HC Deb 26 March 1964 vol 692 cc661-4
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

With permission, I would like to make a statement about the cases of Halloran and Cox; and Tisdall, Kingston and Burton.

During the proceedings in Standing Committee on the Police Bill on 13th February the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) referred to a case in which two constituents of his named Halloran and Cox had alleged that they had been ill-treated after they had been taken into custody by the Metropolitan Police. The hon. Member referred to a police investigation of these allegations ordered by my predecessor, and stated that certain evidence had been suppressed and not sent to the Home Secretary.

In subsequent correspondence with me the hon. Member has referred to statements made to him by present and former senior officers of the Metropolitan Police asserting that in the course of inquiries which have been made, for the information of the Home Secretary, in this and in another case which occurred at Hornsey involving three men named Tisdall, Kingston and Burton, action has been taken designed deliberately to mislead the Home Secretary by suppressing information and by directing the preparation of "whitewashing" reports.

While I am not to be taken as accepting the statements that have been made, these are matters of such gravity that, in my view, they must be the subject of an impartial investigation. Until the Police Bill becomes law I have no power to set up a statutory inquiry in which there would be power to summon witnesses and take evidence on oath.

I have, therefore, decided to set up a non-statutory inquiry by an independent person—as in the recent Woolf case—into the question whether there has been a breach of duty on the part of anyone concerned in any of the inquiries which have been made into these two cases for the information of the Secretary of State.

I have invited Mr. W. L. Mars-Jones, Q.C., to conduct the inquiry, and he has agreed to do so. The secretary will be Mr. J. Nursaw, of the Home Office Legal Adviser's Department.

An inquiry of this character conducted without statutory powers must be held in private, but it is my intention to publish the report.

Although there will be no statutory power to summon witnesses, the Commissioner of Police is satisfied that all the serving police officers who took any part in the matters under inquiry will give evidence, and any of my own officers who were concerned will, of course, do so.

In these circumstances, I hope and trust that the senior police officers and former senior police officers who have made the statements I have referred to, and who claim to have personal knowledge of these matters, will also consider that it is their duty to come forward and give evidence at the inquiry.

Mr. Fletcher

I need hardly say that I welcome, the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made. Indeed, I think that he had no alternative but to order an impartial investigation. I only regret that this step was not taken when I first raised this matter with his predecessor as long as five years ago.

There are a few questions I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman arising out of his statement. First, I share his wish that although this is to be an extra-statutory inquiry, the senior police officers who hitherto have given me confidential information will be prepared to give evidence at this inquiry. However, I must ask the Home Secretary for an assurance that if they do so, as it is my hope, none of them will be in any way victimised or penalised for giving information which may reflect on some of their superiors in the force.

Secondly, will he confirm that the terms of reference of the inquiry will be sufficiently wide to enable the distinguished Queen's Counsel to examine not only the handling of the matter, but the actual occurrence?

Thirdly, I must repeat the request I have made to the Home Secretary; to let me see copies of the two conflicting reports which were made to his predecessor. I think that the House would also wish to have an assurance that all the documents in the possession of the Home Office will be produced and that there will be no question of any claim for Crown privilege being raised by the Home Secretary.

Fourthly, I am wondering whether it is wise for Mr. Nursaw, whom I do not know but who, I have no doubt, is an admirable civil servant, to be the secretary of the inquiry, bearing in mind that it may be rather embarrassing to him since the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and members of the staff of the Home Office may be involved.

Mr. Brooke

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's fourth point, I do not think that the conduct of my predecessor is in question here. Certainly, the conduct of certain people in the Home Office may be in question, and I had considered the point that the hon. Member has raised, It seemed to me that the appropriate action would be that somebody in the Legal Adviser's Department of the Home Office should act as secretary of the inquiry. It will be Mr. Mars-Jones, who will be in full control of the proceedings.

I can assure the hon. Member, in answer to his question about information, that all the relevant Home Office and Metropolitan Police papers will be made available to the inquiry. There is no question of Crown privilege here, because it is not a court of law. It would not be proper for me to make those two reports available either to the hon. Member or anyone else. They should be made available to Mr. Mars-Jones and he will then consider the proper procedure.

As to the terms of reference, the inquiry is into the handling of the investigation and whether there was a breach of duty on the part of anybody concerned, rather than into the actual occurrences. I should have thought that it would be impossible to rule out all references to the actual occurrences being investigated, but it will be for the distinguished silk conducting the inquiry to say what in his view is relevant and what is not.

I have received assurances from the Commissioner of Police that disciplinary action will not be taken against any serving officer who gives evidence and that no action will be proposed against any retired officer on that ground, or on the ground that he has supplied information to the hon. Member or any other hon. Member.

Mr. Paget

What arrangements are being made for the legal representation of the complainants, that is, those who are criticising the position which is taken, and what funds will be made available for them to present their case?

Mr. Brooke

There are no complainants in the ordinary sense and I would not think that this was a case where legal representation would be needful. However, it would be for Mr. Mars-Jones to reach decisions on that if he is asked.

Mr. Fletcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will be within the discretion of Mr. Mars-Jones, if he thinks that it is necessary, to enable persons attending the inquiry to see and comment on the two conflicting reports which are very much involved in this case?

Mr. Brooke

Yes, it will certainly be within his discretion.

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