HC Deb 28 January 1988 vol 126 cc463-7
1. Mr. Tony Lloyd

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will meet the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to discuss the latest implications of the Stalker/Sampson inquiry into allegations involving misconduct by the security forces.

8. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received seeking publication in full of the Sampson report on the administration of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

My right hon. and learned Friend announced on Monday that the Director of Public Prosecutions (Northern Ireland) had with his agreement concluded that no further criminal proceedings should be brought in respect of the incidents in 1982 which led to the setting up of the Stalker/Sampson inquiry. The report of that inquiry, being that of a police investigation into possible criminal offences, will, in accordance with practice, not be published.

However, I would wish to make it clear to the House that this is not the end of the matter. The Attorney-General's statement was concerned with the responsibilities of the Director of Public Prosecutions and himself in the matter of criminal proceedings. He reported that the Director of Public Prosecutions had concluded that there was evidence of the commission of offences of perverting, or attempting or conspiring to pervert, the course of justice, or of obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty, but that, after consideration of the public interest, and in particular matters of national security, it would not be proper to institute crimial proceedings. The next step now is for the findings of the report, including the evidence referred to in the statement, to be considered in the context of the question of disciplinary proceedings.

In addition, the circumstances surrounding and following the incidents in 1982 gave rise to concern about procedures, responsibilities and control within the RUC. The inquiry report addressed those aspects and recommended a special inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. This inspection, of which I informed the House on 15 July, has now been completed and I received the report on Monday. It is now being urgently studied, and I have asked the Chief Constable for his early comments. I wish to make a full statement to the House as soon as possible on this and any other matters that fall within my responsibilities.

Mr. Lloyd

Obviously the Secretary of State's announcement that there will be a further statement will be welcomed, and hon. Members on both sides of the House will wait for it with some impatience, given the length of time that has passed. Does the Secretary of State accept that when John Stalker, as deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, was taken off the case, it was widely rumoured that he had already recommended prosecution against some of the lower-serving ranks and that he intended to question senior RUC officers under caution? Because of that, and because it is important that the RUC should be respected throughout the community in Northern Ireland, does the Secretary of State also accept that the Attorney-General's decision earlier this week not to prosecute has left the RUC in a very difficult position in that it will not have the confidence of the whole of the community in the north of Ireland?

Mr. King

I want to begin by apologising to the House for the length of my reply earlier. However, because of the great concern that exists over this matter, I though it proper not to duck the issue and to try to explain it as fully as I could.

I understand entirely the issue about the confidence of the minority community in the RUC. I bitterly regret the events that took place in 1982. Contrary to the impression that no one was charged, I must state that four constables were charged with the offence of murder four years ago. Those issues have been the subject of the most exhaustive investigations. The team working under Mr. Stalker largely continued with those investigations under Mr. Sampson. The team carried out an exhaustive inquiry at the request of the DPP, the findings of which, in respect of criminal proceedings, were announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on Monday. I trust that people will appreciate, not only how long ago the offences took place, but the steps that have been taken since, and will therefore judge the RUC on its present performance, not on certain matters that gave rise to serious concern in 1982.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Secretary of State agree that after hundreds of years of British occupation of Ireland it is inevitable that the Irish people are deeply suspicious of British justice? Does he further agree that when Mr. Stalker was taken off the case there was no natural progression from Mr. Stalker to Mr. Sampson? Mr. Stalker was removed in the most curious circumstances, and we do not yet know all the details. The minority community and the Government of the Republic of Ireland are deeply concerned about this. Therefore, will he seek a judicial inquiry, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921? I know that he said he will make another statement, but the fears and suspicions remain and they have been fuelled by the Attorney-General's statement on Monday.

Mr. King

I noticed during the Attorney-General's statement on Monday that hon. Members on both sides of the House paid tribute to the total integrity of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Northern Ireland) whose decision was announced by the Attorney-General. I remind the House that the Director of Public Prosecutions, because he was not satisfied with the evidence, insisted upon the inquiry being set up in the first place. That point should be remembered. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that part of the Sampson report that I have seen which is within my responsibility incorporates Mr. Stalker's draft conclusions and Mr. Sampson's comments upon them. Therefore, in that respect, there is real continuity.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Are not the safety and continued effectiveness of members of the security forces and of the security services and those who help them an important part of the national interest that the Director of Public Prosecutions was bound to consider? Should not responsible Members of this House have a care for that? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we await his further statement with confidence and believe that those in charge of the Royal Ulster Constabulary will be as concerned as anyone else to see that the disciplinary proceedings—if there are any—are carried out to the full to ensure that a proper outcome is reached?

Mr. King

I heard my hon. Friend commenting on that this morning. He was absolutely correct to say, as I said in my statement, that this is not the end of the matter. It is possible, as he said in his interview this morning, that disciplinary proceedings could have serious consequences for the individuals concerned.

