HC Deb 27 November 1986 vol 106 cc533-40

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

10.13 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The House will remember that during the summer the nation was agog. The suspension from duty of the deputy chief constable of Manchester was national and, because of its context, international news. Sadly, those events have passed into the realms of history. For a host of reasons, it is important that we should not forget the important issues that were raised then—the way in which serious allegations against police officers are investigated and the context in which John Stalker was operating.

The case was both tortuous and twisted. John Stalker was treated very unfairly. For almost a month he was unaware of the charges that had been laid against him. I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to take particular note of that point, having regard to any review of procedures. Furthermore, one has to remember the effect upon his family of the massive press speculation. I do not complain about the press speculation. Had it not been for the high profile investigation, I fear that John Stalker would not today be doing his job. He would have disappeared without trace. I, and many others, believe that that would have been a travesty of justice.

John Stalker has been left with a large bill to pay as a result of the legal costs that he ran up during that period. I hope that the Minister will consider seriously whether those legal costs should be defrayed from public funds. I regret that the Greater Manchester police authority has chosen not to pay those funds. Although I understand some of the reasons that were put forward for that decision, it was a mistake which penalises one person and his family out of all proportion. If he had not incurred those costs, this affair would not have had the satisfactory conclusion—in so far as it is satisfactory—that it has had.

Mr. Stalker was first asked to go to Northern Ireland in 1982 when the Royal Ulster Constabulary went on what has been described as a "killing spree". The shooting of Michael Tighe has attracted a lot of publicity in recent months and serious allegations, either that RUC officers, out of loyalty, were covering up, or that there was a deliberate shoot-to-kill policy, have been made.

We do not yet know the conclusion of the reports that have been laid before the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Director of Public Prosecutions there, but it is important to recognise that while John Stalker was involved in Northern Ireland his relations with the Chief Constable there were well known to be extremely strained. The complaint was that co-operation was not forthcoming. We know that, when the interim report was laid before the powers that be—the Chief Constable—with a view to matters being eventually raised with the Director of Public Prosecutions, the report was sat on for approximately six months. The House is entitled to know why six months had to go by before that report went from the Chief Constable to Barry Shaw, the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is critical that that question should be answered. The conclusion that must be drawn is that that was a deliberate delaying tactic in the hope that the problem would go away.

We know that that interim report contained a severe criticism and a request that Mr. Stalker should be allowed to interview the Chief Constable. We know that he was particularly interested in the whereabouts of the tape that was made of the events when Michael Tighe died. We also know that there was implicit criticism of Sir Philip Myers, the Inspector of Constabulary. All those are serious matters, so the fact that there was a delay reinforces the seriousness of the situation.

I am happy to say that, if there is one person other than the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester who comes out with considerable credit, it is Barry Shaw, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who acted quickly. Because he acted so quickly, we are entitled to know why delays occurred after he had sanctioned Mr. Stalker's requests. He specifically sanctioned the interview of the Chief Constable and his deputy and instructed the Chief Constable to make available the tape or its transcript.

At that time, as I understand it, the deputy chief constable, Mr. Stalker, sought to return to Northern Ireland to pursue his inquiries, but was told by Sir Philip Myers that that was inopportune at that stage. Eventually, after two requests had been turned down, he was booked on to a flight that would have taken him to Ireland on 2 June, but, on 29 May, Mr. Stalker was taken off the inquiry as a result of allegations against him. From that moment he was effectively taken off the inquiry into the RUC. Many continue to believe that there was dirty work at the crossroads.

The reasons put forward for Mr. Stalker being taken off the inquiry essentially related to four matters. One was that a personal associate of his was under investigation for fraud. I must make it clear that even to this day that individual has not been charged with any criminal offence. It was suggested that Mr. Stalker associated with the same individual, and possibly other known criminals and that there was photographic evidence of people in the same room. It was suggested that, while he was on holiday with Kevin Taylor, the yacht on which they were sailing was under observation by the American authorities. The implication was that they were involved in drugs or some other criminal activity.

It was also suggested that Kevin Taylor, through his solicitor, had threatened that if he was charged with offences he would, I think it was said, blow Stalker and his associates out.

