HC Deb 02 August 1963 vol 682 cc795-832

11.11 a.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I have thought long before deciding to initiate this debate. It is a grave matter to suggest that someone has been wrongly hanged. It is graver still to suggest that someone else may possibly have been guilty. I have also hesitated from consideration of the woman who escaped death but was terribly injured and also the wife and family of the murdered man. No one would wish to recreate memories and sorrows. Nevertheless I feel that this is a public duty. Issues of supreme importance are involved, not only as to whether an innocent man was hanged but whether the judgment of the wisest of us is infallible.

I have been engaged in this investigation for over a year with the constant help of competent legal advisers and of a medical man of stature. The case unhappily has close associations with my constituency. Michael Gregston and Valerie Storie were on the staff of the Road Research Station at Langley. Valerie and her family live in Slough. The tragedy began near and through Slough.

I was led to start my inquiries by a responsible Slough journalist, Mr. Mason, a man of character and social conscience, and by a businessman and a barrister whose interest had been aroused by the proceedings of the trial. Mr. Mason approached me before Hanratty was executed, and the businessman and barrister came to see me. Indeed, on the night before the execution information reached me which caused me to contact the Home Secretary and which led Scotland Yard to make last minute inquiries. Arising from this preliminary information I felt that there was sufficient to justify the continuation of the inquiry.

It has been a somewhat disagreeable experience. It has necessitated associations which I would not normally choose. I have not hidden from Scotland Yard or the Home Secretary what I have been doing. With a legal adviser I had an hour's frank talk with Chief Detective Superintendent Kennedy of Scotland Yard, and a verbatim note of the interview was sent to the Home Secretary. I have also reported to the Home Office and have been admitted to see certain papers. I believe that the evidence which has emerged from this investigation, whilst not necessarily conclusive, provides a prima facie case for an inquiry.

There are two ways in which one could prove Hanratty's innocence. The first would be to show that he could not have done it. At the trial he disastrously attempted to present a phoney alibi. He is dead and there is no evidence on that matter. The second way is to suggest that someone else may have been guilty. I should have much preferred to have submitted evidence in this respect to an inquiry.

Only the uncertainty as to whether the Home Office would grant one necessitates my speech today. I make it fully understanding the gravity of what I am doing. I do not want to take refuge behind the privilege of this House. I have sent a detailed statement not only to the Home Secretary but to every Member of Parliament and it has reached the Press, though without my authority. I should have much preferred an inquiry where the evidence could have been sifted. I still hope that after what I have said today the Home Secretary will agree. Indeed, if only for the sake of the man himself, I cannot see how the right hon. Gentleman can refuse.

The trial of Hanratty aroused doubts in many minds. It was recognised that the judge was fair, but it was held widely that the evidence was not sufficient. Even greater doubts were caused by the Home Secretary's decision not to grant a reprieve. The then Home Secretary knew, although the jury did not know, that Hanratty had been certified as a mental defective. I have made some inquiries from the family. I have seen his father and his brother. They have impressed me greatly as honest and truthful. They are the best type of the working class.

The father has told me of the difficulty of James Hanratty's school years, spent in a special school, and how as a teen-ager, following an accident, he had a brain operation after which the deterioration of his character was marked. A truthful boy became a liar and an honest boy a thief, addicted as the years went by to petty crimes and car stealing. Even so, there is no evidence that he ever showed any tendency towards violence and had ever handled a gun. Whether he was guilty or not, the refusal of a reprieve to a mental defective seems to me to be inexcusable. A Home Secretary has a cruel decision to make. I admire the them Home Secretary's record, his resistance to pressures for severer punishments and his zeal for prison reform, but I should not like to have on my conscience the decision he made on Hanratty. I have sent to the Home Secretary and Members of Parliament copies of a confession made by another man. A photostat copy is in the possession of the Home Secretary and I have a photostat copy here. I will call the man "Mr. X", although I fear that his identity will become clear by more that I must necessarily say.

I want to say at once that I do not place credence on the mere fact of a confession. No murder takes place without some exhibitionist making a confession. It is all the surrounding circumstances, some of which were revealed at the trial and much of which is in the new evidence that I will reveal, which makes this confession noticeable.

The confession was first made orally to a barrister. The written document was given to an intimate friend of Mr. X, who subsequently brought it to me. It was handed over by Mr. X at the Imperial Hotel, Russell Square, on 15th May, 1962. It was written on notepaper of the Rubens Hotel, Buckingham Palace Road, where he had stayed the previous week. It is in the form of notes intended to be expanded into a fuller confession, each point numbered. Out of consideration for Valerie Storie I do not propose to read much of the detailed description of the fatal car drive which is included in the confession.

The first point reads: (1) Obtaining the gun. Reasons for this. Name of person George. We have not been able to identify "George". I do not know whether Scotland Yard, to whom the confession was immediately sent, has tried to do so or succeeded. (2) Frame-up in Vienna. How I knew Nudds. Reasons for this frame. Altering the register (alibi with my mother). Planting cases in room 24 when R was out. Asking Nudds if Ryan had left. "Vienna" means the Vienna Hotel. Nudds was the hotelier. "R" is Hanratty, who was known at the hotel as Ryan. The reference to altering the register was an apparent attempt by Mr. X to fix an alibi with his mother. I shall make further comments on this item later.

I will continue to read from the confession: (3) Slough Had gun but hoping not to commit murder at that time but well in the mood for it. The dogs. Bookmaker who might know me. Going out after Mentals Only Hope. Walking out into the country. Stopped at pub opposite Old Station Inn. On to Marsh Lane. Couple in car fitted my mood and my main plan. "Mentals Only Hope" was a greyhound which ran in the seventh race at Slough Stadium shortly after 9 p.m. on the night of the murder. This is striking confirmation that Mr. X was in the neighbourhood that night. I continue with the confession: (4) From the moment I went in, imitated working class person with voice and background although I never met Ryan. That is, Hanratty. But a lot of what I said which could be interpreted as Ryan's hatred of ordinary middle-class people stemmed from my heart and was my own hatred of them. (5) I played with them as cat and mouse—but all the time I was tense and being an extrovert I showed it and exaggerated, and a lot of my nervousness was communicated to them. (6) When I killed him and she said, 'Oh, you swine. You bastard. You have shot him', I felt the need to give her some explanation and I said, 'He should not have tried to turn tables on me'. She said, 'He was not, you swine. You are mad'. I said, 'He moved too quickly'. I knew I must kill her but first I might as well rape her. I felt tense and overwrought and I felt that even fleeting love would help me. She said, 'Do what you like now. Nothing matters any more'. I omit several lines here, for the sake of Valerie Storie. I said, 'I must kill you now. It is either your life or mine and I have a messianic mission'. She said, 'Please don't hurt me'. There is another considerable omission here, again for the sake of Valerie Storie. I said, 'Goodbye, Valerie. You will stay here'. But as I walked away I turned and shot her"— there is a query mark here— times. She fell and lay on the ground. I went over and fired more shots into her. She lay absolutely still. I believed she was dead. The confession continues with a number of points: (7) Meeting the drivers on the road. Driving badly.> (8) Meeting my friend at Southend. Disposal of gun. I have some evidence which I have forwarded to the Home Secretary that Mr.X spent the night following the murder at a place not far from where the murder car was found and en route to Southend. (9) All my interviews with police (Finsbury Park and Acott) can be found from my papers with McDougal. (10) If they had been other sort of people I would not have killed them. I omit point (11).

