HL Deb 24 January 2005 vol 668 cc1003-4

3 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

asked Her Majesty's Government: Why they have decided not to pay compensation to Angela Cannings following the quashing of her conviction for the murder of two of her children.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, Mrs Angela Cannings did not meet the criteria set out within the provisions of Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 for a statutory payment of compensation; nor did she meet the criteria for an ex gratia payment of compensation under the terms of the then Home Secretary's Statement to the House of Commons on 29 November 1985 (Official Report, cols. 691–2).

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that it would be nonsense to argue, as it has been hinted in certain newspapers that the Home Office has argued, that an independent expert witness does not come within the ambit of a public body when it is the Crown Prosecution Service that decides whether to prosecute and decides the selection of an expert witness?

Does the Minister agree that the situation is obviously wrong, given the fact that the Home Office has given tens of thousands of pounds to a fraudster who fell over in a prison shower? We are talking about a woman who has been wrongly accused of smothering her two children, waited two years to go on trial, spent 18 months in prison, lost her house and nearly lost her other child to the social services. Then her conviction was quashed on the grounds that the evidence of the expert witness chosen by the Crown Prosecution Service was flawed, and the Attorney-General had to investigate nearly 300 cases based on the evidence of the same expert witness. If ever there was a case that deserved compensation, surely it is this.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I should say straightaway that there is very obvious sympathy for Mrs Cannings' position. But the noble Lord will know, and remember well, from the days when—albeit a while ago now—he was in government, that these are very difficult decisions to make. It is for those reasons that we have the statutory scheme and the ex gratia scheme, which was alluded to and set out in 1985 by the then Home Secretary's Statement. We have applied those rules, and the noble Lord will know that although the circumstances may affect the quantum, they do not affect whether a person falls within that exceptional category. There are often very difficult decisions to be made, and this was clearly one of them.

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