HC Deb 20 June 1974 vol 875 cc668-70
15. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now set up an inquiry into the procedures leading to the arrest and conviction of James Hanratty for murder, in view of new evidence which has been sent to him.

37. Mr. Bates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the new evidence which is now available, he will now set up a public inquiry into the case of James Hanratty.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I have considered very carefully all the representations which have been made to me, but I am not at present persuaded that it would be right to institute a public inquiry into the case. I intend, however, to invite a Queen's Counsel to make an independent assessment of the representations and of any other relevant material the result of which I would propose to publish.

Mr. Whitehead

Will my right hon. Friend accept that even the announcement of this limited inquiry will be widely welcomed not only in the House but by Mr. and Mrs. Hanratty, senior, and many others, who have spent years campaigning for this very tragic affair to be cleared up? We accept that the possibility of intolerable stress for some of the major witnesses militates against a public inquiry, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we must avoid the lack of credibility which in retrospect attaches to the Scott Henderson inquiry, for example, into the Timothy Evans case? Will this investigator have the power to call for documents and to subpoena witnesses, albeit to be heard in private, and will the Hanratty family be granted representation at the inquiry?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir, there cannot, at an inquiry of this kind, be power to subpoena witnesses or to have representation as such. I think that I am right in saying that neither consideration applied in the case of the Brabin inquiry, which was the ultimate inquiry into the Evans case.

I have been concerned in this matter to try to reassure public opinion and those concerned that justice has not only been done but been seen to be done. At the same time, I have been greatly concerned at not having the new difficulty of an appearance in the witness box of the undoubted victim of this crime. I have in mind, too, the difficulty of conducting informal trials of other people.

I think that this is the right way to proceed. Let us have the report. The person whom I shall ask to report may see people if he so wishes. Let us publish the result and see where we are then.

Mr. Bates

I thank my right hon. Friend for the consideration that he has given to this matter at a time when he has a great number of other matters to which he has had to give much of his time. May I assure my right hon. Friend that there will be an understanding of the reason why much of the inquiry could not take place in public? Is my right hon. Friend aware, however, that the Brabin inquiry was held in public, apart from just two days, I think? Might it not be possible for most of this inquiry to take place in public? Is he also aware that there is a great deal of public concern about this matter and that the question of confidence in this inquiry will turn very much on the powers given to the Queen's Counsel who is conducting it? Will counsel have power to call for any relevant police documents and Home Office documents, and will private individuals be able to submit evidence to him?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, individuals concerned can submit evidence. Counsel will have power to see all documents which are relevant. I thank my hon. Friend for what he said earlier. He is probably right in saying that the Brabin inquiry was held to some extent in public, but it had no power to compel the attendance of witnesses, to take evidence on oath, or to demand the disclosure of documents. But my intention, certainly, is that this inquiry, which I trust will be useful, will have all the documents available to it.