HC Deb 10 November 1977 vol 938 cc999-1012

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Tinn.]

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I must begin by thanking you, Mr. Speaker, for using one of your Thursdays, in your gift, for allowing me to raise the case of Sergeant William Jamieson.[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot hear the hon. Member.

Mr. Dalyell

On Monday, during the debate on the Queen's Speech, I made reference to general issues which arose out of the case. Tonight I shall be more particular. But first let me state clearly what I feel should be the end product of this debate.

The Secretary of State, if he feels it to he justified in the light of the report from the Crown Agent, should either overrule the chief constable and restore William Jamieson to the rank of sergeant—I refer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said on Monday—column 365 of Hansard— or he should set up a judicial inquiry.

My first comment must be about the inordinate delay that seems to take place. The incident, so-called took place on 4thJuly 1976. On 12th July 1976 an investigation commenced. Not until 13th December were the two officers in court for the first time pleading. Not until 11th-14th February 1977 did trial start, and since then my file has grown to more than 300 pages.

Having discussed my growing anxieties with Ministers, on 23rd April I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State saying that I felt very strongly about the case and that one of the issues seemed to me to be that if we allowed police officers to be treated like this and humiliated, society could hardly expect them to take the initiative, as we all expect, in tackling hooligans and thugs. As a matter of courtesy I copied the letter to the chief constable, but I received no acknowledgment.

On 27th April there was the first parliamentary reference during the Lord Advocate's Questions. First, was it right that the chief constable should allow the appointment of Inspector X as investigating officer? He was a man with whom Sergeant Jamieson had had edgy relationships over a number of years and who—I do not make too much of it—had been at school with Police Constable Charleston. Is this not contrary to the spirit of Section 49(3) of the Police Act 1964?

However, I see that chief constables are faced with a problem once a conviction has taken place in a criminal court, and therefore, although Mr. Frizzell was wrong to allow the appointment of Inspector X as investigating officer, I do not myself think that for the Secretary of State to overrule him would be an implied rebuke. I see that the police must almost lean over backwards to respect the verdict of the courts in relation to policemen, but in this case the appointment of the investigating officer was less than satisfactory.

The Under-Secretary wrote to me as follows on 21st October 1977—this is folio No. 255 in my file: The Discipline Regulations already provide a safeguard against the appointment of an investigating officer who may not be disinterested; and although there is at present no specific regulation entitling the accused officer to challenge the appointment on the grounds that the investigating officer had an interest which he had not declared, I am sure that if such a challenge were made and reasonably substantiated at the time of the appointment the Deputy Chief Constable would not ignore it. But how can one challenge what is merely a rumour? Neither Mr. Charleston nor Mr. Jamieson was aware that an investigation had been commenced or who had been appointed investigating officer until some days had elapsed. The damage had been done by that time. It would be possible to challenge effectively only if one were given ample notice before the inquiry as to who the investigating officer was to be.

The Under-Secretary wrote to me in these terms on 31st October 1977: The Chief Constable rejects utterly any suggestion of bias on the part of the investigating officer and I can see no cause for me to challenge that conclusion. The Chief Constable emphasises that the criminal proceedings against Constable Jamieson were instituted and conducted not on the basis of statements taken by the investigating officer but of precognitions taken by the Procurator Fiscal, which were open to be tested in court. But the procurator fiscal did not conduct any initial investigation personally. He followed his normal practice, which is to pre-cognosce witnesses whose statements have already been obtained by the investigating officer. Thus, if the investigating officer fails for any reason to trace and interview witnesses, the procurator fiscal remains unaware of their existence.

The outcome of the trial was that, in effect, Sergeant Jamieson was fined £9,500 over a period of 19 years. Much worse, a promising police officer, who had qualified for accelerated promotion, has found his career shattered.

