HL Deb 25 November 1969 vol 305 cc1223-48

4.40 p.m.

LORD WILLIS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make available to the legal advisers of ex-P.C. Luckhurst the report of the official police inquiry into his case. The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will remember that on March 11 this year we had a very full and open debate on the case of ex-P.C. Luckhurst, and it is not my intention to cover again to-day all the ground covered then. But for those of your Lordships who may be unfamiliar with the background I would refer you first to the OFFICIAL REPORT for March 11, and will make a very brief summary of the case which was made then.

May I say first that my purpose in returning to the charge to-day is more limited than it was on March 11, and I make no apology for doing so. Before that debate there was considerable doubt as to whether Mr. Luckhurst had been treated fairly and with justice, and I think it is true to say that nothing that was said on the Government side in that debate did anything to allay those doubts. Indeed, I was approached afterwards by several people, including noble Lords—people who had known nothing of the case—and they expressed shock and disquiet at what had been revealed.

Let me briefly summarise the background again. On May 8, 1966, a Colonel Matters found a bank wallet containing a large sum of money and stated that he telephoned to a local police station in Buckinghamshire to report this fact. Later, Colonel Matters stated that a policeman called and collected this bank bag. The policeman gave no signed receipt for the bag and the Colonel did not ask for one. Later that evening the same policeman is said to have called on Colonel Matters and reported that the bag had been handed in and that it had contained £40.

Seven weeks later the Colonel made inquiries and discovered that there was no record of the bag having been handed in at any police station and no record of his earlier telephone call of seven weeks before. As a result the Colonel complained, and an official police investigation was mounted. Following the report of that inquiry an identification parade was held at which the Colonel, with some difficulty, picked out Luckhurst as the P.C. who had called on him and who had taken the bag. On the basis of this identification parade Luckhurst was charged, tried and convicted. He was sent to prison for a year and dismissed the force.

In October, 1967, eighteen months after the event and as a result of comsiderable disquiet about the circumstances, the then Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Mr. Roy Jenkins, invited the Chief Constable of Buckinghamshire to initiate a further inquiry into this case. This inquiry was conducted by a senior officer from another force, Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan, and his report ran to over 300 pages. After reading this report the Home Secretary decided to take no further action.

My Lords, that, briefly, is the background. May I now summarise the case for Mr. Luckhurst, and again may I ask you to refer to our OFFICIAL REPORT of March 11 for more complete details. My reason for raising this case again is that I believe there has been here a serious miscarriage of justice. My reasons for so thinking are as follows. In the first place, Colonel Matters could not remember which police station he telephoned to report that he had found a bank bag, and only just before the trial did he mention that it was Langley. No record of the telephone call was made at Langley or any other local police station. At the time this telephone call was said to have been made P.C. Luckhurst was not on duty; he was in fact at home. The bank bag and the missing money have never been found. It was admitted by the prosecution at the trial, and confirmed by the judge, that Luckhurst could be guilty only if another police constable was involved with him. That P.C. was never charged and is still in the force. Nor has he ever had an opportunity to reply to the allegations which inevitably, have been made against him.

The identification parade was not properly constituted or conducted, and Colonel Matters picked out Luckhurst only after moving along the line three times. And his wife did not even pick Luckhurst out at all. There were many serious discrepancies in the evidence presented. I quote only one, and that is that Colonel Matters' wife later at the trial, when it was pointed out that she had not identified Luckhurst, said that she would have done because she now remembered that she had seen him with a receding hair line. In fact when she saw the identification parade Luckhurst and all the other officers on parade were wearing caps, and it was impossible to see whether he had a receding hair line or not.

Finally, my Lords, under the Police Act 1964 the acting Chief Constable of Buckinghamshire had a clear duty to refer this case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, because this was a complaint made by a member of the public, Colonel Matters. He did not do so. He chose to institute proceedings without reference to that Act.

I have done less than justice to Mr. Luckhurst by that very brief outline, but that, in essence, is the history of the matter. May I say that I think this case is hedged with so many improbabilities, so many discrepancies, that seldom have I read a case in which it has seemed to me so clear that an injustice has been done. Let me add that many eminent people, including lawyers—distinguished lawyers —have expressed the same concern and have expressed the view, having studied all the facts, that there has been, as I have said, some kind of miscarriage of justice here.

I now come to the report made by Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan, which is the point of this Unstarred Question to-day. There is, as your Lordships will know, a growing body of opinion, inside and outside the police, that the procedure laid down by the Police Act in this respect is both wrong and inadequate. It is wrong because nobody should be made a judge and jury in his own case. But the Act maintains that when a member of the public makes a complaint against a policeman, the inquiry must then be carried out by a policeman. The evidence is secret. So is the name of the officer under suspicion. Then the officer under suspicion has no legal right to see the report under which he has been condemned, or to appeal against it, or to be present when statements are made against him, or to be represented when such statements are made, or even to see such statements. It is not even necessary that the investigating officer should see the officer who may be under suspicion. That is the broader objection, and I hope that at some time Parliament will be able to get back to this serious question of the character of police investigations.

