HC Deb 27 June 1989 vol 155 cc945-54

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

10.55 pm
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

I rise to raise an issue which has been the subject of a recent book by the journalist Paul Foot: the framing for murder of Colin Wallace, a former employee in the security services of Northern Ireland. In his book, Paul Foot decisively proves that Wallace was framed for a crime which he did not commit in order to ensure that there was no exposure of Wallace's knowledge of the seditious activities of members of the security services.

I am not alone in believing this explanation. Wallace's case has gathered support across the political spectrum, within the media, and from past and serving members of the security services.

The story begins in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s when a separate information unit within the Army information service was set up. Wallace, a central figure in this unit, was required to engage in secret black propaganda disinformation activities. This was a co-ordinated operation to discredit and smear elected politicians using psychological warfare, forgeries, hoax bombings, and the buggery of young boys in the Kincora boys' home for blackmail purposes. Details of these activities were published in "The Pencourt File" and later Peter Wright's "Spycatcher" and David Leigh's "The Wilson Plot".

Wallace's knowledge was political dynamite, and when he began to question these activities, those in power clearly felt that he had to be gagged. He knew too much and had to be discredited. Conviction for murder would clearly achieve that purpose.

Referring to the high-level meetings which took place in the Ministry of Defence, Clive Ponting said in The Sunday Times, 17 May: By 1983 the case(s) of Wallace (and Holroyd) had been a long-running internal problem and a great effort had gone into contingency action if and when Holroyd got the story into the Press. The task was to try to ensure (their) stories were contained. On 25 June 1987, on Channel 4 News, Ponting was quoted as follows: There was never any suspicion that Wallace was making these stories up or that it was totally unfounded and very easy to rubbish. It was very much a matter that, OK the story was being contained at the moment because he was in jail, but that in a few years' time he would be back out again and could be expected to start making the allegations again and then that would be a serious problem. That is the background to Wallace's conviction. He did not kill Mr. Jonathan Lewis and an honest investigation would have discovered this. It would have proved beyond doubt that members of the security services compromised senior politicians and perverted our judicial system.

From 1983 to 1987 Wallace was in correspondence with the Home Office and his local Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall). On three occasions, Wallace petitioned the Home Office over the inadequate Sussex police force investigation and the disturbing conduct of the police during his trial.

When Wallace appealed to the Court of Appeal, one of the three judges that rejected his appeal was Mr. Justice Stocker, who had worked with Wallace on the Widgery inquiry into bloody Sunday. Wallace knew that the Secretary of State could intervene only if there was new evidence which had not already been aired. Therefore, on 21 August 1983, his petition detailed: the failure to interview and take further statements from key witnesses with new information; new evidence questioning the time of death; new evidence concerning the use of a car important to the case and irregular police conduct in communicating with jurors.

Wallace listed 30 features of the forensic, medical and other evidence that conflicted with the prosecution case. In his petition of 15 March 1983, he submitted conclusive forensic information challenging crucial evidence on blood groupings, alcohol content, the time of death and the injuries inflicted on Lewis. He demonstrated that the police had omitted important information from the statements by the deceased's wife, Mrs. Jane Lewis, and had concealed details that were important to the defence, and suggested other factors that explained the death of Jonathan Lewis. In addition, he asked why police officers had told potential witnesses that he had kidnapped a child when they knew that that was completely untrue.

After Wallace had waited for over a year for a reply to his petitions, on 17 August 1984 the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State wrote to Lord Avebury stating that there were no grounds for action to be taken on the conviction. Responding to that, Wallace petitioned the Home Secretary again on 27 August 1984, demolishing point by point the reply to the Under-Secretary. In a letter to the hon. Member for Arundel on 1 September 1984, Wallace claimed: the numerous independent people who have examined all the papers relating to my case appear to agree that the evidence presented just does not fit the Prosecution's case and that there are glaring inconsistencies in many parts. It is, therefore, a little odd that the Home Office should show such apparent indifference to the matter—unless there are political reasons for doing so. Wallace also requested that the Secretary of State arrange a separate investigation of the links between the case and the investigation into the Kincora boys' home. The Minister replied that the Sussex police had found no links between the two; yet no police officer or other official had contacted him or his solicitor to discover what information should have been investigated.