Some hon. Members may ask what is a Member of Parliament doing raising this case? But who else can help Sergeant Jamieson? The Lord Advocate said this on 11th May 1977: Your constituent may therefore consider that, if he requires guidance, his best course would be to seek the services of the Scottish Police Federation who, I understand, have already been assisting him in the presentation of his case. On 5th October 1977 Sergeant Joseph Black wrote: However, I am bound by the Police Federation (Scotland) Regulations 1975 which govern the use of Federation funds and paragraph 17(c) states: ` That Federation funds shall not be used in connection with the defence of a member or former member of the Federation against whom civil, criminal or disciplinary proceedings are brought '. So the Police Federation had some difficulty in this matter.

It may be asked why all this was not done by the appeal court, instead of by a Member of Parliament. On 15th September—folio 130 in my file—these words were written: I can only say that there is a fault in the system which allows the Lord Advocate to say that the Appeal Court was where most of the issues should have been determined and yet an advocate states that he will not represent Sergeant Jamieson at that court as he has insufficient grounds for appeal. Both statements cannot be right.

The reply to that is as follows: My only explanation as to why my counsel moved to abandon the appeal was that during the one and only meeting which I had with him, which lasted about three minutes and was held in a corridor of the Court with other persons wandering past, he stated that he would not go into Court and argue my Appeal as in his opinion I had no grounds for Appeal. I pointed out to him that in my opinion the Case as stated by the Temporary Sheriff was not a true representation of events in the Sheriff Court but a justification of the Sheriff's decision. He did not wish to know what inaccuracies were contained in the Stated Case and told me that it was immaterial whether the Stated Case was accurate or not but that it was on the contents of it which he had to base my Appeal. He reiterated that he would not represent me but that I was free to argue my own case if I so desired. I did not consider this a viable alternative as I have little knowledge of the law and told him that I had no intention of representing myself but wished him to represent me. He refused to present any Appeal and stated that his only alternative was to abandon the Appeal. As I stated previously I walked away in disgust and despair. Then I have a very sensible letter from Messrs Allan McDougall & Co. dated 5th October 1977. The letter states: From reading Mr. Jamieson's letter however, it would appear that his complaint is more against the Sheriff than anyone else. The Sheriff stated his case in such a way as to leave Mr. Jamieson no appeal at all since,as I recollect it, the matter was decided on one of credibility. In other words the Sheriff did not believe Mr. Jamieson. The Sheriff's Stated Case therefore reflected the Sheriff's views on the matter and notwithstanding the points which Mr. Jamieson wanted put into the Case, it was entirely up to the Sheriff to decide whether he would put them in or not. On the issue of legal aid, the Under Secretary said: I cannot agree that the circumstances of the case point to any deficiencies in the system of legal aid. If of course Constable Jamieson thinks that he may have been inadequately advised by his solicitor, to an extent that might constitute professional misconduct, it is open to him to lay a complaint before the Secretary of the Law Society…". Sergeant Jamieson points out: There is reference here to the fact that the Appeals Committee would have considered my application for Legal Aid more favourably had my solicitor produced additional evidence of arguments in my favour. This mystifies me somewhat as Mr. Queen tried by means of his proposed adjustments to the Stated Case to have more favourable arguments brought to the attention of the Appeal Court. As you know this was refused by the Temporary Sheriff. The impression given in the letter is that the Appeals Committee could have considered those adjustments. surely this would put the Appeals Committee in the position of being a quasi-court. Furthermore I do not believe that an experenced practitioner such as Mr. Queen would be unaware of this method of forcing an Appeal especially bearing in mind his opinions of the present Appeal system. I have to refer to the Lord Advocate's letter of 11th October 1977. My right hon. and learned Friend writes: There has never been any dispute that the young men travelled by bus after they left Falkirk Police Station. They did nothing of the kind. They walked to Grangemouth. My right hon. and learned Friend goes on: Neither Pohlen nor Moynihan have any previous convictions of any kind. Pimbley has one minor conviction for a road traffic offence (almost an occupational hazard since he is a professional driver). The Scottish Office has an obligation to ascertain what happened at the Woolston Garage, Champany, on 27th August 1977.