But what happened in the case of ex-P.C. Luckhurst? The Home Office, under certain pressure, were concerned about the circumstances which led up to Luckhurst's dismissal and conviction; and, as I have indicated, eighteen months later they asked for a further inquiry. They asked the Chief Constable of Buckinghamshire to appoint an independent officer from another force to conduct the inquiry. That in itself highlights a weakness of the procedure, for it is one part of Luckhurst's case that the Chief Officer of Buckinghamshire himself acted wrongly by his decision not to refer the original case to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Indeed, this objection has been underlined since, because the Home Secretary has issued further instructions indicating that under the Police Act all such complaints by the public which involve serious accusations must be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This arose directly as a result of the Luckhurst case.

Yet, my Lords, the man who in some respects is being criticised in this case for his failure to apply the effect of the Police Act 1964 was the man who was asked to set up the inquiry. I am glad to emphasise, of course, that the Chief Constable acted quite properly in this matter. He carried out his instructions. Nor am I questioning the impartiality of Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan, who led the inquiry. But there are many disturbing factors. In the first place, Luckhurst was never informed that the inquiry was to take place. He heard of it only from his M.P.—or, rather, he first heard about it from a reporter after the inquiry had been announced in the Commons. There was no letter from the Home Office; no official information at all. He was not informed when the inquiry began. His first intimation that the inquiry was going on at all was when a friend called to say that he had been interviewed about Luckhurst's personal circumstances. The strangest part of all was that Luckhurst was not interviewed until Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan had almost completed his inquiries, and then for not much more than half an hour.

I am not an expert in this matter, but I should have thought that the man under suspicion, the man who in fact had been dismissed the Force, was rather an important link in this case and it was rather important to get his point of view and his evidence. But in fact that evidence was not taken until the very end of the inquiry. In fact, nothing relevant to the case was asked in the form of questions to ex-P.C. Luckhurst.

At that interview Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan stated that he had almost completed his inquiries, and he asked Luckhurst if there were any other points which he felt should be covered. That is a pretty impossible request, because Luckhurst did not know what they—a team of detectives conducting an inquiry—had been covering in the last three or four weeks. He had no idea of the scope of the inquiry or of what sort of statements had been made against him. Therefore it was a little difficult to say what other points ought to be covered, although he did put one or two issues. Further, Luckhurst was not informed when the inquiry was completed and he was in the dark for some months, until his local M.P., Mr. Bell, put down a Question in the other place. It was then that he was told that the report had been delivered and that no further action would be taken. Since then various applications have been made on behalf of Luckhurst for a look at the report, by Mr. Bell, by Joan Lestor, M.P., and by Luckhurst's solicitor. In each case the request has been refused. Why?

The reply, given in a letter to me by my right honourable friend, the present Home Secretary, on April 22, 1969, said as follows: Reports of this kind are made to the Home Secretary in confidence: and it is a longstanding practice not to disclose them. As I am sure you will appreciate, such a practice is unavoidable if these are to be full and frank reports on police investigations, which must necessarily often contain a good deal of information that cannot be fully disclosed without prejudice to individuals. One can appreciate that argument. But there is one interesting aspect to this. In a letter to Luckhurst, Ronald Bell, his local M.P., on October 23, 1967, wrote to inform him politely that the Home Secretary had decided to set up a police inquiry into the affair. But two days later on October 25 Mr. Bell wrote again and said: Dear Mr. Luckhurst, I write just to correct an impression which I may well have given you in my letter of 23rd October … the inquiry which the Home Secretary has decided to set up is not a police inquiry, though it is to be conducted by a senior police officer —that is to say, it is not a statutory inquiry under the Police Act but a general inquiry into the sequence of events after the wallet was missed, and which led up to the prosecution".

So we have this curious situation where we have a police inquiry which is not a police inquiry and a general inquiry which is not a statutory inquiry. The Home Secretary called it a "police investigation". Either way, there is absolutely no legal reason why the Home Secretary should not allow Luckhurst's legal advisers to see the report of that inquiry. There would be no legal reason in fact had it been a statutory inquiry, because there is nothing in the Police Act which forbids the Home Secretary to show this report to anyone; but there would perhaps be precedent. But since this inquiry was not set up under the Police Act 1964, it is almost a personal inquiry set in train by the Home Office, and it seems to me that there is no precedent and no legal restraint and no real reason why Luckhurst's legal advisers should not have access to the report. Why was this general inquiry set in motion? It was set in motion mainly because so many people, in and out of Parliament, were concerned about this case and worried that an injustice had been committed. Recognising this feeling, the then Home Secretary instituted this general inquiry, which was in every respect like a police inquiry and yet was not one.