It is followed by a series of further renumbered points:

  1. "(1) Car passed. Lights lit up faces twenty minutes after Gregston…
  2. (2) I arrived in car about 9.30.
  3. (3) Left approximately 11.30.
  4. (4) Drove to layby by roundabout route.
  5. (5) I said, 'Shut up. I am thinking my plan out'.
  6. (6) Fired about ten times at her.
  7. (7) Drove off about 3 o'clock.
  8. (8) Raped Valerie twenty minutes after Gregston's death.
  9. (9) Fire shots at Gregston at point-blank range.
  10. (10) said 'Kiss me' before raping her when she was in front seat.
  11. (11) .38 Enfield revolver.
  12. (12) Past attempt at cornfield."
The Home Secretary may say that the substance of this confession could have been built upon reports of the trial, but in fact there are additional points which could be tested.

This written confession was supplemented by an alleged acknowledgment of the crime to the Hanratty family. Hanratty's father says that Mr. X visited his home on 22nd August, 1962, which was the first anniversary of the murder. Mr. Hanratty says this: I asked him if it was right that he had written a confession and said I had a copy. He said, 'Yes. I have the original here' and produced it from his pocket. He put it on the table and said 'I am very sorry that all this happened. I never thought they would hang your son. I know he did not do the murder'. It is the series of circumstances which I will now cite which gives these confessions substance. The case against Hanratty at the trial was based positively on three counts, which I will consider in turn, particularly in the light of new evidence.

The first was Valerie Storie's identification. Valerie said she had seen the assailant only momentarily in the head lights of a passing car. She had to rely mainly on recognising his voice. She took part in two identification parades, at the first of which she picked another man. She admitted that this man resembled Mr. X. At the second identification parade, after 20 minutes, she chose Hanratty when he said "finking" rather than "thinking" I have tape recordings that prove that Mr. X mispronounces in the same way— Everyfing you asked. and: I want free hundred pounds… followed by: …you had better make it free hundred pounds. These tape recordings are available to the Home Secretary. Indeed, some of them have been heard at Scotland Yard, at an inquiry.

The matter of identification is important. There were three identifications of Hanratty reported at the trial. There were five identifications of other people by leading Crown witnesses.

Secondly, the finding of cartridge cases from the murder gun in a room which Hanratty used at the Vienna Hotel. Here I must refer to item No. 2 in Mr. X's confession. Frame-up in Vienna. Reasons for this frame. Planting cases in room 24 when R "— that is, Hanratty— was out. Asking Nudds if Ryan had left". It will be seen that Mr. X states that he had planted the cartridges when Hanratty was absent. Mr. X had spent the night of 21st August, the night before the murder, at the Vienna Hotel. The hotelier, Nudds, in his second statement to the police, said that two and a half hours after the murder was discovered Mr. X was in his room, unkempt and in a nervous state. His bed had not been slept in and Mr. X told him that he did not want any breakfast. The hotelier made three statements to the police, withdrawing the first and second, which incriminated Mr. X, leaving the third against Hanratty. In court Mr. Nudds acknowledged that he was a liar.

Thirdly, Hanratty had spoken of the upstairs back seat of a bus as a good place to hide unwanted jewellery; and the gun was discovered in just such a place. On this I acknowledge that I have no new evidence, although I take this opportunity of correcting the statement which was made in a book and also in a Sunday newspaper to the effect that Hanratty had said that this was a good place to hide a gun. He never made such a statement. He never referred to a gun. He remarked on one occasion that it was "a good hiding place."

Mr. X was the first suspect of Scotland Yard, and he was arrested. Under an assumed name, he had shut himself in his room at the Alexander Hotel, Finsbury, for five days following the murder. Identikit pictures drawn from descriptions of the murderer fitted him, particularly that by Valerie Storie. At the trial Superintendent Acott gave 12 reasons for eliminating Mr. X from his further inquiries. In fairness to Mr. X I will repeat them, though sometimes they seem to me to be trivial.

They are, first, that the assailant told Valerie Storie and Gregston that his name was Jim; in fact, it was Peter. Apart from the unlikelihood that a murderer would reveal his real name. Mr. X admits to using several names and he knew that Hanratty was known as "Jim Ryan" at the Vienna Hotel.

Secondly, the assailant is described as being in his mid-twenties; Mr. X is 30. Valerie Storie admits that she saw little of the assailant. In fact, Mr. X looks younger than his years. I saw him when he came with others to visit me at the House of Commons and I should place him at less than 30.

Thirdly, the assailant is described as being about 5ft. 6ins.; Mr. X is 5ft. 9ins. Hanratty was 5ft. 8ins. Mr. X looks shorter than his height. He has sloping shoulders and he gave me the impression of being a shorter man.

Fourthly, the assailant is described as having blue eyes; Mr. X's are hazel. His face had been seen only in the headlights of a car which, as every motorist knows, plays tricks with colour. They would appear to have done so with Valerie Storie in her description of the colour of her assailant's hair, which she says was brown. John Kerr, the under- graduate who found her on the A.6 lay-by, said that she told him that her assailant had fairish hair. Dr. Rennie, of Guy's Hospital, also stated that Valerie told him that her attacker had fair hair.

Fifthly, the assailant had difficulty in pronouncing the dipthong "th". I have already said that the tape recordings of his voice, which are available, show that Mr. X has the same difficulty.

Sixthly, the assailant had an East London accent; Mr. X is well spoken. However, no one who has heard the tape recordings would say that Mr. X is well spoken. He frequently lapses into a Cockney accent. Indeed, his voice answers the description given by Valerie Storie. Hanratty's father says that Mr. X's voice is very like that of his son.

Seventhly, the assailant is described as uneducated; Mr. X is distinctly educated. He may be, but no one who has heard or read transcripts of the tape recordings would suspect him of any culture.

Eighthly, the assailant was hesitant while Mr. X readily answered questions. Hesitant? He kept Gregston and Valerie Storie talking in the car for one and a half hours before making them drive off. This is consistent with Mr. X's hour-long telephone conversations, parts of which are reproduced on the tape recordings.

Ninthly, the assailant used the word "kip" and Mr. X did not. According to Hanratty's family, James Hanratty did not normally use the word "kip" and Superintendent Acott admitted that in telephone conversations Hanratty had used the word "sleep".

Tenthly, Hanratty, under questioning, showed a desire to sleep and Mr. X, despite being kept awake, did not. This could be interpreted in different ways. A guilty man would remain alert while an innocent man might be more in different.

Eleventhly, the assailant drove a car and Mr. X does not drive. It is true that the assailant drove the car away from the layby, but all the evidence shows that he drove it very badly. It would appear that he had little knowledge of cars. Valerie Storie had to start the engine of the Morris Minor after Gregston was murdered and show the assailant how the gears operated. Hanratty, on the other hand, would not have been expected to drive badly. He was a good and experienced driver. He was a convicted car thief and would certainly have known how to operate the gears of a Morris Minor. His knowledge of cars is indicated in his last letter to his brother, advising him on the care of the powerful car which he bequeathed to him.

Twelfthly, the assailant is described as being immaculate; Mr. X, when arrested, was shabby and wearing a blazer and flannels. Mr. X is at home in the most exclusive hotels and is normally dressed neatly. I remember that my secretary remarked that his trousers bad been neatly pressed when he came to see me at the House of Commons. I make the general comment that these seem to be an extraordinarily unconvincing series of reasons, even if they had been accurate, for releasing a suspect.

