HC Deb 21 January 1987 vol 108 cc1002-8

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

11.18 pm
Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston)

I am glad of the opportunity to raise this matter, and a little surprised that I do so somewhat earlier than I had expected.

James John Murray and John Joseph Calvey were arrested on 24 June 1985 and, despite five bail applications, remained in custody until acquitted after a trial lasting seven working days. They spent 16 months in prison.

On 7 October 1986, both men faced an indictment returned to the Old Bailey in London. There were two counts on the indictment against each man. One count alleged offences of wrongly withholding information under section 11 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984, and the second alleged a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The evidence against the men was that they had assisted two known terrorists to evade arrest by driving them out of the area of Leyland to south Wales at a time when they knew that the police were anxious to arrest them because they had been involved in a proposed act of terrorism.

The proposed act of terrorism was to cause an explosion at the Eagle and Child public house at Weeton. Throughout intense questioning Joseph Calvey denied any knowledge of the act of terrorism and only after James Murray had been questioned at great length over a period of several days did he make an admission, under duress, which he immediately retracted when solicitors were able to take his instructions. By virtue of their acquittal it is argued that a jury recognised that these men were innocent throughout and that their involvement in providing transport for terrorism was done innocently or, at the very worst, under duress.

Both men were refused costs at the end of the trial. That was especially harsh in the case of Calvey, because he contributed several thousand pounds towards his own costs, the burden of which would otherwise have fallen on the state. Both men had a record in the Preston and Leyland area as diligent and hard working. They often worked seven days a week. They were family men highly respected within the communities in which they lived. James Murray was known by his neighbours as a quiet, gentle man. Unfortunately, it may be said that he had a "wrong" relative whom, of course, he had not chosen.

Originally the men were detained at Risley remand centre where their families and friends had access to them and could give them moral support. In the case of Mr. Murray, this also enabled him to see his children. The committal proceedings into which the men were joined took place at Lambeth magistrates' court. Following the committal, they were remanded to Wormwood Scrubs. Despite entreaties, both on an emotional and financial basis, efforts to have the men returned to Risley failed. Their solicitors made repeated written requests and I made representations on humanitarian grounds to the Home Secretary for Murray in particular to be returned north to enable his wife and children to see him. This was refused.

It is my considered opinion that any claim for an ex gratia payment for compensation must be based on assurances the men received prior to them being charged with the offences. Whilst in custody James Murray was given promises. The first assurance Mr. Murray received was on page 85 of the handwritten depositions. It is as follows: Answer: Look I have got to go back there. Question: What do you mean? Answer: If they found out that I had been talking then that's it. I don't want knee-capping. That's if I'm lucky. Question: So you do know something? Answer: Remained silent. Question: Its up to you Jim, only you know the truth about these matters. What you tell us does not get repeated anywhere else. The second assurance Mr. Murray received is on page 107 and is in the following terms: Question: Right Jim let's carry on. Answer: You don't know what they're like. I'm going to get a bullet in the back if I'm not careful. Question: Try not to worry Jim. I have told you before what you tell us does not go anywhere. It is between the three of us. Whilst not specifically recited in written evidence, Calvey was also given similar assurances. The effect of those assurances was that the information being provided by the men would go no further than the police officers to whom they were talking.

Contrary to this, not only was the information they were providing used to found an indictment on which they were acquitted, but it was published in the most detailed and graphic terms to those whom the men feared most and with whom, until a late stage in the proceedings, they shared the dock. To give the information provided to known and dangerous members of the IRA, despite their custody, is a breach of confidence of the gravest possible terms.

The purpose underlining the Anglo-Irish Agreement is that there should be co-operation between Irish nationals and British nationals to curtail the activities of terrorists. It is a tragedy that, when requested to provide information, and so doing on the basis that it is to be held in confidence, not only is that information used to prosecute but it is also published to those whom these men and their families most fear. This is surely entirely contrary to the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, accordingly, it can be argued that these men are entitled to some ex gratia payment for the abuse of their trust evidenced above.

They have lost their livelihood and suffered considerable personal anguish and pain although they are innocent of any offence. The men were requested to provide information. On expressing fears for their safety before doing so, they were assured that the information they gave would be treated confidentially. Not only was it not treated confidentially, it was used to base a prosecution against them, the result of which was that they spent the equivalent of what was almost a two-year prison sentence in custody prior to being acquitted by a jury. If people are to be encouraged to provide evidence concerning acts of terrorism, this can hardly be described as an encouraging way of dealing with them.

