§ 4. Dr. Reid
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will call for a report from the chief constable of the West Midlands as to on how many occasions since 1979 persons in the custody of the West Midlands police have confessed to crimes of which they were subsequently acquitted or on which charges were subsequently dropped.
§ 6. Mr. Fisher
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the chief constable of the West Midlands; and what matters were discussed.
§ 8. Mrs. Mahon
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in the light of the recent decision to disband the West Midlands serious crimes squad, he will review all convictions for serious crimes based wholly or mainly on confessions obtained from people in the custody of the West Midlands police.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
The information requested about the number of confessions of people held in the custody of the West Midlands police since 1979 is not readily available. In 1988 alone, the West Midlands police prosecuted more than 32,000 people for criminal offences, most of whom would have spent some time in custody.
I last met the chief constable of the West Midlands on 5 September, when we discussed a number of policing matters.
The assistant chief constable of West Yorkshire, Mr. Donald Shaw, was appointed on 14 August to carry out an investigation into the work and practices of the West Midlands serious crime squad, under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority. His inquiries will concentrate on the period since the beginning of 1986, when complaints about the squad started to emerge. As I said in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) when making my statement last Thursday at column 283, if anything arises from the investigation which causes doubt about the safety of any conviction I would have to consider whether intervention on my part would be justified.
§ Dr. Reid
The Home Secretary has said that the inquiry will cover two years. Is not the stark truth that the rot in the West Midlands serious crime squad goes back as far as the inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombings? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to face that fact sooner rather than later. Eventually he or one of his successors will have to do that in the same manner as it was done over the Guildford 1037 Four. I ask him for the sake of police morale, humanity and the good name of British justice to order an urgent and thorough inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the arrest, conviction and incarceration of six men for the Birmingham pub bombings, whom many of us on both sides of the House believe to be wholly innocent of the charges laid against them.
§ Mr. Hurd
Mr. Shaw's investigation will concentrate on the cases that gave rise to it. I say for the third time that if the investigation reveals a line of inquiry that leads further into the past I would expect the police to follow it up. The point that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Reid) has omitted is that I did act in the same way in the two cases although at a year's distance. In January 1987, I referred the Birmingham case to the Court of Appeal. There then followed a rigorous police investigation by the Devon and Cornwall police which was comparable with the one that the Avon and Somerset police undertook for the Guildford case. After that investigation, the Court of Appeal spent a month hearing the case again. That hearing took place at the end of 1987. The Court of Appeal came to the conclusion, on the information available to it and after the police inquiry, that the convictions were sound.
§ Mr Fisher
Will the Home Secretary not reconsider what he has just told the House? Did he not read the report in The Guardian yesterday that one of the officers concerned saw that the Birmingham Six were beaten up? Does not that indicate that there is new evidence available to Mr. Shaw and that unless the Home Secretary requires Mr. Shaw specifically to examine all the circumstances surrounding the Birmingham Six, there is a real danger of another miscarriage of justice taking place?
§ Mr. Hurd
The circumstances surrounding the confessions in the Birmingham pub case, including the question of violence, were considered in the Court of Appeal review at the end of 1987. It took account of all those points. If there are new points, they are matters that must be considered—but nothing that I have so far heard or seen goes beyond material that was available in the very long and thorough rediscussion in the Court of Appeal. It resulted in a reaffirmation of the original verdict being given at the beginning of 1988.
§ Mrs. Mahon
Is not the Home Secretary aware that three of the officers currently under investigation for fabricating confessions were involved in obtaining confessions out of the Birmingham Six? The fourth, detective sergeant Brian Norton, has served time in gaol for obtaining confessions on that basis. Should not the right hon. Gentleman follow that line of inquiry?
§ Mr. Hurd
I understand that one member of the serious crime squad, which was disbanded in the summer, was involved in the investigation into the Birmingham pub bombing. That is to say, his period of service in the serious crime squad spanned those years.
The chief constable of the West Midlands set up the investigation by Mr. Shaw because of complaints and doubts about a certain number of recent cases. As the hon. Lady knows, certain procedures and papers were criticised, were not in the right order or were missing altogether. That was the purpose of the inquiry, and it is on that that it is concentrating.
