HC Deb 09 December 1992 vol 215 cc972-8

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

12.28 am
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for your presence. Through you, Sir, I thank Madam Speaker for granting me the Adjournment debate. I thank the Minister for being here to reply. I thank also my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for being in his place to listen to the debate.

I shall speak about Mr. and Mrs. Watson, and especially their late daughter, Diane, who was one of my constituents. Before I turn to the main theme of the debate, I should tell the House that a further tragedy has befallen Mr. and Mrs. Watson. On Saturday of last week, their only remaining child, Alan, died in tragic circumstances. I was extremely pleased when Madam Speaker granted me this debate, and I had no idea that such a tragedy would take place. When I visited the distraught Mr. and Mrs. Watson on Sunday night, they insisted that I should go ahead with the debate. My initial thought was that it would be better to cancel it.

I have initiated the debate because of the work of irresponsible journalists, namely Mr. Jack McLean ofThe Glasgow Heraldand Miss Meg Henderson of Marie Claire. The debate is about a pupil of Whitehill secondary school, Diane Watson. In April 1991, Diane was only 16 years of age when she was attacked by a fellow pupil by the name of Glover. The other girl thought that Diane had something to do with her boy friend. She was so jealous that she took a kitchen knife from her home and stabbed Diane in the school playground. As the family home was just round the corner, the other pupils carried Diane to her mother's tenement flat, where she died in her mother's arms.

Diane was a good girl. She studied hard, she was liked and she was extremely popular in school. There is now a memorial to Diane in the form of the Diane Watson prize. It is given to any child in the school each week who is best at doing work in the community. Diane was well known as a good worker in the community. She worked on Saturdays and used the money from her job to try to help with the family income. During her school career, she undertook training at a local hospital. There is a reference in her mother's possession that gives praise to Diane.

No one could ask for a better daughter, but it seems to me and the family that the press have an obsession every now and again to write about a love triangle and about how two teenagers were arguing over a boy, as a result of which a terrible tragedy ensued. That is not true. I have seen a letter from the boy concerned in which he states that Diane had nothing to do with him. He makes it clear that Diane had no relationship with him. Yet the media, with the honourable exception of the Glasgow Evening Times,have tried to discredit and slur Diane's memory.

Many hon. Members are parents. I am a father, and I would be hurt if anyone said anything about my daughter, who is alive and well. How must the Watsons feel whenever a newspaper journalist starts making remarks about the memory of a wonderful daughter? But Mr. Jack McLean ofThe Glasgow Heraldgoes further. I shall read out some of the things that he has been writing, which I can describe only as absolute rubbish. One of his articles reads: Barbara Glover was from Cranhill, not a salubrious district of the city of Glasgow. She was a bit rougher than lots of the other girls at the school which her parents had selected for her, under the rule which says you can send your child to whatever school you wish. Her victim came from a background which was rather upper working class. For years this class element determined that young Barbara was something of an object of the kind of snobbish disdain that occurs within working classes. Diane had the smart white socks of the daughter of the labour aristocracy. Barbara did not. The Labour aristocracy, about which that fool of a journalist spoke, was Mr. Watson—a plumber who had been made redundant. At the time of his daughter's death he was able to obtain only casual work one or two days a week.

I wrote to Mr. McLean's editor. I received a reply from Mr. McLean, who claimed to have interviewed teachers and the family doctors of both families. I have a letter from Dr. Susan Joyce, the family's general practitioner. She says that at no stage did she ever give an interview to Mr. McLean. It would have been unethical to do so.

The headmaster went a step further. He asked all teachers voluntarily to sign a memo saying whether they did or did not speak to Mr. McLean. Every teacher at the school at the time of the tragic incident signed that memo saying that he or she had not spoken to Mr. McLean.

I am here tonight because the only thing that I can do for the Watson family is to ask the question—why would a so-called responsible journalist print those lies and hurt a family who wanted nothing to do with the press, but only to be allowed to get on with their lives?

The Marie Clairearticle by Meg Henderson is even worse. In an article a few months ago called "British children serving life sentences", she said that at the trial it was revealed that Diane had set out to bully and humiliate the girl Glover, that Diane had pulled off her tee-shirt and laughed at her, and that only a tiny nick of the knife had caused Diane's liver to bleed. That is not true. The pathologist had stated that there were punctures in the poor child's heart, lung and liver.

The question is, why would a journalist use the word "revealed" when in fact the girl Glover had alleged that Diane was a bully? It is understandable that Glover was trying to get herself off the hook. She was in deep trouble and on trial for murder, so she said that Diane was a bully. No other witness said that Diane was a bully. Why did not that journalist use the word "alleged" rather than "revealed"? The magazine article was clearly devised to mislead its readers. The girl Glover had a first-class Queen's counsel, but the jury rejected her case. A subsequent appeal did the same.