Why did matters come to a head then, some five days before Stalker was due to return to Ireland? Why did not these matters arise earlier? In a written answer on 24 October, the Minister said: Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary was advised in October 1985 of the existence of information alleging that a relationship might exist between the deputy chief constable and certain persons whose activities were under investigation in Greater Manchester. No evidence was available to justify any action in respect of this information until May 1986."—[Official Report, 24 October 1986; Vol. 102, c. 1018] It is widely believed, and my information is, that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary knew of those allegations long before October 1985. The only evidence that became available in May 1986 was the photograph that I have mentioned. The inquiry into the RUC was certainly serious, and it is important that we should know what new evidence became available. If it was only one photograph, that cannot be taken very seriously as the damning piece of evidence that would seriously damage Mr. Stalker's career and an important inquiry.

These events took place following a raid on the home of Kevin Taylor. As there are doubts about the background to the matter, we are entitled to know who was aware that the raid was due to take place, who ordered it, and what he expected to find. The allegations about Mr. Stalker's friendship were reported to the chief constable by senior police officers in Greater Manchester as long ago as July 1984. The yacht affair took place in 1981 and was apparently well known in police circles for all that time. Consequently, it is important to know what new evidence became available.

If I was being kind about the Sampson report, I would have to describe it as extremely amateurish. Although it is confidential, I have seen it, as these things always have a wider circulation than intended. At one point in particular, it contains innuendo of the most unpleasant sort, which is unfitting for such a report. The report is simply not up to scratch. At one stage, it talks about an anonymous allegation that the police dropped a criminal action against a person whom Mr. Stalker knew. The Sampson report says: No further action was taken…the papers have been destroyed…the matter cannot be taken further nor can any comment be made. There should be further investigation into the claim in The Observer that its inquiries showed that the case was prosecuted in the normal way. Such a fundamental mistake damns that report. Why was there no prescreening of the charges? There was one charge of particular significance. It was alleged that Chief Superintendent Roberts had informed his senior colleagues that Kevin Taylor's solicitor had threatened to blow John Stalker and his associates out. I am assured that Chief Superintendent Roberts vigorously denies that that happened. It would have been simple to ask him then whether that was the case.

John Stalker asked at one stage whether his friendship with Kevin Taylor was prejudicing him. We are led to believe that he was assured at that time that that was not the position and that there was no major criminal investigation into the affairs of Kevin Taylor that would affect Mr. Stalker. We are told—this is something that must be answered—that the Chief Constable was quoted as having mentioned the incident on the Diogenes in 1981 as a matter of some importance and later denied that it was raised by him. All these matters are extremely serious and it is necessary for them to be dealt with.

As for the inquiry into the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the result of the summer interlude was a massive delay. The Minister may say that the delay was reasonable because Mr. Sampson could not conduct an inquiry into John Stalker while at the same time carrying out an inquiry into the RUC, but no progress was made with the RUC inquiry while John Stalker was under investigation. If that is the position, we are entitled to ask why he was not reinstated to conduct the inquiry at the end of his own investigation. If he was crippled by the marginal charges that were laid against him in the end, surely the chief constable of West Yorkshire, given the serious doubts about his own credibility following the report, was even more crippled. I do not think that many people in the North of Ireland will accept the report on that basis.

It seems that Mr. Stalker's deputy, Mr. Thorburn, was almost a victim of guilt by association. He was taken out of the inquiry, but no charge was laid against him. His position was marginal in terms of the RUC. Was Mr. Thorburn involved in the interviews? Surely he would have been involved in the interviews with the Chief Constable of the RUC and his deputy. I ask the Minister specifically whether those interviews ever took place. That is an inportant part of Mr. Stalker's interim report. Was the Chief Constable of the RUC questioned about the tape? That is a matter of great concern. If he was so questioned, were answers received on where the tape was, or was it discovered who destroyed the tape and under whose orders? These are vital issues in terms of public reassurance.

I am conscious that I have paid tribute to the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. I know that his health is not in the finest form and I say specifically that if the Government or anyone else wants to wait for his health to collapse to prevent a trial, that would be a most foolish way of proceeding. I do not think for one second that that is the position, but it must be placed on record that it is critical that all haste is made with the report.

I shall deal with the follow-up to Mr. Stalker's position in Greater Manchester, which is still unsatisfactory. A heavy debt burden has been placed upon him and the personnel committee of the policy authority is talking about attempting to have inquiries conform to the sub judice ruling, which would exclude the press and the kind of publicity that plays such an important role in issues of this sort. I ask the Minister to give a guarantee that that is not in the Government's mind. It is important that in matters such as this the public are aware of what is going on.

