HC Deb 20 July 1982 vol 28 cc373-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gummer.]

3.21 am
Mr. William Whitlock (Nottingham, North)

While the House has been sitting, Mr. Martin Patrick Foran has entered his forty-seventh day on the roof of Her Majesty's prison, Nottingham. It is a demonstration that is intended to bring to public notice his statement of his innocence of the crimes for which he has been convicted. Many people in the Nottingham area, having learnt some details of his case, have become anxious about him and are convinced of his innocence. That deep anxiety and the fact that the prison is in my constituency has led me to raise the matter.

Foran was convicted on 21 June 1978 on four counts, involving three robberies, and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on each, the sentences to run concurrently. Since then, he has consistently asserted his innocence and repeatedly staged various types of demonstration to draw attention to his case. As a result, many people, especially in the East and West Midlands have become worried about him. Many people believe that in his case there has been a miscarriage of justice of which he is the victim.

Foran is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever), who has played a part in trying to help him. For a while, Foran was an inmate of Gartree prison in Leicestershire where he won the interest of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) who presented a petition to the House on his behalf in 1981.

The Bishop of Leicester has revealed that chaplains at Gartree prison have become deeply concerned about Foran's case and that some of them have become fully convinced that he was wrongly imprisoned. Other hon. Members in both Houses have taken an interest in Foran's case and have made representation to the Home Office. There have been petitions that have been signed by thousands of people. All to no avail—Foran remains in prison.

Martin Foran is no angel. He has "form"—a criminal record—but on 21 June 1978 he was not being tried for his past record. Or was he? Some people fully believe that he was framed. The main witnesses to the robberies—the people who were allegedly his victims—were not called at the trial. For some technical reason, only their statements were read out. The judge at the trial agreed that the descriptions given by the witnesses did not even remotely resemble Foran". Since then, those witnesses have said that Martin Foran was not among the persons who robbed them and that they are willing to give evidence to that effect.

No fingerprint evidence was produced at the trial and the chief constable of the West Midlands police force has said that "by genuine mistake" it was not revealed to the defence that Martin Foran's fingerprints were not found at any of the three scenes of the robberies of which he was found guilty, nor were they found on the sword that was used to cut telephone wires in one of the robberies, although other prints were found at each of the scenes.

Dealing with Foran's application for leave to appeal against both his conviction and his sentence, the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) concluded that there were no grounds upon which Mr. Foran could reasonably expect to argue an appeal with the slightest prospect of success and his application was refused. The Court of Appeal said that his case was a confession case, not an identification case". The evidence by witnesses who were victims of the robberies that Foran was not among the robbers was therefore not thought to matter. The evidence given in court that he was at a house in Ladywood at the time of one of the robberies was thought to be of no consequence. Nor did it matter, apparently, that the absence of Foran's fingerprints at any of the scenes of the crime was not made known to the defence. Everything that would have weighed in his favour was brushed aside. As the Court of Appeal said, it was not an identification case but a confession case. Yet from the very beginning Foran has strenously maintained that any suggestion that he confessed to the crime was a complete fabrication and there is no signed confession by this man.

As I have said, there was a lack of evidence identifying Foran as participating in the robberies, but that lack of evidence was considered to be of no importance. Because that view was taken at the trial, the Court of Appeal in effect stated that identification was unnecessary and waved aside the evidence on. Foran's side that had not been made available at the trial.

I find that absolutely perverse. If that kind of logic is always adopted by our legal luminaries, my previous faith in British justice must disappear. What seems to have weighed heavily with the Court of Appeal was that at the trial Foran was represented by an extremely experienced team of leading counsel and junior counsel". It seems, therefore, to have been of paramount importance that a belief in the infallibility of members of the legal profession should be upheld—no matter what the consequences for Foran, and no matter what errors of judgment the learned counsel may have made in conducting the case.

Serious doubts and considerable unease exist in the minds of many people who have taken an interest in Martin Foran's case. We owe it to ourselves as much as to Foran to investigate these doubts and to dispel that unease.