There are contrary reasons for regarding Mr. X as a suspect, as the investigations of the last year have shown. The centrepiece of the tragic night of 22nd August, 1961, was in the neighbourhood of Slough, Taplow, where Gregston and Valerie Storie were accosted in a cornfield, is a few miles from Slough. They were directed at gun point by the assailant to drive through Slough and then along the A.4 past London Airport. The assailant would have seemed to have known the district.

There is no evidence that Hanratty had ever been to Taplow or Slough. Mr. X, on the other hand, was familiar with Slough and its environments. He frequented Slough Greyhound Stadium. He says that he was there immediately before the murder drive. He has stayed at the Ariel Hotel on the A.4, opposite London Airport.

There is this significant fact. After Hanratty's conviction Mr. X took two men, one of them the barrister to whom he first made the oral confession, to the cornfield in Marsh Lane. It was night time, but they affirm that he led them without hesitation to the spot. There had been Press reports of the general whereabouts of the cornfield, but none, as far as I know, so detailed as to enable a stranger to find the spot with precision. The correctness of the site was confirmed the next day when one of the men returned and found a beer bottle there which he had thrown down whilst with Mr. X.

One weakness in the prosecution case at the trial was the failure to produce evidence that Hanratty's clothing had bloodstains on it. Stains could not have been avoided in view of his proximity to Gregston if he were the murderer. He was said to have been wearing a blue striped suit. The waistcoat and trousers were exhibited, but were without bloodstains. Surely his trousers would have had bloodstains, because he took over the driving seat which Gregston had occupied? The jacket was not exhibited, and the prosecution implied that it had been discarded because of incriminating bloodstains.

Hanratty explained that he had thrown away the jacket after it had been torn as he climbed through the window of a house in Stanmore into which he had broken at the end of September. The police at Stanmore—reported the prosecution—had no record of a break-in on the dates given by Hanratty. Before the end of the trial, however, the police admitted that they were mistaken. The break-in had been recorded. Hanratty's account of it was confirmed, even to the detail of a green candle which he had used because the electricity supply was cut off.

There is an even more important point. If Hanratty was the murderer, does any one believe that he would have continued to go about wearing the trousers in which he was alleged to have committed the crime? A Crown witness stated that some days after the murder Hanratty visited her wearing the same blue striped trousers.

There is one fact which has deeply inclined me towards belief in Hanratty's innocence. Both the priests who saw him in the condemned cell are said by Hanratty's father to have told him that they were convinced that his son had not committed the murder. I would not be so impressed by this if Hanratty were not a Catholic. A Catholic believes that he will suffer eternal damnation if he dies without confessing sins which he has not confessed at previous confessions. I find it difficult to believe that Hanratty would have gone to the gallows declaring himself innocent if he were in fact guilty, when there is evidence that he sincerely accepted in his last hours the ministration of Catholic priests to whom he could have confessed in the presence of God.

There were other happenings and circumstances described in the report which I forward to the Home Secretary which fortified the case for an inquiry. I have spoken for long, and I cannot mention more, but I must refer to the tape recordings of telephone conversations between Mr. X and the businessman to whom I have referred.

The businessman had been an intimate friend of Mr. X, and it was to him that Mr. X handed his confession. Subsequently, when Mr.X found that his friend had passed the confession to me and was engaged in inquiries as to whether Mr.X was associated with the murder, the relationship between them changed. Mr. X began to threaten his friend's life and to demand money from him. The recorded telephone conversations were during this stage.

The significant thing about them is that they are uninhibited. Exhibitionism might be alleged against the confession, but it cannot be alleged against these man-to-man conversations. An hon. Member on the benches opposite has told me that it is the transcriptions of these tape recordings which have convinced him of the case for an inquiry. I can understand that. They are the most conclusive evidence.

In these long telephone talks it is assumed as an agreed matter that Mr. X was involved in the A.6 murder. It is difficult, and I would not say desirable, to reproduce their atmosphere here, but these are a few extracts. I shall call the businessman Mr. Y: Mr. Y: I should leave her"— that is Mrs. Hanratty— alone—after what you have done to Jimmy. That is James Hanratty. Mr. X: Only you know that and I don't think you will say that in court will you? Will you? This was said in a threatening manner. Mr. Y: No. This is another extract, showing the demands for money: Mr. X: I want £250, and don't f…"— I shall not use the obscene words— about with me. You stupid little c…I have told you what I want. I want £250. Mr. Y: Is that what you think I am? Mr. X: I want £250. Mr. Y: If I cannot get it? Mr. X: Then I am going to kill you. Another, in which Mr. X complains of the inquiries in which his friend had been engaged, is as follows: Mr. X: You are an evil person. What you do to people is evil. Mr. Y: What you have done to Gregston… Mr. X: What I have done to Gregston is one thing. Two rights don't make a wrong. What you are doing is evil. I'm a human being, you know. Mr. Y: What was Gregston? Mr. X: Hume was a murderer but he didn't go through what I'm going through. The following is another extract: Mr. X: I don't think talking makes things clear. Hitler talked a lot before the war, but no one took any notice of him till he struck; then they did not know what to do. Mr. Y: Like in the car you mean? Mr. X: Yes, that's right. I will just tell you one thing. No. I had better not. About the car. Mr. Y: Yes. Mr. X: Yes. Anyway, I can tell you Gregston did not take any notice at all. Did not take any notice at all of talk. You know what happened to him. It is not easy to terrorise anyone by talk you know. Don't think it was all terror in the car because it wasn't. Mr. Y: I quite agree. Mr. X: It was after the shot was fired, but not before. He was quite cocky. Mr. Y: Who? Mr. X: Gregston. Another extract: M. X: I always mean what I say. It is not a lot of hot air. It is a case of waiting and seeing. Mr. Y: Did you wait for him or her? You never made it clear. Mr. X: Perhaps it was lucky I didn't. Mr. Y: I told Mr. Hanratty the truth. Mr. X: You shouldn't have told him; what I told you I told you in confidence…You're going to go, aren't you? We don't know what you are yet; the fact that she got away with it does not matter. That was just a fluke, she was just lucky. After having six bullets in her, she managed to live and she managed to put someone to the gallows. I give a final extract in which the businessman appears to express remorse for betraying someone who had been a friend—or is be fearing Mr. X's threats, as I think he had some reason to do? The extract is: Mr. Y: Why did you tell me? Mr. X: Why are you trying to persecute me for it? Is not the crime enough? Mr. Y: I agree. I am ashamed of my conduct; I'm paying for it. You shouldn't have told me. Mr. X: You asked…you asked me out of curiosity in the beginning…. Mr. Y: I only hope you will retract on your decision. Mr. X: I am sure you will break…I don't want a truce. What do I gain out of any truce? This affair came about to glorify me; I have only been dragged in the mud…I could deny the voice or anything…I did say I would go abroad and tell the truth if convicted on the Fadzuk case—I will one day. I will get my case against Acott first… Mr. Y: Why did you tell me you did the murder? Mr. X: What's that got to do with it? I told you the truth; you told me a f…pack of lies, didn't you? Why shouldn't I tell you? You were my friend; people don't do what you did; there are murders going on all over the world; I didn't expect your reaction to be what it was. I have refrained from reading certain extracts from these tape recordings out of consideration for Valerie Storie, but they are of significance and may possibly provide a motive for the incident in the cornfield which preceded the murder. I ask the Home Secretary to study these extracts in the document which I have sent to him.

That document concludes with Hanratty's last letter, written to his brother just at dawn on the day of his execution.