I hope that the Home Secretary will consider these representations in depth and find it possible to make an ex gratia payment to Murray and Calvey in view of the special circumstances that I have briefly outlined.

I should be glad, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you would allow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Does the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) have the consent of the Minister?

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

By all means.

11.27 pm
Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

It gives me great pleasure, on this matter of major concern, to support the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Thorne), who has spoken well on behalf of his constituent, Mr. Murray. I rise to speak on behalf of my constituent, Mr. Calvey. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) present, because he covers the border between the hon. Member for Preston and me.

The hon. Member for Preston has explained our anxiety. I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 16 December outlining the case. It involves a major breakdown of confidence, as these two gentlemen have been let down badly. They were given assurances by the police. They could not have been more worried about their future and the possibility of IRA retribution, yet their confidence was betrayed.

The hon. Member for Preston has emphasised the fact that the men have lost their livelihood for two years. They have also suffered mental agony and torment at having themselves and their families associated with the activities that have been spoken about.

I wrote often to the Home Office Ministers to try to get Mr. Calvey moved from Wormwood Scrubs to the local prison at Risley, to no avail. It was extremely inconvenient and expensive for Mrs. Calvey to travel down to Wormwood Scrubs to see her husband for only, literally, 15 minutes at a time. She did that regularly. She had full confidence in her husband. I have met and spoken to Mr. Calvey about the circumstances relating to his detention. I am convinced that he is an absolutely straight up and down member of the community and that he is doing his level best to get back into the construction industry. I am delighted to say that he is taking steps in that regard.

Therefore, it gives me great pleasure fully to support the hon. Member for Preston who admirably laid out the matter. I sincerely believe that, in this case, an ex gratia payment is the only way to compensate these two gentlemen.

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

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Thorne) for having put the case for their respective constituents so clearly. Obviously, this is a matter of concern to them and to their constituents. Both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman have put the case lucidly and persuasively. I am not in a position to give, and shall not give, a final reply to the matter. I propose to set out some considerations. I make it plain that, as yet, no final conclusion has been reached. The points made by the hon. Member for Preston and by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley will most certainly be taken into account and given the weight that they so evidently deserve.

For reasons that I hope the House will understand, I do not have a full knowledge of the case as yet. We have asked the Lancashire police for a full report, and I anticipate receiving one. It may be necessary to read the transcript of the case. The hon. Member for Preston, supported by my hon. Friend, referred to some of the major facts, but they bear repeating, at least in part, so that the case is put into its proper perspective.

Mr. Murray and Mr. Calvey were arrested in June 1985. The charges, as the hon. Member for Preston said, were under section 11 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984—namely, withholding information and perverting the course of justice. The charges relate to a period in 1983, when it seems clear that both Mr. Murray and Mr. Calvey gave assistance to Patrick Magee and Mr. Murray's brother, Patrick Murray, in particular by driving them to various destinations. As I understood the hon. Member for Preston, the issue is not whether the assistance was rendered—I think it is accepted that it was—but, rather, whether it was done with the necessary criminal intent. That seems to be the main issue with which we are concerned. They were committed for trial on 20 November 1985. The trial took place between 7 and 15 October 1986. As we have heard, they were acquitted.

It is regrettable that these men should have been held in custody for such a long time. It is a great misfortune for them and it is an unsatisfactory aspect of our criminal system that, from time to time, events such as this happen. The Government are conscious of the need to tighten these periods. The House will know that, under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, we took power to enable us to impose time limits. Without going into detail—this is not the most appropriate time to do so—we are about to apply statutory limits in three areas to try to combat the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley also made a point about location. It is true that he wrote to the Home Office a number of times to make representations on behalf of his constituent to the effect that he should be held in the north and not in the south. Prisoners remanded in custody to await trial at the Central Criminal Court—where these two gentlemen were tried—are normally located in or near London. The Home Office explored the possibility of making an exception on compassionate grounds, but I am afraid that it was not possible because the establishments in the northern region were severely overcrowded and were simply unable to take prisoners from other regions. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley for his steps to promote his constituent's interests.

