HC Deb 29 October 1985 vol 84 cc840-9 4.53 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the outcome of the trial concluded yesterday of eight service men under the Official Secrets Acts.

On 3 February 1984 a senior aircraftsman of 9 Signal Regiment based in Cyprus failed to complete unit clearance procedures prior to being posted back to the United Kingdom. On 6 February he was interviewed by the deputy unit security officer of the regiment. From this interview it appeared that a breach of security had occurred and the senior aircraftsman was arrested. His case was referred to the RAF provost and security service in Cyprus. Subsequently, the Army special investigations branch was also brought in since it appeared that soldiers as well as RAF personnel were involved. As is the standard procedure where a breach of the Offical Secrets Acts may have occurred, the Ministry of Defence security authorities brought the matter to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions during the course of their investigation.

On 15 March 1984, in view of the seriousness of the alleged breaches of security, the Director asked the Metropolitan police special branch to assume responsibility for the conduct of the investigation and in the light of its investigation he considered that the evidence justified prosecutions under the Official Secrets Acts. On 11 April the Attorney General consented to the prosecution of seven service men, who were charged on 13 April. The Attorney General subsequently consented to the prosecution of an eighth service man, who was charged on 8 June 1984.

As the House is aware, the service men charged have all been acquitted. Their future in the services will be determined in accordance with normal service regulations. These afford a right of appeal to the service boards, which include Ministers, before any final decision on their future is taken.

As the House is aware, the Security Commission reports to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As my right hon. Friend stated to the House earlier today, she decided in June 1984 that, given the gravity of the apparent breaches of security and the length of time the trial proceedings would be likely to take, it would be right to make an immediate reference to the Security Commission. The reference was not announced at the time, so as not in any way to prejudice the course of justice. In the light of the acquittals, my right hon. Friend will consult the chairman of the Security Commission and report to the House in due course.

The House will wish to know of the steps that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has taken in the light of what has occurred. First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was first informed of the possibility of a breach of security on 10 February 1984. In the light of further information he decided that there should be an investigation of the security arrangements and procedures in 9 Signal Regiment which was to be led by the security service. In parallel with this investigation my right hon. Friend instructed that further investigations should be carried out into security procedures in all other static communications units of all three services which handle sensitive traffic. These security investigations produced a large number of detailed recommendations for enhancing security at the units concerned. Most of them have been accepted, and either have been or are being implemented.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend has decided that there should be an independent inquiry into the way in which the service police carried out their investigations of the eight men originally accused. Mr. David Calcutt, QC, has agreed to conduct this inquiry and to complete it as quickly as is practical. He will start work next week. His terms of reference will be as follows: To inquire into the question of whether the investigations carried out by the Royal Air Force's provost marshal branch and the Army's special investigation branch into matters which formed the substance of charges subsequently laid under the Official Secrets Acts against SAC Geoffrey Jones, SAC Adam Lightowler, SAC Wayne Kriehn, SAC Christopher Payne, SAC Gwynn Owen, Lance Corporal Anthony Glass, Signalman Martin Tuffy, and Signalman David Hardman were carried out in accordance with lawful and proper procedures; to report with all practicable speed; and to make recommendations as to any relevant procedure. Subject to the usual security considerations, it is my right hon. Friend's intention that Mr. Calcutt's report will be published.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

The Opposition are relieved that, on this occasion at least, the Ministry of Defence has reacted to the anger and outrage expressed on both sides of the House and outside at the revelations during the spy trial at the Old Bailey and in particular at the way in which confessions were extracted from defendants who were subsequently acquitted by a jury.

The Minister has announced the setting up of an inquiry and we welcome that. We shall scrutinise its powers and await its conclusions with interest. I remind the Minister and the House that this is the third occasion in little more than a year when prosecutions have been brought under the Official Secrets Acts emanating from activities within the Ministry of Defence and that on each occasion an Old Bailey jury has acquitted the defendants, and I remind the Minister that in this case the jury also rejected confessions extracted from the accused by investigators and interrogators at the Ministry of Defence.

Some fundamental questions remain which cannot be dealt with by the inquiry. In effect, they relate to ministerial responsibility within the Department for the prosecutions and also responsibility to the House. Who on earth at the Ministry of Defence was responsible for putting together a case which turned out to be so full of holes and based to a considerable extent on confessions extracted by means at best dubious and at worst barbaric?

