HC Deb 11 February 1969 vol 777 cc1275-86

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Concannon.]

11.9 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for coming here tonight to answer this debate and for the courtesy that I am sure he will show me in answering some of the questions that will arise.

The matter I am raising on the Adjournment concerns three brothers named Hugman and Inspector Warwicker of the Special Branch. They were all involved in an inquiry undertaken by Mr. Bowler, Assistant Chief Constable of the Sheffield and Rotherham Constabulary, concerning a case in which the Hugman brothers were directly involved and in which Inspector Warwicker was indirectly involved.

It might help the House if I set out briefly some of the main facts. In March last year four men were seen by two civilians and two constables of the City of London force stealing television sets from a shop in Cheapside and loading them into a van. The men saw that they were being observed and ran away. The police gave chase and one of the civilian witnesses, Mr. Browning, tried to follow them in his van. The men got away.

Subsequently, one of the two officers concerned in the chase saw John Hugman in Walworth and thought that he was one of the men who had been seen taking away the television sets. Later the other two brothers were involved. They were taken to the police station and ultimately charged.

When they came up for committal at the Mansion House, a very striking feature in the case came to light. This is where Inspector Warwicker became involved.

I should say that Benjamin Hugman, one of the three brothers concerned, lives in my constituency. Inspector Warwicker is a neighbour of his and knows him very well. The inspector heard that Ben Hugman was involved in the case and was astounded. So, on his own initiative, he approached the City of London Police and offered to give evidence in favour of Ben Hugman, particularly regarding his character, pointing out that a man like Ben Hugman, a solid businessman working in a family business which has been in Billingsgate Market for a hundred years, could not possibly be involved in a case of this sort.

As I say, Inspector Warwicker offered to give evidence and he went to the committal proceedings. It was there that the civilian witness who claimed to recognise one of the brothers then claimed to recognise Inspector Warwicker as the fourth man in the case. As a result of the involvement of Inspector Warwicker doubts began to creep in whether the police were right, but because of his involvement, Inspector Warwicker was suspended from duty.

Subsequently, after the papers had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was decided that Inspector Warwicker had no case to answer and he was never charged. When the three brothers were later brought up at the Old Bailey on committal, no evidence was offered against them.

Following a complaint made to me by Ben Hugman, I approached the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as a result of which this inquiry was set in train. A report was presented to the Home Secretary who, on 6th June, wrote me a letter offering his conclusions about the report and dealing with the specific complaints made by the Hugman brothers.

The first general complaint they make, and certainly the first complaint that I make to the House, is that no attempt was made to seek any evidence other than identification. When I wrote to the Home Secretary I said that in my view the evidence of identification was very thin. My right hon. Friend's reply was that there was positive identification, and I should like to spend a couple of minutes dealing with this.

The positive identification came particularly from the civilian witness. He claimed to recognise Inspector Warwicker at the Mansion House Police Court. How on earth anyone could ever connect an officer with Inspector Warwicker's impeccable service record with a trumpery case of this sort defeats one's imagination. I have no doubt whatever that it was this involvement of Inspector Warwicker which led to the case being dropped. It was completely out of character, completely against any record that there was of Inspector Warwicker's service life.

It has been said that this civilian witness was a good witness. May I offer some evidence to show that he was far from being a good witness. One matter which came out in the investigation was that when, after the robbery, this civilian witness went in his van to look for the man who had run away, he saw one of the police witnesses in Bread Street talking to two men by a Rover 2000 car. His conclusion was that the policeman had caught two of the men, and when he went back he said to the policeman, "So you have got two of them." The police witness said, "No. They were not them. They had nothing to do with it." There was no doubt in the civilian's mind that these were two of the men involved, and when he claimed to identify Inspector Warwicker at the police court later he said, "That man was the fourth man. He was one of the two men I saw talking to a policeman in Bread Street". Here is a clear case of conflict of evidence of identification, and how, in those circumstances, one can go on to talk about positive identification defeats me.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

I am sure my hon. Friend appreciates that the civilian witness of whom he is speaking, Browning, made it clear after making his identification of Inspector Warwicker at Mansion House Police Court, that he had not mentioned the incident of the Rover car because he did not want to involve the police officer concerned. He never made any statement that was in conflict; it was merely a case of having omitted that material fact from the statement he made.