What happens next? We have a curious Alice-in-Wonderland situation. First you persuade the Home Secretary to hold an inquiry. Next he tells you that the inquiry has been held and that he proposes to take no further action. You then ask him why. He says he cannot tell you. You say, "There must be reasons in the report; can we see the report?". He says, "No", and it is an absolutely slammed and shut door. My Lords, analogies are seldom perfect or accurate, but there is one which seems to fit this situation. Suppose that one of your Lordships were to buy some salmon from the local fishmonger. You take it home, cook some of it, and afterwards a member of your family is ill. You suspect the salmon, so you wrap up the remainder and take it back to the fishmonger. He first of all denies that there is anything wrong, but when you press him he agrees that he will get another fishmonger to analyse the fish and make a report. You go to see him a little while later, and he says that the salmon was fresh and he intends to take no further action. You ask if you can see a copy of the report made by the other fishmonger, and he refuses on the grounds that that report was private and privileged. Meanwhile the member of your family is ill or dying. I suspect that none of us would let the matter rest there with the local fishmonger. In this case we are not dealing with fish but we happen to be dealing with a human being.

Why have the Government refused so far to allow Luckhurst and his legal advisers to see the report? If the report simply confirms the judgment against Luckhurst, well and good. His solicitors will so advise him. But is it not possible that there may be some statements taken from certain witnesses, statements which Luckhurst was not allowed to see, was not allowed to hear, statements made without his legal advisers being present, that Luck hurst may be able to refute, question or throw new light on? Should he not be given an opportunity, in all justice, to do this—an opportunity that has been denied to him so far?

Or let us speculate in another direction. Suppose the report is embarrassing for the reason that it contains allegations against people who may be innocent, private letters, actionable statements even, and so forth. One would quite understand the difficulty of the Home Secretary in not wanting this sort of stuff published offhand; he would not want to publish it and one would understand that it would be wrong to do so. But to allow legal advisers access to it is surely a different matter. Why should somebody be protected because there may be something wrong in the report, there may be accusations against innocent people in the report? Why should they be protected at the expense of Luckhurst? Surely Luckhurst's solicitors could go to the Home Office and read the report in confidence.

My Lords, it may be said that Luckhurst has had the benefit of the due process of justice. Does anybody in this House really think that? Is there a due process of justice? Is there a beginning and an end to the due process of justice in the eyes of your Lordships? No one who is at all impartial and has read the papers in this case can have any possible doubt that Luckhurst has a strong and powerful case. That case has not so far been answered, shaken or refuted by any arguments put forward in this House or in any other place. Surely a man's right to justice does not stop at a certain point; surely we do not say, in this House of all places, "Thus far and no further." There are a dozen points, two dozen points, which Luckhurst's legal advisers wish to check, which they can only do if they have access to the report.

It may be it will not do him much good, but at least we know there is a long report in existence of an inquiry which, to be absolutely frank, we do not consider was satisfactorily conducted. It is in existence, and it is on that basis that the Home Secretary decided to take no further action. It is on those grounds that we say, let us, in common justice, let the legal advisers have a look at that report and make up their own minds. How can we deny such access on formalistic legal grounds which do not exist, or on grounds of precedent? Surely we should do everything possible, we should lean over backwards, to bend the rules, to alter precedent, to help this man who for three years has stood up and claimed that he was innocent, who has never been ashamed to come forward to make any statement, and who has continued to fight to clear his name. We have nothing to lose in this House or in the Home Office or anywhere else. He has everything to win.

I am sorry that to-day my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor could not be in his place. I understand why. He has not so far come forward in this matter. May I ask him, however, to read again the debate of March 11, because I know of his earlier and present work for justice; to send for all the papers in this case and, as the highest Law Lord in the land, to bring all his powerful influence to bear, so that justice may be seen to be done in this case. And may I ask the Home Secretary and Her Majesty's Government to take a further look at this whole question and allow Luckhurst's legal advisers to take one more step along the road to clearing his name by allowing them to see the report. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, there is very good public reason for gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for putting down this Question, for he is dealing with a matter which, in my opinion, goes far beyond the rights or wrongs that have been done to any individual person, in this case ex-Police Constable Luckhurst. In fact, he was almost bound to put down his Question this afternoon after the debate which we had last March, because in the course of that debate speaker after speaker made it clear that the interest in this case would not be abated as a result of that debate. It will be abated only when the matter has been cleared up, and shown to be cleared up, to the general public satisfaction.