Following the naming of Wallace in the House as a key witness in the Kincora affair, the then chief constable of the Sussex police, Sir George Terry, was appointed with general oversight of the RUC investigation into Kincora. The Sussex officer in charge of the Wallace murder inquiry, Detective Superintendent Harrison, was then appointed to head the new Sussex police team. Harrison was later promoted.

On 18 October 1988 and 16 January this year I wrote to the current chief constable of Sussex, Mr. Birch, about discrepancies and irregularities in the Wallace investigation. They involved press conferences given by police officers during the trial concerning Wallace's activities in Ireland; interviews between journalists and jurors during the trial; statements written by two Sussex officers which contained identical sections; and the failure to follow up important new evidence capable of proving Wallace's innocence.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of Terry, may I ask whether he recollects the occasion on 22 June when, during Northern Ireland questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said in a supplementary on my main question: Only the conclusions of the Terry report were published—not the evidence. When will the public be allowed to judge whether the conclusions follow from the evidence? The Minister of State replied to that very civil question with a non sequitur: I regard that a serious slur on Sir George Terry."— [Official Report, 22 June 1989; Vol. 155, c. 482.] It was not a slur on Sir George Terry; it was a perfectly civil and proper inquiry.

Mr. Livingstone

The problem with so much of the case, as it has developed, has been our inability to get a straight answer out of Government representatives or from the members of the security forces who have been involved in the investigations. We are constantly told that the matter has been investigated in the past, but no one has ever produced any details of those investigations.

Chief Constable Birch claimed that the issues had been raised through a variety of legal and political channels but that no information had come to light in respect of any of the matters raised, and refused to assist me further. In a reply on 24 February this year, I stated that I was unable to find any record of their being raised before. I then asked 10 specific questions about the case. After I had waited for more than three months, the assistant chief constable replied on 9 June: the circumstances surrounding Mr. Wallace's conviction had been exhaustively examined on a number of occasions, and I do not propose to carry out any further enquiries into the matter. Chief Constable Birch's office has refused to answer my questions, because if it does it will be further incriminated in the cover-up. Unusually, the Sussex police consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions before replying to my letter.

The role of the Sussex police can only be described as disgraceful. The evidence suggests collusion between the security services implicated in the Kincora affair and the Sussex police. Responding to a letter written on 22 January 1988 by the Under-Secretary, Wallace claimed that it was full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings, and suggested that the Under-Secretary had not read the relevant correspondence, nor carried out inquiries as he had claimed. In reply to a specific forensic point about the diatoms in Mr. Lewis's body, which challenged police evidence over the location of the death, the Minister said that Mr. Wallace's solicitors would have to prove this. But how? The Metropolitan police forensic laboratory continually refused to make the material available to Wallace's solicitors.

In addition, Wallace asked why photographs of him in an SAS uniform and posing beside captured weapons were made available at the trial. Was it to create the impression that he had connections with paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland?

It was also incorrect for the Under-Secretary of State to claim that any irregularities in the conduct of police officers had already been considered by the courts. I challenge the Minister to say tonight when these matters were considered by any court. They had been raised in petitions to the Home Secretary as far back as 1983 by Wallace, but not one of those concerns has been dealt with. It was because the Home Office failed to investigate these issues that Wallace wrote to the Police Complaints Authority and the Sussex chief constable. The Sussex police refused to accept the complaints or to enter into any correspondence with him, and the Police Complaints Authority said that it could not deal with the issues because it had arisen before the authority came into being. Wallace was led a merry dance between one official body and another, constantly being fobbed off as he attempted to pursue the case.

More recently, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office assured the House, when challenged on the content of the Foot book, that all the allegations concerning the conduct of persons had been "fully investigated" over a long period. What investigation? Who was involved? Who was interviewed? When did it begin and end? These are the same questions I have put to the Prime Minister and other Government Ministers. In reply, the House is constantly assured that all evidence concerning the allegations have been fully investigated and that there is not a shred of evidence to support them.