Mr. Hamling

How could he have said that he did not want to involve a policeman? Is my hon. Friend suggesting that this witness knew, when he saw this man standing by a car in Bread Street, that he was a police officer?

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Browning did not retract; it was Breeze.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)


Mr. Hamling

He knew that because Breeze had said that these men had nothing to do with the case. Knowing Inspector Warwicker, and knowing his service record, he could not have been involved in this. So much for the identification. But what disturbs me, and what disturbs other people who have seen the facts of this case, is that the police sought no evidence other than evidence of identification. This is profoundly unsatisfactory.

I now propose to spend one or two minutes dealing with one or two of the other complaints. This refers particularly to the report by Mr. Bowler, and it leads me to the conclusion that I am not satisfied that justice is appearing to be done by this sort of inquiry.

The three Hugman brothers made specific complaints about the way they were questioned, the sneering way in which they were spoken to. For example, when one was told to empty his pockets and put his money on the table, somebody said, "So you have been doing a couple of gas meters lately", or words to that effect. That is not the sort of way in which innocent people expect to be spoken to by police, and one is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

These complaints were dismissed by Mr. Bowler. They are considered to be without substance. By whom are they so considered? Certainly not by the Hugman brothers, and, I should hope, not by anyone else.

Then there were complaints by Edward Hugman of bad language. This was regarded by Mr. Bowler as a frivolous complaint. I do not know why anyone should regard swearing by a policeman against a member of the general public as frivolous. In certain quarters, it may be thought the normal thing for police to swear at members of the general public. When I was a boy in Liverpool, which is a rather rough old place, this may have been accepted in certain quarters, but not by the people we are discussing. I hope that it is not going out from this House, and certainly not from the Home Office, that to complain about being sworn at by a policeman is regarded as frivolous. The police have a great reputation which should be guarded. It is most important that the House should maintain the integrity of our policemen. In London, where I live, and an area of which I represent, we think very highly of our police. We like them. They protect us and do a good job, at times in very dangerous conditions, and it is our job to protect them.

It is therefore all the more important that complaints against them should be thoroughly investigated so that these standards shall be maintained. I particularly want to say something about Inspector Warwicker in this connection. He did something wrong, perhaps, in getting himself involved in this. But if he had not there is no doubt in my mind that these three brothers would have gone for trial and could have been convicted and sent to prison. There is no doubt in my mind that they owe their freedom to Inspector Warwicker, who, as a senior police officer, went out on a limb for them. I am sure that if he had put it to his superior officers that he was contemplating this they would have advised him against pursuing that course.

It is a most serious matter that as a result of trying to see that justice is done senior officers might find themselves involved in difficulties as regards their personal position in the force. I should like to see a change in these investigations, and in this case an inquiry by my right hon. Friend, in which these things can be gone into and these complaints can be dealt with more satisfactorily, and, I should like to see new rules and regulations about identification parades.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I am glad to have the opportunity of supporting the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), which he has made with his usual competence. I followed this case closely and felt that a real injustice had been done. Through my hon. Friend's courtesy, I have read the correspondence between him and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Of late years, there have been far too many cases depending on identifications which have proved to be mistaken. We must remember the terrible consequences that attend the victim of mistaken identification—arrest, detention until bail is granted, the finger of scorn, the allegation that there is no smoke without fire, and, above all, the misery and anxiety suffered before trial, quite apart from the expense and losses incurred. Something should be done to see that, in circumstances like these, prosecutions are not brought solely on the flimsy evidence of one identification and that the greatest possible care is taken to ensure that any identification is made in circumstances to which no possible objection can be taken.

The inquiry in this case was held by another police official. This is not satisfactory in a case of this kind. Power exists, under Section 32 of the Police Act, 1964, for an inquiry to be held by a person appointed by the Home Secretary, in public or in private. How often has that power been exercised, if at all? I have many times written to the Commissioner of Police during my years in the House asking him to inquire into allegations against the police, sometimes very serious ones. Invariably, I have been told, "There is no question of any misconduct or blameworthiness on the part of the police." By whom are these inquiries made? By the police themselves. And those who complain, of course, say "What else can you expect from the police inquiring into allegations against one of their own body?"

Everyone admits that our police are splendid but that does not mean that there cannot be some who are guilty from time to time of misconduct. It is not satisfactory that the issue in all these cases should be dealt with by another police official. Greater use should be made in serious cases of the power under Section 32. This should have been done in the present case, and it should be done now.