Therefore it is almost unnecessary to extend the customary vote of thanks to the noble Lord who asked the Question, because I do not see how he could help raising the matter again; it is just another chapter in the same story. But I personally am most grateful to him, because, for the benefit of those of your Lordships who may not have remembered the case entirely, he has given an exceedingly thorough outline of the whole story which I need not go into again. But I would disclaim at once any intention of in any way re-trying the case. I willingly accept the fact that the case was tried, and that a conviction was arrived at; that there was nothing wrong with the conduct of the trial, and that the jury were required "by due process of law"—that curious expression to which the noble Lord for good reason takes exception—to find a verdict of guilty. Very well; it happened. But the question is not whether the law was complied with, for I accept that it was, but whether justice was done. I am not satisfied that justice was done, and I do not believe that anybody else is satisfied either—that is to say, anybody whose knowledge of the facts extends simply to those which are available to the public. There may be others who know more than Luckhurst himself has ever been allowed to know, who believe that justice has been done, but we all must believe that it has not; because justice must be seen to be done.

In this case, I submit with perfectly good reason, justice has not been seen to be done, and when the case was over so great was the public and the general disquiet about the whole matter that the Home Secretary himself was moved by that disquiet (which presumably included his own) to order this police inquiry to which the noble Lord has referred and which he has described. That inquiry, so far from allaying the public disquiet, has actually increased it, for this reason: that it was an inquiry conducted by the police within whatever terms of reference it may have been so set up.

Although in fact it was not a matter internal to the police, because the public were themselves involved as were the courts of law and legal processes outside the jurisdiction of the police. The best comment I can make on the fact that it was conducted by the police perhaps I can take from an article in the New Law Journal, in the issue of March 20, which says this: The Home Secretary claims to have difficulty in understanding why that inquiry is unacceptable, but it may help him to resolve his difficulty if he will only ask himself whether he would have expected an inquiry into the Aberfan disaster to have been acceptable if it had been conducted by a member of the Coal Board—even by a member of the Board's Yorkshire division—more especially if the report of such an inquiry was never published, as the report on the police inquiry in the Luckhurst case has not been published. I think that mutatis mutandis we have a perfectly good parallel between the two cases. The analogy is as near as possible exact, and there is every reason to complain about the fact that this inquiry was, in the first place, conducted in such a way that, in the second place, it would produce a report which nobody could ever be allowed to see.

As I have said, I will not re-try or attempt to re-try the case, but whichever way we go round or come back at the story we fetch up at one particular point, from which there is no escape, and that is the fact that Luckhurst was convicted on one piece of evidence only, which is the identification of him on parade by Colonel Matters who was the sole witness against him. Whether or not that identification parade was correctly conducted is not my particular concern at the moment. What is my concern is the fact that it is possible on that evidence alone to send a man to prison.

Perhaps I may best illustrate my disquiet over this by referring to another noble Lord. I hope he will not take it personally, because he is not here at the moment. In fact I will refer to two noble Lords. The second one I do not know, but for convenience I will call him Lord X. One morning about a year ago, Lord X said to me, "I saw you sitting on the Woolsack yesterday afternoon". Neither Lord X nor anybody die has ever seen me sitting on the Woolsack, and it is very likely that he will never do so. The noble Lord who had been sitting on the Woolsack was my noble friend Lord Grenfell, who I am told resembles me to some extent. We are both aware of this. Each of us has been mistaken for the other. I do not see it myself, nor I think does he; but there it is.

This mis-identification took place within 24 hours, and I think it is reasonable to say that there are few people on earth who are more conspicuous than somebody sitting on the Woolsack. It is impossible not to notice him. Yet 24 hours later, somebody who has seen some other person sitting on that Woolsack comes to somebody who is similar in appearance, and says, "I saw you sitting on the Woolsack".

Let us compare that example with the case of Luckhurst who was identified by somebody who had seen him, or had seen somebody, three months earlier. If you can go wrong within 24 hours of seeing two people, one of whom at least you must know by sight, how much more wrong can you go when you attempt to identify someone whom you think you have never seen before, except on one occasion and that three months before? Yet that identification is in law conclusive. It requires no corroboration whatsoever. On that piece of evidence alone Luckhurst was sent to prison. Now that is the law. I do not say that it ought not to have happened in this particular case. All I say is that it ought not to be the law; I am perfectly certain that it ought not to be the law.

If we go a little further in this case we find that it is even worse than that, because there is a great body of evidence in Luckhurst's favour, the chief evidence being an alibi sworn by somebody else. That somebody else was Police Constable Owen Smith who, if Luckhurst was guilty, must also have been guilty, because it is only through Smith that Luckhurst could have received the information that led him into a position in which he could commit the theft of which he was accused, and it is only with the assistance of Smith that in fact he could have carried it out. But Smith has sworn, first, that he did not get the information by telephone from Colonel Matters and therefore he could not have passed it on; and secondly, that at the material time he himself was on duty. It has been proved and accepted by the police that he was on such a duty, that he could never have gone anywhere near Matters' house, and he swore that all that time Luckhurst was with him.