Secondly, were the Minister and the Secretary of State at any time informed in their capacity as Ministers of the course of the investigations? Were they told about the interrogations? Did they know what was going on? Were they told the length of time for which the accused were interrogated and how long many of them were incarcerated? What were Ministers told about the inquiries while those inquiries were going on? Are we to believe that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, beavering away at his desk churning out all the answers for which he is famous, and the Secretary of State knew nothing whatever about the conduct of those investigations and interrogations? The House deserves to know exactly how much they knew about what was going on. Did no alarm bells ring when in a previous case another Cyprus service man was acquitted at the Old Bailey?

Thirdly, will the Minister explain the third paragraph of his statement, relating to the future of the service men involved? Will they have to go through another harrowing experience in terms of military discipline and procedures or are the Government prepared to accept the jury's verdict and to allow those service men to continue with their careers as they were doing before they were interrupted?

What thought has been given to compensation for the service men and for their families, who have also suffered, as those men's careers have clearly been blighted?

Finally, the Minister referred to the Security Commission. Has the Security Commission now cleared the security arrangements at that establishment in Cyprus?

Mr. Stanley

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has welcomed the setting up of the inquiry to be carried out by Mr. Calcutt. With regard to the conduct of the service police investigators, I suggest it would be much more proper to await the outcome of Mr. Calcutt's investigations and detailed inquiry before leaping to any conclusions on that. As for the responsibility for putting the case together, the decision to prosecute lies entirely with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the handling of the case is his responsibility.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether Ministers were informed in detail about the questioning of those facing the accusations. The answer is that they were not. The established procedure in the Department is that judges' rules apply, and the central issue that Mr. Calcutt will be examining is whether those conducting the questioning did so in conformity with judges' rules.

As for the future of the service men involved, I made it clear in my statement that they will have every opportunity to be considered within the service regulations. It goes without saying that the Department fully accepts the verdict on the allegations which were subject to the judicial proceedings in relation to the Official Secrets Acts. It also made it clear that the service men have a right of appeal to service boards on which Ministers sit. Compensation is not and never has been available in such cases.

The right hon. Gentleman's question about the Security Commission is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to address it to her.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the case of my constituent, Senior Aircraftsman Wayne Kriehn, the anger and bitterness of the young man's parents is deep and it is shared by many who know the boy in question? Does my right hon. Friend accept that in May 1984 I wrote to him passing on information given to me by the boy's parents that the confession had been extorted by interrogation in solitary confinement? Does he further accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) and I wrote to the Secretary of State in August 1984 detailing our wider concern in the light of further talks with two of the prisoners? Given that background, does my right hon. Friend feel that there is a lesson to be learnt with regard to the continuing role of the services and the Ministry of Defence in looking after the welfare of service men awaiting trial in civil proceedings?

Looking to the future, will my right hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming about the opportunities now open to a man such as my constituent Wayne Kriehn, whom the defending solicitor described as a high flier? Having put the matter to a civil court in preference to a court martial, it seems reasonable not to seek to reverse the process and attempt to try the people involved again.

Mr. Stanley

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of trying the individuals concerned in any other way in relation to the Official Secrets Acts. As for any other matters, I assure my hon. Friend that there is no contemplation of any further proceedings on the evidence available to us at the moment.

We are, of course, aware of the earlier correspondence and my hon. Friend rightly acknowledged that he was expressing the particular concerns that he described, but I am sure that he too will wish to await the conclusions of Mr. Calcutt's inquiry before reaching any final conclusion as to the validity of the complaints that were put to him.

On the wider policy issue of the continuing role of the services in being responsible for service men facing procedures in civilian courts, as the service men remain members of the services during that period I suggest that it is right that they should remain within a service environment and that the services should remain responsible for them. The crucial requirement is that they be afforded the same rights and protection as civilians in the same situation, and that is the object of the policy.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

There was no reference in the Minister's statement to any assistance having been sought from the Cypriot police authorities. Will the Minister explain why that was so? Is it true that the prosecution went ahead without any effort being made to ascertain whether any independent corroboration of the confessions was available in Cyprus? Secondly, is the Minister satisfied that no secrets have been lost in relation to the base in Cyprus, and does he accept that, even if he is satisfied, the House cannot be satisfied until there is parliamentary scrutiny of the security services?

