§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Kirkhope.]11.16 pm
§ Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)
I am grateful to Madam Speaker for giving me the opportunity to raise this important matter on the Adjournment tonight. This is not a matter of party politics. It is, quite simply, a question of justice.
The case of my constituent, Raymond Gilmour, presents the real and strong possibility—I would assert, the probability—that there has been a gross miscarriage of justice. More than that, it raises questions that strike at the very heart of our Scottish legal system.
Of course, no system of criminal law can ever be perfect. In any system, there will be always be the chance of wrongful conviction. The health of any system of justice, therefore, must be judged on how it rights those wrongs. Against that measure, the Gilmour case places the credibility of the Scots legal system, as it stands, at some risk.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that my endeavours tonight are deeply considered, serious and sincere. I have provided him with a copy of my speech in advance of the debate, because I genuinely want his response to be well informed and well considered. I have also supplied him with a copy of a video recording of the recent "Trial and Error" programme on Gilmour's case.
On 4 November 1981, Johnstone schoolgirl Pamela Hastie was assaulted, raped and murdered in Rannoch woods in my home town of Johnstone. All murders are terrible, but this one was especially terrible. Pamela was young, bright and attractive. She was full of life, and full of hope. She had just been made a school prefect. She was proud of that, and her parents—good, honest, decent people, whom I know—were proud of her. She had everything to live for, and everything to look forward to.
Try to imagine the family's horror—only those who have lived through such an ordeal really can imagine it—when they learned not only that their daughter was dead, but how she had died in such evil circumstances. Their lives were shattered, and they remain shattered. I want to see justice every bit as much for the Hasties as I do for Gilmour. What they lost that day can never be replaced, but at least they deserve to know the truth.
Over the years since Gilmour's conviction, a number of people have sought to get at that truth. Although his claims of innocence had always been stoically supported by his family and his local minister, the Rev. Hamish MacColl, the campaign to have his case reconsidered was making little headway for some years. Then a Paisley solicitor, Gordon Ritchie, became interested, and he has since spent countless hundreds of hours doing unpaid and diligent research. He is a credit to the Scottish legal profession.
I also pay tribute to the objective research and reporting of journalists, especially Severin Carrell of The Scotsman, who has done much, much more than journalism demanded. Stephen Wilkie of the Daily Record has also shown a continued interest in the campaign, as have journalists from the Paisley Daily Express, Renfrew and Erskine Gazette, Evening Times and The Guardian. I am also grateful for the continued support that I have received 398 from the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), both of whom are present.
When the Secretary of State rejected Gilmour's application for the prerogative of mercy on 18 April, it was feared that it would prove difficult to keep the case in the public eye. However, the case was worrying enough to excite the attention of the Just Television company, which makes the "Trial and Error" programme for Channel 4. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House will have personal experience of the team who, until 1992, produced "Rough Justice" for the BBC.
The team brought forward evidence that re-established Gilmour's alibi on the day in question, suggesting that confusion in the evidence of a 16-year-old witness may have mistakenly placed him near the scene of the crime. More critically, they highlighted evidence from the eminent forensic pathologist, Dr. Iain West, that the victim could not have been hit in the way in which Gilmour is alleged to have claimed in his admissions. Indeed, it is Dr. West's view that the victim was not hit at all in that way.
Gilmour became a police suspect shortly after Pamela Hastie's body was found. He lived in the area, frequented Rannoch woods and had a previous conviction for indecent exposure. When he was questioned by the police, he readily admitted exposing himself on other occasions in the same vicinity. It is not in dispute that Gilmour committed such crimes, and it seems that he was, in some ways, an inadequate youth.
On 9 November 1981, Gilmour made the first of his two alleged admissions. He withdrew it almost immediately and claimed that he had made it only to appease his interrogators. He was interviewed by the police officer heading the investigation, Detective Superintendent James Brown, who concluded that Gilmour had no special knowledge of the murder, and was merely offering a second-hand account of what he had read in newspapers or heard from local gossip. Brown ruled him out as a suspect, and to this day, Brown believes that he was correct to do so.
