HC Deb 02 May 1995 vol 259 cc222-34

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

6.51 pm
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

It is with some reluctance that I bring this case to the attention of the House this evening. I do so only as a result of my complete inability to establish the facts in this case or, having established what facts I could, to obtain some action on the matter.

The best way for me to place the case in context is to read a letter that was sent to me by my constituent, Mrs. Donna Tutton, which I received on 1 November 1994. I shall paraphrase parts of it, but I read it substantially as it is, for accuracy.

Mrs. Tutton writes: On the 29th April 1990 I was attacked in my own Home by my ex-husband, his father and his brother-in-law, resulting in me having an operation at the Heath hospital in Cardiff. They had to shave my head, saw my skull open to remove blood clots and I had 36 staples in my skull. If they hadn't operated I would have been dead by morning. I had repeated visits to the hospital by them to tell her that she and her baby son, who was 10 months old, would be killed and that the son would be sent to a country overseas and would be bled to death to cleanse his soul. I ended up having a nervous breakdown. The doctor was very good and thanks to her help I managed to report this to the police and they were arrested. I was told they were let off as I was the only witness to the attack. I was told by them that they could kill me as I didn't count and no-one would believe me anyway, they knew someone in the Crown Prosecution Service. My solicitor wrote to the CPS. He was very shocked that they weren't being taken to court … the only reply we got was the decision was theirs and they didn't wish to discuss it … Since all this happened I have had to move my home four times and my son has needed to move school three times. They've always found me. I have now re-married a boy from Porth"— the village where I live in the Rhondda— and am now living in the Rhondda valleys, but they've found me again and we're going to have to sell up. The letter describes some other matters, but Mrs. Tutton finishes as follows: Why are myself and my son being punished? We've never hurt anyone in our lives yet we're on the run. It seems I don't count as I am just a silly girl. It's not what you do, it seems, it's who you know. They could kill me and probably get away with it and no one would say anything. They'll just say it was a domestic. Please, please could I come to talk with you? I was so distressed by the contents of that letter that I immediately wrote, on 1 November 1994, to the Crown Prosecution Service, although first I wrote to the police, asking them if they would immediately look after my constituent. I wrote: I would be grateful if you could do something so that my constituent can be protected from this harassment"— because Mrs. Tutton told me that at the same time her assailants were coming to her home and standing outside it, because they wanted to take the son back to be brought up in their religion— especially in view of the previous vicious assault by these men, a Mr. Zahad Amin, a Mr. Ray Bashk and a Mr. Sherez Khan. Finally, on 1 February 1995, I received a letter from the chief constable, saying: As you know, Mrs. Tutton's former husband, Mr. Zahad Amin, lives in the Cardiff area and she has seen him a number of times in the general area of her home and the local school and is understandably apprehensive about his motives. There is little that the police can do, but an officer has spoken to Mr. Amin and warned him about his future conduct. It may be in Mrs. Tutton's interest to seek legal advice about the possibility of taking out an injunction against her former husband, although I should mention here that the last sighting of Mr. Amin in the Ynyshir area was October 1994, which was when she wrote to me in such a distressed condition.

At the same time, I wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service, because I could not understand why that case had not proceeded. Then a farce started that would be funny if the context were not so tragic. I could not believe it. It was almost comic. When I wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions—excuse me handling some documents, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I want to get it right for the record—and asked her whether she would reconsider prosecuting and inform me why you did not proceed in the first instance I received a letter in reply, after some time and a couple of reminders, saying: Mrs. Tutton, in April 1990, reported to the police that she had been assaulted by her ex-husband and his father. The police prepared a file and submitted it to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice, but on their test of what they would consider a reasonable prospect of conviction"— I shall return to that issue later— they decided not to proceed. The file did not pass the evidential test and it was sent back to the police. However, it was subsequently lost. The excuse offered then was: "We cannot give you any reasons for not prosecuting the case because we have lost the file; it is not available." The Director of Public Prosecutions said: Enquiries have been made with the police to see whether this file is still in existence. Regrettably, the police have not retained a copy of the papers. Without these papers, it would obviously be impossible for me to comment on the Crown Prosecution Service's decision, or to explain the reasons for taking no further action in this case. I realise that my reply will be a disappointment to Mrs. Tutton". That fairly gratuitous remark at the end of the letter did not please me.