Mr. Stanley

On the last point—this is as far as I can go—at the time of the original investigations it was the clear view of the Ministry of Defence security authorities that there was a real likelihood of a serious breach of security having occurred. That was the basis of the relevant papers being passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The decision to prosecute is, of course, entirely a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions in consultation with the Attorney-General and they were afforded full access to all the relevant information.

I cannot elaborate on the involvement of other agencies, but the hon. Member can be certain that all reasonable steps were taken to see whether there was any additional evidence in relation to the confessions made by the men.

Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main point is whether the alleged statements made by the defendants were voluntary? The jury's verdict says one of two things—that the jury was not satisfied that the statements were voluntary or that it was not satisfied beyond doubt that the statements were voluntary. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now considerable public anxiety about this issue and that the manner in which he proposes to resolve this matter by setting up an inquiry is the most effective way of dealing with this problem?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. He has rightly addressed the nub of the case. He will understand that it would be improper for me to comment on how the jury arrived at their conclusions. I should like warmly to endorse his remarks about the inquiry we are setting up. It must be the correct response to the allegations which have been made. I am certain that Mr. Calcutt's inquiry will produce a proper and independent view of the validity of those allegations.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

What will Mr. David Calcutt's powers be when conducting the inquiry? Will he be confined to examining what happened in the five weeks between 6 February 1984 and 15 March 1984 when the Metropolitan police took responsibility for the case? Will he inquire into whether full details of the incarceration and the length of the interrogation were made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General when the decision to prosecute was taken?

Mr. Stanley

When the right hon. and learned Member examines the terms of reference closely, he will see—

Mr. John Morris

The powers.

Mr. Stanley

Yes. Mr. Calcutt's powers initially rest on the terms of reference. They are widely drawn. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that this is a non-statutory inquiry. Mr. Calcutt will of course have the full support of the Law Officers and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that he has access to all the available information.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the issue here is not the mere fact of the acquittals? It would be wrong to suggest that a criminal trial is unsuccessful simply because there is an acquittal. If the speculation that has appeared in today's quality press is true, and is substantiated, it means that people such as my constituent Mr. Geoffrey Jones have been placed in great jeopardy for a long time on the basis of confessions which are not just marginally inadmissible but wholly unsubstantiated. If Mr. Calcutt's inquiry shows that that was the quality of the confessions extracted, the House will expect an assurance that such a set of events can never be repeated.

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that if the allegations should be substantiated by Mr. Calcutt's inquiry, that will be a serious matter. I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, which I am sure is shared on both sides of the House. If such matters were proved, we would have to take all possible steps to ensure that there was no repetition of the circumstances.

I should like to repeat what I said previously: I am sure that the House would not wish to reach any conclusion until both sides of the case have been heard and the allegations have for the first time been subjected to detailed independent scrutiny.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

A new independent prosecuting service will shortly take over from the police, with the power to institute prosecutions in court in England and Wales. Will that new procedure apply to the police in the RAF, the Army and the Royal Navy? Will the right hon. Gentleman point out to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that those young RAF technicians, working at an outstation of GCHQ, were not members of a trade union?

Mr. Stanley

The independent prosecution service will not impinge on proceedings relating to the armed services. I can assure the right hon. Member that, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, we are bound to produce codes of guidance about questioning, and that is relevant to the case we are discussing. Those codes will ensure that our procedures conform with those adopted in civilian courts. We regard that as an essential policy requirement.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those proceedings were instituted in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Attorney General and that the proper legal processes were followed? Will my right hon. Friend squash the nonsensical suggestion that those proceedings should never have been brought?

Mr. Stanley

I understand that that is the case as far as my Department is concerned. I should like to make it clear that in matters such as this, where there is an alleged serious breach of the Official Secrets Acts, there is an obligation on my Department to submit the relevant papers to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is not a matter where we have discretion, and the papers automatically go to the Director of Public Prosecutions in such cases in accordance with the rules which have been laid down.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

In reference to the last question, does the Minister agree that the inquiry should be broadened to include the decision-making process? The Minister told the House that the decision originated with the Air Force provost marshal. It then went to the Army investigation branch which sent it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who sent it to the special branch, who returned it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who finally sent it to the Attorney General, whose guidelines then became involved. Is there not a defect in a decision-making process which allows eight service men to be charged and brought to the Old Bailey on the flimsiest and most insubstantial evidence, which the jury must then consider? Is that not an appropriate subject for inquiry?

