§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
Although I know there are many who wish to contribute to the subject of defence, I think it is now time that I should refer to a matter which, in the opinion of many hon. Members, while it may not be of equal importance, is of very great importance indeed. Just two weeks ago there was presented a document to this House, and whatever has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence about secrecy, this quite clearly is a document about which there should be no secrecy. This is a document in which the facts should be as fully and frankly stated as possible.
The document to which I refer is the Scott Henderson Report into the question whether or not our judicial system has erred. This is a non-party matter, and 1436 perhaps I can relieve some hon. Members opposite by saying that it is not one on which I desire to divide the House. It is none the less a very important matter. Indeed, about 21 of us, headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), put down a Motion condemning this Report and saying that we regretted that we were not able to accept it.
Obviously, this Report affects the whole controversy over the death penalty. It raises the whole issue of whether an innocent man has been hanged, or whether, in a wider form, it is possible to hang an innocent man; and if it is possible to hang an innocent man, obviously that is one of the reasons for doing away with the death penalty.
Quite apart from any question of the death penalty, there are other issues in this matter which are of equal importance. Do our police methods of examining crimes, not only capital crimes but all crimes, require some revision? Are our forms of trial always those which result in the truth being brought out? Finally, if there is any doubt whether a trial has gone properly or not, is the present method—it has been employed by both sides of the House; I am asking the House as a whole—of holding an inquiry in secret, very often under a distinguished and very experienced lawyer, either fair to the lawyer concerned or to the public who are disturbed by the facts?
I am compelled to say, quite firmly and with a due sense of responsibility, that I consider the report produced by Mr. Scott Henderson to be in every way unsatisfactory. I think it most unfortunate that the Home Secretary should have seen fit to present it without any explanation and without providing any opportunity in Government time for its debate. What Mr. Scott Henderson set out to investigate was the question whether or not, in the case of the man called Timothy John Evans, there had been any injustice in his having been sentenced to death, and, indeed, in his having been executed.
If the Home Secretary will look at paragraph 15 of the Report, he will see that Mr. Scott Henderson asked himself some questions. He said:The crucial question which I have asked myself during my investigation is; Is there any doubt that Evans murdered his wife? Putting 1437 the question in the converse way, I have considered whether there is any possibility that Christie murdered Mrs. Evans.To that last question he answered, "No." He said that the facts that were put before him were such as to prove without doubt that Evans had murdered his wife and child.
Before going into the Report in detail, I want to say a word about the case as a whole. The inquiry arose because it subsequently turned out that in Evans's case the principal witness for the Crown was found to have murdered six women in exactly the same way as he had, in the witness box, by implication, accused Evans of murdering two female persons. Quite apart from any confession, or absence of confession, it would be a really extraordinary coincidence that there should be two killers, killing their victims in exactly the same way, hiding them, as it turned out, in exactly the same place, and acting completely independently of each other. That is what Mr. Scott Henderson found had taken place.
This coincidence alone would be quite sufficient to justify looking into the case, but when one looks at the second coincidence one finds that it is the even more remarkable one that Evans, without knowing anything about any of the murders committed by Christie—not one word was said in the cross-examination—nevertheless chose to accuse, just by chance—and that is Mr. Scott Henderson's case—the one person, probably in the whole of London at that time, who was murdering people in exactly the same way.
If it had been known at the trial of Evans that Christie, who was described by the prosecution as the principal witness, had in fact already murdered two women, hidden their bodies temporarily in the very washhouse where Evans was accused of hiding the bodies, and had subsequently buried them in the garden, Evans would have been bound to be acquitted.
Let us consider how serious is the finding of Mr. Scott Henderson that Evans was guilty. Mr. Scott Henderson says that if there is no doubt that Evans did murder it was only by the most wonderful lucky chance, in that the police were not able to put all the facts before the court, that this desperate murderer was ever convicted, and that if the police had 1438 put the full facts before the court a murderer would have got off scotfree. That is Mr Scott Henderson's finding. If we put it round the other way, if the police had had the good fortune to unearth all the evidence there would have been a most serious miscarriage of justice, because Evans, who Mr. Scott Henderson pronounces to be guilty, would undoubtedly have been acquitted.
If that is so, it is a most dangerous thing for the administration of our law. It must lead the police inevitably to think that perhaps they are justified in suppressing a little bit of the evidence in order that they can secure a conviction and prevent an acquittal. That may be thought fanciful, but my first complaint in this case is that that is what took place. That is one of the most disturbing factors out of the whole of the evidence which was before Mr. Scott Henderson, even though it was not altogether fully reported in his Report. He failed entirely to deal with this aspect of the matter.
Perhaps I may shortly recapitulate to the House exactly what was the position in this case. In the first statement which he made to the police, Evans proceeded to accuse Christie, and it was not until he was confronted with the clothes which had been taken from the dead bodies of his wife and his child that he suddenly made a confession and admitted both murders. That was the position. I am sorry to weary the House with one or two dates but they are necessary if the House is to understand the position.
That confession was on the evening of 2nd December, and on that evening Evans made a statement to the police saying that he placed the body of his wife in the washhouse on Tuesday, 8th November, that he placed his child's body there on Thursday, 10th November, and that he left 10, Rillington Place, where the whole thing took place, on the afternoon of Monday, 14th November. I do not think there is any dispute that he left in the afternoon of Monday, 14th November, but after the police had taken this statement they proceeded to take some other statements which, unfortunately so far as they were concerned, did not altogether tally with Evans's confession, and the next complaint which I have to make is that these statements were completely suppressed in 1949, that they were again revealed to Mr. Scott 1439 Henderson but that he passed them over completely in 1953.
I have given to the Home Secretary, and he will also have them in a letter from me, the name and address of each one of those people who made the statements, but because people do not like to be involved in these things, I do not propose to give the names to the House. The point is, briefly, that there was working in this house at this time a group of workmen. I propose to refer to them as the plasterer, the plasterer's mate, the carpenter and the employer.
The employer kept, as some employers do, very careful time sheets which showed on what job and where these men were working. These were given to the police and one of the most curious features—and one wonders that Mr. Scott Henderson did not see fit to investigate it—is that they were returned after the Evans' trial, but one of the time sheets, unfortunately that of the plasterer, was missing from the pile when it came back from the police. This time sheet was thought, and is thought now by those who are interested in the defence of Evans, to be the most material of all the documents.
The disappearance of a document which is highly material to the case should have been mentioned, one would think, in a Report which dealt with the case; it is a matter which one hoped might have been investigated in passing. I do not necessarily say that it was taken away by the police. It may have been lost by the employer or there may have been some other perfectly innocent explanation, but the employer says today, "I never got that time sheet back from the police."
In 1949, the plasterer's mate gave his evidence to the police. He said, "It is nonsense your telling me there were bodies in this washhouse because I myself cleaned it out. This was where I kept my things. This was where we kept our cement, our plaster and all the rest of it, and when we had finished we cleaned it out. On the Friday evening no bodies were there." The case against Evans was that he put his wife's body there on the previous Tuesday and his child's body there on the Thursday.
That evidence itself is quite dramatic, but what is much more dramatic is some evidence which has not been dealt with by Mr. Scott Henderson, nor was it ever 1440 brought forward by the police at the trial of Evans himself, namely, the evidence of the carpenter. The carpenter has checked this evidence. He checked it at the time, in 1949, when he was asked to make a statement to the police; I saw him myself this afternoon and he has again checked with his employer his times of working as marked on his time sheet. This, fortunately, is not a time sheet that has disappeared; it is locked up, and when I ask the Home Secretary to reopen this inquiry, as I think he must agree to do when I have finished, I hope that this will be one of the first exhibits he will look at.
It is quite clear that the timber behind which the bodies were found was the old timber which was taken by this carpenter from the floor of Christie's flat and the floor of the hall. The time sheet gives in detail the times at which he took up this timber, and the carpenter's recollection is perfectly clear. There was some conversation about the timber, and the timber was given to Christie. It could not have been given to Christie before, at the earliest, midday on Monday, 14th November, and Evans—as is admitted by everybody—had left the premises for good by at least four o'clock that afternoon. That is the position. There was the timber, behind which the bodies were found, in Christie's possession at midday.
The first question I want the Home Secretary to answer is, why was this evidence not put forward by the prosecution, as it should have been, at Evans's trial in 1950? A statement was taken, or at any rate all these persons were questioned by responsible officers. Why was it not put forward? Secondly, why did Mr. Scott Henderson see fit not to consider the carpenter's evidence? What happened was this. A proof of the evidence of the carpenter, as I understand it, was taken by one of the firms of solicitors or other people interested in the matter; it was sent to Mr. Scott Henderson; the carpenter was never called upon to give evidence, and, so far as I can discover—though there was a little doubt about this, and I say so quite frankly, because the employer himself is away and I have only spoken to his office—no inquiry was ever made from anybody on behalf of the tribunal in order to look at the time sheets to check whether this story was true.