I wrote back immediately and said: I must confess that I'm amazed and appalled at your reply which is summed up in your penultimate paragraph. You really must do better than this—I am not going to have my constituent's complaint brushed aside in this cavalier and high-handed way. My constituent was savagely beaten, hospitalized with a fractured skull and yet you have taken no action. What on earth do you require as evidence? If Mrs. Tutton had been murdered"— if her attackers had proceeded a little further and kicked her a little more she would have died— there would have been no witness so according to your criteria no-one would have been prosecuted. I am enclosing some further documents which might stimulate a more intelligent response". After a reasonable period—not immediately—I received another letter from the Crown Prosecution Service. I sent medical evidence in relation to Mrs. Tutton's case, together with her initial police statement. I received a letter from the CPS which stated: As I explained in my letter of 24 November 1994, papers relating to this matter have not been retained by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service". The letter goes on to say that there was lack of corroborative evidence as there was only one witness.

It is a pathetic and a sinister reply, because only the skill of the surgeon saved Mrs. Tutton. If she had died, there would have been no witnesses and, according to the CPS criteria, no prosecution could have taken place.

I would like the Solicitor-General to examine that question. If the Crown Prosecution Service intends to apply those criteria in all cases, it would mean that there would never be a prosecution in a rape case. Most rapes are not committed in public; there are usually only two witnesses—the rapist and the victim of the rape. According to the criteria that the CPS has evolved in Mrs. Tutton's case, if there is only one witness there can be no corroborative evidence. Does that mean that justice is to be dispensed in this country only when there is a gaggle of witnesses? Will not forensic, circumstantial and other corroborative evidence be accumulated in order to prosecute cases?

The letter raises another equally appalling issue—I am sure that you will find it incredible, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I said earlier, I submitted copies of Mrs. Tutton's original police statement and medical evidence to the CPS. The CPS letter states: Mrs. Tutton provides documents"— it was I who provided them— confirming that she suffered injuries. However, these documents rely a great deal on what Mrs. Tutton told the medical practitioners and, in themselves, do not take matters any further". That is an absolutely incredible and contemptuous statement, which is highly insulting to the neurosurgeon who wrote the medical report.

The neurosurgeon's letter states: Skull X-rays demonstrated a right parietal skull fracture and a CT scan demonstrated a right sided, extradural haematoma, ie a blood clot between the inner surface of the skull and the tough membrane (dura) which surrounds the brain. There was bruising around her left eye and right arm". There is further evidence that Mrs. Tutton still suffers not only as a result of the nervous breakdown but also from epileptic fits.

The Crown Prosecution Service said that the documents that I submitted relied on what Mrs. Tutton had told the medical practitioners. Mr. Deputy Speaker, can you imagine Mrs. Tutton walking into the hospital and saying, "Hiya fellas, I've got a right parietal skull fracture, a blood clot and bruising all over me. I've been battered against the wall, rammed against the door and kicked on the floor."? It is absolute nonsense to suggest that the documents rely on what Mrs. Tutton told the medical practitioners. Would a neurosurgeon write a report based on such evidence? The facts are there for all to see.

I have tried to pursue the case through every avenue. The Home Secretary said, "It has nothing to do with me." When I went to the ombudsman on the basis that the case had been administered badly, he said, "It has nothing to do with me; I can't deal with matters of justice." My hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General suggested that the ombudsman for legal services might be able to help. However, he could not provide assistance, because he can deal only with complaints against solicitors, barristers and licensed conveyors. How do we deal with complaints against the Director of Public Prosecutions and her Department?