11.27 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

The train of events in this case is not straightforward, and it may help the House if I deal with the points which have been raised under three headings: first, the events leading up to the arrests, second, the criminal proceedings and third, the subsequent inquiries.

The events leading up to the arrests are in many ways the easiest to describe. There is no fundamental dispute between my hon. Friend and myself here. Early in the morning of Saturday, 16th March, a civilian parked his car in Cheapside and saw a white van parked outside a television shop on the opposite side of the road. Men were passing television sets through a broken window and he went over to see what was going on. As he reached the centre of the road, there was a shout of, "Coppers!" and four men ran from the shop as two policemen of the City of London Police ran towards their van. The four men ran off and the two constables gave up the chase, having followed them for some time. The civilian toured the area in his van and one of the police officers did so on foot, and shortly afterwards he was assisted in this search by other police officers.

Inquiries about the white van showed that it had been stolen from Penrose Road, in South-East London. I should explain here, only because of its relevance to the decision by the police to make the arrests, that this is only a very short distance from the home of John and Edward Hugman. While making the inquiries, one of the two police officers saw a man who turned out to be John Hugman in a street and recognised him as one of the men who had been taking part in the shopbreaking. The officer called out to other officers, who joined him. John Hugman saw them, turned and began first to walk and then to run away. He boarded a bus where he was arrested by two police officers and taken to his home.

The same officer who had identified John Hugman saw Benjamin and Edward Hugman there and he identified them as having been involved in the shopbreaking. This led to their arrest. Identification parades followed on 18th March; Edward Hugman was identified by the other officer who had been at the scene of the shopbreaking, and Benjamin Hugman was identified by the civilian who had also been there.

The case which the police had at this stage against the three brothers was this: John Hugman had been identified on the street by a police officer who had been an eye-witness of the crime and this officer later identified Benjamin Hugman and Edward Hugman as well. A second eye-witness, also a police officer, also identified Benjamin Hugman. The senior officer of another force, who later investigated the whole case, found that on the facts available the City of London Police were justified in making the arrests, a view which I fully accept.

I will deal with two criticisms made about the conduct of the police in connection with the arrests. It has been said by Benjamin and by Edward Hugman that they were not given any information about the offences for which they were arrested. The inquiries made have shown that the constable who detained them gave brief details of the offences of which they were suspected. Each brother was also asked by an inspector at the police station to which they had been taken if he knew why he had been arrested. Neither made any comment and at no time did either man ask for more specific details. The charge which was made against each man shortly after the identification parades was also in specific terms.

I think it is a criticism which can be made in retrospect that interrogation by the police of the three suspects at the time of the arrests was inadequate. The officers engaged on the case formed the opinion that it was unnecessary to question the Hugman brothers as they attached greater importance to the identification parades. In this they were mistaken in their assessment of the situation and the Commissioner of Police for the City of London accepts that in this aspect there was a deficiency in the inquiries into the offence.

Secondly, the conduct of the identification parades has been criticised. I say at once that the investigation into this aspect of the case has shown that the general arrangements for the parades were scrupulously fair and supervised closely by a senior officer. A solicitor was also present at the parades arranged for Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Edward Hugman. She has criticised the fact that a police sergeant guarding the doors at the entrance to the hall where the identification parades were being held left the hall to fetch each witness. The sergeant however had no conversation with the witnesses and the parades were not prejudiced by what he did.

The solicitor representing the Hug-mans has made a statement in which she says that she thinks that the parades were as fair as they could be although it would have been preferable to have a mechanical means of calling witnesses. There was nothing sinister in the confrontation between Mr. Edward Hugman and the witnesses, which is another point of criticism, as this took place after the parades were over. The Home Secretary has recently issued advice to chief officers of police on the conduct of identification parades which was prepared in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice. It is of a general nature and does not go into the means of summoning witnesses. It is obvious that the conduct of a parade would be prejudiced if there were any communication of intelligence to the witnesses by an officer coming from the room where the parade is taking place. But it is clear that there is no infringement of this by the mere calling of names by an officer. There was no irregularity here. There was no unfairness and the solicitor made no claim that there was.