I hope that the Minister of State will be able to tell us that there is an opportunity to have further investigations and that the unease exists in his Department, too. I hope that he will be able to take steps to ensure that all the feelings about Foran are dispelled by a further investigation and by re-opening the case in some way that he has found.

3.30 am
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

I have listened with care to what the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) said about the case of Mr. Foran. I shall study the report of the hon. Gentleman's speech in the Official Report.

Before I deal with some of the points made I shall explain the jurisdiction that the Home Secretary has in individual cases in which it is alleged that there has been a miscarriage of justice. The duty of administering justice in individual criminal cases lies with the courts. While it is true that the Home Secretary has certain powers to intervene following a conviction, either by recommending the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy or by referring the case to the Court of Appeal under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, he must not exercise those powers in any way which tends to usurp the proper function of the courts. Therefore, in practice he can consider intervention only if significant new evidence or other material factor of substance bearing upon the reliability of the conviction comes to light which has not already been taken into consideration by the courts or which was not previously available to the defendant to be made use of in his defence.

The Home Secretary must not assess the decisions of the courts on the basis only of facts or arguments that they have themselves considered. That would be to act as though he were a further court of appeal himself. In particular, it would be wrong for the Home Secretary to intervene merely because he might have taken a different view of the facts had the original decision rested with him instead of a properly directed jury.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, Mr. Foran was convicted on 21 June 1978 at Birmingham Crown court of three robberies forming the subject of four counts. He was sentenced to four concurrent terms of 10 years' imprisonment. His application for an extension of time in which to appeal and for leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence was refused by a single judge on 21 May 1979 and by the full Court of Appeal on 11 March 1980.

I take the following brief description of the three robberies from the judgment of Lord Justice Donaldson, giving the judgment of the full Court of Appeal. He said: The first count arises out of an incident which occurred in the early hours of the morning of Monday 26 September 1977. A Mr. Apechis woke up to find three West Indians and a white man in his bedroom. Each was armed with a knife. He described the white man as being 18 years of age and it should be noted that the applicant was then aged 33. All four wore masks which they later pulled up. Mr. Apechis was told that he had better produce his money or it would be the worse for him, and the men departed taking £2,800 from beneath the mattress and some sovereigns, having first tied up Mr. Apechis. I now turn to the second robbery. There were three robberies in all, although they formed four counts. The second robbery occurred at half past midnight on 8 October 1977 at the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Trikain. Lord Justice Donaldson said that Mr. Trikain woke up to find a white man standing beside the bed with a bar in his hand. The intruder said that they, meaning he and others, wanted money and as long as they got it Mr. Trikain would not be hurt. Mr. Trikain then noticed that there was a coloured man on the other side of the bed. He had a bar in one hand and a torch in the other. That man ok some money from Mrs. Trikain's handbag and told the white man to keep an eye on the Trikains while he left the bedroom.

Mr. Trikain then went for the white man who departed speedily. Mr. Trikain's evidence was that both the men were young, the white man aged about 25—the accused was 33 at the relevant time—and the coloured man 18 to 20. Mrs. Trikain also agreed that the white man was about 25. The Trikains were faced with the difficulty that they could not see the white man's face and hair because he had taken the precaution of using a pullover belonging to the Trikain's daughter to put over his head. That brings me"— said Lord Justice Donaldson— to the last robbery which is the subject matter of two counts. Mr. Rice had a jeweller's shop in Sparkbrook. On 13 October 1977 a Mr. Holmes called to see him. Some time between 5.30 and 6 in the evening these two men were in the back part of the shop when two coloured men entered, followed a few seconds later by a white man who was brandishing some form of sword or cutlass which he used to cut the telephone lines. Immediately thereafter two more coloured men appeared. Mr. Rice and Mr. Holmes were ordered into the kitchen. The sword was handed over to one of the coloured men whilst the white man opened up one of the two safes. There were also two watches which Mr. Rice was repairing and they were taken and the till was emptied. While these operations were going on, Mrs. Rice arrived with her daughter, Karen. the door had been locked. Mrs. Rice knocked on it. The white man, telling Mr. Rice to keep out of sight, invited Mrs. Rice to come in. Apparently at that stage the white man decided that it would be better that all should depart. They did so in some hurry, dropping all the proceeds of the robbery other than about £30, and the sword or cutlass. Mr. Rice said that that white man was Irish, by which I take it he meant that he spoke with an Irish accent; that he had marks like moles on the sides of his face; that he was in his late twenties or early thirties; and wore a hat. Mr. Holmes who had his wrist watch and wallet taken, put the white man as being about 40 years of age and again said he had moles, specifying that they were on the right cheek. That was the summary of the facts given in the Court of Appeal. In May 1977, Mr. Foran had been arrested in connection with other matters and bailed. He jumped his bail, and a warrant was issued and he was rearrested on 24 October 1977.