I read a part of it: Well, Mick I am going to do my best to face the morning with courage and strength and I am sure God will give me the courage to do so. Mick now you are the eldest in the family and I know that I could not count on anybody better than yourself. Mick we always got on well together and we had many good times together over the years. But I am going to ask you to do me a small favour, that is I would like you to try and clear my name of this crime. Someone somewhere is responsible for this crime and one day they will venture again and then the truth will come out. Time is drawing near, it is almost daylight, so please look after Mum and Dad for me. Those words— Someone somewhere is responsible for this crime. Are we to believe James Hanratty's assertion of his innocence? I suggest that in the light of the evidence which I have presented, it will be on our conscience if we do not respond to his appeal to find the truth.

11.55 a.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

Whatever else one may think about this distressing affair, I do not think that anyone can fail but admire the persistence with which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) has pursued this matter over the last twelve months and the clarity with which he has deployed this morning an extremely difficult case. He has had a very difficult task to perform, as he said. It is no easy thing either to question a decision reached in a criminal case, or to cast suspicion upon somebody else in a case in which one man has already been convicted. I personally admire very much the moderate and restrained way in which he put before us this morning the evidence which he has collected.

I have a personal interest in this case. After Hanratty was convicted, but before he was executed, his solicitor got in touch with me. Why I do not know; but quite out of the blue he rang me up at the office one morning, and he sent to me certain papers which I understood he then intended to forward to the Home Secretary. These papers, which I studied and sent back to him—because they were obviously confidential—did not seem to me at that time to add anything to the evidence which had been produced in court.

I gave him such advice as I was able to give. He was anxious to obtain advice about the possibility of obtaining a reprieve, but the only advice which I felt that I could genuinely give him was that I thought it unlikely that the Home Secretary of the day would grant a reprieve except on evidence of mental instability. That evidence I believed to be there, although it was not brought out at the trial, I gather from Hanratty's own wish; and I think that this was perhaps unfortunate and that it might have been better if it had been brought out.

Of course, in the documents which were sent to me at that time, there was no mention of a lot of the material contained in the memorandum which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has circulated to the Home Secretary and to all hon. Members. But I think that it is on the evidence contained in that document that we in the House, and the Home Secretary particularly, upon whom rests the very difficult task of deciding these matters, have to make up our minds.

But before looking at this evidence I wonder whether I may make one general point which, I hope, will appeal to the whole House, whatever their views on this case may be. Whenever a case like this arises—and I think that this is the third since the end of the war—the whole discussion gets bedevilled by the arguments for and against capital punishment, to the extent that in the case of Rowlands and Evans, which were the two preceding cases in which doubts were cast on the conviction of a man after he had been executed, it tended to happen in the House that those who, like myself, were in favour of the abolition of capital punishment lined up in favour of the reversal of the verdict and those who were of the opposite view insisted firmly that there should be no change. This was a very broad distinction, but it tended to happen and, as a result, the arguments could not be considered dispassionately and away from outside influences.

I hope that on this occasion we shall be able to consider the incident on the evidence presented—and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has certainly done it—as if it were an ordinary criminal case. It is a difficult thing to do, but unless we do it we shall get completely clouded once again by the argument which always intervenes in these cases.

Considering this incident as if it were an ordinary criminal case, my reaction is to say that although I am not convinced by this that Hanratty was innocent or that Mr.X was necessarily guilty, I am convinced that if this information had been before the jury they would not have convicted Hanratty. I believe, therefore, that there must be an inquiry into this case.

Basically, the reasons why I am convinced of this are three. One is a reason to which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough did not refer in his speech, that is to say, the evidence brought out on page 7 of the cyclostyled document—I do not know whether the numbering in the Home Secretary's copy is the same, but I think that he will recognise the passage—the evidence of a gentleman called Mr. Fogarty-Waul, who, apparently, lived in a caravan quite near the cornfield. He made certain statements about meetings there both before and after the murder with another man, a man who, clearly, was not Hanratty.

I shall not go into the details of this because it trespasses on ground upon which the hon. Gentleman, quite rightly in my opinion, did not enter. However, I find that a very convincing statement, and I should like to have Mr. Fogarty-Waul's evidence tested by inquiry, by examination and, if necessary, by cross-examination, to ascertain whether it is true.

The second main reason why I believe that the jury would not have convicted arises from the so-called confession and, much more, the tape recordings. I believe that these are too circumstantial not to have an element of truth in them, and, again, I am certain that, on the evidence of these two documents, particularly the nightmare-like tape recordings of those astonishing telephone conversations, there must be an investigation. There must be a probing to ascertain whether they are true or not. As long as they are hanging about, there will be doubt cast on the whole matter.

The third factor which convinces me that there must be an inquiry was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, namely, the subsequent visit paid to the cornfield by Mr.X and his acquaintances some time after the murder. In the time available since the hon. Gentleman sent me this document, I have been through as many Press reports of the murder and of the trial as I have been able to find, and I can bear out what he says, that in no newspaper which I have been able to track down was there any precise description of where the field was. It was described in general terms, but I imagine that there were a number of fields around there and it could have been one of several.

I have come to a conclusion which, I must admit, I did not want to come to at the beginning. One is always most reluctant to cast doubt not on the whole judicial system, but, at least, on the jury system in which we take such pride, and this is not something to be undertaken lightly. My first reaction when the hon. Gentleman sent me the document was to try to put it aside unread, but I felt that that would be a dereliction of duty. I am, however, convinced that there is enough evidence of doubt here—without necessarily being convinced one way or the other on that evidence—to suggest that there should be an inquiry.

One final word. I hope that, if there is an inquiry, it will be an inquiry so far as possible in public. We have had the experience of the Scott Henderson inquiry which, whether it was right or wrong, because of the way in which it was handled did not carry an enormous amount of conviction. If this particular matter is to be cleared up, it should be cleared up as publicly as possible.

12.4 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

My approach to this question is very similar to that of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk). We all realise that, in a serious matter of this kind, it is only in the clearest cases that this House ought to take the responsibility of urging the Home Secretary to order an inquiry which, in itself, would throw doubt on the proper administration of justice. It is fundamental in our society that the public should have confidence in the way in which justice is administered and confidence in our system of trial by jury and the findings which a jury reaches after hearing all the evidence given in a criminal case.

I, too, hope that this discussion will not be bedevilled by any views which one may hold about the abolition of capital punishment. In this respect, I think that I can speak with more conviction because I have not always held the same views as those expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) and by the hon. Member for Gravesend.

We are faced this morning with a very serious situation. My hon. Friend has been at pains to collect a great deal of evidence which tends to show two things; first, that Mr. Hanratty was innocent although he was convicted of a murder for which he has been hanged; second, that another gentleman, Mr. X, although at one time arrested by the police, is now at large and has confessed to the murder.

Although, of course, it is not for this House in any sense to judge on the merits of the matter, I have come to the conclusion that anyone reading dispassionately the statement and the memorandum which my hon. Friend has circulated or anyone listening to the extracts which he read this morning, must be convinced that there is, at least, a very strong prima facie case that the matter cannot be left where it is.

Even if Mr. Hanratty had not been hanged and was merely serving a life sentence, the facts revealed this morning would appear to indicate that there is very substantial evidence that another person, Mr. X, was guilty of the murder. That itself is something which, I suggest, the Home Office has a duty to investigate.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I always approach these matters which throw doubt on the validity of a decision reached by a court with the greatest suspicion and the greatest reluctance. One knows that, after the hanging of any convicted murderer, there often appear a few madmen who pretend that they have themselves committed the murder. In this case, however, it cannot be said that these documents are just a piece of exhibitionism on the part of Mr. X. They are his own statements, corroborated by independent evidence.