I did not want to bring the matter before the House; I did not want to expose the problems in an Adjournment debate. I have copies of the copious letters that I have sent to all sorts of Government Departments in an attempt to receive an answer and to resolve the matter through the normal channels. I wrote to the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary, the chief constable, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the ombudsman, but I came up against a brick wall.

What is the present position? I do not wish to be critical of the Solicitor-General. I genuinely want to elicit solutions to the problems that I have raised—if not for Mrs. Tutton's sake, for the benefit of others in the future. Will the Solicitor-General establish an inquiry into the matter? Will he promise this evening that he will examine the issue and give me an answer? Is there a precedent for the course of action to be taken when files are lost? I am sure that files must have been lost before—there are thousands of files circulating in the CPS and in police departments. Surely we can look to some form of precedent in this matter.

This raises a fundamental issue: what is the Crown Prosecution Service about? I accept that there must be some filtering of evidence before cases come to court. It used to be done primarily by chief superintendents who decided whether to process matters, probably in consultation with others, but it now appears that the Crown Prosecution Service is the judge and jury. A relatively young solicitor in the Crown Prosecution Service can take the evidence and decide that it will not go through, and that is that.

I thought that the basis of our law was that evidence could be presented to a court, and examined by a judge who would direct and consult a jury, who would then hand down a verdict. I know that all cases cannot go to court. They would clog up the whole system, but I would rather a system that is clogged than for such cases not to go before a court and be tested.

I feel that there is insufficient evidence to convince people. My argument against not going to court is that any woman in this country is vulnerable within her own home. It means that anyone can get away with viciously attacking his wife or children. There are very sinister overtones for such vulnerable people as old-age pensioners, a wife in the family home and people out on the streets who are the victims of crimes committed in dark and secret places. If there are no other witnesses and if one witness who is the victim is not enough, our society has taken a step backwards.

If the answer is that we cannot clog up the legal system by prosecuting any of those cases, I would prefer a clogged-up system. However, if the money is not available because the Government are not making resources available for the system of justice to be prosecuted properly, the Solicitor-General must say so. If the decisions are based on financial grounds, I believe that it is very sad.

I take no pleasure at all in coming here tonight and exposing one of my constituents to the glare of publicity. I was amazed at the response of the media to tonight's Adjournment debate. They came to me almost in droves today because they see some of the elements I have outlined. It gives me no pleasure to be here, but if the Solicitor-General can give answers, I shall be extremely grateful.

7.12 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Derek Spencer)

Let me first congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) on obtaining the debate, which raises an important subject, not only for his constituent, but for the public at large. Although I have listened with sympathy and interest to the points that he has raised, I am afraid that I cannot adopt the epithets which he has used to describe the events surrounding Donna Tutton's case. It is not accepted that she has given an accurate account of the reasons why proceedings were not instituted, still less that anyone acted in a cavalier or high-handed manner; nor is there anything prophetic or sinister in how the case was handled. There are 1.4 million cases handled annually by the Crown Prosecution Service, and the case was handled in just the same way as all the others.

The debate gives me the opportunity first, to explain how the Crown Prosecution Service approaches the decision to prosecute—an issue which is frequently misunderstood and tends to be surrounded in myth and misconception. Secondly, I shall set out how that general approach was applied by professional lawyers to the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Rogers

The Solicitor-General said that there were millions of cases. Are the files lost in all 1.4 million cases?

The Solicitor-General

No files were lost in this case, and if the hon. Gentleman will bide his time, I shall explain to him what happened.

The decision to prosecute an individual is a very serious step. Fair and effective prosecution is essential to the maintenance of law and order. No doubt all hon. Members will agree with that. In every case, the prosecution has serious implications for everybody involved—on one hand the victim, and on the other hand the witnesses.

