.
It has been said that the test should be whether there was any impropriety in the way in which Mr. Scott Henderson conducted his inquiry. I do not think that is the test. Though I think that some of his decisions are open to criticism, I do not think that there was any impropriety. However, I do not think in any case that is the test.
The real test I think is this: in the course of speeches delivered today the House of Commons has shown that its conscience is uneasy about this. We are all concerned and troubled, because we think that that nightmare of jurists and non-jurists alike in this country may have turned into reality in this one case of Evans—namely, that an innocent man has been sent to the gallows. I do not think that the House of Commons is the proper forum for discussion of the question whether Evans was guilty or not That question requires precise, minute and leisurely analysis of fact. But I believe that a further inquiry would be useful, because the person who conducts it can profitably again go over material no doubt now largely committed to writing but still available from some living witnesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) has just given an example. There is plenty of material to reinvestigate and there are conclusions which are susceptible of further consideration, namely, the conclusions expressed by Mr. Scott Henderson. I therefore earnestly appeal to the Home 701 Secretary to reconsider the view that I believe he has been disposed to form, that no useful purpose would be served by a further inquiry.
His predecessor has spoken of the loneliness of the office of Home Secretary, and I think that any Member of this House would have sympathy with the person who fulfils the onerous duties of that office, and who has painful and difficult decisions to make. I do not think that any hon. Member would be disposed to criticise the right hon. Gentleman severely if, on hearing the views expressed, he felt that it was appropriate for him to reconsider his earlier opinion as to the usefulness of a further inquiry.
I hope that he will now say that, having reserved his intervention until the conclusion of the debate, having listened to the views expressed and taken note of the sincerity behind them, and of the reasons on which they are grounded—and, in particular, the solid reason that there is obvious doubt as to whether an innocent man has been convicted—the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that he will at least give earnest and serious consideration to the question whether there should not be a further investigation into the facts. If he will tell the Committee that he will do that, and announce his decision later, then, speaking for myself, I should be satisfied, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would be satisfied.
I would hope that he would reach the conclusion that a judge of the High Court of Justice should be invited to undertake the inquiry; that he should be invited to undertake it with plenty of time at his disposal, and with every help at his disposal; completely in public, unless there were the strongest and most cogent reasons for part of it to be conducted in private; with the assistance of argument on both sides: indeed, with every aid to enable him to go into precisely the same issues that Mr. Scott Henderson investigated, and to go further into those matters, as pointed out by Mr. Kennedy in his very useful and notable book, that have come to light since.
I would hope that he would do that, and I now appeal to him earnestly and sincerely to do it. In this, I believe that 702 I voice the opinion of right hon. and hon. Members wherever they sit in the Committee. I appeal to him to say that, having heard our views, he now thinks that he should give further consideration to the matter, and will announce later whether he cannot set up some kind of judicial inquiry, completely impartial, as I am certain it would be, but with all the facilities at its disposal to enable it to arrive at a conclusion that will reassure the public.
If the conclusion is that Evans was an innocent man, the action that must inevitably follow is obvious. There must be a free pardon, and the man's remains must be allowed to be taken to consecrated ground. If the tribunal were to decide that Evans should be regarded as a guilty man, the public conscience would be satisfied.
If that is not done, the case will never come to an end. It will pass into legal and judicial history—it has already done so. It is, and has been for months and years, the subject of acute controversy and difference on the part of writers and speakers both inside and outside the House of Commons. If this step is not taken the case will pass into judicial history, not as a case in which there was a doubt but as one in which it must be accepted that Evans was innocent. That is a question that should be resolved.
I do not desire to detain the Committee further, so I will end by saying that my appeal to the Home Secretary is most earnest. I believe that if ever there was a debt due to justice, and to the reputation both of our own judicial system and to the public conscience of many millions of people in this country, that debt is one that the Home Secretary should now pay, and I hope that he will agree that I am right in making my appeal to him.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I feel that we have all been through a rather moving experience in this debate. The speech of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who opened this debate, and the speeches that have followed have certainly maintained the high reputation of the House of Commons on a solemn occasion.
703 The position, as very well stated by the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers), and voiced also by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), is that we should not attempt to try this case, and it must not be taken that I can go into all the details, same of which were very clearly set out by the right hon. Member for Smethwick. If I started on that line, I do not think that I should do justice either to myself or to the office that I hold, because it is really impossible to treat this Committee as a court, or to have a retrial here. I shall not, therefore, go into all the details raised, but in the course of my remarks will give only indications that I have considered them.