Mr. Stanley

I do not think that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) can fairly come to the conclusion that there is a defect in the procedures — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because, until Mr. Calcutt has reached his conclusions, there is no possible justification for saying that. The House must appreciate that it is a fundamental responsibility of all three services and of defence Ministers to take the necessary procedural and administrative steps to ensure that the classified and highly sensitive material with which many service men are involved is properly protected. Where breaches of security may have occurred, it is important that there is a procedure clearly laid down for bringing the appropriate cases rapidly to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions. There is nothing in this case which makes us feel anxious that the procedure was not followed.

It is essential that where the armed services' security authorities decide that a serious breach of security may have taken place and that there is a potentially serious breach of the Official Secrets Acts, the relevant papers are drawn to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Should not all concerned have justice? Have not the investigators been condemned outside the court, on the basis of no certain information, for using Gestapo methods? Do the rules of the service allow those investigators to take legal action to defend themselves if they so wish?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend made an entirely fair and necessary point in his opening remarks. Some of the statements made in relation to service police in advance of the independent assessment of the allegations have been quite unjustified, and any such criticisms should await the conclusion of the Calcutt inquiry. That is elementary, fair and necessary justice. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the service police investigators are just as entitled to a fair and independent hearing as anybody else.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Are any secret documents or codes still missing?

Mr. Stanley

At the time of the original allegations, it was clear to the security authorities in the services that a serious breach of security appeared to have occurred. That included the apparent loss of documents. I can say nothing more on that.

Mr. Dalyell

Are they still missing?

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will go a long way to stilling the apprehensions of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and will be welcomed by all except those who would make political mischief out of this unhappy case?

Mr. Stanley

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Adverting to the question of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) will the Minister tell the House what powers Mr. David Calcutt will have — I repeat the word "powers" — if his investigations are to be thorough and complete? Are those powers to include the power to summon witnesses to take evidence on oath or to grant immunity? Surely, failure to give Mr. Calcutt such powers would render his investigation abortive. Does not the Minister agree that the case shows the great danger of allowing prosecutions to be brought on the basis of interrogation rather than collected and substantiated independent evidence?

Mr. Stanley

I understand that Mr. Calcutt will have power to take evidence on oath, but not power to compel the taking of evidence on oath. Immunity is a separate matter that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney—General will be considering with Mr. Calcutt.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

My right hon. Friend will no doubt agree that in most Communist countries people who confess are never acquitted, and this case is a triumph of our system. Will not my right hon. Friend consider that regulations ought to be passed, closely following the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, to safeguard the accused persons, and to make sure that this does not happen again? The regulations should not follow only the evidential points, but should cover as wide a spectrum as possible.

Mr. Stanley

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's first point, that the mere fact of an acquittal is not a matter of criticism under British justice. That matter seems to have been forgotten by some. There are specific provisions in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that make it necessary for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to publish codes to ensure that service men facing criminal charges will have the same protection as civilians in questioning and related areas.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Will the Minister deal with a specific point? Were the confessions of the service men ruled inadmissible by the trial judge? Upon being acquitted, did the defendants make an application for costs? Does the Minister appreciate that Mr. David Calcutt's inquiry is welcome, but it must take a certain amount of time, and in the intervening period, the acquitted defendants' service careers and reputation are in jeopardy? The Minister seems to imply by innuendo that being acquitted is not the same as innocence; therefore there is a continual slur upon the reputations of those defendants.

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman's last comment is wholly wrong. I believe I made it clear that those men have have been found innocent, and that verdict is totally accepted by Ministers and by the armed services. I give the clearest possible assurance on that point. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question, in the case of one service man the confession was ruled inadmissible on the grounds of the medical condition of the service man. The confessions of the remaining seven service men were not ruled inadmissible by the judge.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall allow questions upon this important matter to continue for a further five minutes. We have a very heavy day in front of us.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Minister give us some idea of what particular skill Mr. David Calcutt has in evaluating interrogation techniques involving duress and psychological techniques? Will he give us an assurance that the people who undertook the investigations in Cyprus and elsewhere will be suspended from duty pending Mr. Calcutt's report?