1441 Looking at Mr. Scott Henderson's Report, one sees from paragraph 37, page 15, that he knows about the carpenter's evidence, but he sees fit to cover it up. I will just read the passage in the Report:As no work was done in the washhouse after the 8th November, 1945, I do not think that workmen would have paid any attention to pieces of timber put against the sink after that date"—he, of course, ignores entirely the fact that the timber was shown by the evidence not to be available to be put against the sink at that date at all—and in any case it is not certain that the bodies were put there before the 11th November. A plumber and a carpenter came to the premises after the 11th November"—this is the very carpenter who offered the evidence to him—but they had nothing to do with the wash-house.Of course they had not anything to do with the washhouse. But what the carpenter did was to produce the timber which afterwards went into the wash-house.
Now that is, if I may say so, a most deceptive and improper method of writing a report. I have satisfied myself that a full statement of the carpenter's evidence was provided for Mr. Scott Henderson and that he did not make use of it. He did not question the carpenter in any way, and the only thing from which we can even deduce that he read it is this one sentence in which he attempts to explain this evidence away.
Of course he was in a difficulty when he had to explain away the evidence about the bodies—that they could not possibly have been there before Friday, What is Mr. Scott Henderson's suggestion on that? I raise this because I think it shows the House the flimsy nature of the Report which, after all, was presented by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to Parliament and he must bear responsibility for it. It was he who prescribed the conditions under which Mr. Scott Henderson worked, and if we are to make criticisms of Mr. Scott Henderson it is only because he was, possibly, compelled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to work under such conditions and was compelled to make a report of the unfortunate nature of the one now before us.
What was Mr. Scott Henderson's suggestion to get out of this difficulty? He 1442 said it was quite likely that Evans did not put the bodies there until Friday because he said his plan was to dump the bodies from the lorry on Fridaywhen he was due to make a long journey.But the right hon. and learned Gentleman has only to read the actual evidence which Mr. Scott Henderson prints to see that Evans went for a long journey on Thursday too. He went to Brighton. Why did he not dump the bodies on the Thursday? He gave up the job on his own accord, according to the evidence, on Thursday night; why did he not do that if it was his plan to dump the bodies on Friday? This is the sort of speculation which should never go into a judicial document of this sort. What I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and with some vehemence—is that the whole evidence which was heard by Mr. Scott Henderson should be published so that hon. Members and members of the public can judge whether it is a fair Report or whether it is not.
I suggest further to the Home Secretary that he may consider it is in the public interest to have a public hearing, a public inquiry, not only into the Christie and the Evans cases, but into the conduct of this particular inquiry as well. On the face of it there have been a number of grave irregularities committed by the police. It may be that the police are entirely wrongly blamed; it may be that they have not committed these irregularities, but if, in fact, as we now know, there was a mass of evidence in support of Evans's case which was known to the police before his trial in 1949 which was never put forward in court, some explanation is called for from Mr. Scott Henderson.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)
I am a seeker after truth. Is the hon. and learned Member in a position to tell me whether or not at the time of the trial of Evans any statement taken by the police from the carpenter to whom he has referred was made available in the sense that the carpenter's name and address was supplied, in accordance with the ordinary custom, to the defence?
§ Mr. Bing
I am in a position in the interests of truth to answer the hon. and learned Member. No such statement was made; no such address was supplied and 1443 this is one of the matters which requires investigation, very considerable investigation. I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member for noting this great departure from what should take place.
The defence had no knowledge of the existence of any of these witnesses, and the real difficulty was that the witnesses themselves, with whom I have spoken, did not appreciate the importance of their evidence. Therefore, they did not come forward and produce it or get in touch with the defence. It is quite understandable. One cannot quite work out how a time sheet and what timber one has taken up is really going to help in solving the truth about a murder and things of that sort. But the police must have known. The Director of Prosecutions office must have known and one of the things the inquiry should decide is where the responsibility lies.
Did the police ever tell the Director's office; did the Director's office know this? These are things which I suggest to the House should be the subject of a public inquiry. If this irregularity was the only disturbing matter in regard to this inquiry, then one might well say that it was an unfortunate event, but explicable in some other way. But, unfortunately, the whole of the Report is shot through with prejudice and evidence of irregularities playing down the evidence on the one hand, and playing it up on the other.
I gave the right hon. and learned Gentleman a list of these things in a letter which I have sent him; and I apologise for having done that so late, but I did not want to write before I had been able to support by my own personal discussion with the people concerned, certain facts which had come to my notice second-hand. If one goes to the main case of Mr. Scott Henderson in an effort to prove the guilt of Evans, there seems to be an even more unfortunate suppression of certain evidence in the case of the police. I am sorry to detain the House for a little time, but I must refer to a few paragraphs in the Report itself.
In paragraph 34, where Mr. Scott Henderson gives his reasons why he thinks Evans was guilty, and implies that Evans' final confession was substantiated by outside factors, it is stated: 1444I am, therefore, satisfied that there was a great deal of evidence to support Evans' account in his confession of why and how he was fighting with his wife on 8th February, 1949. He alone knew that he had strangled her with a piece of rope.In parenthesis, may I say here that this again questions the nature of the inquiry, because nobody has ever found any rope, although Christie, in the articles in the "Sunday Pictorial," stated that he kept a piece of rope, 18 inches in length, and knotted at both ends, and which he used for his murders. But that piece of evidence, like so much more, has been disregarded by Mr. Scott Henderson.
The Report goes on:I wrapped my wife's body up in a blanket and a green tablecloth from off my kitchen table"—this is Evans's evidence—and I then tied it up with a piece of cord … I carried my wife's body down to the wash-house and placed it under the sink. I then blocked the front of the sink up with pieces of wood so that the body would not be seen.Then, the Report observes:Similarly, his statement that he had strangled his baby with his tie and hid her body behind some wood in the washhouse was also an exact description of what had happened to the baby.I ask the House to note these words which follow:Evans could not have obtained these details from the police, and I am satisfied that he was able to give these details because of his first-hand knowledge.Mr. Scott Henderson underlines his conclusions a little earlier, in paragraph 29, by saying that,With Mr. Blackburn I have made a close study of all police documents relating to the case and I closely questioned the three officers named above.Those are Chief Inspector Jennings, Detective Inspector Black, and Detective Sergeant Corfield. Mr. Scott Henderson continues:Both Mr. Blackburn and I are satisfied that nothing was said to the prisoner relating to the bodies and the causes of death other than was given in evidence by Chief Inspector Jennings at the trial.It is quite clear what Mr. Scott Henderson is saying. What did Chief Inspector Jennings say?I am Chief Inspector Jennings, in charge of this case. At 11.50 a.m. today I found the dead body of your wife, Beryl Evans, concealed in a washhouse at 10, Rillington Place, Notting Hill; also the body of your baby daughter, Geraldine, in the same outbuilding, 1445 and this clothing was found on them. Later today I was at Kensington Mortuary when it was established that the cause of death was strangulation in both cases. I have reason to believe that you were responsible for their deaths.I want the House to appreciate that Mr. Scott Henderson found that that was all that was told to Evans. Apparently he did not even trouble to read the depositions at the trial of Evans. If he had bothered to look at the evidence given by Detective Inspector Black on oath at the trial he would have found that the words he had set down were contradicted by one of the two police inspectors. I will read what the police inspector himself said. If the Home Secretary cares to follow it he will find it in the transcript of the Evans case in page 76, paragraph (e).
Inspector Black was asked this:Q. And there did Mr. Jennings tell him that he (Mr. Jennings) had first found the body of his wife hidden beneath the wash basin by the sink in this outhouse?—A. Yes, sir.Q. Did he also tell him that he found the body of his baby hidden behind some timber in the outhouse?—A. Yes, sir.Q. And did he say that both of them appeared to have died by strangulation?—A. Yes, sir.Really, if Mr. Scott Henderson is asking this House to say that what a senior police officer said on oath at the trial was untrue he ought at least to have put a footnote in his report explaining why.
If one looks at the judge's summing-up one sees—and if the Home Secretary likes to see it he will find it on page 157, paragraph (e) and it goes on to page 158 paragraph (b)—that he tacitly admitted that the only item which Evans could not have known, and had not been told by the police, was that his baby had been strangled with a tie. That was the sole point on which there was any question that Evans had any knowledge.
I want to ask the Home Secretary whether he knows what evidence was given on this point at the inquiry. I say, with a sense of responsibility, that at the inquiry Chief Inspector Jennings proceeded to give some further evidence on this matter and said, "Well, as a matter of fact the clothing, the two lots of clothing, were put in two separate piles, on the one side the mother's clothing and on the other side the child's clothing, and on top of this clothing was put the tie."