Each case is normally started by the police. The first stage involves the police charging a suspect. The file is then sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, which applies the tests which are set out in the code for Crown prosecutors. About 50,000 copies of that were published a short time ago, in a plain English version and a plain Welsh version. They were circulated to other prosecuting authorities within the Crown Prosecution Service, to the police and to other law enforcement authorities.

The first stage that the Crown Prosecution Service applies is what is called the evidential test. All cases must pass that to be considered as qualifying for prosecution. No matter how important or serious a case is, it must pass that evidential test before it can go any further. For a case to pass the test, the Crown prosecutor must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect—not a reasonable prospect, as the hon. Gentleman said—of conviction against each defendant on each charge.

Those tests are applied by trained barristers and solicitors, upholding their professional standards. They must consider what the defence case may be, and how it is likely to affect the prosecution case.

A realistic prospect of conviction is an objective test. It means, as it says in the code, that a jury or bench of magistrates, properly directed in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. That is the test that applies, and on reflection the hon. Gentleman may agree that it is a fair test.

To put a rhetorical question, what is the point of conducting litigation involving the liberty of the subject on a "wait and see" basis, by saying, "Let us wait and see if the magistrates find there is a case to answer," or, "Let us wait and see if the judge thinks there is a case to answer."? That surely would be unfair to the suspect, the victims and the public.

It is quite wrong to regard the function carried out by Crown Prosecution Service lawyers as acting as judge and jury. That is not their function. As I have said, their function is to ascertain whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

In no case is that decision based on financial considerations. The lawyer who takes the decision has no idea what the state of the branch budget is. Whether it has spent a little or a lot is of no concern to the lawyer taking the decision. It cannot be stated too often that financial considerations do not enter into the decision.

The first stage is reached when the police charge the suspect in the custody suite at the police station. If the hon. Gentleman has not been to his local police station to see that procedure, I invite him to do so, because it illustrates the pressures to which the police are subject—noise, interference, drunks, hysterical witnesses and so on. Against that background, the custody officer must make a decision, on the evidence known to him, as to the appropriate charge.

Mr. Rogers

A member of my family is a policeman, so of course I have visited the local nick on more than one occasion. I accept that policemen are subject to stress. Perhaps the Solicitor-General ought to know that I was a policeman while doing my Army service.

The Solicitor-General

In that case, my point is already made—but many people do not realise it, and the hon. Gentleman cannot blame me for taking advantage of the occasion to give wider publicity to that which the hon. Gentleman knows from personal experience.

The hon. Gentleman will realise that it is often necessary later to amend or add to the charge, or even on occasions to withdraw proceedings, for a number of reasons. The principal reason is that the police are not always in possession of the full facts when they initially charge the defendant.

The second stage is when the file arrives with the Crown Prosecution Service—the first time that the mind of the trained lawyer is brought to bear on the case. The police are not lawyers.

The hon. Gentleman took us back to the days when the local superintendent decided whether a case should be brought. If I may trade experience for experience, in my early days at the Bar, many were the occasions in Norfolk and Suffolk that I entered the court at quarter sessions or assizes briefed by just such police officers. I am as familiar with that procedure as the hon. Gentleman. As a result of the Philips royal commission, the House decided that that procedure was no longer satisfactory.

In the light of experience, and of a number of miscarriages of justice such as the Confait case, it was thought necessary to divide the investigative process and the prosecutorial process—to continue to vest the investigative process in the police, but to vest the prosecutorial process in a new body, the Crown Prosecution Service.

As I go around the country asking police officers of all ranks whether they want to return to the days when they fulfilled the prosecutorial function as well as the investigative one, precious few of them want to turn the clock back. Their view almost to a man and woman is: "Our job as police officers is to police, to prevent and detect crime, and to investigate. The job of prosecuting is properly that of the CPS."

