HC Deb 11 April 1972 vol 834 cc1024-6
Mrs. Castle

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Question No. 3 I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he would institute an inquiry into the death of a patient at South Ockendon Mental Hospital, partly on the ground that the killer had not been found. I pointed out that the only accused, David Burles, had been found not guilty. In his reply the Secretary of State said that it was his understanding that David Burles had only been found unfit to plead. Thus, the Secretary of State implied that David Burles might have been the killer.

In fact, as the right hon. Gentleman should have known—he is refusing an inquiry on a false assumption—David Burles' defence counsel, the eminent counsel who is now our own Solicitor-General, took the case to appeal, and a verdict of "not guilty" was returned. I am sure that the Secretary of State would welcome this early opportunity of correcting any imputation which he has left on the character of David Burlesand confirming that he was, in fact, found not unfit to plead but, in the end, not guilty.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

I was only trying to point out that the right hon. Lady's assertion that other people believed that the killer responsible for the 1969 death is still at large was not necessarily supported by the acquittal of David Burles.

Hon. Members


Mrs. Castle


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that we can go into the matter further now. The point has been made.

Mrs. Castle

What the right hon. Gentleman said is nonsense. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but a verdict of "not guilty" which was obtained on behalf of this patient by our own current Solicitor-General means either that he was acquitted, and fully acquitted, or it does not. Surely it is quite wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to leave this imputation over a patient who has been found not guilty and, therefore, has been totally acquitted.

Mr. Speaker

The matter cannot be pursued further now.


Mr. Atkinson

May I revert, Mr. Speaker, to the very unsatisfactory reply which the Secretary of State gave just now about the South Ockendon Hospital? I am sure that he is aware of my consciousness of the distress caused to the parents of Robert Robertson, all of whom are constituents of mine, the case having been discussed previously in this House. Would he not be willing to consult his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General about the unsatisfactory conclusion at the time, particularly as the Solicitor-General was defending in his professional capacity the person accused of killing my constituent?

Therefore, as a result of these consultations, would the right hon. Gentleman sympathetically consider the idea that there should be an inquiry into the subsequent deaths which have taken place at the hospital—an inquiry not by the hospital management committee but by some outside authority? It is the staff themselves who feel dissatisfied about the whole thing, and it is they, together with the patients, who would like to clear up this whole thing. The fact is now known, as the Solicitor-General has said, that the crucial witnesses to all this are the people who have been held unfit to give evidence. Therefore, the Secretary of State is turning down the request for an inquiry on the basis of information which was adjudged unfit to be accepted.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Member's remarks have been noted, but this is an example of the trouble that the Chair gets into when it permits an irregularity. I allowed the right hon. Lady to raise this because I understood that there had been a mis-statement of fact about the actual verdict in a case. I thought it right that this should be put right as a simple issue of fact without any discussion of the merits. I understand that that has now been established. No doubt the Secretary of State will consider other points.