HC Deb 24 March 1986 vol 94 cc611-20 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the recent regrettable failure to secure the extradition of Evelyn Glenholmes from the Republic of Ireland.

Nine endorsed warrants for the return of Miss Glenholmes were first issued on 31 October 1984 and submitted to the Irish authorities for endorsement in accordance with the United Kingdom-Irish extradition legislation. The offences covered by the warrants related to various terrorist offences committed between 1981 and 1982, including murder, attempted murder, firearms and explosives offences. The original warrants were returned by the Irish authorities, who asked for some technical changes to be made to their wording. Fresh warrants were accordingly submitted on 6 November 1984, but by that time details of the extradition request had been disclosed in the press and Miss Glenholmes disappeared from view.

Miss Glenholmes was later arrested in Dublin on 12 March 1986, and the hearing of the extradition request opened in the district court of Dublin last Wednesday on the basis of the warrants issued in November 1984.

Throughout last week's court hearing there was close co-operation between the Irish prosecuting authorities and officers from the Metropolitan police and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

On Saturday morning, having heard submissions from defence counsel that the extradition warrants were defective, the court discharged Miss Glenholmes. I understand that the principal consideration which underlay the court's decision was that, whereas the standard wording printed on the warrants referred to information on oath as having been laid on the day the warrants were issued—which was 6 November 1984—the court considered that the relevant information was that laid when the original warrants had been issued on 31 October 1984. I understand that the magistrate in London treated the further application on 6 November as having been made under oath adopting the information already laid but not resworn. The information required for both sets of warrants was identical, but was not sworn again on 6 November, which could have avoided the difficulty which later arose.

Even before Miss Glenholmes was released, the United Kingdom authorities had made arrangements for the issue of a fresh warrant covering one of the charges of murder. On the basis of this fresh warrant, the Garda obtained a new provisional warrant for Miss Glenholmes' arrest. Once she had been rearrested, she was brought back to the district court. I understand the Miss Glenholmes was then released, this time on the grounds that the court was not satisfied, in spite of a telephone call from New Scotland Yard to the Garda, that there was evidence that a fresh warrant had been issued in London that morning or that Miss Glenholmes had in effect been at liberty between her earlier release and her rearrest.

Following Miss Glenholmes' second release, the fresh warrant was sent to Dublin this morning. Earlier today additional warrants were sent covering the eight remaining charges and will be sent to the authorities in Dublin later today.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I have looked carefully at the information so far available to us. On the basis of that information, it is clear that the extradition application failed because of a technical objection taken by the Dublin court. My right hon. and learned Friend and I regret that this technical objection was not foreseen in time and fresh warrants obtained. We are considering urgently the need for a review of procedures and the handling of this sort of case. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has instructed the Directors of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, and for Northern Ireland, to ensure personally that all outstanding warrants in respect of terrorist offences are checked at once for accuracy and sufficiency. Under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Conference, work has already begun on a range of legal matters relating to extradition; and lessons of the past few days will be studied in that context.

For the sake of completeness, I should also inform the House that our inquiries have shown that in giving evidence to the court in Dublin an officer from the Metropolitan police made an error in referring to the dates on which the warrants were issued. I understand that he sought to correct this error but that an opportunity for him to do so was not forthcoming. This does not, however, appear to have influenced the court in its decision to release Miss Glenholmes.

It is deeply disappointing that it has not so far proved possible to obtain the extradition of Miss Glenholmes to face justice in a British court. It is essential that we all learn the right lessons for the future from this failure.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

That statement still leaves a number of extremely important questions to be answered. Will the Home Secretary confirm that throughout this lamentable episode the Irish authorities have behaved with complete propriety and that the Irish Government have fulfilled all their obligations?