By the time that the mind of the trained CPS lawyer is brought to bear on the case, the investigation will be either complete or well advanced. The charges preferred by the police may need to be amended, substituted, or in rare cases withdrawn. When it is decided to withdraw a prosecution by discontinuance, the invariable practice where possible—and it is in virtually all cases—is to consult the police and to ask for their views, then discontinue in the light of any additional submissions or evidence that the police may offer.

At that second stage, the evidence is closely examined by the CPS lawyer. Sometimes, it is suggested by uninformed persons that there is reluctance on the part of the CPS to prosecute. Why should there be? I do not know the supposed motivation, but that suggestion is absolute nonsense.

If the hon. Gentleman has not visited his local CPS branch, I invite him to do so. He will see how the lawyers deal with their work, and learn their attitudes. He will discover whether they are frightened of bringing prosecutions, as some people suggest, or whether—as is the fact—they apply their trained, professional and impartial judgment to the facts of the case before them.

Mr. Rogers

The Solicitor-General completely misunderstands. In spending his time trying to defend the indefensible, he does not grasp the nettle. The problem is not whether the CPS took the decision that it did rightly or wrongly. When I asked for its reasons, the CPS could not find the files. Mrs. Mills stated: If the original file of evidence had still been available, I would be able to give a detailed reply. However, I regret that without access to the original file of evidence supplied in 1990, I am unable to comment on the circumstances which lay behind the decision". I am not necessarily questioning the CPS decision per se, although I have expressed my views. The Solicitor-General should have listened to the end of my speech, when I asked whether he could do something now.

The Solicitor-General

I listened to the beginning, middle and end of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I hope to answer all aspects of his questions before I finish.

I described the general process that is followed in all cases, so that it might be made plain and to draw any suggestions in various quarters that some sinister process is undergone by CPS lawyers, which is not so. They approach cases in the way that I have described. Their sole purpose is to ensure that the right defendants are brought before the courts, prosecuted fairly and punished on the basis of charges that accurately reflect the seriousness of the offending, and which enable the court to impose adequate punishment.

That is the generality. I come to the particular case that concerns the hon. Gentleman. I begin by briefly explaining the facts as they are now known. There is no dispute that, on 29 April 1990, Donna Tutton suffered a serious head injury. On 4 May, when admitted to East Glamorgan general hospital, she was found to be suffering from a fractured skull, with a blood clot immediately underneath the skull. She needed immediate surgery, and there is clear and incontrovertible evidence from medical men of standing that that was her condition.

Shortly afterwards, Donna Tutton made a complaint to the police, and provided them with a witness statement containing her account of the events of 29 April, in which she said that she had been attacked by a named man. However, shortly after making that initial statement, Mrs. Tutton made a further statement withdrawing her complaint. She told police that she no longer wanted to support any criminal proceedings. Accordingly, at that stage no proceedings were instituted.

There matters rested until October 1991. The complaint made in May 1990 was withdrawn. Nothing more happened for more than a year, until October 1991. At that time, the lady found herself prosecuted for a serious assault. She went back to the police and told them that she wished to pursue the case in respect of which she had made the complaint 18 months before. On 18 October 1991, some 18 months after being assaulted, she made a further witness statement, in which she gave an account of events on 29 April 1990 and named the person who she said was responsible for attacking her and causing her serious injuries.

The police arrested that person and interviewed him. He flatly denied being at the house at the time, and maintained on a number of occasions that he was completely innocent of the attack on Donna Tutton. He was nevertheless charged by the police and bailed to attend a magistrates court on 20 January 1992. On that day, the case was adjourned until 20 February for a committal to take place so that the proceedings might be transferred to the Crown court.

Mr. Rogers


The Solicitor-General

I shall certainly give way, but I am just coming to what I see as the guts of the case: in the light of the foregoing, why did the case not proceed? I shall explain.

The evidence that the lawyer at the CPS had to consider at this stage had to be looked at against the criteria that I have outlined. Was there a realistic prospect of conviction; if so, was a prosecution in the public interest? As it was a serious matter, it boiled down to just the first question—was there a realistic prospect of conviction? There was no comedy or farce. This was a serious professional exercise, to be carried out by a professional person.