I well remember the intense local feeling at the time. The police were under great pressure from the press and the public to get a conviction. Brown was taken off the inquiry, and was replaced by Detective Superintendent Charlie Craig—perhaps best described as a determined, if colourful and unorthodox, police officer—who resolved to get his man. But did he get the right man? That remains the question. Will the Minister detail the reasons why Brown was removed from the murder investigation? Why did Strathclyde police remove that detective superintendent from an inquiry that he had been conducting for months?
On 9 February 1982, three months after his first alleged and withdrawn confession, Gilmour was being held at Longriggend remand centre on charges of indecent exposure to which I referred earlier. He was due to appear in Paisley sheriff court that day. The normal practice was for the prison bus to take prisoners to court. Instead, that day, two senior officers of the serious crime squad arrived to give him a special escort in a police car.
That journey should have taken 40 minutes. It took around three hours. During it, Gilmour is alleged to have made his second confession. He claims it was made involuntarily, under threat and duress. Why on earth did 399 two such senior officers attend to escort a prisoner to the court where he was due to appear on charges in which they had no involvement? Why did the journey take so long? How, in those highly unusual circumstances, could Gilmour possibly have invoked his right to have a solicitor present?
More troubling still is the fact—and it is a fact—that those admissions bear little relationship to the truth of events at various salient points. Gilmour claimed, for instance, that he had committed the murder and left the body at a point very different from that where it was found. He was unable to provide specific details of the clothing of the victim. More specifically, and more significantly, he was totally mistaken about how the victim was murdered, claiming that he had hit her over the head with the branch of a tree and then strangled her with her school tie or the strap of her bag. She was, in fact, strangled with sisal string.
During his first alleged confession—which he later withdrew—Gilmour sketched a labelled map of the murder locus. There is now forensic suspicion that some words on that map may have been written under more than one hand. In any case, there are inconsistencies in the accuracy of the map, in terms both of location and of the simple shape of the path.
Most critically of all, "Trial and Error" discovered evidence that, to my mind, discredits any remaining reliability one might give to Gilmour's confessions. The victim had been attacked with a knife or similar object in such a way that classic defensive wounds resulted.
This fact—a fact so central and salient to the case—it is now established, was not known to the police investigating the murder, to the defending solicitor at the time, to the protecting and defending advocate, to the judge or to the jury. How could the worth of the case against Gilmour have been properly or comprehensively judged with the omission of a fact which was at the very centre of this terrible crime?
My understanding is that the advocate-depute, although responsible for the prosecution case, has a primary duty to make all the evidence available to the court in the public interest. It seems that at least one essential piece of evidence was not made known to the court. Why was it omitted? Was the evidence about the use of a knife known to the Advocate-Depute? If it was, why was it not led in evidence? If it was not, why not?
In light of this, I wish to formally request that the Minister places in the House of Commons Library a full transcript of the shorthand notes taken at the trial. I believe that the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates has now agreed to appoint leading and junior counsel to act on Gilmour's case. That news is extremely welcome. The availability of the trial transcripts is now more necessary than ever.
As I have said, my constituent has already submitted a petition to the Secretary of State, but that was before this latest evidence came to light. At the time of his decision, the Secretary of State provided me with detailed reasons for his decision. I do not wish, and do not have the time, to question all of them, but I must question his statement on the final page of his letter to me about Gilmour's petitions, in which he states that they 400do not cast reasonable suspicion on any other person as regards the murder.Will the Minister confirm that it is not the responsibility of Gilmour, or anyone acting on his behalf, to prove the guilt of another in order to establish his own innocence?
I must also ask why the Minister of State, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, withdrew from consideration of the case after being involved for many months. He told me that he had recollections about an earlier involvement in the prosecution of the case which made that withdrawal proper and necessary. Exactly what did he recollect? Why did these recollections cause him to withdraw?