1446 The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows enough of criminal proceedings to know the way in which those exhibits would be prepared. The tie, of course, would be slit across the back so as to preserve the knot. Therefore there would have been a small area just sufficient to strangle the child, and the tie would be there in that form. Anyone seeing that these things were in two piles would immediately suppose that the tie was in fact the thing that had been used for the strangling. It is so obvious.
What happens then? The tie is asked for, to be produced at the inquiry, and is not there. That is another thing which is missing. It may well be it is quite properly missing, and has quite properly been destroyed by the police. I make no criticism of that. But what I do make a criticism about is that Mr. Scott Henderson, knowing that the tie was a matter in issue, knowing that there was evidence at his inquiry that the tie did not belong to Evans, says in paragraph 4 of his own report:I am satisfied that all relevant material relating to the deaths of Mrs. Beryl Evans and Geraldine Evans has been put before me.How could he possibly say that, when the one thing, the one item, the one most important item in dispute, is in fact missing and has been destroyed?
I come to the next point. There is no reference in the Report to the evidence given at the inquiry by Dr. Matthew Odess. One of the most telling points made both by the prosecution and by the judge in his summing up in the Evans trial was that Christie was so crippled by enteritis and fibrositis, which is merely muscular rheumatism, that it would have been impossible for him to have carried the bodies down in the way he did. I understand that Dr. Odess has now re-examined his notes. He finds that in fact he was wrong, he was mistaken, in what he said in the Christie trial in this matter, and that in fact Christie did not come and complain to him about his fibrositis until after the murders had taken place—on Saturday, 12th November.
I understand that when pressed on the point the doctor said that indeed the trouble of which Christie was complaining was perfectly consistent with strain from carrying a heavy weight. That evidence may be quite valueless but it 1447 seems to me extraordinary that Mr. Scott Henderson did not see fit to put it before the public in his Report. The Home Secretary will tell me if the doctor did not give that evidence; but I am compelled to say with reluctance that throughout the Report there seems to be the most extraordinary bias against Evans.
To give one example, a letter from his mother which contains all sorts of bitter comments which parents sometimes make about their children in times when they do not know what their children are doing, and so on, is printed in full. At the trial this letter—all but a few sentences—was particularly excluded because of its prejudicial nature. Mr. Scott Henderson did not see fit to publish the evidence of Dr. Odess, but he did see fit to publish a letter which was excluded at Evans's own trial. It seems to me that there is a degree of prejudice of mind—I do not say this in any way personally. One has to try to enter the mind of someone who is set the extremely difficult task of having to justify the police action and possibly feeling that he must justify the police and the normal course of the law, and who then sees things gradually from a different slant.
He produces as proof that Evans probably committed the crime the fact that there were Press cuttings dealing with the case of a man named Setty found in Evans's room. But what did Evans want with cuttings? The one thing admitted on all sides was that Evans was illiterate. Here it is said, "Here is proof that an illiterate man did the murder. Cuttings were found, long after he left, in his rooms." Who did keep Press cuttings? We all know Christie did. He was found with the Press cuttings of Evans's case.
If a man had a body in the garden and he wanted to direct the attention of the police not to digging the garden, as they so often do when a person is missing, but to looking for a parcel, in what better way could one do it than by leaving in the empty flat of the man concerned a few Press cuttings to draw attention to the fact? If the Press cuttings about Setty show anything it is that they were put there, planted there, by Christie rather than the reverse.
There was evidence given, and I do not complain about it, of a statement made 1448 by Christie to the chaplain. The permission of the bishop was obtained. The statement was not made by way of confession. The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that when counsel asked Mr. Scott Henderson whether he would be prepared to take a statement from the chaplain who had seen Evans, Mr. Scott Henderson would not receive the evidence.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
We are dealing with the Evans case, and the hon. and learned Member said Christie at first.
§ Mr. Bing
I began by referring to Evans.
Then there was the statement to the chaplain by Christie. Mr. Scott Henderson thought it would help the inquiry if it were possible to print the statement to the chaplain, so the permission of the bishop and others was obtained, and the chaplain volunteered what Christie said to him. There was another chaplain to whom Evans had confided some information. It was suggested by counsel that if what Christie said to the chaplain was admissible, what Evans said to the chaplain was admissible. But apparently it was not. The Home Secretary will tell us about these things. We may be doing a great injustice. Everyone knows that there is a transcript of the evidence, which would show whether what I say is correct. Why cannot it be published?
The Report leaves out of consideration what are the most telling points in Evans's favour. If he was guilty, and Christie innocent of these two murders, Christie had no reason to tell an untrue story when he was giving evidence in the Evans case. If one compares the evidence, which can be independently checked, which was given in the Christie case with the evidence which Christie gave in the Evans case, one sees that Christie was lying throughout his evidence.
For example, Evans said that Christie told him that he was a medical student and that he was preparing for a medical career but was prevented from following that career by an accident. Mr. Malcolm Morris, to whose skill in Evans's defence one must pay tribute, asked him directly,Mr. Christie, when did you have an accident?Christie said, pausing for a moment,I never had an accident.1449 Mrs. Christie was asked about it, and she said,Oh no. I do not know of any accident which my husband had.When Christie came to be tried, the accident reappeared. It was said to have been a serious accident which affected the whole of his life, in 1934; that he was run over by a car, was unconscious, and was in hospital for a considerable time. Christie denied all medical knowledge. At his own trial it turned out that he used a pretended medical knowledge to lure some of his victims. Christie said he knew nothing of the furniture remover. Evans said that Christie told him to sell his furniture to Mr. so-and-so. In Christie's case, the furniture remover said he had known Christie since 1949. Why should Christie lie about the furniture remover unless it was a part of some guilty knowledge?
None of those points is given consideration in this Report. There was one point at the Evans trial which was in his favour, namely that he left the child's clothes, pram and chair with Mr. Christie. Why should he do that? Why not get rid of them, as he got rid of the rest of the furniture, if he knew the child was dead? I understand that that was given in evidence before Mr. Scott Henderson, but it does not appear in the Report. When Evans was arrested, he said to the detective sergeant, "Will you please get in touch with my mother and get her to see Christie, because he knows where the child is."
We may ask how could such a result to the inquiry have come about; how could it happen that there should appear, on the face of it, to be so many errors and mistakes in this document which the Home Secretary has submitted to Parliament? I suggest that it was the result of the unfortunate way in which—these are my last words—[An HON. MEMBER; "Hear, hear."] An hon. Member says "Hear, hear." I appreciate that I have been delaying the House a long time, and I much appreciate the courtesy with which I have been treated from practically every part of the House. I would merely say to the hon. Gentleman who interrupted in that way that this is a matter in which the reputation of British justice is at stake and, therefore, the House of Commons might, perhaps, fulfil its long tradition by being a little 1450 tolerent on the subject of British liberty.
The real misfortune is the way in which the inquiry was conducted. I wish to ask the Home Secretary a few questions in order to ascertain whether certain things were done by his direction or not. In paragraph 8 of Mr. Scott Henderson's Report one sees:After I had started my investigation I was informed that the Evans family … had retained solicitors … who had instructed … Counsel to represent them at my Inquiry. The procedure I had adopted for the investigation was not such as fitted in with formal presentation of evidence by an interested party …There was only one party who really had an interest, and that was the Evans family.
So far as Mr. Malcolm Morris was concerned, his client was dead. So far as Mr. Curtis Bennett was concerned, he had still a duty to his client, who was still alive. His job—properly so—was to represent in the best way he could Christie's position. It was not necessary for him to secure a clearing up of the position of Evans and to sacrifice his own client's interest to a rambling and general inquiry.
Mr. Scott Henderson's Report says:The procedure I had adopted for the investigation was not such as fitted in with formal presentation of evidence by an interested party, but I welcomed the assistance of Mr. Gillis in suggesting names of possible witnesses and questions for their examination. Mr. Gillis was necessarily at a disadvantage compared with the other Counsel who helped me, as on the 9th July when he first appeared at the examination of witnesses he had not received a copy of the transcript in the Evans case and he knew nothing about the statements which his client had made to the police in 1949.Will the Home Secretary answer this question? Why was not the transcript made available to the counsel who were concerned? How can one suppose that an inquiry of this sort into a trial can possibly be conducted when nobody is given an account of the trial? And to get an account of the Evans trial, even from the transcript, is extremely difficult. Not a word is reported in "The Times." Anybody who attempted to do anything without the transcript had an absolutely impossible task.