The worst point about the article is that it gave the clear impression that Miss Henderson, the journalist, carried out an interview in the enclosed facility at Kerelaw used for young criminals. Anyone reading it would certainly gain the impression that there was such an interview. I think that, when the Minister replies, he will say that no interview took place with that child. No permission was given for an interview. Miss Henderson was near that facility only as part of a Channel 4 team. She approached the girl Glover, who refused to take part in the Channel 4 interview.

I shall read the article to show the sort of things that appear in it. It states. What's the worst thing about being in here? The reply was: Where do you start? Being locked up, never being able to decide what you do or when you do it, never being able to get away from the same people all the time. Being separated from my family, missing everything, everybody. We're allowed visits any time—there are no restrictions. My parents have moved house to be nearer the unit and they visit almost every day and my older sister, aunts and uncles and cousins come regularly too. We talk, play games and watch TV together. I get lots of presents". Anyone reading that two-page article would say that the journalist must have spoken to the girl in the unit. The girl did not speak to her, and the Scottish Office supports that. The director of social work of Strathclyde region, which runs the unit on behalf of the Scottish Office, said that the place is so closely supervised that no interview could have taken place without the knowledge of the staff.

I think that I have said enough. All I can add, as a parent, is that I would find it hurtful if a journalist wrote such an article about my daughter. Even the parents of Barbara Glover must be worried about a journalist claiming that an interview took place when it did not. It is insensitive to do these things, particularly when we are dealing with young people and a family who have lost two children within 18 months. I ask those journalists, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker: please leave Margaret and Jim Watson alone. I hope and pray that they will recover from their terrible bereavements. I ask the irresponsible individuals in the media to leave the family alone with the memory of two lovely children.

12.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I rise with a heavy heart to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) in this Adjournment debate. His remarks carried considerable weight, and he advanced a strong case.

The freedom of the press is one of the most cherished freedoms of this country. When Minister with responsibilities for home affairs, I advocated opening up Scottish prisons to public scrutiny. Public discussion on penal matters has been better informed as a result, but the freedom of the press must be exercised responsibly, especially on penal matters.

The issues are highly emotive. The rights of those convicted and sentenced by the courts must be respected and upheld, but journalists have a responsibility to the wider public, including victims and their families. Those families are caught up in events beyond their control and unwillingly become the target of considerable publicity. It is the role of the responsible journalist to ensure that such publicity is not unnecessarily distressing to innocent parties.

Nothing is more tragic than the death of a child. Mr. and Mrs. Watson lost their daughter as a result of a crime of violence and have now lost another child. I should like to express the deepest sympathy for them. I know that that sympathy is shared by every hon. Member in the House tonight.

A young girl was convicted of Diane Watson's murder. She is now detained without limit of time in the secure unit of a residential care establishment. The situation of young people detained without limit of time has attracted much media attention in the past year. Journalists of course have every right to campaign on the issue and to bring it to the public's attention. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who is here tonight, and the former hon. Member for Dunfermline, West raised the issue with me in the previous Parliament, and I responded positively.

In January, I announced changes in the conditions under which section 205 detainees are held. In particular, I stated that those detainees would be allowed to enjoy escorted recreational outings, and that their cases would be reviewed at an earlier stage than those of comparable adults in order to set a first formal review date as early as possible in sentence. One case has already received that accelerated treatment. The initiatives were welcomed.

Against the background of media interest in these children, we also decided to issue formal guidance on how requests for access to such children for interview or photography should be handled. We have written to social work departments and managers of residential schools clarifying our policy on this matter.

We have made it clear that all bids for media access to detainees must be referred to the Scottish Office information directorate, unless vetoed first by the school managers or the social work department. The decision whether access to a particular detainee should be allowed would be taken at ministerial level. In considering such a bid, we would have in mind the interests of the victim's family, the possible effect on the public and the interests of the detainee him or herself.

We have made it clear in our guidance that we (10 not think that it would ever be in the interests of a child under 16 to be identified in a media interview. As for those aged 16 or over, if there was no objection in principle to the media bid, we would expect the managers of the school to counsel the detainee carefully about the implications of agreeing to it, and we would expect written consent to be obtained both from the detainee and from his or her parent or guardian.

The hon. Member for Springburn has just drawn attention to a particular article which has, perhaps inadvertently, caused considerable distress to the victim's family. I refer of course to the article by Meg Henderson, highlighted by the hon. Member, which appeared in the magazine Marie Clairelast August.