Mr. Foran was then interviewed by three police officers, to one of whom, when he was alone, he is said to have admitted his part in the robbery at the jeweller's shop, which occasion he described in great detail and with considerable accuracy.

Evidence was given at the trial that Mr. Foran had confirmed this confession to two other police officers, one of whom was a detective chief inspector. On 9 November, an identification parade was held. As Mr. Foran had moles on his face, all those taking part had sticking plaster in the relevant places. Mr. Holmes positively identified Mr. Foran. Mr. Rice, however, picked out another man, as did his wife and daughter. The latter had picked out Mr. Foran from some photographs but neither the trial court nor the Appeal Court regarded that as satisfactory.

On 13 March 1978, one Errol Campbell, a West Indian, was arrested and made a statement in which he admitted to all three robberies and said that Mr. Foran was involved in each. On 3 April 1978, two police officers interviewed Mr. Foran at Leicester prison, when they read Campbell's statement to him. Their evidence was that he thereupon admitted that he had taken part in the Apechis and Trikain robberies as well as that at the jeweller's shop.

At the trial, however, Mr. Foran denied entirely that he had confessed to any of the offences at any time, said that the police had fabricated all the evidence and, indeed, said that they had beaten him up for refusing to confess.

A prison officer who had escorted Mr. Foran when he was interviewed by the police at Leicester prison, and who had seen but not heard the interview, gave evidence for the defence. His evidence was in conflict with that of the police officers on certain matters, including the attitude of Mr. Foran during that interview, and in his summing-up the trial judge was at pains to draw the attention of the jury to all the descrepancies. It was for the jury to decide which evidence it preferred.

I now return briefly to the robberies at the houses of Mr. Apechis and Mr. Trikain. Mr. Apechis described the man as being about 18 years of age, as I have mentioned. Mr. Foran was 33. Mr. and Mrs. Trikain said that the white man concerned in their robbery was about 25. That evidence was read at Mr. Foran's trial by agreement—it was not a matter of technicality, as the hon. Gentleman said, but by agreement—and the judge was again at pains in his summing-up to point out to the jury that certainly Mr. Apechis's description of the white man did not even remotely resemble Mr. Foran.

When Mr. Foran sought leave to appeal against his conviction and his sentence, he sought leave to call Mr. Apechis and Mr. Trikain to give evidence. Mr. Apechis had said in a letter before the Court of Appeal that he was sure that Mr. Foran was not present. However, the full court refused the application, principally because the case against Mr. Foran had rested not on identification, for there was none in the case of the Apechis and Trikain robberies, but upon his confession to the offences. The court commented that Mr. Apechis's description had been before the jury, which had had its attention drawn by the judge to the fact that it did not in the least resemble Mr. Foran. Similarly, the court had been reminded that Mr. Trikain had not seen the face of the white intruder. The jury was entitled, nevertheless, to accept the police evidence as to the oral confessions.

