HC Deb 14 June 1990 vol 174 cc459-61
8. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps have been taken to recover the 2,000 or so non-material statements which were not made available to solicitors acting for the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.

Mr. Waddington

It has not been established that any relevant evidence concerning the case of the Birmingham Six is missing. Representations about this possibility are among the issues which have been raised by the solicitor acting for the convicted men. I have passed these to the chief constable of the west midlands police, and they will be investigated by the Devon and Cornwall constabulary.

Mr. Banks

May I put it to the Home Secretary that although we all lose things from time to time—the Labour party just lost three elections, but our losing streak is now finished—losing 2,000 statements really seems a bit much? A pack of playing cards on which Dr. Scuse carried out his tests and pages clearly torn out of a notebook have also been lost. It seems either that the police are terminally careless or that a cover up is going on. The Secretary of State recently had to eat some words in relation to the Maguire case, and he will have to eat some words in the case of the Birmingham Six before long.

Mr. Waddington

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said, which was that it had not been established that any relevant evidence in the case of the Birmingham Six was missing. In fact, the alleged failure of the prosecution to tell the defence about the existence of none-material statements was considered by the Court of Appeal in 1987. The allegations are now being considered by the Devon and Cornwall police.

Mr. Shersby

In respect of the Maguire case, which was raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us on what basis the conviction is thought to be unsound? Can he confirm that there is no question of any improper activity by the police?

Mr. Waddington

That is my understanding, but I only learnt about the matter this morning. I must read with care the submission made by counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions. My understanding is that he submitted that the convictions were unsafe and unsatisfactory on the basis of the possibility of the accused having become innocently contaminated with traces of explosives.

Mr. Mullin

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the collapse of the Maguire case this morning makes it two out of three in the cases that I and many others have, for the past seven years, attempted to draw to his attention as examples of miscarriages of justice? Would not it be best to learn some lessons and hold a public inquiry into the Birmingham Six case, and one which commands public confidence? Should not that scandal be brought to an end once and for all? Does the Home Secretary accept my fear that some of the Birmingham Six may die in gaol, as did Paul Giuseppe Conlan, one of those arrested in the Maguire case? We want to avoid that happening.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman should be pleased that when submissions were made to me that there was new evidence which should be investigated because it might cast doubt on the safety of the convictions, I asked the chief constable of the west midlands whether he would help, and he called in the Devon and Cornwall police. I cannot imagine what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about. Indeed, we might have progressed more quickly with the inquiries if he had revealed many months ago the names of those whom he said were responsible for the bombing.

Mr. Kilfedder

If public inquiries are to be held, can there be one into every atrocity committed as a result of the IRA's shoot-to-kill policy?

Mr. Waddington

I am bound to say that, like the hon. Gentleman, I have often thought that it would be nice to see on television every now and again a documentary highlighting the appalling atrocities committed by the IRA and the terrible damage that has been done to life in Ulster, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain.

Mr. Hattersley

May I bring the Home Secretary back to the crucial question, which is the status and reputation of justice in this country? Does he not understand that the submission by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the May committee inquiry this morning, and his own wholly proper reaction to it, further increase pressure for a new, thorough and objective inquiry into the convictions of the Birmingham Six? Sooner or later, that new inquiry will have to be held and it would do the Home Secretary's reputation a great deal of good if he set it up here and now.

Mr. Waddington

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks about the matter for a moment or two, I think that he will agree that I am right to say that I shall consider carefully what the May inquiry says about the forensic science evidence in the Maguire case and I shall take fully into account any implications that it might have for the safety of other convictions. The reliability of the forensic science evidence in the Birmingham Six case was fully examined in 1987.