Therefore, it is impossible, except in one circumstance, for Luckhurst to have gone to Colonel Matters's house and to have committed the theft. That one circumstance is that he left Smith, went to Colonel Matters's house, and came back and joined Smith again, at the beginning and the end of the motor journey which began and ended at Langley Police Station. Smith has said that that did not happen. Either it did happen or it did not happen. If Luckhurst is guilty, presumably it did happen. If Luckhurst is not guilty, then it did not happen and Smith is right. You cannot have it both ways; you cannot have Luckhurst guilty and Smith innocent. That is the great stumbling block in this case. We return over and over again to the matter of identification and yet Luckhurst was convicted and went to prison and Smith was never charged with anything at all. Yet in my submission, if Luckhurst was guilty, Smith must have been guilty of perjury.

Let us turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said when winding up the debate in March. He made a great point, and rightly, of emphasising the thoroughness with which the inquiry had been carried out, and he said: Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan's inquiry was very thorough … He had the assistance of a superintendent and of a detective inspector who were specially assigned to assist in the inquiry. Their investigation occupied five weeks, and Chief Superintendent Brennan's report included copies of all the statements, covering some 327 pages".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11/3/69, col. 452.] I break off there to wonder why they had 327 pages to discover the truth of the particular point which turned solely on the question of the identification. Surely in that mass of verbiage there must have been a great deal that was not really relevant.

The noble Lord went on: He re-investigated all the facts of the theft … No theft has ever been proved. He re-investigated all the facts of the theft and made full inquiries into all the points raised by or on behalf of Mr. Luckhurst." [Col. 452.] How did he do it? I should like the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, if he would be so good, to explain this for me, and I would put the question to him like this: at what stage in the inquiry did Chief Superintendent Brennan approach Mr. Luckhurst—at the beginning of the inquiry or at the end? How much time did he spend in talking to him? That might be elaborated a little by inquiring what did he ask him and what answers did he get, to support the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to the effect that he made full inquiries into all the points raised by or on behalf of Mr. Luckhurst". That question has already been answered by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I think it gives the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, the chance to say whether he confirms or not what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has already said.

I will continue and conclude this quotation. These included the further evidence which the Court of Appeal declined to admit at the hearing of the appeal, the possibility of the offence having been committed by some other police officer, and the points of police procedure raised by the Police Federation." [Col. 452.] I do not know whether or not anybody has ever seriously suggested that the offence might have been committed by another police officer, but I want to put this point: if the inquiry was as thorough as all that, and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, also said, every point that had been made by noble Lords who spoke in that March debate had been thoroughly investigated by this inquiry, then one of the points that must have been investigated, because it was made over and over again—nearly all of us who spoke on that occasion raised it—was the question of the irreconcilability of the guilt of Luckhurst and the innocence of Smith. The answer to that question is apparently included in the report, and I should like to know what it is.

How did the inquiry reconcile the two apparent irreconcilables, the guilt of Luckhurst and the innocence of Smith? Did they in fact reconcile it? If they did, they must have done so by finding some proof, or at least some evidence which is not known at any rate to the public or to Mr. Luckhurst or his advisers, because, on the face of it from what we all know, it cannot be done. You cannot have one guilty and the other innocent. If it was done, if some new evidence was found to prove it, ought that not at least to be disclosed to the legal advisers of Mr. Luckhurst? Common justice, at least, seems to suggest it. But perhaps the inquiry did not manage to reconcile what I call those two apparent irreconcilables. What then? Does not the whole inquiry become instantly suspect?

We were told, by implication at any rate, by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that that was investigated and that the answer was found satisfactory to the Home Secretary and no more should be done. But if those irreconcilables were not reconciled, then that is not true; the answer to this question was not satisfactory, it was not found, and instant suspicion must again fall on the inquiry, and it is bound to fall also on anybody who hushes the inquiry up. I am not saying that the suspicion is justified: I am not saying that I suspect the Home Secretary or Chief Superintendent Brennan, or anyone else; I only say that the suspicion is inevitable and that the due processes of law and of justice should not be subjected to that type of suspicion.

Again, if the guilt of one and the innocence of the other have not been reconciled, then why has Smith not been charged with perjury? There is a possibly obvious, and obviously possible, answer to that; the answer is, or could be—I am certainly not going to say that it is—that Smith is still suspected by the police (by the Home Secretary, for all I know) of having committed perjury, but in order to secure a conviction for that particular crime two witnesses are required and it is not possible to find two witnesses to come forward and give evidence that Smith committed perjury. I find that difficult to believe. This case is so cluttered up with witnesses, or people who have made statements, that if Smith had committed perjury I cannot believe with any readiness that it would not be possible to make out a case against him. Apart from the mere legalistic fact that two witnesses are required, the fact that Luckhurst has been convicted and could not have been convicted unless Smith was guilty, is surely itself evidence against Smith.