We are told that Evelyn Glenholmes is Scotland Yard's most wanted suspect for alleged terrorist offences. In the light of the fact that the extradition of Brendan Burns failed through errors relating to warrants, and the further fact that two prior sets of warrants were prepared for Evelyn Glenholmes, one of which was found in the Irish courts to be faulty, not just technically—and the Florrie Secretary does himself no credit by harping on technicalities when matters of substance are involved—but in at least one serious material respect, and the second one withdrawn by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions when found to be faulty, why was this third and crucial error permitted? Why were these warrants permitted to go forward without being meticulously checked? Why, during the nearly 18 months that were available, were the warrants not rechecked for accuracy? The Home Secretary says that they were originally checked with the Irish authorities, were found wanting and were corrected, but the right hon. Gentleman does not point out that the new ones—the allegedly corrected ones—also turned out to be faulty. Why were they not cleared in advance for accuracy and technical probity with the Irish legal authorities?

Who was in charge of this process in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Is it true, as alleged, that this matter was dealt with at a junior level? Is it true, as further alleged, that other warrants that were sent to Ireland on other matters have also been found to be defective? The Home Secretary says that new warrants in the Evelyn Glenholmes' case have now been issued. Is he sure that they are in order this time?

Mr. Dukes, the Irish Minister of Justice, said yesterday that after the court adjourned on Friday in Dublin further information and clarification were sought from the British authorities at that stage but, Mr. Dukes said: We were not able to get it. What is the explanation for that serious lapse?

Why did an official from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions then go to Dublin? What was his purpose? What did he achieve? What was the purpose of the telephone call referred to by the Home Secretary that was made to Dublin from a chief inspector of the Metropolitan police? What was that meant to achieve? Could the Home Secretary say how a British court would have responded to such a telephone call on a serious extradition case? Above all, taking into account the important and sensitive issues at stake, why did not the Director of Public Prosecutions ensure that he himself, or a high official, supervised meticulously all stages of the procedures? Why did not the Attorney-General, who is answerable to this House, take care to satisfy himself that the necessary procedures had been precisely observed?

The Home Secretary calmly tells us this afternoon that now, when the horse has bolted, there is to be a careful inspection of the stable. That is not good enough. A full inquiry is essential. It is also essential that those at the very top accept responsibility, are disciplined and, if necessary, are removed from the offices that they hold.

This disquieting episode has created serious difficulties for the Irish authorities in their determination to co-operate with this country over the delicate issue of extradition. What is more, the scenes on television have given the IRA a gratuitous propaganda triumph. Slackness, incompetence and complacency have brought about this discreditable botch up. May we have an absolute assurance that steps will now be taken to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again?

Mr. Hurd

I confirm that we have no criticism of the co-operation that we have received in this matter from the Irish authorities. I am glad of the opportunity to make that clear.

In response to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, the difficulty on which this case foundered on Saturday was a technical difficulty. I think that my statement made that clear. It was concerned with the question whether, when a second and revised warrant was sought from the same magistrate, the identical information which was laid when obtaining the first warrant needed to be laid under oath all over again. Whatever view one takes of it, that is a technical point. As I said in my statement, I believe that a great deal of trouble could have been avoided if that had been foreseen and acted upon in the autumn of 1984.

The second set of warrants which were held to be defective on Saturday were given to the Irish authorities and no objection or criticism was raised on them. However, I think that it is fair to add that it would not have been reasonable to expect the Irish authorities to have spotted the particular point on which the court in Dublin found the warrant to be defective on Saturday. But the warrants were available to the Irish authorities for their comments.

I am advised that it is perfectly normal in these circumstances for news of the issue of a fresh warrant to be conveyed, either way, by a telephone conversation between the police forces concerned. That has happened before, and I understand that it is normal. It happened on this occasion, although it was not accepted by the court for the reasons I have given. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is essential that we find ways, through the Anglo-Irish conference and in other ways, to ensure that such difficulties do not recur.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Is there not a high duty resting on the Director of Public Prosecutions in all cases of extradition warrants to ensure that those warrants are validly and properly prepared? Is not that duty even greater when we are dealing with a matter of the gravest importance such as terrorism on a massive scale of which the person concerned is suspect? Is my right hon. Friend able to assure the House that the warrants taken to Dublin this morning have been seen and approved by the appropriate legal authorities in Dublin and that he has received an assurance that the new warrants sent over today are in order?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's comments. It is our responsibility to ensure that warrants of this kind are in a form which arms them against all possible difficulties and criticisms, whether of a substantial or technical kind. The new warrant and the other warrants which I mentioned being sent to Dublin today are identical to those previously sent, with the crucial exception that the information concerned has been relaid before the magistrate concerned.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Has it occurred to the Government that the incompetence of those acting on their behalf in the matter of extradition may have been exceeded by the incompetence of those who negotiated the Anglo-Irish agreement and who advised the Government to enter into it?