The main issue that the lawyer had to determine concerned whether there was a realistic prospect of convicting a named person of the admitted assault. There was plenty of evidence of the assault; the real issue was whether the named man could be proved to be the attacker.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, the evidence for the identity of the attacker was only Donna Tutton herself. That in itself is not fatal. The courts are concerned with the quality of evidence, not with the numbers of witnesses. All of us at the Bar have from time to time been involved in cases where the word of one witness has prevailed against that of many, because courts have determined, on all the evidence including the witness's demeanour, that he or she was telling the truth. The fact remained that Donna Tutton was the only witness, however.

Next, the lawyer had to take into account the fact that she made a complaint shortly after the original assault, which she then withdrew. Thirdly, about 18 months had passed since the original complaint, during which time she had been content for no proceedings to be initiated. Fourthly—and most importantly—the timing of her second complaint and any motive that she might have had that might have affected her credibility had to be considered—in particular, the possibility that she was making the complaint as a counter-allegation in response to an allegation against her of committing a serious crime. As a matter of common sense, that is a potent element undermining someone's credibility, which any rational person would have to take into account.

Weighing all these four matters in the balance, the Crown prosecutor concluded that the evidence did not afford a realistic prospect of conviction. In the light of that, the case could not proceed. But consistent with the proper procedure, the police were consulted and asked whether they wished to add anything or argue to the contrary. They agreed with the decision; accordingly, a notice of discontinuance was issued, and the proceedings were terminated.

There is absolutely no truth in the allegation that the case was not dealt with properly because any file was lost by the CPS. Any files that were lost were lost well after the event, as I shall go on to explain.

Mr. Rogers

I find the Solicitor-General's response appalling. He has given four reasons why he says the case did not proceed. I accept those reasons, but when I wrote to ask Mrs. Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, for reasons, she replied that she could not comment on the circumstances that lay behind the decision, because the file was not available. Is it not strange that the information has suddenly surfaced now? Certainly no one knew about it until tonight.

The Solicitor-General

I am not a conjuror: I am not going to pull a rabbit out of a hat. But I am going to be able to explain, if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, how it is that, unlike the DPP, I can now explain the reasons. The hon. Gentleman can take credit; his persistence led to the coming to light of some further material. He has performed a signal service for his constituent by pursuing the matter.

The decision having been taken to terminate the case, matters remained there—until the hon. Gentleman wrote to the DPP on 1 November last year, enclosing his constituent's correspondence complaining about the decision. By then it was almost three years since the proceedings had been discontinued, and in order to deal with the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, it was necessary to try to retrieve the file.

This is where the problem began. A member of staff spoke to Donna Tutton to find out more details of the case. As a result, the local office made a search of its records. The file was not there, for good reasons that will shortly become apparent. Because of the time that had elapsed since the proceedings were discontinued, in accordance with ordinary procedures for destroying files, the file had been destroyed.

The CPS wrote to the police asking whether they still had a file. At that stage, no information was received from the police, and despite a further request from the hon. Gentleman, no file could then be found—in the hands of the police or of the CPS. It was not until last week that the police, not the CPS, were able to locate in their archives a copy of part of the file. It was not complete, but it threw light on the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service had originally discontinued the case.

Mr. Rogers

I am glad that the Solicitor-General is smiling; he must have a better sense of humour than I have. Was the copy found before or after I put in the request for this Adjournment debate?

The Solicitor-General

It was found only last week; I imagine that it was found after the hon. Gentleman's request. I am smiling because I have, I hope, an appreciation of a sense of theatre. This is the answer to the long search that the hon. Gentleman has made for the truth.