Mr. Stanley

There is no present intention to suspend any of the individuals concerned. That would not be a proper way to proceed in advance of the independent inquiry. Mr. David Calcutt is an extremely eminent silk. He is a former chairman of the Bar, and recently carried out the inquiry into the Falklands hospital fire. I think he is an appropriate person to conduct the investigation.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that in the outcome of this and previous cases neither he nor his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will flinch from taking the necessary action where a grievous haemorrhage of national security is thought to have taken place? May I assure him that he continues to enjoy the confidence of the House and many people outside in the sensitive way in which he has to make those judgments? Will he also take this opportunity to assure the Government and the people of Cyprus that the circumstances surrounding this case in no way undermine the confidence and friendship that we have for them in the common defence of our freedom?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I assure him that defence Ministers and other Ministers take their security responsibilities very seriously; they are a continuing obligation on us. We enjoy a close friendship with Cyprus and good relations with the Cypriot Government, and I am certain that these events will not impair that in any way.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the jury system, as the only shield against injustice, was never better vindicated than in this case; and that in serious matters like this, military tribunals are not effective? The service men would almost certainly have been found guilty under that system. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider compensation? I believe that most of us think that to be charged with treason is possibly worse than being charged with murder, particularly in the armed forces. Bearing in mind that those men and their families have suffered for 22 months, does he not agree that it is ludicrous to think that those men may want to stay in the forces which, bluntly, have treated them so badly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) pointed out? My right hon. Friend says that this has never been done before, but I do not believe that there has been a greater injustice than what took place over the past 22 months in this case. Should we not repay something for 22 months of injustice?

Mr. Stanley

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's opening remarks, and all of us in the House endorse the jury system. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments about the correctness of ensuring that those proceedings were tried in the civilian courts. In the totality of jurisdiction there are many acquittals, but compensation in this case would raise wide issues which would have to be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

As a former military policeman, I think that the important question is whether lawful procedures were followed. Section 75(1) of the Air Force Act 1955 gives protection to airmen against unnecessary delays in the criminal investigation of offences. If that section is found wanting, will the Minister assure the House that, when new primary legislation on military discipline is introduced, this and associated rights will be strengthened in the interests of young service men?

Mr. Stanley

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the benefit of his relevant experience. The question whether correct procedures were followed is central to Mr. Calcutt's inquiry. There can be no final answer on that matter until he produces his report. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if the report's conclusions suggest changes in procedures, the matter will be examined closely, because our objective is that service men facing charges should have the same protection as civilians.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss with the Solicitor-General what happens when several defendants are on trial together? The abuse of the right of peremptory challenge of jurors can mean the introduction of bias into our courts instead of its removal.

Mr. Stanley

I think that my hon. Friend will understand tht that important point is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Can the Minister make a couple of factual observations which do not affect the inquiry? Were the original investigating officers in the case of the Cyprus seven the same officers who investigated the case of Paul Davies?

Secondly, will the Minister confirm that Mr. Costas Elenas, who was referred to throughout the trial, undertook to act as a witness, but that the Attorney-General was not prepared to give him immunity against prosecution in Britain? The Minister has not been forthcoming on the powers of the tribunal. Will witnesses get immunity from prosecution when they appear before judges? Will the evidence be taken on oath? Will witnesses be compelled to come forward and give evidence on oath? Will protection be given to members of the services who give evidence, so that their careers will not be prejudiced in any way?

Regarding ministerial responsibility, the Opposition find it hard to accept that Ministers who have prosecuted Pontin, Paul Davies and now the Cyprus seven did not know what was going on. They should have seen the warning lights about discrepancies that were likely to appear and that there would be a powerful case for the defence in confessions taken under duress.

Regardless of the Prime Minister's concerns, is the Minister convinced that security in Cyprus is now secure — or, following the acquittal, are we looking for somebody else?

Mr. Stanley

As I said in my statement, as soon as this case came to light, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly initiated an exhaustive study of the security procedures in Cyprus and related establishments worldwide. Recommendations arising from detailed investigations have been accepted and have been or are being implemented. No one can express absolute confidence in security, because any security is vulnerable. That is self-evident. I believe that my right hon. Friend has taken the correct steps. A number of changes in security have been made. We have done our utmost to prevent a repetition of this case.

I do not know whether the investigators involved in the earlier proceedings were also involved in this case. I will be happy to look into the matter and give the hon. Gentleman that information. Immunity for witnesses must be a matter for the Attorney General. I have already dealt with taking evidence on oath and with immunity. I made it clear that the question of immunity will be discussed between Mr. Calcutt and the Attorney General.