HC Deb 03 December 1964 vol 703 cc751-5

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

60. Mr. BROOKE

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to publish the report of the inquiry by Mr. W. L. Mars-Jones, Q.C., into certain allegations against the Metropolitan Police, which has been in his hands since he took office.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the inquiry conducted by Mr. W. L. Mars-Jones, Q.C., into allegations concerning Metropolitan Police officers.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Frank Soskice)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. 60 and 62.

The report of the inquiry undertaken by Mr. Mars-Jones, Q.C., to whom I am much indebted for his painstaking and thorough investigation of the two cases involved, is being published today.

In the case of Halloran and Cox, which occurred in 1959, he finds the allegation that a police report was deliberately suppressed and superseded by a second report in an attempt to exonerate the officers involved to be untrue; that there was no breach of duty on the part of any official in the Home Office; and that, apart from an act of thoughtlessness by one officer which did not result in any injustice, there was no breach of duty on the part of any officer of the Metropolitan Police force.

In the case of Tisdall, Kingston and Hill-Burton, which occurred in 1959, the allegation was that the facts disclosed by an investigation made in 1960 were deliberately covered up in order to avoid embarrassment to the police.

Mr. Mars-Jones finds that no one connected with the investigation acted dishonestly; that there was no attempt to conceal from the Home Secretary information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the men; and that there was no breach of duty by any official in the Home Office. He does find, however, that five police officers of subordinate rank—three of whom have since resigned—lied about the time and place of their first encounter with the three accused men; that if the evidence disclosed in the course of his inquiry had been available at the trial or appeal the three men would not have been likely to be convicted; and that the investigation of the complaint was neither thorough nor impartial.

Mr. Mars-Jones criticises three senior police officers—who have since retired; he attributes some part of the failure of the investigation to friction between a senior officer of the uniformed branch and the C.I.D. in the district concerned and at Scotland Yard; and he also criticises certain aspects of the arrangements for handling complaints against members of the Metropolitan Police.

In the light of the Report I am recommending the grant of free pardons to the three men concerned. I have referred the Report to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but he informs me that he would not feel justified in instituting proceedings against the five officers, or former officers, who were found by Mr. Mars-Jones to have given false evidence.

In view of an undertaking given by the Commissioner of Police—which was communicated to the House by my predecessor when he announced the setting up of the inquiry—that disciplinary action would not be taken against any serving officer who gave evidence before the inquiry the Commissioner is not free to take disciplinary action.

The Commissioner assures me that there is now a high standard of co-operation and good will between the C.I.D. and the uniformed branches of the force: the situation described in the Report developed from personal and local factors which no longer obtain. The procedure for dealing with complaints has been altered in a number of respects since 1960. In particular, under the Police Act, 1964, the report of the investigation of a complaint by a member of the public must be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions unless the chief officer is satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed.

It has become increasingly the practice to put the investigation of serious complaints against Metropolitan Police officers in the hands of senior officers from other divisions or sub-divisions, and in the light of Mr. Mars-Jones's Report the Commissioner has issued explicit instructions that the investigation of complaints of serious crime should be carried out by officers who are not in the direct chain of command over the officer against whom the complaint is made.

The more detailed findings in the Report are being carefully examined in consultation with the Commissioner.

Mr. Brooke

As this inquiry was ordered by me, and the Report was submitted to me just before I left office, may I express my appreciation also to Mr. Mars-Jones for his admirable Report, with whose conclusions I entirely agree?

As the Report contains sharp criticism of the lack of judgment shown by an hon. Member in spreading exaggerated and distorted allegations against the police, does the Home Secretary consider that it is appropriate that that hon. Member should hold high Ministerial office in the Government?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I think that that involves, of necessity, some reproof of the conduct of an hon. Member, and that is inappropriate in a question. I think that it would require some other occasion, and on that account cannot be raised in this form.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to withdraw his criticism?

Mr. Brooke

I certainly withdraw if that is unparliamentary. May I, perhaps, ask the Home Secretary whether he is aware that I agree entirely, having studied this matter with some care throughout, with the action that he proposes to take arising out of the findings of the Report so far as the police are concerned?

Mr. Solomons

While thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for that extremely comprehensive reply, may I ask him to consider further the question of compensating the three young men to whom he referred?

Sir F. Soskice

So far as I heard the question, I think that it related to payment? Certainly, if any request is made for an ex gratia payment to the three persons whom I have mentioned, I will, of course, give it the most careful consideration.

Mr. Grimond

While welcoming this full inquiry into any allegation made against the police, and also while welcoming the statement of the Home Secretary on the action he proposes to take, may I ask him whether he agrees that at present nearly all the publicity which the police get is adverse, that they are undermanned and grossly overworked, that the vast majority of the police forces have the confidence of the public and do an excellent job, and that it should be made clear that while we have got to investigate these allegations, which are gross allegations against particular members of the police, it is time that the country woke up to the responsibilities which have been laid on the police forces in general and the work they are doing, with public support, in the very great difficulties they face in combating organised crime?

Sir F. Soskice

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The complaints which occasionally arise are extremely rare against the background of the enormous volume of work which the police undertake and carry out with the utmost efficiency while enjoying the utmost confidence of the public. I am aware that they are heavily overburdened, and I am taking steps to see that recruiting is improved and that the police generally should be in a much better position to undertake the very heavy burden which rests upon the shoulders of each and every officer in the force.