As I said, the copy is not complete, but it contains sufficient information for me to be able to provide now such detail as I have about the case and to reassure the hon. Gentleman that all relevant matters were properly taken into account by the Crown prosecutor when the decision was taken to discontinue the proceedings in February 1992.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned that the original file in the hands of the CPS cannot be found, and that, necessarily, all possible information about the case is not available. I shall explain the procedures for retaining and destroying files, so that I can satisfy him that there has been no skulduggery in that area.

The CPS receives approximately 2 million files a year from the police. 'To store them indefinitely would obviously be a huge and unnecessary burden on taxpayers' funds. The retention of files even for a shorter period has a significant cost, and the CPS fulfils its statutory obligations to retain documents placed with it under the Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967. This means that the minimum retention period for cases tried in a magistrates court is 12 months, and that the minimum retention period for cases tried in the Crown court is three years.

CPS files are not, of course, an official record of court proceedings. Files are retained only for as long as the department considers that they are required for its own purpose, unless they have a wider administrative, precedent, historical or research interest.

This means that, although a few files may be retained for long periods, or even permanently if they are of historical interest, in which case they are kept in the Public Record Office, the majority of files relating to the large number of cases received by the CPS are destroyed after a relatively short time. The CPS must balance the likely usefulness of files against the burden on the taxpayer of retaining large quantities of files containing material of little or no significant public interest.

In a case such as this, where proceedings were discontinued in the magistrates court, the local arrangements for the storage and retention of files were such that the destruction date for files relating to cases tried in the magistrates court was two years and one month, unless there was some good reason for keeping them longer.

Therefore, the CPS file in relation to this case would have been destroyed in March 1994, some two years and one month after the proceedings were discontinued. If the hon. Gentleman's inquiries had been made during that time, the CPS would have had the file to hand, and the DPP would have been able to refer to it and give him a full reply along the lines that I have given him. For the reasons I have described, she was, most unfortunately, unable to do so.

Mr. Rogers

I must confess that there are some differences between the replies given by the DPP and the Solicitor-General. He says that, if I had raised the case in March 1994, the file would have been available. Unfortunately for the Solicitor-General and for Mrs. Mills, she wrote me a letter on 24 November 1994 saying that, at the end of a retention period of one year, the papers were not destroyed by the CPS, but returned to the police. They were returned within a year, yet the Solicitor-General says that they were available four and a half years later. What is the truth of the matter?

The Solicitor-General

The truth is that more than one copy is retained. The police have their version, and the CPS has its version. The destruction procedures I have outlined relate to the copy kept by the CPS.

Mr. Rogers

With all due respect to the Solicitor-General, Mrs. Mills says in the same letter that the file is not in existence. She says that she cannot comment because she does not have a file. The Solicitor-General is now saying that there were two files.

The Solicitor-General

I have explained to the hon. Gentleman what the position is. I thought that I had made it crystal clear.

To complete the story, the hon. Gentleman wrote to the DPP on 1 November and on 7 December last year, although the enclosures to the second letter were not sent until 31 January. She replied on 24 November and 9 February, explaining that, as far as could be established at that time, the case involving Donna Tutton had been the subject of an advice file from the police to the CPS. Advice had been given to the police, and at the end of the file retention period, the papers were returned to the police, who unfortunately had not retained a copy. It is only now that the police have located a copy of the file that the true picture is known.

The hon. Gentleman began by pleading for an inquiry to be held. Such an inquiry as is called for by the case has now been held. I have explained in full detail to the hon. Gentleman what has occurred. I assure him that the CPS dealt with this case properly and carefully. I have explained that it has proper systems in place for the retention and storage of files.

I know that Donna. Tutton unfortunately continues to suffer from her injuries. She recently received an award in her favour from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. The only issue in front of that body was whether she had suffered injuries as a result of a criminal assault; there was no need to identify the attacker. There is therefore no inconsistency between an award of compensation from the board and the CPS declining to prosecute. I hope, however, that the award goes some way towards compensating Donna Tutton for her pain and suffering as a result of this unfortunate incident.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes to Eight o'clock.