It must also send for the report of an incident on 23rd September, at 11.p.m., when two Bathgate traffic officers confronted a major prosecution witness in the Jamieson case for breach of the peace and drunken driving. The report says: I'll have you bastards in court. I've laughed at you bastards in court before and will do it again. Challenging the police to arrest him, the report says that the major prosecution witness said to the police: I've been to court before for the same "— seven-letter word— thing. You bastards are just idiots. I want some "— four-letter word— higher than you. Jamieson writes about the Lord Advocate's letter of 11th October: I would like to ask him if he would care to write on my behalf to my Chief Constable and point out to him that for a police officer to be convicted of assault is an occupational hazard as in dealing with violent persons I have to exercise a degree of physical force which is loosely defined in Scots law as being necessary force. It is on this question of "necessary force "that Jamieson writes: At all times both Sandy "— Constable Charleston— and I were only too aware that the odds were three to two in their favour. I consider that, in the mood they were in, it was only a matter of time before they realised that escape was a very real possibility in view of the odds. Remember that while in the van the odds in their favour were increased to three to one by virtue of my involvement with driving the vehicle. At all times our actions were hurried and sudden in order to prevent the youths from sizing up their various situations and deciding to act against us. At no time have I denied standing on Pohlen's toes But I did not stand on them deliberately. If I stood on his toes, and I do not know whether I did, it was purely by accident. I may also have trod on the toes of the others but obviously as Pohlen was barefoot he would be hurt more. I want to know why my hon. Friend is reluctant to authorise the carrying out of simple experiments in the Bo'ness cells to see whether Jamieson's version of events, or the youths' contradictory version of events, is true.

Do the Government consider it satisfactory that six trials should be cited in Falkirk Court for 10.30 a.m. on 11th February 1977, when there is only one sheriff sitting and there is also the likelihood of custody cases to be dealt with?

Is it good procedure for an important trial involving police officers to be heard by a temporary sheriff? Is it fair to accused persons that their trial should commence on a Friday at 11;20 a.m., be adjourned for lunch at 12.45 p.m., restarted at 3 p.m. and adjourned yet again at 4.15 p.m. until the following Monday?

Is it acceptable that a trial should be adjourned for lunch after an important witness has given his evidence-in-chief but before he has been cross-examined, thus permitting collusion between him and two previous witnesses, not to mention the remaining witnesses?

At one stage, did Mr. Erskine, the court officer, have to eject a youth from the witness room who had come from the court and was telling the witnesses still to be examined of the happenings in the court?

Would it be considered good procedure for a sheriff to adjourn a trial and fail to warn witnesses against discussing evidence already led in court in relation to their own proposed testimony?

Do the Government consider it satisfactory that statements should be obtained from friends or the complainers about their alleged injuries when no effort is made to trace and interview those independent witnesses who had seen the complainers after their release from custody and before their return to the house containing their friends?

How were the young men even let out of Falkirk cells if they were in an injured and bloodstained state?

Is it considered satisfactory or desirable that there is no verbatim record of proceedings kept during summary proceedings in such a consequential case?

Do the Government consider that notes taken by a sheriff at the time of a trial and subsequently written into a stated case by him at a later time can be completely accurate?

Do the Government consider it good procedure, or even desirable, that the sheriff whose judgment is questioned by means of an appeal should write the stated case and thereby have absolute discretion about what is or is not included for consideration by the Appeal Court? Could not this lead to the position where a sheriff merely justified his verdict by means of the stated case by writing it in such a fashion?

Do the Government consider the stated case procedure to be completely satisfactory when it permits facts established in court to be omitted and thus become unavailable for consideration by the appeal court? Do the Government consider that it is correct for an advocate to call a client to the Appeal Court on the day of his appeal and, only a short time before his appeal is due to be heard, refuse to represent that client in court?