So we remain with the fact that Luckhurst has been convicted and Smith has not been tried. They may both be guilty; they may both be innocent—I make no statement of opinion either one way or the other. What I do say is that we do not know and we never can find out, but we ought to know—or at least Luckhurst ought to know—how the final conclusion was arrived at. Above all, let us remember that the victim in this case is not necessarily either Luckhurst or Smith. Either or both of those may or may not have been victims —I make no statement on that. But there is one victim, there is one casualty, and that is the law itself, or rather, to be more precise, it is justice. For, my Lords, this is the point to which we come: Luckhurst was convicted by the law, but we do not see, I do not see, that that law which convicted him was supported either by logic or by justice. And law is the servant of justice, not justice of the law.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I took part in this debate in March last when my noble friend Lord Willis raised this matter on an Unstarred Question in somewhat slightly different terms. I do not wish to intervene for more than two or three moments, but I should like to stress a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, in his very adequate speech. It is the point that so long as people are unsatisfied that justice has been done in this case, the matter will be raised again and again; and in order to satisfy public opinion it is necessary that something should be forthcoming.

I think nobody is satisfied. I believe that even the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, is not satisfied. In the Court of Appeal I recall—I may be wrong—that he said that there was "a balance of improbabilities". Well, if justice is done and going to be seen to be done on "a balance of improbabilities" it is time we took a little more care in dealing with points of this kind. The other matter I should like to mention, and I think the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, touched upon it, is the fact that the Police Federation, I believe, were not at all satisfied with the situation in this case. They looked at it, and looked at it very carefully, and were not satisfied. The police inquiry that took place was probably a very adequate inquiry, but nobody knows, because we are not allowed to see the result of it—least of all Luckhurst, the man who has been sent to prison. So I can only support my noble friend and hope that something may be done to alleviate people's doubts, if nothing else, in this very astonishing case.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my intention to keep you for any length of time, and perhaps I ought to say that I did not participate in the debate in your Lordships' Chamber on this matter in March last. However, I listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lord Willis and others of your Lordships had to say on that occasion, and also to what Lord Willis has had to say to-day; and I want to associate myself with his appeal to the Government to release these papers and to make them available to the legal advisers of the former Police Constable Luckhurst. I thought that my noble friend made the strongest possible case for doing so. This is not a retrial; this is not a rehearing; this is not asking for the papers to be made available to the public. There may be, as he quite rightly pointed out, very good reasons for not making this report available. But can there be one good reason, one single reason, for not making these documents available to the legal advisers of the unfortunate Mr. Luckhurst?

I am sure we were all impressed with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said. In a matter of this kind, when a person's reputation is at stake, can there be a stage when any one of us can say that justice has been done? If there is a doubt in anybody's mind—and I submit, with the greatest respect, that in this case there are doubts in the minds of many of your Lordships—can we say that justice has been done, regardless of the number of inquiries that have been made or the number of times this matter has been gone into? I should have thought that where a person's reputation is at stake, and so long as there are many people, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, who have the gravest doubts whether justice has been done, we dare not say that the matter can rest where it stands. I add my support to what my noble friend Lord Willis has said, and I beg Her Majesty's Government to make available to the legal advisers of this former police officer the papers in this matter. And I hope that they will do so without further delay.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, this is an unhappy business, and I suspect there will be a certain amount of sympathy for me in having to deal with a case when, in the very nature of things, I am not able even to start trying to controvert some of the points that have been put forward. This is not a court of law. I know the anxiety which my noble friend Lord Willis feels. I myself listened to the debate in March, and, like others, I shared the feelings which have been expressed to-day. But the Question on the Order Paper, and therefore the Question which I propose to answer, relates to the publication of the report of the official police inquiry, and I know that my noble friend Lord Willis will not be surprised at the Answer which I have to give him because, as he says, he has already raised this with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who has written to him directly and personally explaining why it is not possible to meet his request about the publication of this report.


My Lords, may I be forgiven for interrupting? I do not think that the noble Lord refers in his Question to the publication of the report.


The Question asks for the publication of the report—


My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend—


I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to try to answer—


Yes, I will.


I think it would be better. I think he has overstated his case, if I may say so to him. He has not advanced his case at all by the exaggerations which he has allowed himself to-day, and I think it would be better if he would allow me to say what I am going to say in my own way, and in my own time. I know the point he is going to make, but—


My Lords, before my noble friend loses his temper any further, may I make one point? My noble friend said earlier—it is a very mild correction; and may we please all keep our tempers in this matter?—that my Question referred to publication. My Question refers to making the report available to Luckhurst's legal advisers, not to publication.