I was impressed also by a reading of the evidence, which has been given by Mr. Fogarty-Waul, which my hon. Friend did not read. It seems to me very odd that this Mr. Fogarty-Waul did not come forward to give evidence at Hanratty's trial. He is obviously in a position to give most valuable information, and I should have thought that it was important at any inquiry to test his evidence.

I was impressed, also, in considering whether Hanratty was innocent or not, by two matters. I refer, first, to the most unsatisfactory proceedings at the identity parades. When one reflects on the trial, one is forced to the conclusion that the prosecution had to rely on those identity parades. Without proof of the identity of the murderer, Hanratty could not have been convicted, and that proof of identity depended entirely on identity parades which, in my view, were thoroughly unsatisfactory. Although, on three occasions, Hanratty was identified, on five other occasions someone else was, including, I think, Mr. X on one occasion.

The jury reached their conclusion and Hanratty has been hanged, but I should have thought that everyone must, to put it at the lowest, have the gravest possible doubt about whether Hanratty would ever have been convicted if the evidence now available had been before the jury.

I was impressed by the obvious sincerity of Hanratty's final message to his family and the testimony of the Roman Catholic priests who said that right until the last moment he had not confessed in the confessional and had asserted his innocence knowing that, even if he had confessed to those priests in order to obtain the benefit of spiritual absolution, that confession could never have been disclosed to anybody. The fact that he failed to do so and preferred to die a Roman Catholic protesting his innocence is, to my mind, a most striking fact.

What should our duty be? I do not think that the Home Secretary, or any Home Secretary, can possibly allow this matter to remain where it is. There is the clearest possible case for investigation. There would be such a case even if this were not a capital offence, but the fact that it is a capital offence, and the fact that it looks as if injustice has been done, makes it all the more important that there should be an investigation.

The Home Secretary may be urged that it will shake public confidence in the administration of justice if there is a further inquiry. But I urge this consideration on him: public confidence in the administration of justice has already been shaken. This is the third case of a capital nature which has occurred recently, but only the other day we had the case of Mr. Gordon, who, only a few weeks ago, was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment after a trial, and then, as a result of further evidence being brought to light before the Court of Criminal Appeal—which, incidentally, has not yet been made public, but I am sure that in the interests of public policy it ought to be made public—a convicted criminal was set free. Therefore, it is no use saying that the public can have complete confidence that a jury's finding is final and infallible.

But when a capital sentence is involved, and when a person who may have been innocent has been hanged, there is this further consideration. Since the passing of the Homicide Act, we have been living through an experimental period to decide whether there should be at some future time a further review about the abolition of capital punishment.

On that matter, I have never taken the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough. I have always thought that the strongest argument for the abolition of capital punishment is not that there is something inherently wrong in capital punishment for a deliberate, clearly proven murder, but that there is the risk that, as long as capital punishment remains on the Statute Book, a completely innocent person may be hanged and that further evidence may subsequently come to light which shows that the most grievous possible injustice that any society can inflict has been inflicted.

It is that consideration in the whole context of the future retention or abolition of capital punishment which, to my mind, makes it imperative that the Home Secretary should order a completely impartial inquiry into the Hanratty case, either so that public confidence may be restored, which may be one solution, or, if it is found that injustice of this grave character has been done, in order that the public knows the risks which are being run by the retention of capital punishment.

For all these reasons, I would hope that the Home Secretary would feel that it is his public duty to try to allay the very considerable public anxiety which has been aroused, and which will be aroused, by these disclosures by having a completely impartial inquiry into the whole circumstances, the report of which can be made public.

12.15 p.m.

Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)

I join hon. Members in complimenting the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) on his very assiduous investigation into this case and the manner in which he has presented it to the House. It undoubtedly sows the seeds of doubt in our minds about the conviction of Hanratty.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider this case carefully and will accede to the request for an inquiry because, to my mind, it is another instance which tells us that we should look at our system of criminal justice, particularly in murder cases. I happen to fit into the category—I do not know whether by inclusion or exclusion—mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) in that I have not been among those urging the abolition of capital punishment. None the less, I have endeavoured to consider these serious cases in a dispassionate way and to form my own opinion on whether our system of justice, in which, of course, we take so much pride, has been working in the way that we desire.

I have had grave doubts, not only in this case, but also in the Evans case. But I believe Chat one has only to be involved and intensely interested in investigating a case oneself to feel strongly about these matters. It so happens that I have had such a case, in John Armstrong, who is my constituent. He was sentenced to death in 1956,but was subsequently reprieved by the clemency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who then occupied the position of Home Secretary.

I do not want to go into the details of the Armstrong case. I am not sure that I should be in order in doing so. In any event, it would be embarrassing for Armstrong himself, who is still a young man and who, one hopes, will have a useful life in front of him in society when he has paid the penalty for his conviction. It is enough to remind the House that he was sentenced for a crime to which his wife, who was charged with him and acquitted, subsequently confessed though the circumstances of her confession were such as to throw certain doubts on it. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, who was still Home Secretary, refused an investigation.

I was left extremely puzzled by the operation of justice in the Armstrong case. I was left with the strong conviction that, although Armstrong was not entirely innocent in every respect, he was innocent of the crime with which he was charged and convicted, but that he had brought himself—I use that word advisedly—to the verge of the gallows by a very unwise type of behaviour when he found himself accused of this extremely serious crime. Had he acted somewhat more wisely and circumspectly he would not perhaps have had the difficulty in proving his innocence that he had.

It was in 1958 when this case came to my notice. I was left with this sense of puzzlement, to which I found some elucidation in an extremely good article in the Observer on 15th January, 1961. I think that it is worth my while reading a part of this article as being the key to the argument which I wish briefly to present. The article was founded on the Evans case. The article said: In his review Lord Birkett argues that 'there was no failure in the administrative machinery of the criminal law' and that 'no human skill could have prevented the conviction, and no human judicial system, whatever its checks and safeguards, can ever provide complete security against the exceedingly rare and utterly exceptional case such as that of Evans'. The article went on to say: But is this so? Is it not true rather that Evans would not and could not have been found guilty in France or Germany or any country which has an 'inquisitorial' system of justice as against our 'accusatorial' system—that is to say, where the aim of the trial is to investigate the truth of a crime and not the guilt or innocence of a person? These Continental systems have their own dangers, but is it not at least possible that we can learn something from them? I hope that in drawing my right hon. Friend's attention to these arguments, which were put forward two years ago, not only will he investigate this case in the manner suggested by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, but he will look at the working of our whole system and its mode of action in the courts.

We comfort ourselves with the thought, which, of course, we all learned at school, that in this country a man is innocent in our courts until he is proved guilty. But one is really led to doubt even this statement, when one examines the working of these murder trials. What happens is that an accusation is framed by the prosecution from which the accused person has to escape in one way or another. He has to knock down the props of this frame of the accusation, and that seems to me to produce unsatisfactory results in two ways.

First, it is the people of low intelligence who are unable to escape from this frame and are almost convicted before they start unless they have some obvious proof of innocence brought to their rescue, and this is the position in the Hanratty case. It was the position in the cases of Evans and, to some extent, of Armstrong who, although a person of good intelligence, in some respects had an inept pattern of behaviour.

This has to some extent been recognised by the plea of diminished responsibility. And one is bound to comment on one's surprise that in the Hanratty case, in the light of what the hon. Gentleman said, this plea was not put forward in court. None the less there are a large number of people who are not of high intelligence, but who nevertheless could not be able to plead diminished responsibility. This is the danger of this accusatorial system, on the one hand, that it is difficult for people of low intelligence to escape from the frame of accusation which is put up.