These are the questions that I wish to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. First, what rules did Mr. Scott 1451 Henderson make for the conduct of the inquiry? Secondly, were counsel and the solicitors instructing them allowed to be present at all times? Thirdly, did the Home Office receive any representations from any of the counsel concerned in the course of the inquiry as to the way in which Mr. Scott Henderson was conducting it, and did the Home Secretary give any directions altering the methods which Mr. Scott Henderson employed?
I have taken a long time over this matter, but I thought that in a matter of this importance, even at this time of night, it was worth while trying to set the facts before the House. I agree with what was said in the earlier stages when the matter was first raised, that a secret inquiry of this sort cannot allay public disquiet. It may result in all sorts of charges being made against all sorts of people who are, in fact, not guilty of them. But do not let the people who are raising these points be blamed. In the files of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the complete answer. There is, no doubt, a shorthand note of everything that took place before Mr. Scott Henderson. Why not? There was a shorthand writer present, was there not? Or has it already been destroyed?
Is the record of what took place still in existence, and if not why not? If it is still in existence, is there any reason why it should not be published? When there is already in the evidence the letter of a mother distressed by the position of her son, and when the confession of a man awaiting death to the chaplain has already been published, surely we should not be too tender about the briefs written by solicitors or the nature of inquiries made by the police.
This is a matter which I do not believe the House can allow to remain in its present position, and I ask the Home Secretary first to publish the whole of the inquiry, and secondly to consider setting up some body to investigate the two trials and the method by which this inquiry has been conducted.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I have just listened to one of the most formidable speeches which has been delivered in this House for many years, and I do not think there can be any honest Member of this House who is not 1452 very gravely disturbed by the evidence which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has presented. [An HON. MEMBER; "Evidence?"] There may be one or two hon. Members on the opposite side of the House who are not prepared to listen to this discussion in the same spirit in which I am sure my hon. and learned Friend raised the matter, but if they are not prepared to do so on a matter of this kind, I think they will do a greater service to the House by leaving.
This is an issue in which the reputation of British justice is at stake, and if there are Members who are not interested in British justice, it would be very much better if they did not attend this debate. If there are some hon. Members who suggest that it is unfortunate that a debate of this kind should be held at this time, then the responsibility for that rests squarely on the shoulders of the Home Secretary, because it is by his decision that the debate is taking place in the present circumstances, rather than the debate for which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asked at another time, when the debate could have been held in very different circumstances and when some of the evidence, at any rate, would not have been destroyed. Some of the evidence in this case has been destroyed by the decision of the Home Secretary. It was his decision that we should not have a discussion on this matter while Christie was still alive.
I shall come back to that point as to why it was so vital that we should have had the debate before Christie was sent to his death, even though Christie's evidence on most points was worthless. But it is due to the decision of the Home Secretary that this debate is taking place in the circumstances in which we are having it tonight, rather than in the circumstances in which we asked for it first, before Christie was hanged. Subsequently, when the Report was issued, it would have been perfectly possible for the Home Secretary to have asked the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on the Report. If the debate takes place in these circumstances the responsibility must rest upon him.
To those hon. Members opposite who are content to jeer on this issue, I would say that there has been an earlier 1453 occasion in the history of this House, which the Home Secretary will remember very well, on a legal issue, on which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch was proved right and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was proved to be wrong. Therefore, I hope that every hon. Member will consider with respect the tremendous case which was presented by my hon. and learned Friend this evening.
The main charge with which I am concerned is not about the detailed case which my hon. and learned Friend has presented so powerfully The main case, in my view, is the charge against the Home Secretary, because one of the reasons why we are presented with a situation in which all the details of this inquiry have to be ransacked in the House of Commons is because of the nature of the inquiry which the Home Secretary ordered. It was by his decision that it was a secret or semi-secret inquiry, and an inquiry at which the case for Evans was not represented by a lawyer.
As to the Report, it is a little curious that Mr. Scott Henderson should devote a considerable part of it to defending the Home Secretary's decision on the nature of the inquiry. What business was it of Mr. Scott Henderson's to spend part of the money taxpayers provide for White Papers in defending the Home Secretary's decision, and dealing with precisely the issue for which the Home Secretary is responsible? What right had he to enter into a matter which is one for the House of Commons—whether it was a proper form of inquiry?
When the announcement was made there were many people who immediately criticised the form of the proposed inquiry and who immediately suggested that it was bound to lead to worthless conclusions. There was much criticism, led by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—and indeed he was supported then by almost all the newspapers in the country. There was hardly one which did not criticise beforehand the kind of inquiry set up. Surely it was rather remarkable, when this inquiry was rushed through in two or three days, that most of the newspapers turned round and helped to apply the same whitewash that the Home Secretary had been applying to the case?
Of course the inquiry was bound to be worthless, because if new evidence was 1454 produced—and we have the authority of the legal correspondent of "The Times" for saying that much new evidence was available to the Scott Henderson inquiry which was not available at the Evans trial, and which indeed would not have been admissible at the Evans trial—Evans, the man chiefly concerned, had no chance of answering the evidence brought forward at his second trial. If he could not answer he might have been granted a lawyer to cross-examine on his behalf, but that right was denied by the Home Secretary, whose decision it was to have an inquiry rushed through in a few days, and who made sure there was no lawyer present to cross-examine the new evidence on which Mr. Scott Henderson partly reached his result.
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch has already produced many overwhelmingly powerful reasons why this Report is not worth the paper it is printed on, because there are little snippets picked here and there to suit Mr. Scott Henderson in order to reach this conclusion, which it is clear he had reached before he had started. [An HON. MEMBER; "Disgusting."] I do not believe hon. Gentlemen opposite have read the Report. If an innocent man has been hanged why are they so eager to hush it up and see it is not discussed?
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether, so far as he knows, either he or the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch gave any notice of the matters they are raising to the Home Secretary or the Attorney-General at the time when many of these irregularities, to which they are referring, occurred?
§ Mr. Foot
I am afraid it is hardly worth delaying the House to answer the hon. and learned Gentleman, because what we are discussing is the nature and the results of an inquiry set up by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I will say this for the Home Secretary, even if I cannot say it for his supporters; I am sure he will stand up for what he is responsible; he will not try to run away from it. I hope that he is prepared, tonight, to defend his own action.
If hon. Members opposite want more details why this Report is rubbish, and why nobody with any sense of justice would believe it, let them take the last 1455 account of the interview with Christie. It is most extraordinary, because, according to the evidence given in this Report this was not the only interview between Mr. Scott Henderson—or those associated with him in his inquiries—and Christie. The account of one cross-examination of Christie is given in the Report; but there was another meeting between Christie and those responsible for the Scott Henderson inquiry.
It is here in the Report. It slipped out. There were some points at which the editing was not good enough. Probably they were too hasty about it. It may be that it would have helped the Home Secretary's case if it had been edited a bit more carefully than this. The first question put by Mr. Scott Henderson, introducing the persons he had brought to the inquiry, is this:The gentleman who is sitting next to you, as you can see, is the Shorthand Writer. Mr. Blackburn, the Assistant Chief Constable of the West Riding, is here, and I think that you have seen him already?When did Christie see Mr. Blackburn? Did he see him the day before? If so, why are we not told what happened on the day before? Why had Mr. Blackburn seen Christie on the day before? What were the conversations? Is there a shorthand report of those conversations?
I ask, with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch, whether we can have that report published, because some very important conversations did take place on the day before, in the interview between those responsible for the Scott Henderson Report and Christie—a very important interview which has not been reported. That is proved again by the answer given on page 71.
§ Mr. Foot
The third question from the bottom of page 71 is on a very important matter, according to Mr. Scott Henderson, because he was examining how much faith could be placed in the confession of Christie and the evidence which Christie gave at his own trial.
Mr. Scott Henderson asked:Short of your being satisfied that there is definite proof that you must have done it, are you prepared to say that you did do it? —(A). I was only informed yesterday that there is no such proof.1456 So Christie was told on the day before the public interview between Christie and Mr. Scott Henderson—in a private interview—that there was no proof that he had committed the murder. Therefore, his mind had already been conditioned by an interview that had taken place, to which no reference is made, and in connection with which I go so far as to claim that it has been sought deliberately to suppress the evidence that it did take place. It is only because of hasty and bad editing that they did not cut out that incriminating evidence from this document.
We must have an account of what took place in this interview. No doubt a curious psychological situation prevailed, because none can guess exactly what might be in the mind of a man who knows he is going to hang in a day or two, and what he might confess to. Nobody can say what would be the psychological state of a sane man in such circumstances, but what about the psychological state of an insane man? If we are to judge the matter we should have all the evidence, and not just little bits and pieces that Mr. Scott Henderson and the Home Secretary choose to present to the House. [HON. MEMBERS; "Shame."] Do hon. Members opposite say that the House of Commons should not be allowed to see one interview between Mr. Scott Henderson and Christie when we are presented with the other? Why should not we see them both? Of course, these are only further facts which I cite to support the overwhelming case of my hon. and learned Friend, that the evidence has been selected in the most extraordinary way.