I was delighted to receive on Monday what I regard as a helpful and hopeful letter from the Secretary of State in which he said:I note your continuing concern about your constituent's conviction and will of course give careful consideration to any further points which might be submitted on his behalf in the light of that programme, 'Trial & Error". I am ready to consider a further petition supported by relevant documentation, particularly with regard to any new statements on the part of witnesses or forensic experts.
Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State means what he says? Will he confirm that his right hon. Friend will now consider a petition based on new statements, which might include fresh information on evidence which was technically available at the time of the trial, even though it was not led at the trial or made known to the judge, jury, defence or police? Better still, will he now consider using his powers under section 263 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 to refer the case to the High Court?
The wealth of new evidence now available cries out for a reappraisal of this tragic case. It is now an open secret that the Gilmour case is discrediting the Scottish system of justice, a system on which we have prided ourselves for so long. Surely, a truly healthy system must confront the possibility of error: in this case, an error which may have locked an innocent man behind bars for more than 12 years.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) has very kindly allowed me the opportunity of a moment or two to contribute to this debate. I do not need to delay the House for long, because the comprehensive and responsible way in which he presented his case this evening was, to an objective listener, extremely persuasive indeed.
My qualification for adding my support to what the hon. Gentleman has said arises first from the fact that I have read all the papers relating to the trial that are publicly available. I have not read the transcript, because it has not yet been made available. I have also had the advantage—if that is the right word—of defending on a number of occasions in murder trials in Scotland, on one famous occasion with the Minister as my junior. In addition, I spent some time in the Crown Office as an advocate-depute, and I have prosecuted in a number of murder trials.
Using this experience and the judgment that I hope I have reasonably formed as a result, I am left in considerable doubt as to the legitimacy of the conviction in this case. I am concerned, first, by the apparent inconsistency between the confession and other circumstances of the case. If special knowledge, so-called, 401 is to be relied upon, there is certainly some scope for inconsistency; but a number of the inconsistencies seem to me so major as to raise a large amount of doubt.
I am also much concerned about the way in which this man was taken from Longriggend to what was supposed to be a routine court appearance, and about the fact that a journey of 40 minutes apparently took about three hours. I am particularly anxious about the fact that it now appears that there is evidence that, as part of the attack, a knife may have been used, and that that evidence formed no part of the consideration of the High Court when the matter was tried.
Under our system of law in Scotland, no man or woman has to prove his or her innocence. There has to be proof beyond reasonable doubt. Having given the matter the best consideration that I can, I believe that there is a substantial doubt in this case. That is why I have sought to lend such assistance as I can to what I regard as the responsible and assiduous efforts that the hon. Member has made on behalf of his constituent.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) warmly on his success in securing this Adjournment debate, and on his obvious commitment to the cause of justice and to the interests of his constituent. I also congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I vividly remember the case in which I was his junior counsel. It seems only yesterday, but it was a long time ago.
It is the sign of a civilised society to be constantly vigilant to ensure that our system of criminal justice does not tolerate miscarriages of justice, and complacency in such matters is never acceptable. The successful functioning of our criminal justice system does, of course, depend on an intricate balance being maintained between the need to ensure fairness for an accused person and at the same time to protect the public from crime.
I have seen and studied the video recording, which the hon. Gentleman kindly lent me yesterday, of the recent television programme, and I have listened to the hon. Member's concerns about his constituent's case with great attention.
I should make it clear to the House from the outset that the Secretary of State will be ready to consider any further representations which may be submitted on Mr. Gilmour's behalf. Indeed, I understand that a petition is at present being prepared. The House will understand, however, that, until such a petition has been considered, neither I nor my right hon. Friend is in a position to comment on any new matters which may have been raised by the television programme, or to review the decision taken in April.
It is important to remind the House, first, why the Secretary of State cannot usually intervene in a case on the basis of evidence which has already been before the courts. Constitutionally, it is for the courts to determine questions of innocence or guilt. Accordingly, the Secretary of State should not seek to intervene in their decisions or to second-guess the verdict of a jury purely on the basis of information already considered by the courts.
