HC Deb 18 March 1993 vol 221 cc391-3
4. Mr. Trimble

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps have been taken to review the original police inquiry into the murder of Adrian Carroll in Armagh in 1983 following the judgment of the Court of Appeal in July 1992.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I have received a range of representations about the case of Mr. Latimer, mostly seeking a further reference—

Mr. Trimble

This is the answer to a different question.

Madam Speaker

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman replying to question 4?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

That is exactly what I am doing—at least I am attempting to, Madam Speaker.

I have received a range of representations about the case of Mr. Latimer—which bears upon the murder of Adrian Carroll, referred to in question 4—mostly seeking a further reference to the Court of Appeal. I have found that none contains material to justify making a reference; nor has any been found to justify commissioning any review of the original police inquiry into the murder of Mr. Carroll.

Mr. Trimble

Thank you. I fear that questions 4 and 9 may have been too closely linked by the Secretary of State because my question relates to the original police inquiry into the murder of Adrian Carroll in 1983. Does the Secretary of State intend to follow the precedent set in England with regard to the May inquiry and appoint, when the time is appropriate, a judicial inquiry into the conduct of that original investigation so that the whole truth can come out? Does he also agree, in vim of the disappointing decision of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal last summer, that it would not be fair to ask a Northern Ireland judge to head such an inquiry?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I completely repudiate the implication in the hon. Gentleman's last remark. I never make comments on judicial decisions: I think that that is a good principle to be followed by anybody in the House. Nothing has been represented to me that justifies an inquiry into the police investigation.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the Secretary of State take it from me that the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland find it an outrage and a scandal that Neil Latimer is still in prison? Those who have bothered to acquaint themselves with the facts and details of this case recognise that the Crown prosecution witness who gave forensic evidence in the case corrupted the whole of the case for all four of the men who were convicted and not just three of them. Latimer is left as a figleaf behind which the establishment may hide the awful fact that there are policemen who are not perfect and judges who can make mistakes.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It is not for me to express a view as to what the majority—overwhelming—or otherwise—of the people in Northern Ireland may consider in this context. I have, in response to many letters I have received about the judgment of the Court of Appeal in July last year, read very carefully again the judgment delivered by the Lord Chief Justice. It is perfectly clear to me that this is a matter which has been gone into with the very greatest care—as the sheer volume of the judgment shows. If I thought that the criteria, which have been long established for making a further reference to the Court of Appeal, had been satisfied in this case, I would have no hesitation in making such a reference. I am perfectly certain, for the reasons I have set out in letters to hon. Members, that those criteria are not satisfied.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern on both sides of the House and throughout the country about the possible miscarriage of justice in this case because of the unreliable evidence of witness A and the disgraceful behaviour of the RUC in the whole affair? Has he had the opportunity to study the evidence produced by Mr. Andrew Morton, who conducted an investigation on behalf of the BBC's "Newsnight" programme, and who came to the conclusion that there was no way in which Neil Latimer could have been the author of the statement described in court as his confession? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore refer the case of Neil Latimer back to the Court of Appeal for further consideration?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The short answer is no. I am aware of the programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If it will not take too long, I should like to cite a few lines from the judgment delivered by the Lord Chief Justice—the House will find it of interest: We are satisfied that the ESDA findings in relation to the interview notes of Latimer do not create a doubt as to the correctness of his convictions, because on his own evidence at the trial as to what happened in the interviews and as to what he said in the interviews, it is clear that on the night of 2–3 December 1983 he confessed to murdering Mr. Carroll. We are further satisfied that those confessions were true and were the confessions of a guilty man and not of an innocent man who, by improper police conduct, was pressed into confessing to a murder which he had not committeed. No one reading the full transcript of the evidence of Latimer at the trial, and reading that transcript in an impartial way and with commonsense can doubt that he was a guilty man". If any further evidence were put to me that would constitute material of a substantial kind that had not previously been raised before the courts and which gave rise to a possibility that this was an unsafe conviction, I would refer the conviction again to the Court of Appeal—but none has been.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Secretary of State aware that after most terrorist-related offences in Northern Ireland have gone through the Court of Appeal, there is no appeal thereafter and communities generally accept that justice has been done? In this particular case, however, there is a general sense of unease throughout the whole community about the legitimacy of this man remaining in prison. That is why I am concerned: in most cases no one challenges the convictions.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I do not doubt that that is correct. I have had about 70 letters from hon. Gentlemen—

Ms Short

And hon. Ladies.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Quite so. We have also received about 550 other letters, most of them in a standard form. I quite understand why there has been concern, because in this case four people were originally convicted, of whom three had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal. The fourth did not, even though improprieties concerning the police notes in connection with the fourth case were present, just as they had been with the other three.

The purpose and point of the Lord Chief Justice's judgment, however, explaining why Latimer's conviction was not considered unsafe is as follows. Leaving aside the question of the notes prepared by the police, other evidence, including evidence emanating from Latimer himself and confirmed at the trial, made it quite clear, in the opinion of the Court of Appeal, that this was a safe conviction.