Since the trial, said Lord Justice Donaldson, it had emerged that Mr. Trikain could say that he knew Mr. Foran and that it was not he who had robbed him. The court dealt with those applications to call further evidence in the following passage. Lord Justice Donaldson said: We have given serious consideration as to whether there should be leave to appeal to enable these applications to call further evidence to be considered. We do not think there are any grounds for granting leave to call that further evidence, bearing in mind our analysis that this was a confession case and that identification or non-identification, or positive evidence that it was not the man, in the circumstances of this case would not take the matter sufficiently far beyond the state which was reached at the trial when evidence from these two men was read, to justify us giving leave for them to give evidence and reconsidering the matter. It will be clear that in the case of the two robberies to which I have just referred—the Apechis and the Trikain robberies—the case against Mr. Foran rested exclusively on the reliance to be placed on his alleged admissions at Leicester prison on 3 April. In the light of the conflict between the evidence of the police officers taking the confession and the prison officer to whom I have already referred, I have had further investigations made. These have, however, failed to reveal any further grounds for umpugning the police officers' account. It is to be remembered that the prison officer observed the interview from the adjoining room, and except for one occasion when he joined the interview at Mr. Foran's request, he did not hear the conversation between him and the police officers.

The case in respect of the offences against Mr. Rice and Mr. Holmes at the jeweller's shop is also based on Mr. Foran's alleged confessions, although in that case there is the additional factor that Mr. Holmes did positively identify him at the identification parade.

Mr. Whitlock

The hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that, while one of the four people who witnessed the third robbery identified Foran, the other three identified others in the identification parade.

Mr. Mayhew

That is perfectly true, but the hon. Gentleman cannot just pick on a factor and say that that is decisive to the exclusion of others.

I hope that I have dealt with the matter fairly, but a fair account of the matter has to take note of the fact that in the case of the jeweller's shop robbery there was an additional element of a positive identification on the part of Mr. Holmes.

At his trial, Mr. Foran adduced an alibi for this period—that is to say, the period relating to the jeweller's shop robbery—but, although the trial judge carefully explained to the jury that it was not for Mr. Foran to prove that alibi, the jury was evidently not led by it to doubt the prosecution's evidence as to his confession.

I have also investigated the fact that partial fingerprint impressions found on the sword used during the robbery were not those of Mr. Foran. However, that does not take us any further. It was unchallenged at the trial that the sword was, for instance, handed by the white man engaged in the robbery to one of the West Indians, three of whom have not yet been traced. It would have been possible for Mr. Foran to have handled the sword without leaving any fingerprints upon it.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the chief constable has said that it was by a genuine mistake that the fact that partial fingerprints had been found which were not those of Mr. Foran was not communicated to the defence. I think that I have dealt with that. It is a factor that does not take the matter further in any significant respect.

The hon. Gentleman has devoted great care to this issue. If he cares to examine in the Official Report what I have said, he will find that it is not an accurate or fair description of what took place to say that everything that would have weighed in Mr. Foran's favour was brushed aside. The judge was at pains at the trial to point out the discrepancies, for example, between the evidence of appearance given by Mr. Apechis and Mr. Trikain and the prosecution case. He was at pains to point out the discrepancies that arose between the evidence of the prison officer and the evidence of the police officers at the time that the confession was said to have been made. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that matters that were favourable were brushed on one side.

The Court of Appeal had to ascertain whether there was anything that prevented a properly directed jury—it held that the jury was properly directed—from preferring the evidence of the police officers to the oral confessions that were made. It is for the jury, which has the advantage of seeing witnesses, hearing witnesses and making its own judgment of the reliability of witnesses, to come to a conclusion on the facts in a criminal trial.

It must always be borne in mind that the Home Secretary must not usurp the function of the jury or that of the Court of Appeal. Against that background I have carefully considered the case, including the fingerprint argument. I have been unable to find any new evidence or other material factor not already considered by the courts or previously available to the defence that would justify the Home Secretary seeking to intervene. That decision cannot and will not be affected by any extraneous consideration such as the demonstration upon which Mr. Foran is currently engaged.

Question put and agreed to

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to Four o'clock am.