Mr. Hurd

I anticipated that the right hon. Gentleman would raise that point. However, I do not think that he has proved its relevance to the matter we are discussing.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Since my right hon. Friend has reasonably pointed out that there is no relevance to the Anglo-Irish agreement in this unhappy matter, it is not the case that the commendable and exceptional exertions of the Garda Siochana, to which I pay tribute, have no connection with that agreement either?

Mr. Hurd

As I said in my response to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), we have no criticism of the behaviour of the Irish Government or of their agencies, including the Garda, in that respect. Therefore, I associate myself with what my hon. Friend has said. The relevance of the Anglo-Irish agreement is that discussions are taking place under article 8 of the agreement to review procedures. Obviously the lessons of this event will be relevant to those discussions.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Surely the purpose of a statement in this House is to enable us to question the responsible Minister. The Home Secretary is not responsible for extradition warrants and he is not responsible for the Director of Public Prosecutions. We should be questioning the Attorney-General. The Opposition will have to take the matter further.

In any event, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not the only example of a defective extradition warrant recently? It was brought to my notice by the chief constable of Yorkshire on Friday that a defective warrant was served on a man called Anthony Kelly, who is wanted for questioning for 18 armed robberies and the murder of a Leeds policeman. Will the right hon. Gentleman use his powers as Home Secretary to tell the Attorney-General that when the warrant is served again we in Yorkshire will want better results?

Mr. Hurd

The matter concerns the police and the prosecuting authorities in this country, so it seems sensible that I should make the statement today. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunities for asking questions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General if he wishes to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I do not doubt that there will be opportunities.

I refer to the case that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. The gentleman concerned, Mr. Kelly, is serving a sentence of imprisonment in the Republic for offences committed in the Republic. Perhaps, therefore, we are not at the end of that story.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Would it not have been unthinkable for a British court not to have granted a reasonable adjournment when such a technicality arose—particularly one which emerged only in the course of cross-examination—and which must have been known to the Irish authorities and thought by them to be utterly unimportant?

Mr. Hurd

I do not want to get drawn into that. It is true that those concerned on our behalf asked for an adjournment and the court did not grant it. My hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues will be able to judge whether a British court would have taken a different decision.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

In dealing with this extraordinary example of sloppy, incompetent professional negligence, will the Home Secretary tell us whether in future we are to regard the failure by a court to administer an oath as a mere technicality? Why in a case as serious as this did not the Director of Public Prosecutions personally examine the warrants before they were sent to Ireland?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the mistake was not corrected properly before Saturday morning, and whether anybody will take responsibility for this shambles in the way that he should?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstood the point that was at issue. It was a question not simply whether the information was on oath, but whether the information needed to be relaid, although it was identical to the information that had been provided on oath a week before. That is the point. I maintain that it is a technical point.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is responsible for the conduct of that office, and for the extent to which he delegates to senior advisers and officials the handling of particular cases. The organisation of that office is, of course, a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Far from this sorry affair being used as a criticism of the Anglo-Irish agreement, does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a reason for those involved to try harder to make absolutely certain that the co-operation that was begun three months ago becomes more effective so that this sort of incident will not be repeated? Will he specifically ensure that those responsible get together in a working party specifically to make sure that this sort of misunderstanding will never happen again?

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is exactly what is happening. Of course, as right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House know, this process has always been a subject of extraordinary difficulty and complication, and the failure in this case is simply a further illustation of that fact. I do not complain about the criticisms that have been made this afternoon, but that is an argument not for despairing of that process but for continuing strenuously with it.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy

(Sheffield, Attercliffe): The Home Secretary persists in trying to minimise the incompetence of those responsible by putting forward legal objections when he is really dealing with due process. Is he not aware that this is the fourth major embarrassment in extradition cases with the Irish Government in the past two years because of blunders and inadequate presentation of cases by the British and Northern Ireland authorities? Why has it suddenly become so difficult in London to prepare an adequate legal presentation?