The speech made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was, indeed, an exceptional one, as he held office at a critical time in this case. One of my hon. Friends felt that, perhaps, some of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks revealed a private conversation, but in view of the seriousness of the issues involved I do not feel that I have any complaint whatever at anything he may have said. I quite understand the emotion that moves him on this occasion.
We have had speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) and, taking all in all, the speeches show that while there is difference of opinion, there is a great body of anxiety in the Committee on this matter.
Taking up the spirit in which the hon. Member for Kensington, North spoke, let me examine the situation for a few minutes with the Committee. It was in 1953 that Christie, following his arrest for the murder of his wife, confessed to the murders of six other women, including Mrs. Evans, although he denied responsibility for the death of her child. Since that date, attempts have been made to establish Evans' innocence of the murder of both his wife and child.
From time to time, books have been written. When I entered the Chamber for this debate I met the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) carrying at least eight books. I think that it is possible to collect as many as that on this subject, and per- 704 haps one of the most remarkable has been written by the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
All these books have been carefully examined by the Home Office as they have come out, and the necessary inquiries have been pursued. When the hon. Member for Kensington, North refers to the "Establishment", I hope that he will realise that, whilst there is an Establishment, it can, at least, be painstaking and human in examining all these things as they come up.
I have followed this course in relation to the most recently-published book, which has been referred to on several occasions in this debate—Mr. Ludovic Kennedy's "Ten Rillington Place". I have studied it with great care, and have considered all the other information available to me to see to what extent it brings to light new facts or reveals grounds for thinking that a fresh inquiry would be likely to produce useful results. I have noted the points made by the right hon. Member for Smethwick and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and all the other points made, but they are, I think, pretty well summed up in the marshalled list of points made by Mr. Kennedy in relation to his book.
Mr. Kennedy has written this book very skilfully and, as he himself declares, he is wholly convinced of Evans's innocence. He tells the story of Christie and Evans from that standpoint, and lays emphasis—very naturally and properly, having regard to the object of his book—on the points of evidence which appear to tell in favour of Evans. He gives explanations for the actions of Evans, including his confession, which have appeared to point to his guilt. Now, although I have examined this book very carefully with the aid of the best advice I can obtain, I cannot find that Mr. Kennedy has produced any significant new facts, and the facts as they are known by no means point conclusively to the innocence of Evans.
There are many people who, on the basis of the same evidence, feel that there is no reason to doubt the correctness of his conviction for the murder of his child. I must say that, upon looking through the mass of material I have had to look through, I have the greatest difficulty in not having some wonder 705 and doubts on this matter, but the evidence seems to point really quite strongly to that conclusion.
Mr. Kennedy states that he was able to discover some new points of evidence which point towards Evans's innocence. Mr. Kennedy draws attention to those points in the open letter with which he prefixes his book and in a letter to the Spectator on 28th April summing up those points. I have looked extremely carefully into this and it may be said that the most important point raised—and I am concentrating on Mr. Kennedy's book because Lord Birkett found it a most important contribution and, therefore, I am concentrating on it on purpose—is that one of the most important of Mr. Kennedy's discoveries is the paragraph in the defence brief about the result of Dr. Teare's examination of Mrs. Evans's body.
On the basis of this paragraph the suggestion is made that there is medical evidence to show that Mrs. Evans was sexually assaulted after her death and that this points to Christie as having been her murderer. I must say that on the information at our disposal—which I have examined—there is no medical evidence that Mrs. Evans was sexually assaulted after her death. From published correspondence, which I have with me, it now appears that Dr. Teare's impression after this lapse of time is that the bruising which gave rise to this suggestion was so definite that it must have existed for hours before her death,
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South indicated from his reading of Dr. Teare's letter, that letter removes the impression that the murder was performed in exactly the same way or that the case was exactly the same as that referred to by the right hon. Member for Smethwick and that it was Christie's pattern of murder. It rather removes that feeling and makes one feel that this, which is one of the main points raised by Mr. Kennedy, is not really valid.
§ Mr. Abse
Is it not clear from the paragraph, to which reference has been made, that the solicitor at the time, long before Christie was ever heard of, stated in a report that remarks had been made in the magistrates' count by Dr. Teare at that time that this woman had, apparently, been sexually assaulted? How can someone possibly suggest that any 706 solicitor, at that time, could have made those remarks without knowing anything about Christie if, in fact, it had not been said?
§ Mr. Butler
I can only go by Dr. Teare's own letter in the Sunday Times of 5th March, this year, which relates to this point, and I have every reason to believe that he is speaking what is true. He says clearly that that particular report is not correct—from what he says here. Therefore, we must rely on Dr. Teare's own published report.