402 This is because the Secretary of State's opinion of a case can be based only on consideration of relevant papers, including reports of investigations, whereas the jury at the original trial will have been able to hear the evidence and assess the performance and demeanour of witnesses at first hand. It follows that the Secretary of State can normally consider the exercise of his power to refer a case to the Court of Appeal only when compelling new information is presented to him which was not before the court or could not reasonably have been made available at the trial.
The purpose of a referral to the Appeal Court is to enable some fresh issue to be considered by the court which the Secretary of State is satisfied it can properly and usefully consider. On that basis, any new petition which may be presented to the Secretary of State for Mr. Gilmour should seek to present new evidence or fresh considerations of substance; it should not seek simply to re-argue matters which are already before the court of trial.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of issues, many of which were raised in the recent television programme. If Mr. Gilmour's representatives consider that they are new issues of substance, they will no doubt raise them in the further petition, and my right hon. Friend will consider them carefully.
At this stage, however, I should note that the post mortem report, which made reference to the cuts on the victim's hands, and the photographs taken at the post mortem showing cuts on the left hand, were productions at the trial. Both pathologists who conducted the post mortem also gave evidence. If, none the less, the cuts on the victim's fingers are now considered to be significant, the matter can be raised in any further petition to the Secretary of State.
As regards the hon. Gentleman's request for a transcript of the shorthand notes taken at the trial, I have made inquiries, and I understand that the shorthand notes were transcribed, but it has not been possible to locate the transcript. I would otherwise have been willing to meet the request to have the transcript placed in the Library. I intend, however, to pursue the matter further with the Justiciary Office, but the judge's charge to the jury was transcribed for the appeal and is available, as is the opinion of the appeal court and the report thereon.
§ Mr. McMaster
Will the Minister confirm that the powers of the Secretary of State under section 263 are extensive, and if the Secretary of State chose to do so, he could refer the case to the High Court? Let us leave that aside for the moment and get to the nub of the case.
Will the Minister, to be absolutely crystal clear, give a cast-iron guarantee that the evidence which was shown in "Trial and Error"—the evidence to which I refer primarily—will be permissible as part of a new petition? We have to have that absolutely clarified, because the Minister has seen the video and knows that the evidence will corroborate it. I do not want to make any more interventions, so let me raise one more point with the Minister. I seek his assurance that he will instruct a genuine search for the transcript.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
First, the Secretary of State does have substantial powers, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, if there are grounds within the petition. As I 403 mentioned to the hon. Gentleman, the grounds are either fresh evidence or fresh issues of substance, and it is not appropriate for me to give a legal interpretation.
The appropriate course is for the facts to be presented in the petition which the lawyers advising the convicted person believes are of relevance as regards the matter as being either fresh evidence or new issues of substance.
I wish to mention particularly the reason why Detective Superintendent James Brown was removed from the murder investigation. That decision was an operational matter for the Strathclyde chief constable, but I understand that it is not unusual police practice to invite a senior investigating officer unconnected with the original investigation to review the case where a murder inquiry has failed to make significant progress. The advantage of having a fresh mind in charge in such circumstances can readily be appreciated, and it would, in my view, be unjustified to seek to draw sinister inferences.
The hon. Gentleman also asked why my noble and learned Friend the Minister of State withdrew from consideration of the case. My noble and learned Friend wrote to the hon. Member on 30 March this year explaining that, in his previous capacity as Solicitor-General, he had been aware of the Gilmour case, but had not had a substantial involvement. None the less, priorities dictated withdrawal from consideration of the petition submitted on Mr. Gilmour's behalf, as in his view complete detachment was necessary. I am sure that the House will agree that my noble and learned Friend's decision to withdraw was appropriate and honourable. I should also remind the House that decisions about such cases are taken by the Secretary of State.
I was asked to give my view to the Secretary of State on the evidence then available, and the Secretary of State took the final decision at that stage. The petitions submitted to him last year on Mr. Gilmour's behalf were the subject of detailed consideration and investigation.