On the question of criminal proceedings, it is from this point onwards that the case became increasingly complicated. All three brothers were charged with shopbreaking and remanded on bail to appear at the Mansion House Justices' Court on 1st April. Two detective officers were in the police gallery and Detective Inspector Warwicker of the Metropolitan Police was also sitting there with his wife and Mrs. Benjamin Hug-man. The civilian eye-witness of the crime went into the gallery after he had given evidence and he immediately recognised Inspector Warwicker as one of the men engaged in the shopbreaking. He went over to the two detective officers who, at that time, did not know who Mr. Warwicker was.

At an identification parade held on 5th April Mr. Warwicker was picked out by one of the City officers. This led to Mr. Warwicker being suspended from duty in the Metropolitan Police until 3rd May. There was nothing wrong in this. Inspector Warwicker had been identified by two eye-witnesses as being one of those committing the offence. It was clearly right for an officer suspected of involvement in a serious crime to be suspended from police duty in his own, and in the general, interest while inquiries were going on, and this is normal practice in the police service.

It should also be understood that Mr. Warwicker had not helped to allay the suspicions which had been aroused by his personal intervention in the investigation of a criminal offence by another force. It appears that at 5 p.m. on the day of the shopbreaking he got in touch with Wood Street Police Station, of the City of London Police, and spoke to a detective sergeant there to vouch for the character of Benjamin Hugman, as we have heard. At 7.30 p.m. on the following Monday he called at the station and spoke to a junior detective and sought to ascertain certain details about the offence and asserted that the Hugmans were innocent.

It has been said that Mr. Warwicker had been penalised for going to the aid of a friend and neighbour and for seeking to help fellow police officers from making a mistake. While this may be commendable, there are right and wrong ways of going about such a mission. Mr. Warwicker did it on his own responsibility. Without informing his superior officers or seeking their permission, he left his place of duty and went to the City using his rank to gain access to more junior officers.

He did not subsequently disclose in his official diary that he had made these visits or that he had an interest in the case. Such intervention, without reference to either his own superiors or to senior officers of the City of London Police, was improper and could have constituted a disciplinary offence. But that was not the reason for his suspension. It was, as I have said, that he was suspected of having been involved in a criminal offence.

In the meantime, difficulties began to occur for the City of London Police. A few days after the arrests, one of the police officers who had been at the scene of the crime began to have doubts about the identification he had made of Edward Hugman. He reported these doubts to a senior officer, who told him that if he had any doubt at all, he should say so at the committal proceedings on 1st April. The officer did this, and retracted his identification of Mr. Edward Hug-man as being one of the persons he had seen at the scene of the crime. That, I suggest, is the main reason why the case against the Hugman brothers was dropped, and not because a police officer had been identified as being one of the four persons.

Mr. Weitzman rose

Mr. Morgan

Time does not permit me to give way.

It was at this stage that the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions was sought. It was plain that the evidence of the police officer concerned in this case was unreliable. A report of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police into the part played by Inspector War-wicker was also before the Director. After carefully considering all the information, the Director decided to take over the case, to withdraw the proceedings against the Hugmans and not to institute proceedings against Inspector Warwicker. No evidence was accordingly offered on behalf of the prosecution when the Hug-mans appeared on 12th June for trial at the Central Criminal Court. The Court ordered their costs to be met out of public funds.

On the question of the subsequent investigation, as soon as complaints by the Hugmans about the case were received from my hon. Friend, they were referred to the Commissioner of Police for the City of London. He decided to make use of his power under Section 49 of the Police Act, 1964, to ask the chief constable of another police area to provide an officer to carry out an investigation. I am sure that this was right, as, in the event, Mr. Bowler, Assistant Chief Constable of Sheffield and Rotherham, undertook the investigation.

I wish to pay tribute to the thoroughness and efficiency with which Mr. Bowler carried out his investigation, which is a testimony to the effectiveness of the procedures under the Police Act, 1964, for investigating complaints against police officers, if properly pursued. It extended to seeing and taking statements from all persons who could give any information, including the Hugmans, Inspector Warwicker and the City of London police officers concerned.

It led to the submission of a lengthy report by October dealing in detail with every aspect of the complaints. The report showed that Mr. Bowler had drawn fully on his police experience to test the evidence, check on procedures followed by police officers, and assess the different situations which had arisen as the case had proceeded. Much of what I have said tonight has been based on this report, in which Mr. Bowler both acknowledged certain defects in the action taken by the police—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-one minutes to Twelve o'clock.