There is, in my view, one final proof which I should have thought no hon. Member would dispute of why this inquiry has been totally unsatisfactory and why it was always bound to be unsatisfactory—a very simple proof. Suppose that Evans had been alive when the inquiry took place. Suppose that we had not had the death penalty. Suppose he had been serving a life sentence. Suppose then that all the evidence of the Christie trial had come out and all the doubts which persuaded the Home Secretary to set up the inquiry had been raised. Suppose that Evans had been in Penton-ville Prison too. Does anybody think they would have been content with this kind of inquiry?
1457 Should we have had an inquiry about which the Home Secretary had come to the House and said, "We are going to ask Christie questions on two occasions. We will print one. We may not print the other. But we will not ask Evans anything." Would anybody have been content with such a suggestion? If Evans had been alive, would he have been cross-examined without a defending counsel? Christie had a defending counsel, so if Evans had been alive he would have been able to give evidence at his second trial and would have had a defending counsel; he would have had the opportunity of examining the evidence; and, unless something very extraordinary had happened to British justice, it would have been held in public.
But all those claims were denied by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Foot
Because Evans was dead. Even so, even with Evans dead, he could have had a defending counsel. Even with Evans dead, the Home Secretary could have had a public inquiry; he could have had an inquiry all the evidence of which was printed, even in this kind of inquiry. But all that was denied by the Home Secretary. Therefore, the Home Secretary's responsibility in this matter is a very grave one indeed. This is not only a question of whether the Home Secretary believes in capital punishment or not—we all know that he is a strong defender of capital punishment. It was not only a question of whether there was some doubt about Evans's innocence or guilt and that it was a tender matter that had to be looked into. It was a much bigger question than that.
The fact is that, when there was grave doubt and widespread disturbance in the public mind, and when there was a possibility of searching out the truth by long and detailed examination according to the rules which we have always tried to uphold in the British judicial system—when all those opportunities were available, and when it was possible at all events to extend the inquiry for four or five weeks so that people like those cited by my hon. and learned Friend could bring their evidence forward—it was the Home Secretary who turned down all 1458 these possibilities and said, "Oh, no, I am going to have a different kind of inquiry. I am going to have one that is rushed through in a few days. I am going to have one in which all the evidence is not published at the end; and I am going to have it through quickly enough to see that Christie is hanged on the date that was fixed. I am going to get it through and push it all out of the way as quickly as possible."
When the case is presented in that fashion, this is a much bigger issue, and if the Home Secretary has not a detailed and valid reply to all the evidence which has been presented in this debate tonight——
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
I have not the legal knowledge of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), nor the gift of powerful presentation of narrative that belongs to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon port (Mr. Foot), but I want to put to the Home Secretary the point of view which I think is shared by a very great many ordinary laymen—people without legal knowledge—throughout the country.
Like millions of other people, I read the reports of the Christie trial and, as it developed, there occurred to me—as it must have occurred to millions of people—that it was indeed remarkable if we had the coincidence of two murderers murdering by the same method in the same house. With that anxiety in our minds, we were naturally relieved when the right hon. and learned Gentleman set up the Scott Henderson inquiry, although I think a great many of us would share the view we have just heard powerfully expressed that it might have been better if that inquiry had taken a different form. Again in common with a great many people, I read the Report of the inquiry anxiously and, indeed, rather hoping, since after all Evans was dead, that if it was in conformity with the truth it would 1459 establish beyond doubt that Evans was guilty, because none of us would wish to believe that an innocent man had been hanged.
It was in that frame of mind that I read the Report, and I believe I am expressing what was in the minds of a very great many people. It was partly a hope that it would be proved that an innocent man had not been hanged but there was the other worry—could the coincidence have occurred of two murderers in the same house, using the same method? When I read the Report in that frame of mind it did strike me, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch pointed out, that the general tone of the Report seemed to be prejudiced against Evans. But there was one item which seemed to me to tell very strongly in favour of the view that Evans was guilty. That was the clear and categorical statement that Evans had described how the murders were committed and that the only way in which he could have done that was by having first-hand knowledge.
When I read that in the Report I was profoundly impressed by it because, while there was so much, inevitably, in the case that was bound to be a matter of opinion, where judgment might turn this way or that, here there seemed to stick out a solid, unquestionable fact which almost seemed to decide the case. It disposed of the mystery of the coincidence and seemed almost to establish the guilt of Evans, for how indeed, if he were not guilty, could he have described how these murders had occurred? How could he, since it was clearly stated by Mr. Scott Henderson that he could only have done that from first-hand knowledge?
Therefore, with something of bewilderment I set the Report aside feeling that it was extremely hard to decide the truth in this matter, but having very much in mind that here seemed to be one unshakable and unquestionable fact that bore very heavily against Evans. But now what do we hear from my hon. and learned Friend tonight? [Interruption.] An hon. Member opposite has twice contemptuously repeated the word "Evidence" when it has been used to describe what my hon. and learned Friend has said. Anyone who attended carefully to 1460 the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch would have noticed that it was confined exclusively to statements of what he believed to be facts, that he did not impute motives or draw deductions beyond what followed inevitably from the statements he made and, what was still more important, that for every statement he made he drew our attention to where we could verify whether that statement was accurate or not.
I do not think that can be questioned. Therefore, it seems to me not reasonable to speak contemptuously of the statements put before the House by my hon. Friend this evening.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not know whether the hon. Member knows what the word "evidence" means. Evidence means statements made by a witness.
§ Mr. Stewart
An hon. Member, having read the transcript of the evidence at the trial, is surely in a position to tell of his own knowledge what is in that transcript. I could agree that he was not in a position to say what was said and done at the Evans trial, because I presume that he was not there; but he is in a position to say what is in the transcript of the evidence at the trial.
As we all know the reputation of my hon. and learned Friend, and putting the matter at its lowest, and saying he has made a mistake, then the transcript can be checked. But I assume that he is correct when he states that the transcript of the evidence records the fact that Evans could have known of the way in which the murders were committed by something other than first-hand knowledge.
§ Mr. Bing
If I may interrupt, because this is a point of some importance, I would say that one of the two police witnesses, on oath—[Interruption.]—and hon. Members opposite may not consider that statements made on oath are evidence—swore that of the three points which are produced in Mr. Scott Henderson's Report as being matters of firsthand knowledge by Evans, two were told him before he made his statement. They were mentioned by the chief inspector 1461 and, in fact, the inspector said that if he was pressed on the matter he could not remember if he had been told about the tie or not
§ Mr. Stewart
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for confirming that I have understood the argument correctly. My hon. and learned Friend therefore draws attention to the fact that, in the transcript of the evidence at the trial, in a statement imputed to a police witness, there is something which knocks away the whole of much which appeared to be a valid and essential point indicating the guilt of Evans; and a point to which a layman must have attached great importance.
We ought, at the very least, to have been told that this was contradicted in the trial of Evans. Possibly Mr. Scott Henderson may have come to the conclusion that the statements of witnesses at Evans's trial were incorrect, but in his Report he should have drawn attention to the fact that these statements were made on oath and not have led us to suppose that an essential part of the case against Evans was something which had been controverted by police witnesses, giving evidence on oath. That point alone seems to establish the case which my hon. and learned Friend has made tonight. He has asked the Home Secretary to make available to the public all the evidence put before the Scott Henderson inquiry.
Is it possible, in view of the doubts which, on any interpretation, must be in any fair-minded person's mind after hearing my hon. and learned Friend, for the Home Secretary, to refuse the request that we should be able to see all the evidence on which Mr. Scott Henderson reached his conclusions? Is it reasonable to deny our further request that there should be a further inquiry into this matter by a properly constituted body?
I do ask hon. Members, at their leisure tomorrow, or when there is a little more time than there is now, to read over the series of statements, every one of which is supported by verifiable references, and then ask themselves if they are satisfied with what has been done. I know that some people—I trust no hon. Member of this House—would 1462 say, "After all, what does it matter? Both these men are dead now, and neither of them when they were alive, were particularly worthy or attractive members of society." That may well be true—indeed it is true. But we talk a great deal in this House and elsewhere about the free world and the values of Western civilisation.
It is a cardinal point in those beliefs that any human being in this country, whether he is a useful member of society or not, whether in other respects he may be a criminal or not, is entitled to the same treatment before the law and has the same claim to justice as the most honourable and the most useful member of society. In the free world, and particularly in this country, there are many things we should like to see put right. But we believe that our civilisation is moving slowly and perhaps stumblingly towards an honourable life for mankind.