What is equally cogent is that just as the wrong people may be convicted, so also, the wrong people may escape, because we have the opposite of a case like that of Evans, or even a case like the one which we are discussing; we have the case of Donald Hume, who was such an excellent liar that he got right through the accusations merely by a clever fabrication of a system of lies concerning totally non-existent people, as he confessed later after he had been acquitted. So, we have the danger not only that we may convict the wrong people, but, also, that we may allow the wrong people to escape from the accusations against them.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been impressed by the arguments that have been advanced today. I should like to repeat one argument—we are familiar, of course, with the argument from authorities that if we have an inquiry it tends to discredit justice, but I think that we have reached the stage where that is no longer the case. What does discredit justice is when almost every year or two years some case of this kind arises both in this House and in the Press. I feel that my right hon. Friend will create public confidence in justice, in his administration and in his office if he accedes to the request which has been made to him today.

12.27 p.m.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

Before the Home Secretary replies, I would urge him not to refuse this request at least upon the ground that it is undesirable to question the verdict of a jury in a case of this kind. There have been of late a number of mounting criticisms of our jury system. For my part, I do not share those criticisms. It is difficult—indeed, impossible—to frame any legal system which will be proof against mistakes and faults. We have framed our criminal procedure in the belief that it is better that a number of guilty men should escape justice rather than that innocent men should be wrongly convicted, and generally speaking, in our criminal process, the scales weigh very heavily in favour of the accused man. I think that is right and I think it is a mark of a civilised system of jurisprudence.

Generally speaking, I believe that an accused person who is innocent is less likely to be convicted by a jury than by any other kind of tribunal. I think, however, that there is one exception to that, and that is where the defence is one of identity. Experience shows that juries, for some reason, are extraordinarily distrustful of this defence. It is, of course, a very easy defence for a guilty man to put forward when he cannot think of any other defence. He just says, "It was not I. A mistake has been made in identification. It must have been someone else."

Then, of course, he tries to support that evidence with alibi evidence to prove that he was somewhere else. Because it is so easy, and because many people who are in that position as defendants cannot produce alibi evidence, as I say juries tend to be extremely distrustful of it and I think experience shows that very many, if not most, of the cases where it has been subsequently found that juries returned a wrong verdict of guilty were cases in which the defence was one of identity. There are numerous cases of that.

In the Hanratty case, where the defence was identity, the prosecution rested, I think I am right in saying, on three identifications and all of them were ones for a very short period of time by the witnesses concerned, and there had been, as has been referred to, several failures to identify Hanratty on other occasions. I felt at the time of the Hanratty case—I was not present during the trial, but from newspaper reports I felt very strongly at the time—that Hanratty was almost sure to be convicted, and I thought that for two reasons.

The first was that visual identification was supported by an identification concerning his pronunciation—I think of the letter "th". He said "t'ink" instead of "think". This seemed to me to be a telling point in confirming the visual identification. The second was that Hanratty gave what I think fairly subsequently proved not one but two false alibis, and this, it seemed to me, was something which was bound to make a deplorable impression, from the defence point of view, on the jury and make them almost sure to reject the defence of identity.

There are two factors which make me hesitate, which have subsequently developed. One is the evidence contained in the memorandum circulated by my hon. Friend that Mr. X on one occasion at least is said to be recorded as having made the same mistake in pronunciation which went to support the identification by Miss Storie. The second is that we now know, what the jury at the time did not know, that Hanratty had a mental history, and I think it probable that this offers the explanation of the otherwise extraordinary feature in the case, namely, that he should construct false alibis.

One may ask, why should he construct a false alibi at all? But I think the answer to that is simple. He could not count on alibi evidence in the sense of having someone to call to testify where he was at the time of the trial. A person of low intelligence finding himself in that situation, knowing himself unlikely to be believed, particularly when he has a criminal record, would tend to construct a false alibi if he can get people to come in and support it, and it appears to me conceivable that, being of low intelligence, he might do it twice, each time falsely.

This question of his mental intelligence has been referred to by one or two hon. Members, and regret has been expressed that this was not brought out by the defence at the time of the trial. The reason why they did not was Hanratty's expressed request. I must say I would have thought that in the event it was a matter which would give the greatest difficulty to the defence in deciding whether to bring out that defence or not, because it might be used to question, as I have indicated, the reason for the two false alibis which could not help also impressing doubts upon the jury, and as a factor which might also point to guilt, as giving an explanation why this man, who up to then had only been a convicted thief and never indulged in violence, might have made a sexual assault of the kind which was made upon Miss Storie.

It was asked also why the defence of diminished responsibility was not raised. The answer to that is simple. It is that it is not a defence which can be raised when the plea is not guilty, because it is inconsistent with the plea of not guilty to say, "I did it" and say "The reason was because of my mental state which indicated diminished responsibility." It could not be put forward as a defence, and that is indicative of the dilemma in which the defence are put when there is some mental history and in a case where the plea is not guilty.

I feel myself reluctant to invite the Home Secretary to reopen a matter of this kind with an inquiry. I say no more upon that point other than to urge that he should not refuse an inquiry in any event upon the ground that a jury's verdict must not be questioned in this way. This appears to me to be the class of case where experience shows that one should be prepared to question the verdict of the jury, and I think many practitioners have found that it is something unfortunate in this class of case that the Court of Criminal Appeal should be so reluctant to do so themselves.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I do not want to prevent the Home Secretary from having full time to deal with the arguments which have been advanced. Therefore, I shall not speak at great length. Of course, my views on this kind of case are pretty well known. We can never rule out the possibility of human error in anything in which human beings are engaged, and sometimes a human error may be in the advice learned counsel tenders to his client when considering the line of defence which should be adopted.

I had the experience once of learned counsel coming straight from the Old Bailey to see me to say, in the case of a certain person who had been sentenced to death, that he had advised his client not to proceed on the basis of unsoundness of mind because he thought that it would be rather worse for the man to get sentenced to life imprisonment as a result of the trial rather than be hanged.

The right hon. Gentleman, I am quite sure, by this time has discovered that in nearly every case of murder a confession turns up on his table during the period he is considering whether the sentence should be carried out, and that generally all those confessions can be dismissed because, in the course of them, there is something which is not consistent with the facts as known and established.

An hon. Member advocated the inquisitorial system. I share the dislike of the inquisitorial system, because, after all, the word "inquisition" never sounds very pleasing to English ears, and I think that on the whole it is better that the prosecution should have to prove their case; and if they fail a verdict of not guilty is the one it is the jury's duty to return.

I am merely dealing with the case which has been presented to us this morning by my hon. Friend. Let us be certain of this; Mr. X has never been charged with an offence before a court. It is always easy to say that some other fellow whom the police did not catch is responsible for the crime—especially in a lower court. It is sometimes very difficult when learned counsel suggests that the real culprit is not before the court, but that somebody else is responsible. Sometimes it almost goes as far as being a case where the other person can be identified.

In asking the right hon. Gentleman to agree to the request of my hon. Friend that there should be an inquiry I am not suggesting that there is some other known person who committed the crime, because that would seriously jeopardise him if, in the future, it should happen that a charge should be made against him, but I know from my own correspondence in connection with many cases that there is grave suspicion in the public mind in respect of several sentences which have been passed in recent years.