It stretches the imagination as to how two 14-stone policemen can be found guilty of brutal assault on three young men, yet there is no medical evidence whatsoever and, lo and behold, when one young man 11 days later goes to his doctor, the doctor. Dr. Sandy Lang, can find nothing. I am neither a lawyer nor a doctor, but I find it passing strange that a 14-stone policeman can strike the head of a young man against the cell wall to his injury, swinging him by the hair and that young man returns to continue his roistering and does not bother at any stage to see a doctor". I come to my file 128 and the letter of 15th September 1977 from the Lord Advocate. It says: You seem to he equating o brutal ' with ' severe '. Taken in context, it is necessarily wrong to describe the use of unnecessary force or violence by policemen on prisoners as brutal, even if no significant injury results? This seems to be turning the English language inside out.

We come to the crucial question of the sheriff's notes. The only official record of the evidence which was heard in court is the stated case, which is the Sheriff's recollection of the facts based on what notes were taken at the time. One wonders whether this point illustrates the weakness of the present summary procedure whereby the sheriff's notes and recollections are the only acceptable material on which to base an appeal. If a sheriff omits a fact, according to the law that fact does not, and indeed never has, existed.

My impression is, after more than 150 hours of work on this case and a dossier of 300 pages, that the conduct of that court in Falkirk on 11th and 14th November 1977 was a source of shame to the Scottish legal system. The arrangements were chaotic—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should confine himself to remarks about the proceedings and not about the conduct of the judge.

Mr. Dalyell

This all hinges on the issue of credibility. Superintendent Johnston is referred to on page 136 in that respect. The lawyers say that this is all a matter of credibility and of whom the sheriff believes. If it really is a matter of credibility by one man, do we not have the right to demand that throughout a trial that man gives undivided attention to the case in hand and has die clearest of minds and the most alert of judgments? After all, William Jamie-son's police career is in tatters because one man thought that the way he gave evidence was "somewhat shifty and evasive ".

I refer to the Lord Advocate's letter of 22nd July, in which he says: I should state that the position is that the Sheriff presiding at a trial is obliged in certain circumstances to make a decision as to the credibility of witnesses. The Appeal Court is not able to look behind this decision on the part of the Sheriff. The reason for this, of course, is that the Sheriff sees the witnesses and hears them giving evidence and is accordingly in the best position to make such a judgment; and since we do not have a re-trial procedure in this country the witnesses are not available for the Appeal Court to form their own opinion on credibility. Before arriving at that kind of judgment with its catastrophic consequences for an individual, his family and his police colleagues, can we not ask whether the man making the judgment was in the optimum frame of mind to do so—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already indicated to the hon. Gentleman that it is out of order to make observations about the personal conduct of the judge. The judge is in a position to make up his own mind about a case.

Mr. Dalyell

This hinges on the issue of credibility. I believe that the sheriff's attention was far from undivided. Furthermore, I ask the Scottish Office to inquire how much alcohol the temporary sheriff had had to drink—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying away beyond the bounds of order in making observations about the judge. If there should be any case for complaint, the rules set out that he must do so by a motion.

Mr. Dalyell

I want to ask a question of fact. Did Mr. Erskine, the court officer, explain to people in court that the five-minute adjournment was for cigarettes and a cup of tea for the temporary sheriff? Was Mr. Erskine asked by people in court whether they might have a cup of tea? Did Mr. Erskine reply genially "You would not want it "and words to the effect that what the sheriff had was the same colour as tea only more expensive?

If sheriffs have this concentration of power over other people's lives when assessing credibility, they themselves have an absolute moral obligation not to touch alcohol during working hours. I am not saying that the temporary sheriff was under the influence of drink. I am saying that it is up to the Scottish Office to inquire whether his judgment could have been clouded by consumption of alcohol or whether it could in any way have been impaired.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman has any personal observations to make about the sheriff and his conduct during the case, that can be done only by a motion. The hon. Gentleman is out of order in making the observations he is making.