The difficulty and the challenge faced by the Attorney-General, as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions (Northern Ireland), is that they are constitutionally required to consider the public interest. Very difficult decisions are involved. We have taken — as did my predecessors—the most thorough steps to try to ensure that such matters are as fully investigated as possible. Anyone who honestly considers the progress of this matter will recognise that exhaustive investigations have taken place and respect the integrity of those who had to make decisions on the basis of those investigations.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Does the Secretary of State believe that the action of the Government of the Republic of Ireland in calling off a cross-border security meeting between the Garda Siochana Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary was a vulgar threat, suggesting to the Government that if they did not toe the line there would be no support for cross-border co-operation?

Mr. King

No, Sir. We attach the greatest importance to cross-border security co-operation. Anyone who has heard today's news of what is clearly a very significant arms find on the shore of Donegal will realise the value that is increasingly being obtained from that close co-operation.

Mr. Alton

Is not one of the most unsatisfactory aspects the veil of secrecy that has been pulled across the proceedings? Does the Secretary of State not recognise that if confidence in the RUC is to be established among members of the minority community—many of whom ought to be encouraged to join and support the RUC— it will be necessary to publish the proceedings of the inquiry, at least to Northern Ireland Members of Parliament and to the Intergovernmental Conference? Will he consider that? Will he also say what lessons have been learnt for the future, and what changes will be made to ensure that this does not happen again?

Mr. King

I have referred to procedures, responsibilities and control within the RUC. It is important to remember that the incidents that gave rise to the present concern took place six years ago, and that a number of changes were made soon after that by the Chief Constable in recognition of some of the points of concern. I have no doubt that that is one of the reasons for the increased confidence in the RUC, which has followed the lessons learnt from some of the most unfortunate aspects of those regrettable incidents.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is of paramount importance that this whole sorry affair should not stand in the way of cross-border security, particularly cross-border co-operation as a generality? Is it not important that the inquiries are undertaken swiftly and that there is a clear conclusion, so that the public can have confidence in the RUC again?

Mr. King

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of confidence in the RUC, and I bitterly regret that the events of so many years ago — and the controversy over them — have the potential to damage some of that confidence. That, however, is the reality. One of the problems that we face in fighting vicious terrorists is that issues of national security and the protection of individuals must always be in our minds. That was mentioned by the Attorney-General, who referred to the public interest, and it applies particularly to issues of national security. But we are trying to recognise the lessons that can be learnt.

Mr. Hume

Does the Secretary of State accept that in most societies the national interest is best served by unequivocal and impartial implementation of the rule of law? Is it not best served by the community as a whole having confidence in both the police services and the administration of justice? Will he tell us what contribution to that national interest was made by the Attorney-General's statement this week? There is evidence of a clear attempt to pervert the course of justice—not in a minor case of theft, but in cases involving the deaths of five people. Does the Secretary of State recall the Prime Minister's statement some time ago that there should be no hiding place anywhere in these islands for anyone who commits a crime? Does he accept that the implication of the Attorney-General's statement is that there is a hiding place for selected people who, in spite of the fact that the incidents happened five or six years ago, are still either in the security forces or the security services?

Mr. King

First, I know that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that too many people comment on this and blithely ignore the fact that four people have already faced a charge of murder in a court of law. Furthermore, it is simply unacceptable to imply that there has been any attempt to cover up, when my right hon. and learned Friend made it absolutely clear that there is evidence, and when I have made it clear to the House that that evidence will not be suppressed. It will be made available and taken into account in the context of disciplinary proceedings. I made the clearest statement that this is not, therefore, a cover-up to seek to suppress the fact that there is evidence and that that evidence will have to be considered. My right hon. and learned Friend informed the House that in the national interest and in the interests of national security it is not proper for there to be criminal proceedings in these respects.

Mr. McCusker

What disciplinary action is to be taken against those secret service agents who were up to their necks in this matter, who may well have initiated all the actions and whose presence is confirmed by reference to the national interest?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not for me to comment on the points that he has raised.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in today's edition of The Guardian that Mr. Alan Dukes, the Irish Opposition Leader, says that the British Government gave an assurance to Dublin in 1986 that charges would probably be made against senior RUC officers following the Sampson-Stalker inquiry? Will my right hon. Friend comment on that statement and say whether there is any accuracy in it?

Mr. King

If by "charges" my hon. Friend means that prosecutions will be brought, that is a matter not for Ministers but for the Director of Public Prosecutions in conjunction with the Attorney-General.

Mr. McNamara

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the disciplinary proceedings will be in camera, and not in public, so we shall still not know even part of the truth? Will he also confirm that when he was consulted by the Attorney-General he advised that, on the grounds of public interest and national security, there should not be any prosecutions based on the Stalker-Sampson report, and that that advice was based on the knowledge that, if prosecuted, the officers named in The Times, Chief Superintendent Andy Anderson and Chief Inspector Ronnie Flanagan, had let it be known that they would reveal in the witness box the whole background to the shoot-to-kill allegations and the attempted cover-up, implicating senior officers and others who either formulated the policy or had knowledge of it?

Mr. King

I understand that it is not the practice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to comment on whom he consults when determining his assessment of the public interest or national security. Obviously, therefore, it is not proper for me to comment.