I do not think that it is possible now to say that a traditional belief in the infallibility of the British legal system any longer exists among a large number of people. But a frank recognition that doubt exists, and a careful examination of the facts of the case as now known, would give more confidence to the public mind in respect of cases of this sort than would be given merely by saying—as one very distinguished member of the Bar who rose to the highest possible position said—that the thing is so carefully studied that a mistake is impossible. Nobody can claim that for any human institution or human transaction of affairs.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel able to grant my hon. Friend's request.

12.43 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

This debate exemplifies the grave responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of the Home Secretary. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the wider field which he opened up. In that connection, and in relation to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), I can assure the House that my decision on the question whether or not to order a further inquiry in this case would not be influenced in any way by the question whether I thought it was a good thing or a bad thing subsequently to call in question the verdict of a jury or the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

I think that I shall carry the House with me when I say that we should look specifically and in some detail at this case, which has been so clearly set out by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). I am aware of the great amount of trouble that the hon. Member has taken in investigating the matter, and the great amount of detail that has come to his knowledge. I hope that he, in return, will recognise that the Home Office has devoted a tremendous amount of careful thought to the details of this case.

There is one more thing that I should say. In general, where a confession comes to light and a memorandum is furnished to the Home Office, such as that which the hon. Member has sent in, if it casts any doubt on the verdict of a jury there ought to be a further inquiry. But if, on the other hand, the nature of the evidence and of the confession is such as to render it impossible that the man that has made the confession could actually have committed the murder, in my view there would be no case for an inquiry.

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) truly said—he and I know it, but the House and the public may not know it—that it is commoner than one might think for people to make false confessions of murder. The confession which we have been debating today is not the only one which was received by my predecessor in connection with the Hanratty case. Two anonymous confessions in due course reached the Home Office. Every effort was made to trace their authors, but that was impossible. I say that simply to remove from the minds of the House and the public any idea that because a confession comes in, that fact, in itself—without regard to the contents of the confession—casts doubt on whether justice has been done.

I hope that what I have already said proves that I recognise to the full the gravity of the matter that we are debating. A graver suggestion can hardly be made than that a man is guilty of murder, but the allegation is the more serious if a man is said to have done a murder for which another has been condemned. If there is reason for thinking that there has been such a miscarriage of justice no effort must be spared to get at the truth. That is the spirit in which I approach this request for an inquiry.

I suppose that few criminal cases in recent years have been so widely publicised as the one that we are now considering. The story of this ghastly and utterly senseless murder is widely known. The events which led, on the night of 22nd August, 1961,to the murder of Michael Gregston and the shooting of his friend Valerie Storie, will be well known not only to hon. Members who have interested themselves in the case, but, I would think, to all hon. Members who are present this morning.

I do not propose to go over the details of the story and the unchallenged facts, or over the evidence given at the trial of Hanratty. I only say that on that evidence Hanratty was convicted, and his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed. In the Court of Criminal Appeal the Lord Chief Justice said that there was abundant evidence which, if accepted by the jury, would support their verdict—and he added: The court is of opinion that this was a clear case. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough will probably accept it when I say that a great deal of the information that he gave this morning had been before the court, although other information had not. He said that Hanratty had been certified as a mental defective. That is not so. He had never been certified as a mental defective. His mental history was fully explored before his execution. Everything that was known to the prosecution about his medical and mental history was made known to the defence. As the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North said, it was for his counsel to consider and decide what use, if any, to make of that information.

His appeal was dismissed, and it fell to my right hon. Friend, who is now the First Secretary of State, to consider whether there were grounds on which he could recommend a reprieve. I do not think that I need tell the House of the exceedingly heavy sense of responsibility with which any Home Secretary approaches that duty. I have been fortunate. In the year that I have been Home Secretary I have only had to consider two death sentences and reach my decision on them, but I know from that short experience what a load it means on the mind and on the heart.

The Home Secretary—and I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm this—examines every fact and every aspect that may affect his decision. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State is well known to the House as a personality as well as a politician. Nobody who knows him could doubt that it would have been only after the most anxious and thorough course of inquiry that he decided that the law should take its course. Indeed, I, reading the papers subsequently, can see from them how very carefully and slowly my right hon. Friend reached his decision.

I think that there are excellent reasons why it is not the practice of Home Secretaries to disclose the reasons for which they, or, indeed, their predecessors reach decisions to recommend or not to recommend the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. I must abide by that practice. But the House will understand and accept, I am sure, that everything that could possibly count in Hanratty's favour, every point raised in his defence, which was a very skilful one, every conceivable mitigating circumstance in his history was taken into account by my right hon. Friend. That is the background against which this allegation of a miscarriage of justice has to be examined.

The memorandum suggesting a miscarriage of justice which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough sent to me has received wide publicity, wider than he intended, as if it raised matters which were entirely new. I know that the publicity was not of his seeking and I wholly accept that assurance, but the hon. Gentleman will know far better perhaps than many who have read about what the memorandum contained that the memorandum covers very similar ground to representations which its two principal authors, those who have been described as the businessman and the barrister, have been making for a considerable time and which have already, well before the time of this memorandum, been investigated very fully indeed. So to put the memorandum into perspective I must give the House some account of these previous representations.

They began with representations made before the execution of Hanratty which took place on 4th April, 1962, representations that were considered with all the other material at that time. In March of that year Hanratty's solicitor brought to my predecessor's notice statements made by that businessman and that barrister about meetings and conversations which they had had with Mr. X,who was a man who had at one time been suspected of the crime but had been cleared of suspicion and who had, in fact, a complete alibi for the night in question.

It appears that these two gentlemen had been cultivating Mr. X, taking him to restaurants and dog races, inviting him to their homes, and they suggested reasons for thinking that he and not Hanratty was the A.6 murderer. Naturally, those suggestions were at once examined, and exhaustively examined, on my predecessor's instructions, by the police, but they were found to be groundless. Later in that month these two gentlemen submitted further statements, including an account substantially repeated in the latest memorandum of how, with the man whom we are calling Mr. X, they had driven to the field in which the murderer had surprised his victims. Who had halted the car at this particular field was not clear. The implication was that it was the suspect and that this showed that he was there on the night of the crime. This suggestion, with all the other arguments put forward, was carefully examined, but, in fact, it did not carry weight because the location of the field, if, indeed, it was the suspect who had found it, was widely known at that time.

It is important, I think, that whereas the hon. Gentleman said that they affirmed that Mr. X led them without hesitation to the spot, one of them said in a statement of 26th March, 1962, which was sent to the police, "I cannot honestly remember who suggested we should stop where we did." He also said in that statement, "After dinner at Bray we went in the car to the Downey Reach area, as Mr. So-and-so, the businessman, told me he was curious to see the cornfield."

I come now to the events which the hon. Gentleman will recall. On the eve of the execution, the businessman telephoned to him and informed him that if police were present at his flat, the businessman's flat, they would witness a dramatic development. Very properly the hon. Gentleman at once communicated with the Home Office. Police officers were sent to the flat where they saw the businessman. He told them that the man he suspected was then in the flat, but he had, in fact, nothing new to report to them, and nothing happened. That was in April, just before the execution.

Mr. Brockway

May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman for a moment? I was concerned. Not only did I ring the Home Secretary and ask that Scotland Yard should send representatives, but at two points later in the night, the night before the execution, I was also involved. Would the right hon. Gentleman answer this? When Scotland Yard did send their detectives and when it was suggested that the suspect was in this house and was then in a mood to make a confession and was just longing for the moment of execution, would it not have been right for the representatives of Scotland Yard to have made rather more inquiries than just to have been satisfied with seeing the businessman? Could they not have seen the suspect?

