HL Deb 19 January 1982 vol 426 cc536-41

3.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the review of the Yorkshire Ripper case carried out, at my request, by Mr. Lawrence Byford, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary.

"I asked him to report on any lessons which might be learned from the conduct of the investigation and which should be made known to police forces generally. Mr. Byford was assisted in his review by the external advisory team set up in November 1980. He was also able to take account of views put to him about this tragic case by relatives of the victims, who greatly appreciated the opportunity to voice their misgivings.

"I have now received and considered Mr. Byford's report and I am extremely grateful to him for it. I should like to let the House know of its main conclusions and recommendations. A more detailed summary has been placed in the Library.

"It is apparent from the report that there were major errors of judgment by the police and some inefficiencies in the conduct of the operation at various levels. In particular, excessive credence was given to the letters and tape from a man claiming responsibility for the series of murders and signing himself Jack the Ripper. Another serious handicap to the investigation was the ineffectiveness of the major incident room which became overloaded with unprocessed information. With hindsight, it is now clear that if these errors and inefficiencies had not occurred, Sutcliffe would have been indentified as a prime suspect sooner than he was. Mr Byford's report concludes that there is little doubt that he should have been arrested earlier, on the facts associated with his various police interviews.

"I would remind the House that the Ripper case gave rise to the largest criminal investigation ever conducted in this country, imposing a great strain on all concerned. It would have been surprising if in this unprecedented situation there were no mistakes. What we now have to do is to respond constructively to the considerable experience gained in the course of it in order to ensure that future investigations of crimes such as this are carried out as effectively and quickly as possible.

"I now turn, therefore, to the lessons for the future and to the recommendations made by Mr. Byford. As will be seen from the statement in the Library, these deal comprehensively with the management requirements of the investigation of a series of major crimes; the training of senior detectives and personnel working in major incident rooms; the command of investigations involving a number of crimes which cross force boundaries; the harnessing for such investigations of the best detective and forensic science skills in the country; and the use of computer technology.

"I welcome Mr. Byford's recommendations on these matters. They are already being followed up with representatives of the police service. They provide valuable guidelines for the operational conduct of very large criminal investigations in police forces generally. They will require a constructive commitment at all levels of the police service."

My Lords, that is the Statement.

3.49 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for repeating the Statement of the Home Secretary. I should think that it is one of the most disturbing Statements ever made to Parliament, where the conclusion of this painstaking inquiry is that with hindsight it is now clear that, if the errors and inefficiencies that are described had not occurred, Sutcliffe would have been identified as a prime suspect sooner than he was. Mr. Byford's report concludes that there is little doubt that he should have been arrested earlier, on the facts associated with his various police interviews". There were nine interviews, my Lords, and a number of women's lives would have been saved but for the errors that have occurred.

I should like to say that to deal with this Statement and situation as we have to do now, without having received a copy of the report, is a most unsatisfactory parliamentary process. I saw about a quarter of an hour ago the brief summary which is now in the Library, and I saw half an hour ago a copy of the Home Secretary's Statement. This is no way to deal with these grave matters.

When one comes to look at the summary which is now available in the Library, and one reads of "major errors of judgment by the police", the situation is indeed serious. There is reference to "inefficiencies … at various levels", and there is a description of how the errors arose. First of all, there was the "ineffectiveness of the major incident room", cluttered up with unrelated pieces of information, and information which was overlooked. Then there was: Insufficient attention … to the significant common elements in photo-fit impressions obtained from surviving victims of hammer assaults". Then there is criticism of the attitudes and failures of the interviewing officers at the nine interviews, often inadequately briefed before the interviews, principally as a result of the ineffectiveness of the major incident room". Then, it is true and right that the House should know that the summary praises the fact that the vast majority of officers involved in the case, worked diligently and conscientiously throughout the Ripper investigation". However, as I have already read, if it had not been for the errors of judgment and inefficiencies Sutcliffe would have been caught much sooner.