At the end of the day, the public will believe in all the conspiracy theories at which I have hinted, in some instances directly and in others not. There is much circumstantial evidence that suggests that there were those who had a motive that caused them to want John Stalker to be somewhere else. Mr. Stalker said at one stage that if "they"—presumably the powers that be—"wanted a whitewash, they had picked the wrong man". It is a matter of great concern that, having recognised that they had picked the wrong man, they chose to remove that man and get someone else to do the job.

Conspiracy theories will not go away unless we have answers to the questions that have been raised this evening and on previous occasions by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Unless those answers are forthcoming, the public will think that something extremely serious has gone amiss in an attempt effectively to pervert the course of justice, involving more than one man.

10.29 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) deserves congratulation on having raised a matter of considerable importance. He has raised a whole variety of questions, and I am sure that he will understand if in my short speech I can deal with only a small number of them.

I wish to begin by dealing with the question of costs. As the hon. Member for Stretford pointed out, Mr. Stalker has incurred a substantial bill in costs. It amounts to about £21,000. Mr. Stalker has sought the assistance of the Greater Manchester police authority in meeting the legal costs he incurred in the course of the investigation of the allegations of misconduct made against him. The hon. Member for Stretford will know well of the provisions of the Police Discipline (Senior Officers) Regulations 1985 which provide that if a case of this kind goes to a formal disciplinary inquiry the accused officers' costs, subject to taxation, are met from the police fund. The police authority decided not to initiate formal disciplinary proceedings. Therefore, the costs cannot be met under the regulations.

Moreover—this is a matter for the authority—the authority has declined to make a discretionary payment to Mr. Stalker. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, members of the public have contributed to a fund to assist Mr. Stalker to meet his legal costs. Mr. Stalker has applied for the consent of the police authority to accept the money and the police authority has agreed. That is as far as the Home Office can go. Ultimately, it is for the police authority to decide whether it is right for Mr. Stalker to accept money from the public in the way I have described, and the authority has decided that it is right.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Is my hon. Friend aware that Mr. Stalker is a constituent of mine? I think that most people would agree that he has gone through an unfortunate time, not just for himself but for his family, and to be faced with a bill of almost £22,000 when, as far as we can understand, he has done nothing wrong is absolutely monstrous. If we believe that British justice is the best in the world, surely there is something that can be done to lift some of the burden from him.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the way he has protected the interests of his constituent Mr. Stalker. I am glad to see him here tonight. It is a tribute to the attention he has paid to his constituent's interests. I cannot help him quite as much as he would like. Ultimately this is a matter that lies within the discretion of the police authority, and it has made its decision. I do not think that I can say anything positive that would assist my hon. Friend.

The conspiracy theory lies behind the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford. The hon. Gentleman is implying—indeed, I think that he screwed himself up to the extent of saying expressly—that there were forces within the Province that contributed, or may have contributed, to the allegations made against Mr. Stalker.

Mr. Sampson, as the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, was responsible for what is known as the Stalker inquiry and the inquiry into allegations of misconduct by the RUC. The fact that he was in charge of both inquiries gave him the best possible opportunity to decide whether there were any links between the two inquiries. Mr. Sampson stated in his report that he had found no evidence that officers of the RUC or members of the security services had in any way been responsible for the instigation of allegations against Mr. Stalker. That is the current position.

I understand that the hon. Member for Stretford may go further than that. He may suggest, indeed perhaps does suggest, that there should be a further inquiry to determine whether there was a link between the Province and Mr. Stalker. This issue has been considered by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. My right hon. and learned Friend takes the view that a further inquiry at this stage could be prejudicial to any criminal proceedings which might arise from the investigation of the conduct of officers of the RUC, which Mr. Sampson was taking over.

The hon. Member for Stretford will appreciate that there are two inquiries and in one sense by far the most important inquiry is the RUC inquiry. It would be a great misfortune, and something that we would not contemplate, if people were to take action now which could prejudice the outcome of the RUC end of the inquiries.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The vital element in these links as to whether the RUC was involved in the Stalker affair is the point about whether Mr. Stalker asked the head of the RUC for tapes which were made at the time of the death of Michael Tighe in Northern Ireland. There have been widespread allegations that the tapes were not handed over and were subsequently destroyed. What has Mr. Sampson to say about that? Who takes the responsibility for the tapes that allegedly were destroyed?