Mr. Hurd

As I said in my last answer, this is an area which has proved to be difficult over the years. This is the latest example of it. I maintain—I think that my statement bears it out—that the difficulty on which this case fell was essentially a technical one and not one of principle.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is there not a very painful contrast between the detailed, careful, and often dangerous work by the police service of the Irish Republic, of the Metropolitan police and of the RUC in obtaining the necessary information, sometimes at the risk of their lives, and the comparatively slipshod and careless way in which the matter was dealt with in the Director of Public Prosecution's office? Who precisely was responsible in the DPP's office for establishing the sufficiency and accuracy of the warrants? What hope does my right hon. Friend hold out of bringing this most wanted person to justice in the near future?

Mr. Hurd

It would be neither customary nor in order to give the names of officials. The structure of responsibility is clear. It is through the Director of Public Prosecutions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Since this statement is principally about the DPP's office, since on a number of occasions the Home Secretary has said that this is a matter for his right hon. and learned Friend and since he has sometimes said "I am advised" after the Attorney-General has whispered the answer in his ear, why is the Home Secretary making the statement and not the Attorney-General?

Mr. Hurd

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to my reply to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) he would have realised—[HON MEMBERS: "Answer."] I did answer the question. I explained that the matter which is the subject of the statement covers part of the area of my responsibility—that is, the police and the general conduct of policy against terrorism—and partly a matter which falls within my right hon. and learned Friend's responsibility, that is, the DPP's office. Since we could not both make the statement, one of us had to, and the lot fell to me.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Although my right hon. Friend and his Department are not directly responsible, does my right hon. Friend agree that the degree of incompetence involved is such that there must be the most searching inquiry into the way that these issues are handled to ensure that a proper administrative machine is put into place so that this does not happen again?

Mr. Hurd

I agree.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Is not the essence of the matter that the Home Secretary has attempted to suggest to the House that this is a matter of extraordinary complexity and that he has tried to weave a web to protect those responsible? Is not the reality that which is set out in the Government's Green Paper on extradition last February which described extradition by warrant as a "comparatively simple and expeditious procedure"? In the light of the evidence of the Director of Public Prosecutions' inability to manage such a comparatively simple and expeditious procedure, should he not resign, or, if not he, the Attorney-General?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that that is fair of the hon. Gentleman. The advantage of the procedure which we follow with the Republic is that it avoids some of the difficulties involved in our other extradition legislation, in particular the prima facie case which the House might be asked to consider next Session. It should be a comparatively straightforward procedure, but that assumes that everybody on both sides is armed effectively against the procedural difficulties, whether of substance or technical. That did not happen in this case.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

May I ask my right hon. Friend not to accept too readily that there has been any incompetence on the part of the DPP or his staff? If true reciprocity existed, as it should, the document would not necessarily have been ruled defective. Given the nature of the technical objection, would it not have been sufficient in this country for the court to adjourn the case for consideration before making an announcement on the application and thus releasing into the community a notorious wanted criminal? In these circumstances, should we not address our criticism to the spirit with which the Dublin court operated this business?

Mr. Hurd

I hope that the House has noted carefully the point which my hon. Friend has made with his experience of these matters. Choosing my words with care, and as I have already said in answer to an earlier question, I think that it would have been possible for the court to take a different decision on the request for an adjournment.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

As the House is clearly quite dissatisfied with the answers given by the Home Secretary, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the Leader of the House that a statement should be made to the House tomorrow by the Attorney-General?

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have noted that request. As I have said, there are ample opportunities to put questions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on aspects of the matter which concern him especially. There are wider aspects, however, and several of the questions which have been addressed to me have covered them. I repeat that I think that it was entirely right that I should make the statement.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does my right hon. Friend deplore the irresponsible attempts of a vociferous minority to use this regrettable incident as a means of denigrating the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, Sir.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Normally the standard of professional work of the Director of Public Prosecutions is extremely high, so why was it that the revised warrant of 6 November 1984 was not sworn? What was the reason for not taking the step of swearing that warrant? It contained revised facts and was amended to an extent that made it obvious that it had to be sworn again to conform with the law.

