HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc720-3
4. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now in a position to make a statement about security arrangements following the preliminary inquiries into the escape of William Hughes.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

No, Sir. Until I receive the report of the inquiry currently being conducted by the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service and the more detailed report of the Chief Constable of Derbyshire I have nothing to add to the statement that I made on 17th January.

Mr. Whitehead

Yes, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the grave disquiet felt by many people in the rural areas of North Derbyshire, where these atrocities took place, as more is learned about this case? Will he also bear in mind the considerable disquiet in Leicester Prison and in the Prison Service in general about what happened? When he receives the report will he undertake not to close his mind to a public inquiry, which many of us believe is necessary?

Mr. Rees

As I said in the House the other day, let us look at the detailed report that I get from the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service, and if that shows that there are general problems of course I shall consider holding a general inquiry.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am not seeking to place the Home Secretary in a difficult position before the report is forthcoming, but will he give an assurance to the House that he will ensure that on all future occasions dangerous prisoners of the type of William Hughes, when being transported from prison to court or from court to prison or from prison to prison, will be transported in a proper official custodial vehicle—a prison van—and will be properly handcuffed to two prison officers?

Mr. Rees

This is what we shall have to consider when we receive the report. In the recent debate I indicated to the hon. Gentleman that the rules are in the Library. There are proper rules. We are now trying to discover whether they were carried out.

Mr. Whitelaw

I accept that of course the right hon. Gentleman should see the report, which he hopes to receive in the very near future, but will he nevertheless take very seriously the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead)? Does he appreciate that everything that I have been told since the event leads me to the conclusion that I was right on that occasion to demand an independent public inquiry? I hope that the Home Secretary will realise that in the end that is what is going to happen. I hope that he will come to that decision as soon as possible.

Mr. Rees

I shall certainly take that into account, but I hope that the information that the right hon. Gentleman has will be passed on to the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service or to the Chief Constable of Derbyshire, because they have to make the evaluation on which I must judge.

5. Mr. Edward Gardner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will issue instructions that all prison officers accompanying prisoners to court shall be supplied with details of the prisoners' record.

Mr. John

Prison officers are taught during basic training that they must acquaint themselves with the details of the prisoners they are to escort. Escorts to court are supplied with copies of all remand warrants and bail warrants. What further instructions my right hon. Friend issues will depend upon his consideration of the report by the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service on the circumstances of William Thomas Hughes' escape from prison custody.

Mr. Gardner

Can the Minister confirm that the criminal record of William Hughes was well known to the police? Is he aware, for example, that Superintendent John Brown of the Lancashire Constabulary at Blackpool was able to warn the Derbyshire police, before Hughes was traced and after his escape, that Hughes was in fact a violent and dangerous man? Can the Minister say why vital information of this kind, which was readily available to the police, was not known to the prison authorities responsible for the safe custody of this violent man?

Mr. John

If I could and did say that, there would be no point in awaiting the results of the inquiry. That is what the inquiry is about and that is what will become apparent when the results of the inquiry are communicated to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Rost

Why is the report about this tragic incident so long in reaching the Minister?

Mr. John

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that the report has been a long time. It will be received soon by my right hon. Friend and will be considered expeditiously.

Mr. MacFarquhar

In view of the widespread concern not just in Derbyshire but in many other parts of the country, will my hon. Friend agree to consider publishing the report if he is not going to agree to an independent inquiry?

Mr. John

My right hon. Friend made that point to the House when he answered the debate last Thursday.

Forward to