Mr. Dalyell

It is up to the Scottish Office to ask for a background report on the medical situation of the temporary sheriff about which I have written to the Crown Agent. If hon. Members suggest that I should not pose such questions, I retort that William Jamieson's career and Sandy Charleston's reputation have been dented enough and their families have suffered cruelly. Should it perhaps be the case that their lives could have been different if a temporary sheriff had practised abstinence while working —

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already drawn the hon. Gentleman's attention on a number of occasions to the fact that personal observations about a judge are not in order unless on a motion. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to proceed with that matter, it must be done on a substantive motion.

Mr. Dalyell

Before condemning policemen in current conditions, society should be ertain that they have committed crimes. Their task is hard enough. For my part, I shall not rest until all the questions are satisfactorily answered or William Jamieson is restored to sergeant and Alexander Charleston has the disgrace removed from his name.

10.21 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

I want to make one general point. It is to the effect that I can hardly be expected in the nine minutes left to me from a 30-minute debate to reply to a case that has taken about 20 minutes tonight and 30 minutes in the debate on Monday night of this week, and has attracted column inch after column inch in the national Press and minute after minute on radio.

I have listened with great are to what my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has said about the series of incidents that befell his constituent, ex-Sergeant William Jamieson of the Central Scotland Police. My hon. Friend has made the same fundamental error tonight that he has made throughout his public comments on this matter. He is confusing what he alleges took place at the trial with the disciplinary proceedings, for which the chief constable is responsible. They are not related. I have no responsibility for what took place at the trial. That is the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. My responsibility is merely in respect of the police disciplinary proceedings.

As the hon. Member for the neighbouring constituency to my hon. Friend's, I know the strength of local feeling on both sides of this question and, in fairness to the chief constable and all ranks within the Central Scotland Police. I must point out that they are becoming increasingly worried about the one-sided picture that has been presented in this case.

My hon. Friend and 1 have been exchanging letters about this case since March of this year. In that correspondence I have tried to deal as fully and as helpfully as I can with those aspects of the case which fall within the ministerial responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and in replying to the points which my hon. Friend has raised in the debate tonight I shall try to do likewise. The incidents with which we are concerned began with a complaint by a member of the public that the police sergeant had committed an assault on prisoners in custody in police cells. That allegation was investigated, a report was made to the procurator fiscal, and as a result the sergeant was charged with the crime. He pleaded not guilty, stood trial, was found guilty and on conviction was fined £50. A co-accused constable was similarly convicted and fined.

The sergeant later embarked on an appeal against that conviction, but did not carry it through to a conclusion. That is a summary of the criminal proceedings in the case. Arising from them, my hon. Friend has put a number of questions to the Lord Advocate, who has recently instructed the Crown Agent to conduct an internal inquiry into the circumstances. I cannot agree that the circumstances would justify a judicial inquiry. That is a process which is used extremely rarely, and only for matters of the utmost gravity. I understand that the Crown Agent's inquiry is already under way, and 1 am assured that it will cover all the necessary ground. That will relate to much of what my hon. Friend has said. In the debate on the Address on Monday, and again in the debate tonight, my hon. Friend raised a number of specific points related to these criminal aspects of the case. As such, they are not within my ministerial responsibilities. These criminal proceedings are not the disciplinary proceedings which are the subject of this debate and my hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on them. The Secretary of State's responsibilities are concerned only with the actions taken on the disciplinary aspects of the case, and it is in respect of these actions that I intend to answer.

My hon. Friend has implied that the investigating officer was biased against Constable Jamieson. This is really an aspect of the criminal investigation and although it is thus not a matter within my right hon. Friend's ministerial responsibilities—nor perhaps entirely relevant to the subject of this debate—I shall make two comments on it since it appears to reflect on the integrity of the police service for which I am responsible to the Secretary of State.