Mr. Brooke

I do not think that the behaviour of the police officers that evening can really be questioned. They came on the invitation of the owner of the flat. He said that something dramatic was going to happen. Nothing did happen. The suspect was a man who had already been cleared. I think that it was up to the businessman to produce some evidence on that occasion if he really felt that the evidence was available.

Next I come to July of that year when the businessman called at the British Embassy in Vienna where he said that Mr.X had confessed to the murder of Michael Gregston and had threatened his life on a number of occasions and he himself—the businessman—had had to leave England. He later called and made a similar statement at a police station in Vienna. The result of that call was that he was sent to a psychiatric hospital from which he later returned to London. I think it right for me to say—the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said that his investigations had led him into queer ways and among queer people—that both Mr. X and the businessman are people of precarious mental balance and that there is evidence of the businessman being a heavy drinker.

The document referred to as a confession was brought to Scotland Yard on 24th July, 1962. At that time the businessman was in Vienna and it was brought by the barrister and a friend. The document is, in fact, a series of unsigned notes, apparently in Mr. X's handwriting, written, as he said, on the writing paper of a London hotel. What it purports to do is to give a synopsis of the crime and the writer's motives and feelings in committing it. This document was also brought to the notice of the hon. Member, who telephoned my Department on 2nd August, exactly a year ago, and it was, of course, fully inquired into.

It was established that it had probably been written at the hotel in May, 1962, when Mr. X was staying there. It was established—this is important—that it contained nothing that could not have been learned at the trial, which Mr. X attended, or from Press reports of the case. There was nothing in it which could have been known only to Mr. X. It was established that newspapers and newspaper cuttings, with references to the case marked in red ink, had been seen strewn about Mr. X's room, together with what was evidently the confession which was later produced.

Not only was there every indication from this evidence that the so-called confession was spurious, but, I am bound to say, the confession does not stand up to examination against the known facts of the case. For example, the confession suggested that on the night of the murder Mr. X attended the greyhound races at Slough until after a dog named "Mentals Only Hope" had run. He then walked out in the country and stopped at a public house at Taplow and walked from there to the cornfield where Mr. Gregston and Miss Storie were sitting in their car. In fact, the murderer surprised them there at about 9.30 p.m.

Yet, according to Mr. X's account, he did not leave the Slough stadium until about 9.5 p.m., a gap of 25 minutes. It is about six miles from Slough stadium to the public house at Taplow, and it is another mile-and-a-half from the public house to the cornfield. That is one example of gross inconsistency. There is another that I will give if it is argued that it is possible that this confession may have been genuine.

At the time of the murder Mr. X could not drive a car. He had never held anything more than a provisional driving licence, and that was a number of years before. He had held no driving licence. He had no driving licence at the time. It is quite inconceivable that Mr. X could have been the man who drove the car that night after the murder, from seven miles south of Bedford until the car was seen in Ilford some hours later. There is, of course, no question about Hanratty's ability to drive a car. I informed the hon. Member for Eton and Slough on 3rd August last year that the document to which he had drawn my attention could not, in my view, be regarded as a genuine confession.

Hon. Members may very well ask why a man should write a document of this kind, what could be the motive in it. We can none of us probe with certainty into the minds of people, particularly people of rather strange minds and unlike the normal, and the hon. Member mentioned exhibitionism as one reason, not necessarily in this case, but otherwise. I can speculate—I can do no more than speculate—on the motives which have caused this man who, as I said before, has a complete alibi for the crime, to encourage people, the businessman and the barrister, to believe in his guilt.

I said that he had a complete alibi. It is beyond challenge that Mr. X was occupying a room at the Vienna hotel in London at the time of the murder and, therefore, could not have been at Dorney Reach or Deadman's Hill.

Mr. Brockway

Was not that on the evidence of Nudds,who has himself admitted that he is a liar?

Mr. Brooke

The main thing about the evidence of Nudds is that he made three statements, and he gave evidence after. The jury accepted, and I have no reason whatever to doubt, that the first and the third statements were true and that the second statement, which he admitted was a fabrication, was untrue. There is also the evidence from the hotel register, and so forth, very convincing evidence.

As I say, I can speculate as to the motives of Mr. X. The businessman is a wealthy man. He may have felt that in some way or other he could obtain money from the businessman through this behaviour. Indeed, reference was made to his attempts in a telephone conversation to extract money from the businessman. But we can never tell for certain what it is that leads a person to make a statement or confession of that kind.

I have recalled these events of the last sixteen months because they provide the context in which the memorandum, which the hon. Member was good enough to send me, has to be evaluated. I must tell the House that the memorandum contains very little that has not already been brought to the notice of my predecessor or myself. But whether it covered old ground or new, it has been exhaustively examined and the arguments and the alleged evidence which it puts forward, when critically considered, have been found to be of a very flimsy kind. The only real addition made by the memorandum to the material already considered is that it includes transcripts of tape recordings of telephone conversations said to have taken place with the suspect. They add nothing to the case for believing him guilty. They only confirm that he has hinted at his guilt for reasons of his own.

Reference has been made to the mispronunciation of "th" as "f". As he knew about this characteristic of the murderer, there is no reason why he should not have feigned that in a telephone conversation when he was trying to represent himself as the murderer. The police had at an early stage interviewed Mr. X for no less than five hours, and in that interrogation there was no trace of the mispronunciation of the diphthong, "th".

A point of considerable bearing on the credence which could be attached to the document that Mr. X wrote, and the general impression that he has sought to give that he was the murderer, is that he apparently suggested in one of the recorded conversations that he had known Miss Storie before the murder, and in the memorandum which the hon. Member submitted to me, weight was attached to that point. There is not a shred of evidence of such a connection between Mr. X and Miss Storie before the murder.

No mention of it was made by Mr. X in his so-called confession. It was only in one of the recorded conversations that he claimed this previous acquaintance. The suggestion in the telephone conversation seems quite inconsistent with a suggestion in the confession that when Mr. X held up the two of them in the car he imitated a working-class person's voice and background. Why should he be imitating anybody if he and Miss Storie were already known to one another?

On the other hand, the House will remember that Miss Storie firmly identified Hanratty as her assailant. Neither she nor other witnesses who identified Hanratty picked out Mr. X when he was put on an identification parade before Hanratty's arrest. I think that that point was raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and I wanted to deal with it.

I am asked now to appoint a public inquiry. I hope that I have convinced the House that I have gone into this very thoroughly indeed with the help of my advisers at the Home Office. If I thought that there was anything in this memorandum I have received, I would not hesitate to appoint a public inquiry. Indeed, I go further than that. If I thought that on any reasonable view there could possibly be anything in it, I would welcome an independent investigation, but I suggest that we must keep a sense of balance and proportion in these matters. I must tell the House that I have found nothing to cause me to doubt in any way that, after a full trial in which every point in Hanratty's defence was carefully examined, Hanratty was rightly convicted.

There are facts, and I have given some of them to the House, which render it impossible that Mr. X could have been the murderer, and which lead inescapably to the conclusion that, for some reason best known to himself—and I can only speculate on that reason—he decided to present himself to this businessman and this barrister as the murderer.

I think that the whole House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough for the care with which he has studied this case and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), who has paid a great deal of attention to it. I cannot agree to reopen the case, because I believe that it is impossible that Mr. X could have committed the murder. But of the importance of these issues I am in no doubt at all, and I appreciate very much the opportunity that has been given to ventilate the whole matter fully in the House.