Mr. Hogg

I am not in the least surprised that the hon. Gentleman should ask such questions. However, that emphasises the wisdom of what I have just said. There are two inquiries—the inquiry regarding Mr. Stalker and that regarding the RUC. Of the two, the latter is by far the most important. I will neither say nor do anything that may prejudice the outcome of the RUC inquiry. Although I do not want to be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, his questions are not in the wider interests of anyone. Perhaps in some other place, in the future, another opportunity will arise, but it should not arise now. Questions of the sort being asked now are simply not helpful to the wider issues.

Mr. Cohen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

No. I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again, as this is a very short debate and I have a number of points to make.

We must keep our eye on the ball, and the ball is now the RUC end of the inquiry. I will do nothing to prejudice the outcome of that inquiry or anything that may flow from it. However, I have a nasty feeling that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) may not be so careful.

It might be helpful if I were to set out in some detail in the few minutes that are left to me exactly what happened. In May 1986, the Greater Manchester police authority had drawn to its attention by the chief constable allegations that, during the past six years, the deputy chief constable, Mr. John Stalker had associated with persons in circumstances that were undesirable and that might have placed him under an obligation to them. The police authority appointed the chief constable of West Yorkshire, Mr. Colin Sampson, to investigate the allegations under the supervision of Mr. Ronald Moyle, a deputy chairman of the Police Complaints Authority.

On 26 June, Mr. Sampson sent the Police Complaints Authority an interim report on his investigation. Against a background of press reports that Mr. Stalker was unaware of what had been alleged against him and that the allegations were in any event trivial—points echoed by the hon. Member for Stretford—the authority issued a statement to the effect that it was satisfied with the progress which had been made with the investigation, that the allegations were of sufficient substance to deserve further careful consideration, and that Mr. Stalker had been adequately apprised of their nature. On 2 July the Greater Manchester police authority suspended Mr. Stalker, having obtained the Police Complaints Authority's agreement to that course of action.

Mr. Sampson completed his report on his investigation on 14 August when he submitted it to the Greater Manchester police authority. Although he recommended that formal disciplinary proceedings be taken in respect of Mr. Stalker's associations with certain individuals and of the alleged misuse of police cars, on 22 August the police authority decided against taking formal disciplinary action and instead advised Mr. Stalker to be more circumspect in his political and criminal associations. Thereafter, he was reinstated as deputy chief constable.

What was done was strictly in accordance with the rules and regulations. Great care was taken by the Home Office to ensure that. The hon. Member for Stretford said that Mr. Stalker was unfairly treated, but I leave that to history. However, the police authority was satisfied that there were matters to be investigated. The hon. Gentleman knows what the authority said when it reached a conclusion. If no investigation had been undertaken, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to suggest a cover-up. In a sense, we were on the horns of an impossible dilemma. By "we", I mean the police authority and any other interested body. Allegations were made which, prima facie, were of a kind that needed investigation—and that happened in accordance with the ordinary rules and regulations.

Had that not happened, the hon. Gentleman would have complained. He would have said that allegations had been made against a very senior police officer suggesting that he was not a man of integrity but that nothing had been done about them. I would have understood the force of that argument. However, in reality, something was done in that the Manchester police authority was acquainted with the allegations, made the determination that it did, undertook an inquiry and reached a conclusion. It was a matter for the authority. It and everyone else was acting in strict accordance with the rules and regulations.

In any case, I do not think that criticisms can be made of the Home Office. One of the interesting points about the hon. Gentleman's speech was that he did not make any substantial allegations against the Home Office. Although in the early stages of the discussion, the press debate and so on, allegations were made against the Home Office and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as the matter has developed people have realised that the Home Office has acted wholly and utterly properly in this matter.

It is interesting that tonight no substantive allegations have been made. My conclusion is that the Labour party now recognises that the allegations made were wholly unfounded. Much as I like the hon. Gentleman, I should like him even more if he had prefaced his speech with a profound apology to the Home Office. Underpinning his speech was a recognition that what was done had to be done and that there was no criticism to be made by the Government—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seventeen minutes to Eleven o'clock.