HC Deb 07 December 1989 vol 163 cc459-60
9. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has copies of the alleged confessions of the men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.

Mr. John Patten

Yes, Sir. Copies of the confession statements made by those convicted of the Birmingham public house bombings were provided to the Home Office as part of the inquiry into the case carried out by the Devon and Cornwall police in 1987.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the Minister accept that those confessions were obtained after beatings of the six prisoners concerned and that serious inquiries are now going on into the conduct of the West Midlands police who obtained those confessions in the first place? Does he agree that six men have been wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years for crimes that they did not commit, that they were abominably treated at the beginning, and that the important thing is for him to take the simple decision to refer the whole case back to the Court of Appeal so that the men's innocence can be declared and at last they can be set free?

Mr. Patten

All these matters have been before the courts on more than one occasion. They have been fully investigated and they are being further examined now. If the hon. Gentleman or any of his right hon. and hon. Friends comes forward with new evidence, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will consider it again. Until that time, I try to remember as much as I can—care though I do for the quality of justice and ensuring that no one is wrongfully imprisoned—the Birmingham 21 who were murdered and the Birmingham 162 who were injured.

Mrs. Currie

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks about remembering the devastation in Birmingham that was caused by the atrocious bombing. Will he accept that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are thoroughly fed up with sniping attacks on the police? We have the best police force in the world, and it is about time that somebody said so.

Mr. Patten

It is entirely right that if any policeman or woman does anything wrong, an investigation should take place and the individual should be brought to justice. On the other hand, I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that, as my hon. Friend says, we owe a great deal to the police who conduct themselves in difficult circumstances and often face violent attacks.

Mr. Mallon

However one describes them, surely the Minister will agree that there are new factors that are common to both the Guildford case and the Birmingham case, and that many in this country and elsewhere believe that these factors are a good reason for the Home Secretary again to consider the matter. Does the Minister accept that there are compelling reasons to question the validity and the justice of the original trial verdicts?

Mr. Patten

I can give an undertaking to the hon. Gentleman, who I know cares passionately about these matters—I respect that care—that if he writes to us and presents new evidence, we shall consider it most carefully. I appeal to all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to come forward with their evidence. I only wish that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is not in his place, but who persistently tells the House that he knows the names of the people who really carried out the bombing, would write to my right hon. and learned Friend and give us the names.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

I am most obliged to you, Mr. Speaker.

Does my hon. Friend accept that I was the first elected official to visit the scene of the Birmingham pub bombing? I was there within an hour of that dreadful experience having taken place. No one is soft upon this dreadful offence, but the Birmingham people are concerned with justice, not with vengeance. If it is true that four members of the serious crimes squad were involved—we all accept that two trials were held, one in the Court of Appeal and one at the Crown court—would it not be good if the assistant chief constable of the West Yorkshire police, who is involved with the serious crimes squad, at least investigated the four to clear up the problem? Justice is what this place is about, and justice is what everybody should be satisfied we have had.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend speaks with great power about the important balance between justice and retribution, and justice for those who might be wrongfully convicted. I can reassure my hon. Friend that there is nothing to prevent Mr. Shaw, the assistant chief constable of the West Yorkshire force, from conducting an investigation with the oversight of the Police Complaints Authority. There is nothing to prevent him from examining any matter of an earlier date if he has grounds for suspicion.