I now come to the difficult question of the degree of access, if any, which Miss Henderson had to the female detainee in question. I understand that Miss Henderson was engaged as a freelance researcher by Channel 4 in connection with a documentary about children detained without limit of time. In this connection she visited both Kerelaw and Kenmure St. Mary's Schools around November 1991. This was before the issue of our formal guidance on media access, but the principles of that guidance were in operation, on an informal basis. I am told by the management of Kerelaw that there was no verbal contact between Miss Henderson and the detainee other than an offer to be seen on camera. That was declined.

It is therefore my understanding that no interview with the girl took place. It can be of no benefit to this detainee to suggest, as the article implies, that she herself minimises the seriousness of the crime for which she has been convicted. The Scottish Office certainly attaches no responsibility in this matter to the girl herself. We are aware of the media overtures to her, which she has steadfastly refused, and we have no reason to believe that she acted differently on this occasion.

This article, using the names "Jean" and "Donna", gave the details of the crime for which the young girl I mentioned earlier was convicted. In the course of her trial, I understand that certain claims were made by the defence about the relationship between the accused and the victim, designed to minimise the guilt attaching to the accused. However, the jury was not persuaded that there was any special defence to the crime of murder or that the charge should be reduced.

It is difficult to understand why Meg Henderson decided to discuss the details of the crime in her article for Marie ClaireHer previous articles in The Guardianand The Scotsmandid not give any details. The purpose of doing so in the Marie Claire article may have been to evoke sympathy for the female detainee to whom she refers as "Jean". I submit that it was quite unnecessary and irresponsible. It has already caused great distress to the Watson family. Their daughter is dead and cannot answer allegations which have been made against her.

The hon. Member for Springburn has also referred to articles by Mr. Jack McLean in The Glasgow Herald. Mr. McLean has referred to the case in more than one article, as an illustration of his own somewhat idiosyncratic ideas on law and order. Mr. McLean is entitled to the free expression of his opinions. However, he might reflect on the impact that his remarks have had on the victim's family. Sadly, his articles have caused distress, and I believe this has been brought to his attention by the hon. Member for Springburn.

Mr. McLean's articles are not of the same relevance to this debate as Miss Henderson's article, however. Mr. McLean did not claim to have interviewed the detainee. and this debate is about access by journalists to those in custody.

In addressing the general question of media access to those under sentence of the courts, we have in recent years adopted a policy of increased openness. Each request from a national journalist is treated on its merits, and a decision is taken at the highest level in the Scottish prison service. In addition, prison governors deal locally with requests from local newspapers. Broadly speaking, proposals for interviews which are in the public interest because they seek to inform would be viewed sympathetically. Media approaches which seem to us likely to be exploitative—of prisoners or situations are—refused. We could not, of course, agree to interviews with prisoners whose cases are the subject of any current investigation or public controversy.

The House will appreciate that we would not wish to control entirely the dialogue between prisoners and the news media. Consistent with the European convention on human rights, we do not censor prisoners' mail. All convicted prisoners also have access to payphones. Prisoners may themselves write to journalists. The use made of the material thereafter will depend on the professionalism of the journalist concerned.

The establishments in which children sentenced under sections 205 or 206 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 are placed are not part of the Scottish prison service estate, nor are they managed by the Secretary of State. They are managed directly by the local authority social work department, and by certain independent bodies with social work funding.

Where a person convicted is 16 or over, the normal policy is to detain the person from the outset in a young offenders institution. Where the person convicted is under 16, we take the view that the welfare of the person, as a child, must be kept firmly in view. Although, therefore, it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to direct the place and conditions of detention, we locate such children if at all possible in the secure unit of a residential school, where they can live in similar conditions to those detained there for welfare reasons.

We do not seek to control access by the media to the residential schools. As I have said, they do not belong to the Secretary of State, nor does he manage them. We regard media access to the establishments as such as a matter to be controlled by the social work department and the managers of the schools. I am confident that they exercise their discretion responsibly.

Media access to the detainees themselves, however, is a different matter. The Secretary of State is responsible for the conditions of their detention, and that includes any question of their availability for interview by the press. I have already outlined our policy on such access, which is designed to safeguard the interests of such young people without obstructing legitimate public debate.

As we are all only too well aware, the media in today's society can wield enormous power and influence. That power and influence can be used responsibly for good ends or it can be used irresponsibly. The media coverage which has been generated on children detained without limit of time has undoubtedly promoted public debate. To that there can be no objection.

But the campaign will not be furthered by misleading and emotive coverage of particular cases. Questions about the conditions of detention for children sentenced by the courts are entirely separate from questions about the merits of particular convictions or sentences.

By opening up the latter issue and by repeating unsubstantiated allegations, Miss Henderson has obscured the main issue and added unnecessarily and irresponsibly to the unhappiness of the Watson family. If she takes any interest in the effect of her writings, I hope that she will reflect on that fact.

I would like to end by reiterating my sympathy for the family and my deep compassion for them in their bereavement.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to One o'clock.