HC Deb 18 October 1966 vol 734 cc38-40

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


TO ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on Mr. Justice Brabin's Report on the Timothy Evans case.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 50 about Mr. Justice Brabin's Report on the case of Timothy John Evans, which has been put down for Written Answer.

I am sure the House would wish me to express our thanks to Mr. Justice Brabin for the painstaking and thorough way in which he conducted the inquiry into this case and for the comprehensive nature of his Report. Mr. Justice Brabin's conclusion, as the House will be aware, is that it is now impossible to establish the truth beyond doubt but that it is more probable than not that Evans did not kill his daughter, for whose murder he was tried, convicted and executed. In all the circumstances, I do not think it would be right to allow Evans's conviction to stand. I have, therefore, decided that the proper course is to recommend to Her Majesty that She should grant a Free Pardon, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that The Queen has approved my recommendation and that the Free Pardon was signed this morning.

This case has no precedent and will, I hope and believe, have no successor.

Mr. Rogers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision will be greeted with great satisfaction by the entire country, and especially by those of us who have long held that Evans was not guilty of the charge on which he was tried? Is he also aware that he earns the country's thanks for showing that British justice is big enough to admit that it can make a mistake, which is, perhaps, as important as anything else? While this decision will set the mind of Evans's mother at rest, will my right hon. Friend consider some compensation for her?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said, although I do not believe that this is primarily a case for compensation. The Free Pardon is, I think, of much greater importance. Evans is dead. Nothing can bring him back. He has no direct dependants; although I will consider anything that is put to me on this matter.

Mr. John Hall

Is it not a fact that although the Report indicates that in all probability Evans was not responsible for his daughter's death, it is nevertheless probable that he was responsible for his wife's death? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."]

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, but I am also aware that Mr. Justice Brabin said that there were certain circumstances which, in his view, would have meant that a jury could not have regarded this as beyond reasonable doubt, and, furthermore, I have to deal with the case in which Evans was tried, convicted and executed.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Bearing in mind that almost everyone in Britain will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for the courageous decision he has taken, will he bear in mind that Mr. Justice Brabin's Report still leaves an uncomfortable feeling in many people's minds that Mr. Justice Brabin has drawn the balance of probabilities in a wholly wrong way and that many hon. Members would like an opportunity of discussing the Report? Can my right hon. Friend exercise his influence upon my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with a view to providing an opportunity for doing this?

Mr. Jenkins

That is, of course, a matter for the Leader of the House, although I should have hoped, whatever our thoughts, that we had at last come to the end of this long business.

Mr. Hogg

Is the Home Secretary aware that my hon. Friends and I largely agree with the statement he just made; that now at last one hopes that this unhappy and, as he said, unprecedented case will cease to be the subject of bitterness and controversy between individuals?

Mr. Michael Foot

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his decision and the speed and properness with which he has done it, will he make any comment on the other grave aspect of this matter which still arises, the Scott-Henderson Report, which was presented to this House, stating that there was overwhelming evidence of the guilt of Timothy Evans? Is he aware that that Report is now shown by the subsequent Report to have been absolutely unfounded, and that it is therefore proper that this House, which debated that other Report, should examine the circumstances in which a completely false statement on the authority of a previous Government was presented to the House?

Mr. Jenkins

I take note of what my hon. Friend says, but, as he knows, I was not responsible for appointing or receiving the Report of the Scott-Henderson Inquiry. The Scott-Henderson Inquiry reported long after Evans was dead, and I should have thought that, by getting a second Report now and by acting on it, we had dealt in all practical ways with the issue.

Mr. Doughty

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while I do not wish to put a controversial question, I must point out that the Scott-Henderson Report has not been found to be completely inaccurate? Is it not a fact that a different opinion was formed at a much earlier date, and that, therefore, it is not accurate to say that the Scott-Henderson Report was entirely wrong, remembering that the words used throughout were "possible" and "probable"?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.