§ Sir F. Soskice
Has the Home Secretary read Dr. Teare's letter of 19th March? In order to do justice to the quotation, I will read the whole of this paragraph:Dealing with the vaginal bruising, I still do not deny that it could have occurred during forced intercourse, although a further eleven years' experience have failed to produce another such case, while the frequency of such injuries during self-inflicted attempted abortion has been underlined by the same experience.The Home Secretary cannot exclude a possibility that these bruises may have been caused by forced sexual intercourse.
§ Mr. Butler
The point is that those were there before her death and not after her death, and it is made clear in the letter of 5th March that that is true. That is the point. It is clear that this occured before her death. Dr. Teare points out in his letter of 5th March that, in his opinion, they were due to attempts at self-inflicted abortion.
In any case, whether we argue about this point or not, it is clear that this is no additional evidence, and all the comments that we are exchanging in this debate show how difficult it is to go into these matters after this lapse of time. I do not think that the point raised in Mr. Kennedy's book is any clearer indication than we have had up to date of the innocence or guilt of Evans. I am not trying to go further than that.
Apart from this medical point, Mr. Kennedy draws attention in his book to what he describes as nine new points of evidence. Many of these points are new only in the sense that they have not been published before. He refers, first, to two matters: Evans's low intelligence and the fact that Christie assumed a bogus medical knowledge. I have 707 nothing to add with regard to the first point, because that has been taken into account and has been analysed by all concerned with the case. I would only add that the prison medical officer reported that Evans's low intelligence was due to an educational deficiency and not to any innate defect.
The second point does not help to throw much light on what happened in this particular case, particularly in the light of Dr. Teare's evidence. Four of Mr. Kennedy's nine points relate to discrepancies and untruths in the many statements made by Christie to the police and in the course of his evidence at the trial of Evans. I have made careful comparison and examination of these statements, and although they may have some evidential value, it is surely not right to imply, as Mr. Kennedy does, that Christie would have had no need to lie if he was innocent. Christie was mentally abnormal and was much given to lying, as was shown at his trial.
Three of Mr. Kennedy's points concern the conflicting statements that were made regarding the activities of the men who were working in the house during the week of the murders, and the origin of the timber that was used to conceal the bodies. These matters have already been mentioned by hon. Members and I have inquired very closely into each of these points and I have considered whether, individually or collectively, they allow any useful deductions to be drawn, or suggest any further lines of inquiry which would be likely to be productive.
I am forced to the conclusion that they do not. While, taken by themselves, they lend some support to Mr. Kennedy's theories, they must be set alongside all the other evidence, much of it tending to indicate Evans's guilt.
Since the publication of Mr. Kennedy's book, hon. Members have put three questions to me. They have asked me to do three things. First, they have asked me to institute a new inquiry. While we would all wish to have the doubts about the case and the conflicting views resolved, I do not believe that a further inquiry would bring us any nearer to the truth. There is no reason to think that any new evidence would be brought to light, and, apart from the 708 written evidence that was available at the time of the earlier inquiry, all that could now be investigated would be statements made by people whose recollection of the events of 1949 has inevitably become dimmed by the passage of time and confused by the discussion and speculation to which this case has given rise.
The suggestion has been made that a new inquiry, based on an examination of the written documents, would be of value and that it might well draw deductions from the documents which would differ from those drawn by Mr. Scott Henderson, when he examined the same material.
But, as I have said, there are no grounds at all—in Mr. Kennedy's book or elsewhere—for thinking that it would be possible by this means to resolve the doubts that have arisen and to establish any more firmly than at present the parts played by Evans and Christie respectively in the events which led to Evans's conviction.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick paid a tribute to Mr. Scott Henderson and that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne indicated that he realised that Mr. Scott Henderson was not well and, therefore, all humanity must be extended to him, although I realise that his Report has led to some controversy.
There are no grounds for thinking, from Mr. Kennedy's book or elsewhere, that an inquiry would do any good. I had it in mind myself that probably a most important person would be Lord Birkett to advise. Lord Birkett was quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, but Lord Birkett, after describing the merits of Mr. Kennedy's book which I have not tried to traduce or minimise, says that it would not seem that a further inquiry would do more than Mr. Kennedy has done in his book. It could not establish or prove that Evans was innocent and the truth has, perhaps, been best stated in that way.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
If the Home Secretary has reached a conclusion in his own mind that there is considerable doubt in this case and that no further inquiry would resolve that doubt, then the doubt remains. And if the Home Secretary 709 admits that doubt remains, what more test could he want before taking action?