Then, as to what are proposed as "Lessons for the future"—and I am bound to say, if I may, that was not very reassured by the Home Secretary's statement that the recommendations have already been followed up—there is a great deal of necessity now to reassure the public as to the efficiency of the police in the investigation of major crime; and I hope the recommendations made in the report are being given effect to now, and vigorously. Under "Lessons for the future", there are suggestions as to what should be done in the major incident room, as to the need for the computerisation of records and as to the need for one officer in overall command to have authority where there is a case of "series" crimes arising in different areas.

Then, what is most startling in the report, if I may say so, is the simple fact of lack of training. It says: There should be better training of senior investigating officers of the rank of assistant chief constable to equip them with the management skills required for the conduct of a large-scale inquiry". Why has that not been done? Does training stop at a low level in the police ladder? I cannot believe so. It continues: Similarly there needs to be appropriate management training for officers of chief superintendent or superintendent rank. There should be adequate training for staff of major incident rooms". I think the House will want to know what has been done since the report was received to have urgent steps taken into the needs of training in the senior ranks of the police force, and what the Home Office powers are in this field. Are they wide enough in the Home Office, through the constables, to go into these matters?

Then there is a recommendation for the appointment of an ad hoc advisory team where there is a massive continuation of crime of this kind, harnessing the best detective and forensic science talent in the country". My Lords, we have those talents; they are available. I hope we shall hear that this proposal of the chief inspector of constabulary is being put into effect at once. There are other important matters in the report, which has been disclosed in full frankness. There has been no white-washing in this matter; but it has raised grave matters, and much needs to be done now by the Home Office to reassure the public.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, from these Benches we, too, are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for the Statement, and broadly support the conclusions of Mr. Byford's review, though any such support must be provisional at this stage, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said, because of the short time one has had to consider the very serious matters disclosed by the review.

It is fairly clear from the review that there has been no attempt to cover up; no punches have been pulled, and it seems to be a very full and clear report. It reveals that reliance on tapes and letters was a tragic mistake, as were other matters which have already been mentioned. Since it is obvious that the manual indexing processes used in the police inquiries were not capable of bringing vital clues together, would the noble Lord the Minister agree that in crimes of great seriousness, and subject to safeguards of individual liberty and privacy which would satisfy the police authorities in the country, it would be a legitimate use of computer technology to store such information on individuals as would enable the links to be made which might then help to lead to specific suspects, which clearly did not happen in this particular case?

Finally, would the noble Lord the Minister not agree that the report underlines once again the need to create, maintain and extend closer and better links between the police and the public?

3.56 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, may I say to both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, that I fully understand, as I know the rest of the House does, the deep concern which they have expressed about what the noble and learned Lord referred to as "one of the most disturbing Statements made to Parliament". But the fact of the matter is that it seemed most forcefully to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that what was needed in the present circumstances was an independent professional review of what has been an operational matter covering crimes which we know spread over a period of years running from 1975 to 1980, although of course the activities of this particular criminal may have spread over a wider period than that; and this is what Mr. Byford's report has indeed provided. If I may say so, the Library summary makes it clear, as both noble Lords were good enough to say, not only that the review was extremely thorough but that there has been no attempt to conceal shortcomings.

My Lords, having just said that perhaps I may try to reply to the points which were put to me. The lessons and action for the future are, of course, very clearly set out in the second half of the Library summary; and, indeed, action is already being taken—for instance, on the point about computers, which the noble Lord, Lord Evans, specifically raised. As Mr. Byford's report shows, the police in West Yorkshire considered the possibility of using computers for the major incident room records, but suitable facilities had not been developed. Work is now in hand to develop such facilities, and a Home Office circular to chief officers about this matter has already been issued earlier on this month.

Similarly, on the specific matter of training, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, understandably raised, again the recommendations as far as training is concerned are very clearly set out in the second half of the Library summary, and these will be considered urgently in the context of the Police Training Council.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of the rest of us in this House also welcome the frankness of this Statement by the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary? May I ask the noble Lord two specific questions, really on the two points he has just dealt with—first, computers and, secondly, training? First, on the point relating to computers and the particular point made in the right honourable gentleman's Statement about the ineffectiveness of the major incident room, does the noble Lord realise that there are quite significant resource implications in this and in the recommendation as far as training is concerned, and that one of the problems facing the police service is the pressure on their budget imposed by many police authorities? Is this matter, too, going to be considered in the review which will take place in the Home Office?