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, and I stand corrected on that. I assure him that I have not lost my temper, and I assure him that I am still as anxious as he is to see that the right thing is done in this case. But I am dealing here with the sight of the report, if he likes to put it in this way, and I am dealing with the fact that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said directly to him that it is not possible to allow this report to be seen by the legal advisers, or indeed to be published in any other way. I am simply making it clear to this House that the reply which I have to give to my noble friend is the one which has already been given to him by the Home Secretary; and it is the one which has already been given to Members of Parliament who are interested, to Mr. Luckhurst's solicitors and, indeed, to Mr. Luckhurst himself. I think it would be useful if I set down again the reasons why it is not possible either to make generally public, or indeed to be put in the hands of legal advisers, the reports of inquiries of this kind, whether they be police inquiries into criminal matters with a view to prosecution or whether they be post-trial inquiries by the police, as in this case.

In the first place, as my noble friend Lord Willis has himself said, such reports will contain material which cannot and ought not to be given any wider publication than is necessary for official purposes. if the truth is to be found, if it is to be discovered, it is essential that witnesses should be frank and should be encouraged to tell all that they know, however detrimental it may be to others. It is equally important that investigating officers should be free to make a full and frank report and an uninhibited assessment of the evidence which they have found—and such assessments, as my noble friend himself suspected, or sensed, may include a critical appraisal of the character and motives of the victim of the crime, as well as of the suspected offender.

In the case of the initial investigation of a crime, much of the evidence may later become public, when the case is brought to court. Much of it, but by no means all, is brought to light in that way. But such a report may contain a good deal of information about the person eventually accused which would be rigorously excluded as inadmissible and prejudicial in any proceedings. It may contain material which reflects adversely upon others, although it does not amount to evidence which could support proceedings. It may contain information about the private affairs of individuals given in confidence—information which they would not wish to be generally known, or indeed known even to legal advisers. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Willis, with his genuine concern about the liberty of individuals, would be the first to question the invasion of Privacy that would be involved by the publication or disclosure of information of this kind. I do not believe, great as is my sympathy for anyone who is trying to get at the truth behind official decisions, that it would be right that matters of this kind, intended for confidential consideration, should be made available outside the confines of the Government Department or Ministry for whom they were intended in the first place. Those are objections based on the private rights of the individual. But, of course, reports of police inquiries may also contain matters which it would be contrary to the public interest generally to make known. I have in mind details of police methods and sources of information which, if known, would be invaluable to the criminal fraternity and could not fail to prejudice the protection of the public from their activities. Here I am laying down the general considerations of principle which apply to the policy regarding non-publication. I am not saying that all or any of these considerations apply to the report of Chief Superintendent Brennan on the case which we are considering to-day. But I am saying that it would not be in the public interest to depart from the policy that I have set out. It is in accordance with that policy and practice that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that he does not feel able to make available either to individuals or for general publication the report which Chief Superintendent Brennan has prepared.

So much, my Lords, for the Question which my noble friend put down. As for the case itself, my noble friend Lord Willis made the point—and this is where I think he was guilty of exaggeration—that we should not stand on formalistic matters. He talked about the police being judge and jury in their own case. But nothing could be further from the truth than that. We are not here dealing with any formalistic matters; we are dealing with a case which has gone through the proper processes of law. This is not formalistic. My noble friend said that we have nothing to lose by the Executive stepping in here. I think that on reflection he will agree that we have a great deal to lose if the Executive, without the due and proper evidence which would require such a course to be taken, were to step in when the Judiciary, through its proper processes, had reached a certain decision with which my noble friend himself may not agree.

My noble friend deployed the case of Mr. Luckhurst with great skill in the earlier discussion, and he has done so again. But the fact of the matter is that this case was deployed also at the quarter sessions. The evidence was heard; it was assessed, and the chairman of the quarter sessions came to a different conclusion from that reached by my noble friend Lord Willis. There was a jury; the case was argued out. They heard the evidence; but they did not reach the same conclusion that my noble friend has reached. The case then went—as is provided for in our country under the constitution—to the Court of Appeal. The Lord Chief Justice heard the arguments, and he came to the conclusion that there was no reason why the verdict should be set aside. He accepted the prosecution case. He confirmed the original decision. Subsequently, the matter was raised, by one means or another, quite properly, by Members of Parliament in another place and by others in the public Press.

