HC Deb 17 March 1988 vol 129 cc1209-10
4. Mr. Ernie Ross

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the first staff report was made which referred to the deterioration in the performance of Dr. Frank Skuse.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

Staff reports for 1981 and 1982 showed a pattern of deteriorating performance. Dr. Skuse was, therefore, removed from reporting cases to court in January 1983.

Mr. Ross

Why is the truth about Dr. Skuse being covered up? Is not the truth that we have another Dr. Clift on our hands? If so, would it not be better for Ministers to own up rather than our having to drag it out of them?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman's conspiracy theories are totally unfounded. Dr. Skuse was the subject of adverse reports from his line managers in 1981 and 1982. He was immediately removed in January 1983 from performing his duties and he retired voluntarily from the Civil Service in 1985. All Dr. Skuse's cases, dating back to 1966 — some 350 in number — were examined by the director of the Chorley forensic science laboratory in 1985 and 1986.

Sir John Farr

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that it might be a fairer course to adopt if all the cases with which Dr. Skuse was associated before his retirement were looked into, in case there is any association between the activities in which he took part and those in which, for example, Dr. Clift took part, with the result that so many cases had to be reviewed?

Mr. Patten

The director of the Chorley forensic science laboratory has already looked at some 350 cases dating back to 1966. If any right hon. or hon. Gentleman, or anyone else for that matter, has evidence of any possible miscarriage of justice based on forensic evidence placed before the courts by Dr. Skuse, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, of course, be prepared at any time to examine that evidence.

Mr. Mullin

Is the Minister aware that while Dr. Skuse was giving evidence recently he was in telephone contact with the other principal Crown witness, Superintendent George Reade? Will he organise an investigation—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is sailing very close to the sub judice rule.

Mr. Mullin

Is the Minister aware that this was in direct contravention of the instructions of the Lord Chief Justice?

Mr. Patten

I am not aware of the facts that the hon. Gentleman suggests. However, there is no evidence at all of which I know thus far of any collusive or collaborative arrangements between any of the private citizens to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. It is incumbent on him to take to the police and lay before them any evidence of alleged collusion or collaboration.

Mr. Alex Carlile

On the more general question arising from the Clift and Skuse cases, does the Minister agree that competent forensic scientists play a crucial role in the detection of criminals? Does he recognise that the salaries offered to forensic scientists by the Home Office are now so low that they are failing to attract the best forensic scientists out of industry and are actually encouraging Home Office scientists to go into the private sector?

Mr. Patten

There is no evidence whatever from the figures of excessive wastage from the forensic science service or of problems of recruitment. I can assure the House that all forensic science laboratories are most rigorously checked, and have been since 1979, by a system of trials, including blind trials, and we now have the very important scientific advisory committee under the chairmanship of Sir Ronald Mason, Fellow of the Royal Society, to ensure that the highest possible scientific standards are maintained throughout.