1038 If that investigation were to lead back, by any means, to an earlier period or to the sorts of confessions to which the hon. Lady referred—I am not talking only about the Birmingham pub case—and any convictions were called into question, we would have to reconsider them. However, that is not the current position.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Although my right hon. Friend could not give a total figure relevant to the question, is it not clear to anyone who has studied these matters, and therefore only fair to say so, that the number of cases of defective evidence relating to confessions is infinitesimal compared with the total?
§ Mr. Hurd
Of course that is true. It is also true that since the Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich cases the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has completely changed the framework and the circumstances——
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs
In the interests of the confidence and morale of the vast majority of good police officers in the west midlands, will my right hon. Friend confirm that whatever the activities of certain individual members of the serious crime squad, the West Midlands force enjoys the confidence of the majority of people, as evidenced by the fact that last year crime in the west midlands fell faster than in any other metropolitan authority? That is despite the fact that the chief police officer in Birmingham has not only investigated the serious crime squad but has abolished it.
§ Mr. Maclennan
In the light of the cases to which the Home Secretary has referred, will he further consider the possibility of allowing police officers to have a right of confidential access to the Police Complaints Authority where they believe that misfeasance or malpractice within the police force cannot be put right without external intervention?
§ Mr. John Marshall
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members are sickened by the way in which certain other hon. Members seek to act as apologists for the IRA?
§ Mr. Corbett
Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to say sorry to the Guildford Four, since no member of the judiciary or the Government has yet been able to get that word past his or her lips? When the Home Secretary had talks with the chief constable on the investigation into the former West Midlands serious crime 1039 squad, did he undertake to keep an open mind on its outcome, especially if wrongdoings by officers raise renewed doubts about the safety of the convictions in the Birmingham Six and Carl Bridgewater cases? Will he assure the House that his mind remains open on those matters?
§ Mr. Hurd
Mr. Shaw's investigation was set in hand not by me but by the chief constable, Mr. Dear, of his own volition. It is taking place under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority, which is completely independent. However, the hon. Gentleman is right. If the investigation, which was set up because of complaints about recent cases and so rightly and naturally will concentrate on those cases, gave rise to a train of thought or evidence that led to earlier cases, any convictions that arose from those cases would clearly have to be looked at. That is not the position at the moment and I have no reason to suppose that it will be.
I expressed regret in the House a week ago. I did that very clearly. But I hope that Opposition Members, in their pursuit of this matter, will take into account the fact that the people who suffered most from it were not those who were wrongfully imprisoned, but those who were murdered at Guildford.
§ Mr. Speaker
Points of order take time out of questions. Points of order at Question Time must be on matters which require a ruling from me. What is the point of order?
§ Mr. Hattersley
My point of order to you, Mr. Speaker, is that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and I understand your ruling that Question Time must continue in its normal way, but if the Home Secretary wishes to pursue the arguments, so will my hon. Friend and you must call the Home Secretary to order in just the same way.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not responsible for what is said, provided that it is in order. Question No. 5.
§ Mr. Speaker
We have reached only question No. 5 and we are making slow progress. I must hear the point of order if it arises out of this and if it is a matter needing my intervention.
§ Mr. Heffer
I raise my point of order because of what the Home Secretary has implied. Of course, every one of us 1040 agrees that those who were killed were the victims, but surely that does not lead anyone to say that those who were wrongly imprisoned were not as badly treated——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman will have to pursue that through the Front Bench, not through the Chair. That is not a matter of order. The Chair cannot be held responsible for answers that are given to questions.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since when has it been the practice to permit points of order to be raised during questions, wasting the time of hon. Members on both sides, when we all know that points of order can only be accepted by you after questions?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It has always been the practice that, if an hon. Member raises a point of order requiring my intervention—and I cannot judge whether it is such a point of order until I have heard it—it is dealt with at the time. What is not in order, as the whole House knows, is to seek to raise points of order immediately after questions on matters arising out of them. I heard that point of order at the time, to judge whether it was a point of order for me.