While the two gentlemen were in custody, and as the hon. Member for Preston has reminded the House, applications for bail were made on no fewer than five occasions—once to the justices, twice to Preston Crown Court and twice to the Central Criminal Court. It is perhaps useful and necessary to note that the applications for bail were refused. The House, and you in particular, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know the circumstances in which applications for bail are refused. It is a matter for the court, not for Ministers or the Executive. It would be wrong for me to comment, save to say that on five separate occasions a court with jursidiction declined to grant bail.

It is being said that the two men require and deserve compensation. It is important that we should determine the circumstances in which compensation is paid. As a general proposition, there is no statutory right to compensation in cases of this kind. People who feel that they have been done an injustice in terms of false imprisonment or malicious prosecution can commence civil proceedings. I recognise that, in many cases, that is an illusory remedy, in the sense that it is not one that they are likely to pursue. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a statement by way of a written answer setting out his approach to ex gratia payments and compensation. The circumstances in which compensation is payable are set out in Hansard in a written answer on 29 November 1985.

I shall summarise the points that must be made. We are dealing with a number of classes of cases. Let us begin with those cases where there has been a conviction—which is not the case here—and it has gone to appeal. There is a power and discretion, and it has been the practice, to grant compensation where there has been a free pardon or where the conviction is quashed by the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords following a reference of the case under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 or where the conviction is quashed by the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords following an appeal out of time. But the quashing of the conviction must be founded on some new fact which shows conclusively that there has been a miscarriage of justice. I appreciate that this case does not fall within those criteria. I mention it so that the House has this matter in the proper perspective.

A different situation arises where, as in the present case, there was an acquittal. It is not my practice to read from the Dispatch Box, but this point perhaps needs stating. It is important that we should have the phraseology in mind. I would like to remind the House of the principles that apply in cases where there has been an acquittal. The written answer to which I have referred states: There may be exceptional circumstances that justify compensation in cases outside these categories"— largely those to which I have referred. In particular, facts may emerge at trial, or on appeal within time, that completely exonerate the accused person. I am prepared, in principle, to pay compesation to people who have spent a period in custody or have been imprisoned in cases such as this. I will not, however, be prepared to pay compensation simply because at the trial or on appeal the prosecution was unable to sustain the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in relation to the specific charge that was brought."—[Official Report, 29 November 1985; Vol. 87, c.689–90.] It is plain from that answer, which reflects settled Government policy, that the mere fact that there has been an acquittal does not give rise to any claim for compensation. That may be wrong as a matter of principle, but if we want to change it we must do so by statute and the House must decide that that is what we want to do. However, that is not the law as it stands at present. The fact that someone has spent a long time in prison on remand is not a justification for claiming compensation. It must go beyond that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the facts must, for example, "completely exonerate" the accused person. Although I am the first to realise that when a person is acquitted he is in one sense exonerated, it is quite plain that that phrase in my right hon. Friend's answer is different from a mere acquittal. If we do not like it, we have to change it by statute, but we have not, as a House, done that.

The mere fact of the acquittal does not bring the case within the range of those that have an obvious claim for compensation. The mere fact of this length of time in custody on remand does not do so, although I accept that it is regrettable that that should have happened. The representations to which the hon. Member for Preston referred do not fall obviously within the scope of the written answer and certainly the loss of income, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley referred, does not.

Mr. Stan Thorne

I am following closely what the Minister is saying. I appreciate the points that he has made. Would he consider that the circumstances in this case, which arise from the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984, the questioning by the police and the comments made by the men in terms of what happened, would be embraced by the references he has made in regard to the prospects for compensation?

Mr. Hogg

No, I would not. I accept that it is a discretionary remedy and it does lie within the power of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to go beyond what he has already said. However, what he has said in his written answer shows clearly his approach. It is an exceptional remedy that can arise only in exceptional circumstances. The circumstances that I for one would contemplate are when it is wholly plain that the person could not have committed the offence, because, for example, an offence was never committed, or it could not have been committed by the defendant because he was in France when the offence happened in Brighton.

That is not the case here. This case is an acquittal, the jury, as I understand it, having determined that they were not satisfied that the defendant, who did certain admitted acts, had the necessary criminal intent. On the face of it, that does not fall within the scope of the discretionary power that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has described.

I should like to say to the hon. Member for Preston and my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley that we shall give very serious consideration to the points that they both put so clearly, but at first blush, and without having had the full police report, and without having had the transcript, I have to say that it is not obvious to me that the case falls within the accepted parameters. The representations so carefully and persuasively put will be considered carefully, but I cannot in all honesty go beyond that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.