The Prime Minister, in a letter on 23 June 1988, stated that Mr. Wallace had failed to take the opportunity to contribute to these investigations. How can this be equated with the fact that Wallace sent a detailed dossier to the Prime Minister in November 1984, although not a single person approached him about the contents? On 10 August 1988 I asked the Prime Minister the precise nature of these "careful investigations". Once again I got no reply.

Named individuals have gone on record in the Foot book supporting Wallace's allegations. The book names Mike Taylor, who accompanied Wallace in placing hoax bombs, also Chris Whitehead and Wendy Austin, who substantiate these allegations. Those are three named individuals. Will they now be interviewed? Why have they never been interviewed before?

The Government's determination not to answer these questions proves that there was never any determined effort to establish the truth. Had the Sussex police properly and thoroughly investigated the death of Mr. Lewis they would have established that Wallace had nothing whatever to do with his death.

The Home Office has recently stated that it is in the process of seeing whether Paul Foot's book contains any evidence that might call into question the safety of the conviction of Colin Wallace. From experience, I have no confidence in their ability to do this.

What is the motive for such a cover-up? The answer can only be to protect the reputation of Airey Neave. For four years he was the shadow Cabinet spokesperson on Ireland, adviser to the then Leader of the Opposition on the intelligence services and head of her private office—the filter between her and the rest of the world. In reality he was the second most important person in the Tory party during that period of the Prime Minister's leadership of the Opposition. There was another side to Airey Neave that neither the public nor even most of his parliamentary colleagues knew about. He kept in close touch with the MI5 dissidents who were involved in treasonable activities.

After Colin Wallace left his job in Army headquarters in Northern Ireland, he was approached by Neave. Although he had never met Neave before, Neave obviously knew that Wallace had been an agent of MI5 and that he had been involved in the disinformation and propaganda campaigns against both the IRA and the Labour Government.

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

I do not know how the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) can associate himself with this.

Mr. Livingstone

Neave's proposal to Wallace was simple: continue the same work but do it directly for Neave. Wallace agreed and over the following months prepared background papers and speeches for Airey Neave which dealt with the growing strength of the British Left and its alleged links with the IRA and the Soviet Union. Those were taken up in a series of speeches which were widely reported. Proof of Neave's involvement with Wallace lies in the fact that Wallace has retained the correspondence in Airey Neave's handwriting and that is in our possession to produce—[Interruption.]

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister has said that I should stop my hon. Friend. On the contrary, I have seen the letters. I knew the late Airey Neave very well and these questions must be answered. Part of the trouble is that Ministers have never faced up to the fact that these questions must be answered.

Mr. Livingstone

When questioned about this on the Floor of the House, the Leader of the House was unable to explain how Airey Neave would have known that Wallace was working for MI5 or how he had been so well informed about the nature of Wallace's work. The Prime Minister simply refuses to answer those questions.

When all the evidence and witnesses are assembled, the full-scale conspiracy aimed at the heart of our democracy is truly shocking. Taken together, they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that during the 1970s a substantial and powerful minority of the British establishment was involved in activities which in any other country would be called treason. Airey Neave knew of the treason: how much he knew is a secret that he took to the grave. From his contacts with Peter Wright and Colin Wallace, we can presume that he was most probably quite well aware of what was happening. Neave alone was in a position to change the course of events, and Peter Wright was not. Neave was in a position to choose, promote and organise the election of the present Prime Minister as leader of the Tory party.

Is that the reason why the Prime Minister blocks every attempt to inquire into the Wallace frame-up and the dirty war? Is that why such a vast effort was expended to try to prevent the publication of "Spycatcher"? Is that why all the questions in Parliament are met with evasive and stonewalling answers? There is no reason why the Government should try to cover up scandals that took place during the time of a Labour Government unless it is to protect the reputation of old and faithful supporters.

A full independent inquiry into the Wallace frame-up would inevitably lead to the question of how much did Airey Neave know and what was his role in those events. Once that question is asked, it inevitably leads to another. As I have said, Airey Neave was the Prime Minister's closest friend and adviser. As head of her private office, he decided who saw her, and as her unofficial security adviser he personally introduced her to the world of MI5 and MI6.