Mr. Hurd

The magistrate did not so require.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Instead of merely showing the second lot of warrants to the Dublin legal authorities, would it not have been more sensible specifically to have asked the authorities whether the documents were in order? After all, the Dublin authorities should know more about Irish law than we do. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they should have been just as keen as the British authorities to bring criminals to justice? Also, has my right hon. Friend noted the apparent glee with which some Opposition Members have greeted the escape of a notorious criminal? Whose side are they on?

Mr. Hurd

The revised warrants were available to and shown to the Irish authorities, and they raised no comment or objection to them on the ground of Irish law. As I have already said to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, (Mr. Kaufman), it would not have been fair or reasonable to expect the Irish authorities to spot the technical defect—

Mr. Stanbrook

Why not?

Mr. Hurd

This involved the relaying of information between one week and another in this country. It would not be fair to expect the Irish authorities to spot the alleged defect, which was thought to be decisive by the court.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Since Scotland Yard is blameless in this matter, although the Home Secretary made an adverse comment on a Metropolitan officer, why has he been put up to protect the Attorney-General, whose responsibility the Director of Public Prosecutions comes under, and who should be making the statement and who should now proceed in any case, after this series of errors, to dismiss Sir Thomas Hetherington?

Mr. Hurd

I have answered that question twice. The hon. Gentleman will excuse me for not attempting to do so a third time.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)

Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Irish courts were not satisfied that a new warrant was issued for the second hearing on Saturday afternoon?

Mr. Hurd

I sought to explain that. There were two reasons, and I do not wish to comment on them particularly. One reason, as has been mentioned already, was whether it is sufficient evidence of a new warrant having been provided that the news of that warrant is communicated by telephone between police forces. I gather that that is normal practice, but it was not accepted by the court.

The second question was directed to Irish law, on which I am not competent. The issue raised was whether the release of Miss Glenholmes on that morning was, in effect, a release to liberty under Irish law.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Are there to be any resignations or any disciplinary action at any level in the department concerned, or does nobody take any responsibility for anything any more?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have listened to what I said in my statement on that issue. Both my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I regretted the failure in this case, and that was stated specifically in my original statement. The internal arrangements of the office of the Director are a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what sanctions are available to Ministers when they are convinced of the incompetence of public servants?

Mr. Hurd

They vary, but they exist.

Mr. Kaufman

The House is clearly highly dissatisfied with the Home Secretary's faltering attempts to answer the basic points that have been raised. The right hon. Gentleman harps on the alleged technicality of the failure on Saturday, but the magistrate who signed the warrant signed it "Sworn this day" when it was not sworn that day. Was that statement, which was palpably untrue, merely a technicality? Above all, the right hon. Gentleman has not told the House who was responsible. Who was he seeking to shield by himself making this statement? Was it the Director of Public Prosecutions? Was it the silent Attorney-General? Or, in accordance with the Government's style, will no one accept responsibility for this almighty mess?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is repetitive. As I said in my statement, my right hon. and learned Friend and I have expressed our regret that this occurred. Therefore, we accept our share of the responsibility; and that, I think, is what the right hon. Gentleman would expect.

The point at issue was whether identical information which had been laid under oath on one day was required to be laid under oath on a second day before the same magistrate. The magistrate did not so require and it was not done. It is clear that if it had been done this particular difficulty would have been avoided, although everyone who has studied the case knows that even then there were further difficulties further down the road.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the opportunist and derogatory response of the Opposition, he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General continue to enjoy the confidence of the House and the country for the way in which they discharge their responsibilities to hound terrorists and to bring them to book?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend and I expected that a statement on this subject would be received with enthusiasm, and I do not wish to understate the importance of this failure. I have tried to be open with the House about exactly what happened. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the disquiet on both sides of the House about the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions and his office, may we expect a statement tomorrow from the Attorney-General, the Minister responsible, on the reorganisation that he has effected of the director's office for the avoidance of further difficulties, technical or otherwise?

Mr. Speaker

That patently is not a matter for me.

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