HC Deb 16 December 1982 vol 34 cc470-1
10. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps are taken by his Department in cases where coroners return verdicts of unlawful killing or death due to lack of care of persons in custody.

Mr. Mayhew

The investigation of an unlawful killing is a matter for the police. Otherwise, when a person dies in a prison department establishment the action taken after the inquest depends entirely on the circumstances of the case.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that last month a coroner's jury returned a verdict of death due to lack of care on James Heather Hayes, who died in Ashford remand centre, and that earlier this year another coroner's jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing on Winston Rose, who was throttled to death while being arrested by 11 policemen? What, if any, action was taken by the authorities following those verdicts? Is it not wrong that such verdicts do not automatically lead to action being taken by the authorities and to those responsible being charged? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman take steps to ensure that that happens in future?

Mr. Mayhew

We have only recently received the notes of evidence of the inquest into the death of James Heather Hayes. I cannot comment until we have looked carefully into all the circumstances of the case. Whenever such a report reaches the Home Office it is, of course, taken extremely seriously and all the circumstances are taken into account. That is the only, and proper, way to proceed.

Mr. Rathbone

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that, for the most part, prison and police officers take extremely good care of the prisoners in their charge and are more worried than most people in Britain when mishaps such as that to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) referred take place?

Mr. Mayhew

I am certain that my hon. Friend is right when he says that that is the norm. On rare occasions things go seriously wrong. I know that my hon. Friend will agree with me that such instances must be investigated. However, I agree with his remarks.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will the Minister accept that this is a serious problem? Is he aware that the recent incidents at Ashford, Wandsworth and Brixton have not resulted in any prosecutions, which has given rise to great disquiet? Is it true that since the commendable efforts to prosecute those responsible for the death of Barry Prosser and that prosecutions's failure, the prosecuting authorities are taking a different and much less stringent view about prosecuting policemen and prison officers?

Mr. Mayhew

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not responsible for prosecution policy. That is the responsibility of the chief officer of police or of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Therefore, I cannot comment on that point.

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