The first is that the investigating officer was appointed from a different subdivision of the force from that in which Sergeant Jamieson was serving at the time of the incident. That was right and proper. I understand that the two officers did at one time serve in the same sub-division for an overlapping period of about two months in 1972, although it is doubtful whether even then there was any direct supervisory relationship between them. If during that period or subsequently there were any incidents giving rise to a bad relationship between the officers, no complaints were made about that from either party. My information is that there are no entries relative to any such incidents in force records, nor have the senior officers in that division of the force any knowledge of any such incidents or any such bad relationship. If, in spite of all that, Constable Jamieson had had any grounds to suspect that the investigating officer was likely to be predisposed against him, he could have taken the opportunity to raise these matters at the time when the appointment of the investigating officer was intimated to him. He did not do so. Had he made such an objection at that time and given substantiation of it, the deputy chief constable could not have ignored the matter.

My second point is simply that the decision to prosecute was not taken by the investigating officer, nor was it even taken on the basis of any evidence collected by him or statements made to him. I repeat that this is properly a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, but, since it bears so directly upon the police handling of the case which my hon. Friend criticises, I want to make it clear that the decision to prosecute was taken quite independently by Crown counsel, and the prosecution proceeded on the basis of witness precognitions taken by the procurator fiscal and not by the police. In these circumstances, I do not see how it is possible to claim that any bias on the part of the investigating officer—if it existed—could have been a factor which influenced the outcome of the proceedings.

The disciplinary offence which Sergeant Jamieson committed was that of having been convicted by a court of law of a criminal offence, in breach of paragraph 13 of the Discipline Code contained in the Schedule to the Police (Discipline) (Scotland) Regulations 1967. That was the only disciplinary charge on which he appeared before his Chief Constable Frizzell on 11th March this year.

Much has been said about the decision of the chief constable to proceed with that disciplinary action while there was still the possibility of an appeal against the conviction. If that appeal had been successful, it would have quashed the conviction and thus taken away the whole basis of the disciplinary charge. I stand by the chief constable's action, since I understand that, at the time when the matter came before him, Sergeant Jamieson had let it be known to his senior officers in the force that he had, on legal advice, decided not to appeal against the conviction, and he had specifically asked for the disciplinary hearing to be taken at short notice so as to avoid having the matter hanging over his head any longer than necessary. It appears that after the disciplinary hearing he changed his mind and decided after all to put in an appeal against conviction. That is a matter to which I shall turn later.

Since the disciplinary offence was selfevident—and, indeed Sergeant Jamieson admitted the charge—the only question for the chief constable at the hearing was that of punishment. Having heard the submissions by the officer defending Sergeant Jamieson, he then asked a senior officer to speak to Sergeant Jamieson's previous record and conduct in the force and properly gave Sergeant Jamieson an opportunity to comment on that. In determining the level of punishment, the chief constable had to act within the provisions of the particular discipline regulation which prescribes the range of punishments which he may impose.

I should explain that, in the case of a sergeant charged with an offence under paragraph 13 of the Discipline Code, the only punishments available are dismissal, requirement to resign, reduction in rank to constable, reprimand or caution. The chief constable had to ask himself whether the crime of which Sergeant Jamieson had been duly convicted was of such a trivial nature that it would be appropriate to impose only a reprimand or a caution.

It cannot he argued that by any standards a crime of assaulting prisoners in police cells is a trivial offence, and the chief constable therefore imposed the next most lenient punishment open to him—that is, reduction in rank to constable. I do not pretend that his task in coming to that decision was an easy one. It never is. While dealing with the immediate case before him, he had also to think of the effect on the discipline and morale of the force as a whole. A lenient disposal could be construed by other members of the force as an acceptance that an assault on prisoners in the cells was not a serious matter. But. conversely, too harsh a punishment might be construed as refusal to give any support whatever to any police officer who became involved in an incident of this kind in the course of his duty.

Constable Jamieson decided, as was his right under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, to appeal to the Secretary of State against the chief constable's disciplinary punishment. By the time that appeal came before my right hon. Friend, however, Constable Jamieson had already also lodged an appeal against the criminal conviction. He later abandoned that appeal—

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-eight minutes to Eleven o'clock.