HC Deb 25 October 1982 vol 29 cc730-2
41 Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General how many matters, arising from the Operation Countryman investigation, are still before the Director of Public Prosecutions for decision.

The Attorney-General


Mr. Dubs

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is much public disquiet about the failure—I use that word advisedly—of Operation Countryman? Is he aware that that public concern will not be stilled by denials from retired police officers, no matter how eminent? Does he further agree that he and the Home Secretary have a responsibility to carry out a full investigation into the whole sorry business?

The Attorney-General

The problem was that the original Countryman investigation was carried away on a wave of optimism. Figures as high as 80 potential cases were given at one time, but when the evidence in respect of those cases was looked at with care, many times it was found to be hearsay upon hearsay. Often the evidence was from people with serious convictions who may have had a score to settle against particular police officers or against the police force in general.

When the complaints of obstruction came to light, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, the then chief constable in charge of the investigation issued a statement denying that there had been any obstruction. Shortly after that, I had a long meeting with him and Sir Peter Matthews, who was to take over from him. We went through everything that was there, and in the end the sort of obstruction that I could identify in the complaints was, for example, that the Director had not agreed to a general immunity against anybody that we wanted to call as a witness, even though that might be in a serious armed robbery case, such as the Williams and Glyn's bank case. For years the Director has refused to give such blanket immunities. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that that is proper.

There were one or two complaints about the Director's representative working in Surrey with the Countryman force. When one looked into them, they were found not to be cases of obstruction of any kind. The meeting ended with a resolve on all sides that the inquiry should go forward with renewed vigour.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

In view of the criticisms made by Sir David McNee in his memoirs of the way in which the Operation Countryman team worked and his allegations that the inquiry went much wider than was necessary, will the Attorney-General tell the House how closely the DPP kept in touch with and advised those carrying out the investigations?

The Attorney-General

The Director of Public Prosecutions did everything that he could to keep closely in touch, but, unfortunately, from time to time Countryman officers did things that could not be justified. Without telling the Director that they had done so they arrested a senior officer on a charge that had nothing to do with Countryman. He did not learn about it for some weeks. There was found to be no evidence when the facts were analysed, and the officer had to be discharged.

In another case the Countryman officers sought to support a bail application in a Surrey case involving, a villain in Surrey when the Surrey police were opposing bail. Mr. Hambleton admitted to me at the meeting that both of those actions were wrong. Those were the sorts of problems that were occurring. Tight control can be exercised by the Director only if somebody reacts to that tight control when it is sought to be imposed.


Mr. Latham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that we lost two minutes of Question Time because points of order were raised. While it was entirely appropriate for you to take them if you wished, on many occasions you have reminded the House that we should wait until the end of Question Time. Would it be desirable to stress that again?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is correct. If hon. Members raise points of order during Question Time, I must show the House that it suffers, and therefore bring Questions to an end at exactly 3.30.