Are we to believe that in all that time he never once indicated to her, even in the barest or most general outline, the treason in which he was involved? If the answer to that question is no, then did she not once ever suspect that the man who ran her private office and stood like a praetorian guard at her door was involved in some very unparliamentary activities?

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

I have the honour to represent the constituency of Oxford, West and Abingdon. Abingdon was the constituency represented by the late Airey Neave whose memory and whose record as an hon. Member of this House we have just heard subjected to the vilest attack imaginable. I have never in the decade during which I have been a Member of this place heard such a monstrous attack, and on a man who died within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), without any evidence at all, accused the late Airey Neave of involvement in treason.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Livingstone


Mr. Patten

Under no circumstances will I give way. I thought that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) had some grip on reality. I thought that he would have tried to intervene to persuade his hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East to cease his vile attacks on an honourable man who was murdered by IRA terrorists—IRA terrorists whom the hon. Member for Brent, East never condemns and whose activities I suppose he supports. Those are the activities of the hon. Member for Brent, East.

To launch an attack on Airey Neave in that way has lowered the standards of debate in this House to unparalleled depths. Over the years, the hon. Member for Brent, East will reflect, if he ever reflects on anything, on the appalling things that he has said tonight and learn to regret them.

The hon. Member of Linlithgow, whom I have held in great respect over the past 10 years, will also learn to regret joining in the attack on the memory of Airey Neave. I have to call both hon. Members honourable Gentlemen, but representing the people of Abingdon as well as Her Majesty's Government, I have to say that what has been said in the Chamber tonight will be deeply, persistently and permanently resented by those who still mourn a great patriot and a great servant of the House, whose coat of arms remains at the end of the Chamber, illuminated as a permanent memorial to a man who gave his blood so that freedom in this place could be maintained.

The hon. Member for Brent, East is an honourable Gentleman within the terms of the House. I have had to listen to what he has had to say, but in the two years that I have been in the Home Office I have been struck by the extraordinary care with which on every occasion allegations and suggestions of a miscarriage of justice are treated by officials within the Home Office. Those papers go through many hands, and the tradition of the exhaustive and exhausting examination of all allegations goes back to the days when Home Office officials had to prepare the papers that went to the Home Secretary of the day faced with the decision of whether to proceed with the capital sentence. That tradition is still there in the Home Office and the meticulous care that is given to all cases is a remarkable tribute to those who advise Home Office Ministers on such cases.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Patten

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman under any circumstances. He has besmirched his reputation by his support for the attack on Airey Neave.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)


Mr. Patten

I shall certainly not give way. The hon. Gentleman did not intervene, so he has equally associated himself with that vile attack on Airey Neave. I cannot believe what I have seen and heard tonight in the Chamber.

It is important to begin with the facts of the case. They are that, on 20 March 1981, at Lewes Crown court, Mr. Colin Wallace was convicted of manslaughter after having been indicted for murder, and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. He applied for leave to appeal against conviction and sentence on 12 February 1982. His application was refused by the full Court of Appeal. At the time of the offence, Mr. Wallace was employed by the Arun district council as its information and liaison officer, and his assistant was Jane Lewis, the wife of the victim, Mr. Jonathan Lewis.

The prosecution alleged that Mr. Wallace and Mrs. Lewis had been having an affair while they were working on the preparation for a BBC television programme in the series "It's a Knockout" held at Arundel in July 1980 and that Mr. Lewis had been suspicious of their association.

The prosecution stated that the two men met on 5 August. Mr. Lewis was rendered unconscious, placed in the boot of Mr. Wallace's motor car and dumped in the River Arun, where he died from drowning. In his defence, Mr. Wallace admitted that there was a meeting but maintained that the two men had parted on good terms. The case rested largely on the circumstantial evidence, although it included some scientific evidence on tests on spots and splashes of blood found in the boot of the car on that sad occasion.