The moment we start to say, "This man was a poor and wretched creature of no use to society," even though that allegation is true; the moment we say, "We cannot be bothered, we have more important things to do than question whether he has had justice or not," we turn from our progress, we turn from the light, and start walking along the road that leads ultimately to Belsen and Auschwitz. I do not think any hon. Member will deny that that is so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said on an earlier occasion when we discussed this matter, our system of justice can survive an imputation that it is not infallible.
One hon. Member opposite seemed to consider it relevant to know under what Government irregularities occurred. That is not relevant at all. It may well be that during the term of this, that or the other Government there is a suggestion that police irregularities have occurred. Serious as it is, that would be much less serious than any suggestion that once such matters occurred attempts were made to hide them.
It is within the power of the Home Secretary to allay the anxiety which must be felt by an enormous number of ordinary decent people who are concerned with the reputation of this country. It is within his power to allay that anxiety by meeting the request made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
After the speeches which have been made it is not my purpose to trouble the House further with points of argument as to whether Mr. Scott Henderson reached a right or a wrong conclusion in the right or wrong way. I think the case which has been made out will be admitted to be a very powerful one and to demand an answer.
I wish to make an appeal to the Home Secretary. I have known him for a long time. I think he would permit me to say that we have been friends. I have the greatest respect for his personal integrity in this and in all matters with which he deals. We all have the greatest possible sympathy with him in his position tonight. He was not the Home Secretary at the time and it is his duty as Home Secretary to speak in this House for his Department, and for those who work under his authority. In our Constitution those persons include the Metropolitan Police.
I think it a serious embarrassment, both to him and to the House, that the same Minister should be responsible in the House for this inquiry, and also be bound by his office to defend his subordinates, who were the officers concerned in the original investigations, the original trial and the events that have taken place in recent weeks. It may be that one of the lessons of these tragic circumstances is to reinforce the case that many of us have supported for very many years that there ought to be in our constitution a Ministry of Justice with somebody responsible for the administration of justice who is not also the spokesman in the House of Commons for the Metropolitan Police Force or for any other police force.
That is the first point. The second is that everyone understands that when an execution has taken place it is with the greatest possible reluctance that anyone comes to the conclusion that there is even the faintest real possibility that an innocent man was hanged. There is an inevitable bias in the minds of all of us—a preference, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said just now, to believe that what was done and what cannot be recalled was rightly done.
1464 That is not only because we should all be so—I do not know what the right word is; I suppose heartbroken would not be too strong—if we were to believe that the administration of our justice had resulted in so tragic and irrevocable an error, but also because if it were so established there must inevitably be some reflection from it, some undermining of the public confidence in the administration of justice upon which that administration must inevitably rely. If it were established in this case, as I for myself believe it has been established, that a man totally innocent of the crime with which he was charged was nevertheless executed, it is impossible to believe or to assert that that would not result in some undermining of public confidence in the administration of justice.
But there is something which would undermine confidence in the administration of justice much more than the conviction of error in a particular case. No one would expect any human institution to be infallible. No one pretends that our administration of justice is infallible. No one thinks for a moment that we have never made mistakes, never acquitted a guilty person and never convicted an innocent one.
We can survive the proof that an error was made. But there is one thing that the administration of justice will never survive, and that is if people begin to doubt not its infallibility but its integrity. That is where the damage is done. If a mistake is made, far better that the public should see everyone concerned and all the resources of our community and nation harnessed to establish the error, confess the error and, so far as it may be done at this time of day, put the error right.
In that way we can do something—not very much, but we can do something—to restore the confidence undermined by the error. But if we allow people to believe that, having made the error, all the resources of the community are being employed to hush it up and deny it, then indeed confidence in the administration of justice will be undermined in such a way that it can never recover.
Therefore I appeal to the Home Secretary not to be tempted to argue with the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), with the hon. Member 1465 for Devonport (Mr. Foot), or with my other hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East. I know his forensic skill. I have had experience of it for many years. He could employ it now to try to remove the impression which must have been produced on the minds of every hon. Member who heard the speeches of my hon. Friends, by saying that perhaps the inference has been too strongly pressed, and that perhaps after all the picture is not so black as it was painted. He could send us all away with comfortable assurances, laying the flattering unction to our souls which Hamlet told us about. He will do no permanent good that way.
It would be much better that he should say that while he does not agree with the case made out, there is sufficient in the case made in the debate tonight to make it unsafe to rely solely on Mr. Scott Henderson's Report. Let there be some other inquiry. The better the answer which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to the case made out tonight, the stronger the case for a proper inquiry at which the answer to it can be properly established. Much better that he should do that than commit himself tonight and so embarrass any future inquiry which might be instituted by seeking now to defend the position, which is beyond serious pretension, that there is no objection to the Scott Henderson Report, and that it removes all reasonable doubt that Evans murdered his wife and child.
Whatever he may say, however eloquently and powerfully, he will not satisfy the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, and he will not satisfy millions of our fellow countrymen. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the unanimous chorus of the leading newspapers reflects the state of mind of the public. Let doubts be removed by a proper inquiry. If we can be assured that no error was made, let it be put beyond controversy. If that cannot be established, let us humbly admit that our administration of justice went wrong, and let us make up our minds that while we cannot guarantee that there will be no further error we will at any rate remove for ever from our law that provision in it which makes an error irrevocable.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
May I say one word of explanation which I do not think that even the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) will hold against me? I think it is only fair that the House should know that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) wrote to me, as he said. The letter reached the Home Office at 3.30 this afternoon. I happened to be receiving, as some hon. Members will be aware, a deputation from the Trades Union Congress at four o'clock in regard to matters arising out of the Gowers Report, so that the first time I heard that this matter was to be raised was shortly before five o'clock. If there are any matters on which I am not fully informed—I hope there are not—I only hope that the House will take that into account, because I agree with everything that has been said about this being a most serious matter, about which I should like to put all the points I know before the House.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am not imputing blame but am merely explaining the position, and I hope that the House will not think it unfair to be asked to accept that.
The other point—it is a much more serious one—is this. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred several times to Mr. Scott Henderson "making his case." He also referred to Mr. Scott Henderson's having to justify the police action and the normal course of the law. I say that it will be a poor day for Great Britain when we cannot find men in this country who are prepared to undertake an inquiry and come fearlessly to the conclusion to which the facts point without any regard for the consequences of opinion. I endeavoured to choose a man who, I believed, would approach it in that way. The terms of reference which I gave Mr. Scott Henderson are set out in the document before the House. I told the House that my object, as I believe it 1467 to have been the object of the whole House, was to discover the truth.
I am sorry that, as I gathered from the hon. Member for Devonport, notice had not been given to my predecessor in the office of Home Secretary, and, therefore, he is not here. Although we are concerned tonight with something that happened in his term of office, I am sure that he would be just as anxious as I am to see that the truth was arrived at. I am certain that nobody holding the office of Home Secretary, whatever his party, would in any way seek or desire that the person who held the inquiry should be biased one way or the other in the result to which he came. I resent that the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church should have put the matter in that way. I have seen no reason for it, nor have I heard any reason deployed tonight.
The hon. Member for Devonport has—quite properly—made an attack on me. As he was good enough to anticipate, the fact of the attack is not a matter which worries me or from which I should ever retreat. The question is, as he would be the first to admit, whether his attack was soundly based. He said, in a momentary exaggeration, that this was an inquiry which took two or three days. I hope he will just look at that aspect of the matter again, because that is a damaging remark to go out.
From the Monday when I announced the inquiry to the Monday on which Mr. Scott Henderson brought the Report for me to see, before my decision in the Christie case was finally reached, was a matter of seven or eight days according to arithmetic. The hon. Member probably did not notice it, but if he will read the Report again more carefully he will observe that Mr. Scott Henderson said, in paragraph 3:Having been told by you of the proposed appointment, I had started several days before your announcement to read the papers in the cases of Evans and Christie.The other point which is connected with that one, and on which he blamed me, was that I did not postpone the execution of Christie. That is a matter for my decision, and I came to the conclusion that it would have been an inhuman thing to do, because I had come to a conclusion as to whether he should 1468 die or not. The alternatives then in front of me were to keep a man alive, knowing in my own mind that he would ultimately die, and not tell him, or to tell him and keep him hanging on for a period which might have been extended, knowing that ultimately he was to die.
I rejected that course, and I believed and still believe that in the time, say 12 days, or 11 days—I do not want to exaggerate for a moment—that Mr. Scott Henderson had, he had full time to examine the subject and the subject was of such a compass that it could be dealt with in that time. I hate to introduce personal experience in addressing this House, but it obviously goes without saying that those in my profession have had a very considerable experience of inquiries of various sorts, and have conducted many, and therefore one applies practical knowledge and experience in dealing with that point. Therefore, I do not think it is fair or right to say that this was a rushed job, as the hon. Gentleman said.