§ Mr. Butler
I am coming to that point. I think that is really what is puzzling the Committee. I am coming to that point as soon as I can.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Will not the Home Secretary continue with the quotation? It continues:It could not establish or prove that Evans was innocent…"—
§ Mr. Butler
If I may interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, I am bringing the rest of that quotation into the next portion of my speech, when I read from Lord Birkett's paper. It is all written down in my notes. I do not want to do anything unfair to Lord Birkett. I should hesitate to suggest that there is anybody more able to pronounce upon these matters than he.
I have been asked secondly to recommend the grant of a free pardon. When I made my statement on 16th March, I said that there was no precedent fox recommending a posthumous free pardon and that the legal powers to do so are doubtful. That remains the position, But what is important is whether the conditions which would justify my recommending a free pardon exist. It may be said, and it may be true—and I will acknowledge this from this Box—that if the facts as they are now known had been known in 1950 the jury would not have found that the case against Evans had been proved beyond all reasonable doubt. I am saying that deliberately and with authority.
Unfortunately—and here I must put myself upon the sympathy of the Committee—these are not the circumstances in which a free pardon is granted. I feel sure that there has been much confusion between the circumstances which make the granting of a reprieve possible in a capital case and those in which a free pardon is granted. In the first place, if there is any doubt, that is taken into account in deciding whether to grant a reprieve and, as was said by my night hon. Friend the Member for South Shields—I call him my right hon. Friend even though he sits on the other side of the Committee; he is my friend as much as he said I was his friend—that does happen, and when there is doubt or a 710 scintilla of doubt our distinguished predecessors from Sir Robert Peel onward have always acknowledged that it is legitimate to grant a reprieve. But a free pardon cannot be granted unless, as I stated in my reply to Questions on 16th March, there is a certainty which is not possible in this case.
Here I follow up with what the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) referred to, by referring to this statement by Miss Tennyson Jesse—
§ Mr. Butler
Approved by Lord Birkett. I was deliberately coming to this. Writing in 1957 on the trials of Evans and Christie in the "Notable British Trials" series, she came to the conclusion that it seemed more likely that, in pursuit of his lust and under the guise of performing an abortion, Christie murdered Beryl Evans and that he murdered the baby. She adds:There are objections to this conclusion; it does not satisfy all the conditions or resolve all the doubts. No explanation I have thought of does. Each one leaves something unaccountable.That is the exact position in which I find myself today as Home Secretary. I have acknowledged that if this was simply a case of a reprieve—although one does not discuss one's decisions on a reprieve, alas, with anyone in normal circumstances—I think that a reprieve might well have been granted if the full facts had been known. But taking the situation as we find it today, with the tradition handed down to Home Secretaries of the granting of a free pardon, and the fact that there has never been one before, I feel it impossible for me in the present circumstances, while there is doubt, to grant a free pardon.
If I am wrong, I consider that this debate has been so important that I am entitled to continue thinking about this. But that is the state of the convention under which the Home Secretary acts as at present understood, and if I am to depart from that—I say this definitely to the Committee—I should have to be more certain personally about the question of the murder of his child than I can be from the intensive amount of material that has been put before me 711 when there is still grave doubt in my mind. That is the position.
I do not want to underestimate this debate. It has been an extremely serious one. Since I have been in my present office—and I have been longer in my present office as Leader of the House—I have always tried to sense the feelings of the House, and on a serious occasion like this it would have been wrong of me not to make the most weighty statement in reply. As I am advised, that is the present position in regard to a free pardon, and it follows from that, unfortunately, that I cannot authorise the removal of the remains, as is so much wanted by the man's family, whose circumstances have been referred to in such moving terms by the right hon. Member for South Shields and others. I cannot at the moment, under the Capital Punishment Amendment Act, 1868, remove the body. It would have to be done by legislation, and while there is doubt, I do not think I can authorise Government support for legislation on this matter.
It has been very painful for me to say these things today and I have not looked forward to this debate. I have found it extremely difficult to speak in it. But I have put the situation frankly as I see it before the Committee, and I think hon. Members would agree that the Home Secretary of the day should not depart from the traditions of a free pardon as it has been handed down. I will certainly accept the right hon. Gentleman's request that I should think about these matters in the future. I will do so. I will think about the question of evidence being provided to the defence, and points of that sort, just as I have thought about the Judge's Rules being revised in relation to modern cases.
I will not be inactive in this matter But unfortunately today I cannot, for the reasons that I have given, and because of the tradition of my office, carry the matter any further.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again—[Mr. Redmayne]—put and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.