Those petitions focused essentially on two of the key issues at Mr. Gilmour's trial. The first was whether his confession statements were made voluntarily or whether they were extracted from him by unfair police questioning, violence or threats of violence. The second key issue was whether there was sufficient correlation between the contents of his statements and the evidence of what was found in the wood as to constitute special knowledge on Mr. Gilmour's part which the murderer would have had.
The trial judge instructed the jury in his charge that, unless its members were satisfied both that the statements were fairly obtained by the police and that such correlation and special knowledge existed, there was otherwise insufficient evidence to convict Mr. Gilmour. The trial judge also advised the jury that the forensic evidence could not be regarded as a source of corroboration.
In convicting Mr. Gilmour, a majority of the jury clearly concluded that the confession statements had been fairly obtained by the police, and that they revealed sufficient special knowledge to provide corroboration. All the police officers who witnessed the confessions gave evidence in court, and were thus able to be cross-examined on whether undue pressure had been applied in the relevant interviews.
404 The main ground of Mr. Gilmour's appeal was that there was not sufficient evidence in law to corroborate the statements concerning the admissions that he had committed the offences. The Court of Appeal concluded that, where statements contained points of identity and points of discrepancy with facts found by the police, it was for the jury to decide whether they could accept the points of identity. In this case, the jury had accepted those points, and the Court of Appeal held that they had been sufficient in law.
The petitions submitted to the Secretary of State last year returned to the matter of discrepancies between the confession statements and what the police had found in the woods. Although the petitions raised matters that either were or could have been raised at the trial, interviews were conducted with witnesses who had provided statements to the petitioner's legal representatives.
As the police evidence was crucial in the case, six of the seven police officers involved in the original investigation were also interviewed last year, the seventh officer having died in the intervening period. The interviews were conducted by the regional procurator fiscal at Paisley, and by senior officers of Strathclyde police.
I can confirm to the House that the police statements did not reveal any indication of malpractice. Indeed, the police officers in question emphatically denied any unfair treatment on their part, or any physical or verbal abuse of Mr. Gilmour in the course of the murder inquiries.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman asks whether that is surprising.
One of the great virtues of the Scottish legal system is that the regional procurator fiscal is entirely independent of the police and, as I mentioned, the interviews were conducted by the regional procurator fiscal and by senior officers of the Strathclyde police.
The petitions also alleged that a lorry driver had been seen acting in an unusual and suspicious manner on the day of the murder, and had tried to pick up a young girl in his lorry within half a mile of the locus. The lorry driver who was apparently the subject of those allegations was traced and interviewed on behalf of the Secretary of State.
Witnesses relevant to those allegations were also interviewed, but no grounds were revealed to regard the lorry driver as a suspect in relation to the murder. Several other witness statements submitted on Mr. Gilmour's behalf were also investigated and precognitions taken of the persons concerned. Those statements did not raise any issues of material significance.
The matter was investigated because it had been raised on Mr. Gilmour's petitions, but I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that it is not the responsibility of Mr. Gilmour or his representative to prove the guilt of another person in order to establish his own innocence.
The very thorough investigation that was conducted on behalf of the Secretary of State did not identify any evidence of police malpractice; nor did it suggest an alternative suspect for the murder of Pamela Hastie. 405 Careful consideration of the petitions did not identify any grounds for concern about the case that were not before the jury at the original trial. It was therefore concluded that the representations last year did not reveal such new evidence or fresh considerations of substance as to indicate that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
As to the claim made in the recent television programme, if Mr. Gilmour's representatives consider that the programme identified new evidence or fresh considerations of substance, they should arrange to include all such matters in the forthcoming petition to the 406 Secretary of State, supported as appropriate by statements from witnesses or forensic experts. We shall then arrange for those matters to receive close examination.
In conclusion, I repeat my initial statement, that we stand ready to consider further representations on the case. I assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that any new submission made on Mr. Gilmour's behalf will be carefully considered, and further investigations instructed if appropriate.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Twelve midnight.