As to the procedure, I said when I first announced the inquiry to the House that it would be left to Mr. Scott Henderson, and I made no attempt to hide my view from the House. The hon. Gentleman can look up what I said at the time; hon. Members here will remember me saying it. I said that I firmly believed that the procedure should be that of a private inquiry, and I gave the four reasons, which appeared in HANSARD and which I have emphasised since, for taking that course. The House was under no illusion, not only as to the course but why I took it.
The hon. Gentleman raised another point. He asked what right Mr. Scott Henderson had to refer to that matter. The hon. Gentleman—I do not blame him for this—had probably not listened to what I said, or read it carefully. It is impossible to cover everything that is said in the House or that appears in HANSARD, but if he looks at it again he will see that I said that I had consulted Mr. Scott Henderson on that point, and he agreed with me. I put that before the House on the day that I announced the inquiry, and I gave my own reasons.
Let me say at once that it is my responsibility, whatever Mr. Scott Henderson thinks. However, he has given his view and he has given his reasons. I think he was justified, not only because I had 1469 given him my point of view, but also for the sake of public confidence. He had undertaken the inquiry. Although the major responsibility is mine, he cannot divest himself of his part of the responsibility as being the person who held the inquiry. I want to speak most temperately, but I must entirely refuse to accept the suggestion that this matter was rushed through, either on my part in ordering the inquiry, or in Mr. Scott Henderson's part in conducting it.
I now come to the first point that was made by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, and that is, that apart from any specific matters which he mentioned, that there was a general reason for thinking that the result arrived at by Mr. Scott Henderson was wrong, and the hon. and learned Member said that that came to this point of the coincidence. Those were the first general points that he made. I am sure that there he put his finger on the point which had worried a great many people—the point of coincidence of the two stranglers in the same house. Whatever they were, lawyers or politicians, or the ordinary man in the club or pub, that was the point they had in mind.
Therefore, I think it is extremely necessary to proceed, as was done by Mr. Scott Henderson, by setting out the case against Evans, and both the case at the trial and the other material considered by me—I am referring to the title of the Report—relating to the case of Evans. I should have thought that when—as they are perfectly entitled to do—Members in this House seek to upset and displace the view that has been arrived at by an independent tribunal they would address themselves most seriously and carefully and completely to the points on which the person holding the inquiry relied and placed the weight of his affirmation. If the House will allow me—because I think it is the only way to get the matter into proper perspective and proportion—I will just look at these points and see how far they have been dealt with by the hon. and learned Gentleman who was the spearhead of this attack.
The first point—and one with which the hon. and learned Member did deal—was the question of the information available to Evans. The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said that he was most impressed by that point. If the 1470 House will look at the end of paragraph 29 to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, it states:Both Mr. Blackburn and I are satisfied that nothing was said to the prisoner relating to the bodies and the causes of death, other than was given in evidence by Chief Inspector Jennings at the trial."—And there is a reference to that evidence in paragraph 25—It follows as an irresistible inference that Evans could not have known about the details of the strangulations and the disposal of the bodies unless he had first hand knowledge of the crime. I was told by at least one witness that the tie did not belong to Evans. I have no evidence that I can accept as proof of that. Evans himself said that it was his own tie (paragraph 25). Christie was asked about the tie at the trial but did not attempt to identify it. The tie was destroyed in the ordinary course after the hearing of the appeal.
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I should like to finish this point, because the hon. Member for Fulham, East attached great importance to it, and I should not think he has had a chance of reading this rather lengthy transcript himself; but it is in the Library and he can look at it. I shall endeavour to put the point fairly to him.
The evidence given by Chief Inspector Jennings—I have just quoted Mr. Scott Henderson's reference to him—is, as the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch said, on page 68. It began in this way, with the Chief Inspector speaking to Evans:I am Chief Inspector Jennings in charge of this case. At 11.50 a.m. today I found the dead body of your wife, Beryl Evans, concealed in a washhouse at 10, Rillington Place, Notting Hill; also the body of your baby daughter, Geraldine, in the same outbuilding, and this clothing was found on them. Later today I was present at Kensington Mortuary when it was established that the cause of death was strangulation in both cases. I have reason to believe that you were responsible for their deaths.Then he was cross-examined by Mr. Malcolm Morris, for the defence, and on page 73, at Letter C, Mr. Morris said:When you showed him"—that is Evans—the clothing, he then did appear to be nervous, did he, and upset?—A. That had upset him, yes.Q. It had upset him. You told him exactly what you and the Chief Superintendent had found?—A. Yes, Sir.Q. Explaining how his wife's body was wrapped up in a green table cloth?—A. Not at that stage—I found them concealed.1471 Then the judge said:Found what?—A. I found them concealed in the outhouse.Q. You found it concealed?—A. Yes, and this clothing was found on them.Then Mr. Morris said:But you said it was concealed behind pieces of wood?—A. No, Sir.Q. Did not you?—A. No, Sir.Q. I must suggest that you did?—A. No. Sir.Q. Nothing of the kind?—A. No, Sir.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Yes.Q. Are you quite sure that you did not mention wood or timber?—A. Yes, Sir.That is a re-affirmation of that point.
On page 76 the next witness, Detective Inspector Black, was asked about the point. Hon. and learned Gentlemen in my profession will see that he was asked a series of leading questions, which is usually done when one is going over some evidence that has been given before.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Yes, I am sorry. Leading questions then are entirely permissible. He was asked, at Letter E:And there did Mr. Jennings tell him that he, Mr. Jennings, had first found the body of his wife concealed underneath the wash basin or the sink in this outhouse?—A. Yes, Sir.Q. Did he also tell him that he had found the body of his baby concealed behind some timber in the outhouse?—A. Yes, Sir.Q. And did he say that both of them appeared to have died by strangulation?—A. Yes, Sir.Q. Did he mention that the baby had been strangled by a tie which he produced?—A. No, Sir, not at that stage.A. At what stage did he? Was it afterwards, when he produced the clothing? Try and remember if you can.—A. Yes, Sir. Whilst Mr. Jennings was stating to the prisoner what you have said the prisoner picked up the clothing and also the tie.Q. Then what was said? Did Mr. Jennings say where the tie had been found?—A. No. Mr. Jennings did not mention the tie.Q. What, if anything, was said about the tie?—A. We did not mention the tie.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Very well.Q. Was anything said about a tie by anybody?—A. No, Sir.1472Q. Well, I must suggest to you that at some time—and it may not have been at the very beginning—it was said by somebody to Evans that a tie had been found round the baby's neck. If you are not certain perhaps you will say. I do not know if you can remember?—A. I cannot remember.Q. When Evans was looking at the clothing it included a tablecloth and blanket in which his wife's body had been wrapped?—A. Yes.I would ask hon. Members to examine it. I really do not see any difference of materiality.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
This is a very, very important matter indeed. I am certain the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes lay people like myself to understand it, because it is not the lawyers who have to decide this matter outside but ordinary men and women. From what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has now said it would appear that every material fact about the murder of the woman and the child, Mrs. Evans and Evans's child, had been disclosed to Evans by the police before Evans made his confession—every material fact; where the bodies were found, that they were found in the basement under the floor, behind wood and strangled. The only thing which is left at the present time is the comparatively trivial one about the tie.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman was not here, of course, when his hon. and learned Friend made his point.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon.
The point that was made by his hon. and learned Friend was that that statement which I have quoted from Mr. Scott Henderson, thatBoth Mr. Blackburn and I are satisfied that nothing was said to the prisoner relating to the bodies and causes of death other than what was given in evidence by Chief Inspector Jenningswas wrong because of the passage that he referred to in the evidence of Inspector Black. I have shown by reading those two passages that there is no divergence on a material point between them, and that what Mr. Scott Henderson says 1473 there is perfectly right. It was the evidence that was given in the evidence of Mr. Jennings, and then Mr. Scott Henderson goes on to make the first point to which he attaches importance, that Evans had said this was the tie, which was clearly a material matter.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I did not interrupt any hon. Gentleman opposite who spoke and I must have a chance of developing this case.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is leaving that point at the moment and going to another one, and we are very anxious about this.
This is not a party question at all. [HON. MEMBERS; "Oh, no!"] I do beg hon. Members opposite to realise that this debate is going to be read outside by other people and they will judge us by the way we conduct ourselves in this matter. As I understand it, the position is this. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said—and I think it was in all our minds when we read this Report—that the piece of evidence against Evans which appeared to be irrefutable was the fact that in the course of his confession he narrated incidents about the murder which could only have been known to him if he had committed the murder. Now, from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has read out, all the material facts except the tie itself were disclosed to Evans before the confession was made by Evans.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman has been most unfair, and I am surprised at him—[HON. MEMBERS; "Oh."] I refused to give way, and then gave way because I thought he had some special point to ask me about. He has made a most tendentious argument and refuses to face the point I was answering. I have been trying to answer it most dispassionately.
