HC Deb 23 March 1970 vol 798 cc981-6
Miss Devlin

On a point of Order. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the unsatisfactory nature of the police inquiry into the death of Samuel Devenney, of Londonderry, resulting from an attack by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on himself and members of his family on 19th April, 1969. In seeking leave, may I say that I appreciate that the incident to which I am referring took place on 19th April, 1969. Before stating the facts of the case, I want to state that I am not basing my request on the incident of 19th April, 1969, but on the recent occurrence—that is, on the unsatisfactory nature of the existing police inquiry.

If I may crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, it would be of help to yourself and to hon. Members in deciding this matter if I may be allowed to state the undisputed facts of the case for hon. Members who may not be familiar with them.

On 19th April, 1969, disturbances took place in Londonderry and a confrontation between the citizens of that city and the Royal Ulster Constabulary took place. Hon. Members will remember that this, and the behaviour in particular of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, formed the basis of a debate raised under Standing Order No. 9 on 22nd April by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose).

On that occasion, in Londonderry, Mr. Samuel Devenney was present in his own home with the members of his own family and with a neighbour who was visiting him at the time. Members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, among whom there was at least one senior member who was identified by the fact that he was carrying the insignia of his rank—the blackthorn stick—forcibly entered the Devenney home and, during the course of events which took place there, beat Mr. Devenney himself and the neighbour until both were unconscious. Every member of that family was assaulted.

This resulted in hospital treatment for most of the members of the family, Mr. Devenney receiving treatment for five head wounds and his neighbour receiving treatment for three head wounds. A child who had just been discharged from hospital following an operation was also severely beaten. On 17th July, 1969, Mr. Samuel Devenney died as a result of a number of heart attacks.

The facts of the case are simple. An inquest was held into the death of Mr. Devenney. The verdict returned originally was an open one. It is important for me to point out to hon. Members that in Northern Ireland, unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom, a jury at an inquest can return only an open verdict or a verdict of accidental death——

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether this is a submission in the normal course or whether this is becoming a debate with a speech?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not a debate. This is a submission.

Miss Devlin

I would stress, Sir, that I am not stating either the merits or the demerits of this case. I am at this point stating the undisputed facts as recognised by the courts and the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

The inquest returned an open verdict. At first, the jury at the inquest asked what their powers were. They returned an open verdict. On the basis of the evidence before them and because of their inability to return anything other than an open verdict or one of accidental death, they were then directed to return a verdict of death by natural causes, because the immediate cause of this man's death was a heart attack.

Following that inquest and the inability of the jury to return any other verdict, an official complaint was lodged by members of the family to the police force, as a result of which District Inspector Faulker was authorised to conduct a police investigation. This investigation was, by the nature of the police force, necessarily conducted by a member of the Northern Ireland police force.

Although information was available to the members of the force, the results of the inquiry proved inconclusive. District Inspector Faulker had asked the district inspectors and head constables, being the members of the force who carried the blackthorn stick, to present themselves for an identity parade. They exercised their right not to parade. Therefore, at no time was an opportunity given to the members of the Devenney family to identify the members of the police force who had been responsible for what had happened, although they claimed to be able to do so.

Following this investigation, a criminal injury claim was lodged by a number of the surviving members of the Devenney family.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. Lady must come to the application she is making under Standing Order No. 9.

Miss Devlin

I am endeavouring to do so as briefly as possible, Sir. I am trying to emphasise that, as hon. Members are particularly uninformed about facts concerning Northern Ireland, it is necessary for the facts to be laid before them. I will as quickly as possible come to the application which is involved in this claim.

When the criminal injury claim was brought by surviving members of the family, the court stated that it would not be necessary to call police witnesses, as the Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland—it is important to note this point—admitted liability in a criminal injury claim; it therefore admitted that a criminal act had occurred. Members of the Opposition in Stormont endeavoured to bring the unsatisfactory nature of this inquiry before Parliament in Northern Ireland. A number of questions were asked of the Minister of Home Affairs. These were simply questions which would have helped——

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. Lady is doing what she would be right to do if her request for a debate under Standing Order No. 9 were granted. She is asking for an emergency debate. She must address her argument to that issue.

Miss Devlin

I shall try to relate these facts to the three basic points laid down in Erskine May which allow a debate under Standing Order No. 9.

I have already stated why this is a specific matter. I should now like to state why it is a matter of public im- portance. It is a matter of public importance because during the past year we in this House have endeavoured to create confidence among the citizens of Northern Ireland in the forces of law and order. This work has been carried out by Inspector-General Sir Arthur Young, who has stated publicly his dissatisfaction at the outcome of this inquiry. He has stated that, in his opinion, the information leaves much to be desired.

This is a matter of public importance because we have a democratic Parliament in Northern Ireland, and democratically-elected Members of that Parliament asked questions which are in order in this Chamber. The information which they sought to elicit from the Minister of Home Affairs was denied them on the basis that the Minister of Home Affairs' junior secretary, Mr. Taylor, did not consider it to be in the public interest.

These questions were as follows. Who were the police officers on duty in Derry at the time? Who were the 24 officers who resigned from the force following this incident? Who were the officers injured in the right hand and wearing a bandage at the time of the incident, since one of the persons recognised a policeman by this fact? This is why the matter is of public importance.

This House is the last place where we, the people of Northern Ireland, can seek aid. We have sought aid in every other quarter and this is the supreme Parliament of our people.

This is an urgent matter, because over the past weekend I was holding a series of meetings in County Donegal and I had reason to pass through County Derry on returning here to Parliament. While passing through Derry, I stopped in Bogside. I make no apology to hon. Members who may represent those people when I say that I know the feelings of those people. I realised that there had been trouble last night in Derry. I sought out a senior Army officer and I asked him what had happened. He said it was the second time in 24 hours—in fact, it is the third time that this has happened—that the people of Derry had come on to the streets and attacked the British Army. He and I felt that this was because of the dissatisfaction that they feel about this case. They feel that although they have Sir Arthur Young there, he is implicated in the inquiry over which he had no control.

Here, Mr. Speaker, I crave your indulgence, under Standing Order No. 16, to be allowed incidentally to refer to legislation, although not to deal with it. I refer to the Police Act, which we debated last year. Hon. Members and I asked for a specific Amendment to allow——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot, on an application for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, allow the the hon. Lady to debate an Amendment which she failed to get into the Act last year.

Miss Devlin

With respect, Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to debate it. I simply wished to refer to it.

This House at the moment would need to invoke Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act in order to take the necessary steps in sending senior officers from Scotland Yard to reopen the inquiry into this man's death. Although some of us asked for it, it was not granted under the relevant Section of the Police Act. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your indulgence in this matter.

I will come to the final point. I ask that this House shall adjourn in order to discuss the urgent matter of reopening the inquiry on the basis of the unsatisfactory nature of the existing inquiry into the death of Mr. Samuel Devenney, with its implications as to the good intentions of Sir Arthur Young, so that this House may restore law and order in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) with characteristic courtesy, told me this morning that she might seek this afternoon to make an application under Standing Order No. 9.

The hon. Lady asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that she thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the unsatisfactory nature of the inquiry into the death of Mr. Samuel Devenney and in order that the House should consider what action it should take in accordance with the powers vested in it by Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act. As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision.

I have given very careful consideration to the representations which the hon. Lady has made, but I have to rule that her submissions do not fall within the provisions of Standing Order No. 9 and that, therefore, I cannot submit her application to the House.