Secondly, on the question of training, particularly of officers of the rank of superintendent and above, is the noble Lord aware that although there has been a substantial improvement in the reputation of the Police College in the recent past, nevertheless the resources made available for training at that level in the police service compare extremely unfavourably with the resources made available for comparable ranks in the armed services? Is the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Home Secretary prepared to consider the present resources made available to the Police College, to make it possible for them to provide courses of this kind which, clearly, are a matter of urgent priority at the moment?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if I may reply on the two points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, the resource implications, which, as the noble Lord rightly says, are present as far as improving the use of computers—which I think he would agree with his experience is quite essential in the prosecution of these "major series crimes" (as Mr. Byford's report called them)—will be taken into account in considering the implementation of Mr. Byford's recommendations in that respect. As far as the resource implications for training are concerned, there are resource implications also for training which follow the Scarman Report. The report of the noble and learned Lord is to be debated in this House in about a fortnight's time. I would give the undertaking that those resource implications in the light of that report and of this report, will be taken urgently and seriously into account in the ambit of the police training council.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, as has been said in many parts of the House after this very disquieting Statement, tribute ought to be paid to Mr. Byford and his colleagues for the very frank and open way in which their report has been delivered. It is a credit to the cleanliness of the administration of this country that such a report should appear. But the main reason for disquiet does not appear yet to have been expressed. If this were a report which followed upon an isolated murder and the inquiries made by the police, I would have said that we could turn to the Administration and say that an inquiry has been held into this one investigation which took place into this one crime and there appear to have been defects.

My Lords, this was a series of crimes announced to the public as being identical in some respects, and therefore pointing to one killer; and where, over a period of time in the public press and elsewhere, questions arose of a very critical nature as to why it was that these inquiries by the police and these investigations seemed to have produced no result. Therefore the question arises—and it is a vital one—why it was that an inquiry into the efficiency of the police and into what was happening in the rooms we heard of and into what was being done by way of consultation with forensic experts, was not made by appropriate people during the course of these substantial periods and during the course of all these crimes; and I have not heard any recommendation made by the noble Lord the Minister.

If I may ask him this question, why was it that nothing appears to have been done either by the Home Office or the Inspectorate, or by those at the top of our police force, to inquire into the way in which the investigations were carried out, so that these errors and inefficiencies could have been corrected long since?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord's question must affect the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. For practical reasons, an annual inspection of a police force can last only a few days and covers the full range of the force's activities. Mr. Byford's review, about which this Statement is concerned, was directed specifically to the Yorkshire Ripper investigation and involved 5 months' intensive work with the support of an expert team. Many of the weaknesses in the investigation became apparent only as a result of this special review.

So far as the position of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and of the Home Office generally is concerned, I would say to the House that during this tragic series of events in November 1979, Commander Nevill of the Metropolitan Police and a detective chief superintendent, as a matter of fact at the invitation of the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, examined the investigation and in January 1980 made recommendations to the chief constable and then, in November 1980, following an initiative by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, an advisory team of four senior officers from outside police forces and a senior Home Office forensic scientist reviewed the case and, in December 1980, reported their findings to the chef constable. It was just after that, that finally the criminal was apprehended.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, the two cases quoted are not the only ones or of the only type that are disturbing the public at the moment. May I therefore ask the noble Lord if he will consider other aspects which may need looking into as well?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not clear from the noble Viscount's question what are the other aspects. Perhaps it will be possible for the noble Viscount to have a word with me afterwards.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I had in mind last night's television programme on rape. Many of us are very worried about that programme and the method of questioning and so on which went on in it. I did not wish to raise a different issue. That is why I put the question in the form that I did. I am sorry.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is a different issue. Perhaps I might consult the noble Viscount about it afterwards.