Since 1983, a number of representations have been made claiming that Mr. Wallace is innocent of the offence of manslaughter. The House may find it helpful if I outline the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department in relation to cases such as that of Mr. Wallace. Constitutionally, the duty of administering justice in individual cases is placed on the courts. The Home Secretary has certain advisory and statutory powers to intervene in a criminal case, and from time to time he does so. He may use, for example, the powers conferred on him by section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 to refer a case tried on indictment to the Court of Appeal. The Home Office, in the person of the Home Secretary, does that from time to time.

My right hon. Friend must take every care to ensure that he does not exercise those powers in any way that might tend to usurp the functions of the court. In practice, that means that he can consider intervening only if significant new evidence or another consideration of substance comes to light that has already been aired in the courts. That is the basic and fundamental principle. It must be new evidence or a new matter of substance that appears to cast doubt on the safety of the conviction.

Under no circumstances can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State review the decisions of the courts on the basis of facts or arguments that they have already considered, or seek in any way to act as a further court of appeal. That would amount to political interference in the proper work of the courts.

Mr. Wallace's claims of innocence were carefully considered on a number of occasions in the past and found to consist of arguments about matters that have already been considered in the courts. Therefore, they have not been seen by us as evidence of a kind that might justify my right hon. Friend's intervention. In those circumstances no grounds have been found on which to justify any interference with Mr. Wallace's conviction.

In tonight's debate we heard of a book by Mr. Paul Foot entitled "Who Framed Colin Wallace?"—a number of copies of which we have secured within the Home Office.

Mr. Dalyell

Has the Minister read it?

Mr. Patten

As I explained to the hon. Member for Brent, East on 14 June, we are carefully considering the material contained in Mr. Foot's book. When I say carefully, I mean very carefully. When that process is completed, we shall decide whether any action is called for in respect of Mr. Wallace's conviction. I must emphasise that every case in which a miscarriage of justice is alleged is given the most careful and detailed consideration.

All sorts of allegations have been made about evidence in Mr. Foot's book concerning the Kincora boys' home and the alleged conduct of the security forces. Such allegations are certainly not new. Following Mr. Wallace's conviction for manslaughter in 1981, he turned his attention to the investigation in 1982 by Sir George Terry. Mr. Wallace alleged that both the Army and the intelligence services knew of the homosexual activities at Kincora long before the matter became public and that, rather than reporting those activities, they sought to use that information for their own ends.

All I can do, and all I shall do, is repeat the statement made by ministerial colleagues on numerous occasions, as recently as during Northern Ireland questions on 22 June. All the allegations raised by Mr. Wallace about the conduct of the security forces in Northern Ireland have been fully and carefully investigated not only by the Royal Ulster Constabulary but by Sir George Terry and Judge Hughes, in 1984. No evidence was discovered as a result of those investigations to substantiate any of the allegations of criminal activity.

It must be said also that Mr. Wallace was given every opportunity to give evidence during those inquiries. However, despite assurances being given to him that he would not be prosecuted for any breach of the Official Secrets Act in respect of any information that he communicated concerning those matters, Mr. Wallace refused to do so. And despite every obstacle being removed from his path, he consistently refused to substantiate any part of his allegations. It is very important that the House realises that.

All the points made in tonight's debate will of course be taken into account, because an allegation of a miscarriage of justice is an extremely serious matter, and the Home Office takes such cases extremely seriously. What a tragedy that a debate on a serious issue, an allegation that there has been a miscarriage of justice, should have been so distorted and blackened by a bizarre, absurd and ridiculous attack on the memory—the hon. Member for Brent, East is smirking. He cares nothing about any decent human values. All he has done, supported by the hon. Member for Linlithgow, is to attack the memory of a brave colleague who gave his life so that freedom in this country and the freedom that we enjoy in this Chamber might continue to be enjoyed in the face of an IRA threat which, as far as I can see, the hon. Member for Brent, East supports. The hon. Gentleman has lowered himself not only in the eyes of this House but also in the eyes of all British people by his dreadful, dreadful allegations during the debate. Nothing will ever take away the smear on his reputation which he has planted there.

All hon Members agree that Airey Neave gave his life for our freedom.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Patten

That is something—

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock.