HC Deb 20 June 1988 vol 135 cc836-7
61. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Attorney-General what action the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken following the completion of the investigations by the City of London police into contacts between the two principal Crown witnesses at the appeal of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings: and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

As a result of information that came to his attention the Director wrote on 30 March to the Commissioner of Police for the City of London to ask him to make inquiries into two matters connected with the appeal of William Power and others, heard at the Central Criminal Court last November and December.

The two matters were the disappearance of personal papers belonging to Dr. Skuse, one of the witnesses at the hearing, and the possibility that Dr. Skuse had discussed the case, before he had completed his evidence, with another witness who had already been released. The investigation into those matters has not revealed any evidence of criminal conduct.

A further allegation has been made, by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), that during the course of the appeal hearing Dr. Skuse had been in contact with Police Sergeant Ray Paton, who gave evidence at the original trial of those convicted of the bombings but was not a witness at the appeal hearing. The hon. Gentleman's immediate source for that allegation has only recently been disclosed to the police, and accordingly the allegation is still being investigated.

Mr. Mullin

Will the Attorney-General tell the House what explanation Dr. Skuse and Mr. Reade have offered for the two long telephone conversations that took place between them on the night of 17 November, very shortly after Dr. Skuse left the witness box? Does he agree that it is very unusual for the two principal Crown witnesses in a case of this magnitude to be liaising with each other?

The Attorney-General

I can answer the hon. Gentleman to this extent. I understand that Dr. Skuse has said that the only matter relevant to the trial that was discussed on those two occasions was the whereabouts of papers that he had mislaid and later believed to have been stolen. It is normal for a witness, before he has finished his evidence, to be directed not to discuss the case if any substantial matter is involved. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that Dr. Skuse had completed his evidence on 17 November and was not subsequently recalled. It was a few minutes before midnight on that day that he made the first of the two telephone calls.

Mr. Fraser

The Attorney-General says that there is no evidence of criminal conduct. If the telephone calls had been made to another witness, in breach of an injunction by the court not to discuss the matter before giving evidence, that would, as I understand it, be contempt of court, and hence a matter that ought to be referred back to the Court of Appeal. Is that correct?

The Attorney-General

The question is hypothetical in the light of the facts that have been established. Whether anything said in breach of an order made by a court would constitute contempt would depend on all the circumstances of the case, including what was said and the stage that the proceedings in question had reached.

62. Mr. Andrew Smith

To ask the Attorney-General what were the terms of reference given by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the City of London police when asking them to inquire into contacts between the two principal Crown witnesses at the recent appeal hearing of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.

The Attorney-General

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on 17 June 1988, a copy of which is available in the Library of the House.

Mr. Smith

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether he is satisfied with the way in which those terms of reference have been discharged? Does he agree that it is a tragedy that the commendable vigour and energy that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has put into pursuing the truth in this matter do not appear to have been equalled by those charged with the responsibility for conducting those inquiries? Will he tell the House specifically why the police did not interview the ITN journalist, Chris Jameson, who reported having seen Dr. Skuse and Superintendent Reade together? Does not this whole matter still leave profoundly important questions unanswered? Should not the right hon. and learned Gentleman ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to publish a detailed account of the inquiries that have been undertaken and the reasons why no prosecutions have been made?

The Attorney-General

The Director of Public Prosecutions is satisfied with the way in which the investigations by the police into potentially criminal conduct have been carried out. I see no reason to dissent from the view formed by him. I reject the assertion that the inquiries have not been carried out with proper vigour. That is about as far as I need to go in answer to the question. I shall not dilate on the attitude of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South to the appeal hearing that was conducted over six or seven weeks in November of last year.

Forward to