I assure my noble friend that I am not losing my temper, but I must say that I was disappointed when he tried to dismiss the action of my right honourable friend the previous Home Secretary, when he talked about this "personal inquiry of his". I do not know why he used this phrase. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary heard these doubts and he himself could see absolutely no reason why he should seek to intervene. But to make absolutely certain, he had the police inquiry made. As I have said before, this is not a matter of the police being judge and jury in their own case; it is a question of the Home Secretary of the day hearing these doubts expressed and having a decision to make himself; of his wanting to be absolutely sure himself that no mistake had been made. Therefore he had this inquiry made by the detective chief superintendent from another force. With the advantage of this report before him, the present Home Secretary is unable to agree with the viewpoint of my noble friend, Lord Willis.

The matter was raised in this House in March, and on that occasion my noble friend Lord Stonham replied. Great tributes were paid to the compassion which my noble friend Lord Stonham shows in these and all other matters. He, too, considered the facts on the basis of the report and he, too, was unable to accept the judgment of Lord Willis. My noble friend will not be surprised therefore if, on the basis of what has been said, I cannot announce any departure from the decisions already taken.

The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, asked about the position of P.C. Smith. I should be less than frank if I did not say that this is a point which also worries me. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice said that he cannot say that this police officer was not involved. This is a terrible thing for the Lord Chief Justice to say. Nevertheless, to take it further one requires evidence. The Home Secretary has no responsibility for the institution of prosecutions—that is a matter for the chief constable of the force concerned —and it is not for me to comment on the reasons why other persons were not prosecuted. But it seems fair to say that obviously there is no evidence on which that step could be taken.

I was also asked by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, what attempt was made to give Mr. Luckhurst the opportunity of making a statement or putting forward a point or points to the inquiring police officers. I am informed that the chief superintendent saw Mr. Luckhurst and his solicitor on November 10, 1967. Mr. Luckhurst had made a statement on the previous day. He had also made a number of other allegations and a number of other —though not formal—statements over the preceding month. Everything that was said by him was thoroughly investigated by the inquiring officers. Mr. Luckhurst was invited to put forward any additional points and he made a number of them; and although it is true to say this was towards the end of the investigation, it is I think also true to say that they were inquired into with a really surprising thoroughness.

I have looked into this matter with a certain amount of care. I do not think that I have ever spoken at this Box on any matter unless I have been able to look into the background. I have read all the papers of the case. One thing I can say is that these statements of Mr. Luckhurst were looked into with surprising thoroughness and in surprising detail. It is precisely because of the detail into which the inquiries went—if for no other reason—that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would be justified in saying that he could not make this report available.

My noble friend Lord Willis said that this was not an inquiry under the 1964 Act. That is quite true: he was told by my right honourable friend that it was not an inquiry under the 1964 Act. I have said that this was an inquiry ordered by the Home Secretary to enable him to come to a conclusion which he thought would be fair and in the interests of all concerned. Certainly there is nothing in the Act which says that the report should not be published. Equally, there is nothing in the Act which says that this report shall be published; and, for the reasons which I have tried to set down, it is the invariable rule that these reports are not published. On the other hand I would say this: that if there was any par- ticular point in the report on which Mr. Luckhurst or my noble friend wanted information, I would certainly ask my right honourable friend the Home Secretary whether he would be ready to give the substance of the relevant part of the report to Mr. Luckhurst or to his legal advisers; provided, of course, that there was nothing involving other individuals.

My Lords, I would simply add this: that if any fresh evidence of a material kind were brought forward by Mr. Luckhurst, or by any other person, I would see that that fresh evidence was considered and, if necessary, that action would be taken upon it.


My Lords—


My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, be kind enough to give way to me? It is very unusual, on an Unstarred Question—the noble Lord has been in this House for a very long time and he knows this—for anyone else to speak after the Minister has replied. I do not wish to stop any debate on any subject, but I am bound to remind the House of this particular rule. It is the custom and the practice of the House. We do not have lots of rules but we do stick to a certain custom.


My Lords, may I have your Lordships' permission to reply to the noble Lord the Leader of the House? I have had the honour to be a Member of your Lordships' House a great deal longer than he has, and I can remember a number of occasions on which this has happened. I can remember an occasion on which there was a considerable debate after the Minister had replied, and I could refer the noble Lord to a leading article in The Times commenting on the subject—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? We have guidance on this from the Procedure Committee. These are not rules. If the House wishes it may ignore the advice; but it accepted the Report of the Procedure Committee. I cannot stop the noble Lord; only the House can do that. I know that he has been a Member much longer than I have, but I am bound to say that if we are going to alter our custom we shall have to ask the Procedure Committee to consider the matter.


My Lords, if this is a custom of the House, it is a very recent custom, because there is no question that this has happened in the past. I wanted to listen to the Minister in order to hear what he was going to say before I intervened in the debate. That is surely common sense, and in the ordinary way of discussion. But if your Lordships feel that this more recent custom is one which ought to be accepted and that I am transgressing by speaking now, I am very ready to bow to the will of the House.

House adjourned at sixteen minutes before six o'clock.