The hon. and learned Member, on that paragraph, made a clear point to the 1474 House—the right hon. Member will see it if he reads the Report—that it was quite wrong of Mr. Scott Henderson to say that all that was said by Chief Inspector Jennings. In fact the hon. and learned Member said he had not read the evidence given by Inspector Black. The right hon. Member will find that I am right. I am saying there is no material difference between the evidence given by Chief Inspector Jennings and Inspector Black.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
No, the hon. Member must appreciate that a case has been deployed; I sat through it without interruption and it is fair that hon. Members should listen to the reply.
The next point of my defence of Mr. Scott Henderson comes in the next paragraph of the Report. It is the confession which was given to Dr. Matheson, the Prison Medical Officer. That is clearly a matter of great importance. If hon. Members will look at the page about two-thirds down they will see the terms in which that was described.
§ Mr. Bing rose——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am sorry, I cannot give way.
The hon. and learned Member made one slip earlier. He said the first two statements made by Evans involved Christie. He will remember on reflection that the first statement did not involve Christie. The second involved Christie and the third and four were confessions about Evans himself. I merely correct the hon. and learned Member on that point of fact. The case was based, in part on those two statements—two admissions—and confessions after statements, the first of which was admittedly wrong. The second was a statement about abortion and not about strangulation. Then there were the confessions.
The next point which Mr. Scott Henderson says is a matter worthy of consideration is that there was a further confession not very long afterwards to the prison doctor, and he sets that out. There was no mention in the speech of the hon. and learned Member of that; no suggestion against its weight.
1475 The next point is, perhaps, more one of comment, but it is a remarkable fact which no one looking fairly at the matter could refuse to consider. The amount of weight they will attach to it is a matter which varies from person to person. But then one sees the solicitor's comment on the way the case appeared to him, saying it would be a matter for serious considerationwhether it would be possible to set up a defence of insanity or let the prisoner pursue his somewhat wild story of abortion or endeavour to put to the jury the possibility of an alternative verdict of manslaughter. The latter could clearly be only an alternative as regards the wife. The destruction of the poor little girl can only be accounted for if in fact the prisoner strangled her by insane impulse possibly induced by fear of discovery of the murder of the wife.After that Mr. Scott Henderson analyses the facts that gave rise to the feeling between Evans and his wife. He says that they were established before him. He then, in the next paragraph, goes into the evidence, which is corroborated of Mrs. Evans having been involved in a fracas before her death, which is part of the confession given to Dr. Matheson.
I can well understand strong views being held in such a matter as this; I can understand the advocate or the politician not failing, when seeking to put forward a case, to take the stronger points. Perhaps, one might even tend to overemphasise those, and automatically shrink from discussion of the weaker points. But, I cannot see how anyone who is really seeking to make up his mind on this difficult matter, could ignore these four points; and I deem them worthy of some discussion in endeavouring to enable this House to make up its mind.
I paused there because Mr. Scott Henderson was dealing with the evidence up to that point. But then, there is additional evidence about the ring, and the selling of it in South Wales. Surely these are important points——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
—and as I was saying, I really find it difficult to appreciate an attempt to attack an independent inquiry when one does not seek to deal with the important matters which the inquirer has set out as a basis for his research.
1476 I want to come to the point which the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church has raised with regard to the presence of the workmen; and I do think that it is important in considering this matter for the House to have in mind the way in which it is dealt with in paragraph 37. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch read only two sentences of that paragraph, but I want to draw attention to what Mr. Scott Henderson says at the beginning;Before I leave the facts of the Evans case, I should deal with a number of other matters which I investigated, most of which were the subject of inquiries by the police in December, 1949. There is nothing to fix the time when Evans placed the bodies in the washhouse."—That is important because it is quite clear that Mr. Scott Henderson saw these witnesses, and this is the basis of his approach.
The Report goes on—Evans was due to make a long journey on Friday the 11th November, 1949. The account which he gave to Christie about packing up his job unexpectedly the night before was a true one. It may well be that he intended dumping the bundles containing the bodies when he was out with his lorry on the Friday, and that he did not put the bodies in the washhouse until after Thursday. Workmen had been working in the washhouse and in the house during that week. The actual work in the washhouse had been finished on Tuesday, 8th November, 1949. But the workmen who had been working there may have been going in and out of the washhouse between the 8th and the 11th when they finished in the house and cleared up. At least one of them is now satisfied that no bodies could have been in the washhouse and that there was no timber in the washhouse (as was found by the police on the 2nd December, 1949) when they cleared up on Friday, the 11th November, 1949. As no work was done in the washhouse after the 8th November, 1949, I do not think that workmen would have paid any attention to pieces of timber put against the sink after that date, and in any case it is not certain that the bodies were put there before the 11th November. A plumber and a carpenter came to the premises after the 11th November, 1949, but they had nothing to do with the washhouse.What is clear is that Mr. Scott Henderson has considered this point and has emphasised in two portions of the paragraph I have read that there is nothing to fix the time when Evans placed the bodies in the washhouse. But that does not affect the evidence to which I have called the attention of the House and on which he has based his conclusion. May I say one thing I should have said earlier? The hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough in his letter to say 1477 he had no objection to my showing his letter to Mr. Scott Henderson. Unfortunately, Mr. Scott Henderson is conducting his Sessions as Recorder of Portsmouth today. I tried to contact him, but he was at Portsmouth and I could not do so. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will take it from me that I tried, but in the circumstances I could not do so.
The next point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman was in regard to Dr. Odess. He said that Dr. Odess had given a different recollection from previously as to the time when Mr. Christie had fibrositis and the other complaint. So far as I have been able to get the date that Dr. Odess now says that Christie made the complaint, it was 12th November, which was at the beginning of this. I should remind the House that at his trial Evans said in his evidence—not in his statement—that he had helped Christie who was carrying down the body of Mrs. Evans because Christie was not capable of doing it himself. And Christie himself said that on 8th November he was suffering severely from enteritis and fibrositis in the back. In view of that evidence I do not see the substance of the complaint that Mr. Scott Henderson did not mention a change about the date.
It would of course be a work of perfection to include every matter, but I do not see that on the reasoning of the conclusion which he gave that was a material matter which invalidates the conclusion. I am trying so far as one can from notes to deal with the points as they were made. I have dealt with those two and I wish now to deal with the point made about the chaplain.
Clearly no statement ought to be made by the chaplain unless two conditions are present; first that he is willing and the church authorities are willing and secondly that the man by whom the statement was made agrees. These conditions were present. That is why the evidence was taken with regard to the statement given by Christie. Evans was a Roman Catholic and it is entirely news to me that it is possible for contemplation that a statement made signo confessionis could be given at all. That is the explanation of that point.
§ Mr. Driberg
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting 1478 that there is any difference in standard on that point between the churches?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I would not suggest that for a moment. That is why I put the two conditions, one, that the Church agreed that it was proper and, two, that the man who had made it agreed; but I do not want to argue the metaphysics of that today. At any rate, these were the conditions which seemed to me good. If they fall short, I must bear the brunt.
I come to the other main point which was made against me and that was that I did not order a public inquiry. I gave the reasons to this House before the inquiry commenced. I have noted the views of people I respect and I still believe that I was right. I still think that the conception of a man under sentence of death being brought before a public inquiry and giving his evidence in that way is one that I could not contemplate as being right. I still believe that a secret inquiry gives, first of all, the fullest chance and the greatest probability of ordinary people who do not want to be mixed up in dreadful affairs coming forward, and the greatest flexibility for the tribunal in conducting its affairs and following up new paths.
I am sorry if I have not carried the whole House with me. There is, I know, a body of opinion which thinks I am wrong in that. I am very sorry to disagree with those who hold that opinion. I think that I was right. I said to the House that what we all want is the truth. I believe that on this occasion we have got it. I am sorry if I have transgressed the appeal of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I am sure that he intended to put it in the most friendly way that he could in view of the disagreement that I had already expressed, but it is the old difficulty of once bringing a matter into the arena.
Once the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) had made these attacks on the approach and performance of the gentleman who held this inquiry and used this House as the place for such attacks, I do not think——
§ Mr. Bevan indicated dissent.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but to say of 1479 someone holding an impartial inquiry that he had to justify the police action and the normal course of the law is an imputation. The right hon. Gentleman is a serious student of our political affairs and methods. That is not a façon de parler. The hon. Member has shown it many times. One thing which the Government always require is to have available people who will fearlessly conduct inquiries. I am not going into that point again.
I have said that I do not believe for a moment that Mr. Scott Henderson would be influenced by any question of the Executive, or anything of that sort. I believe he would approach it fearlessly; but I also believe that when attacks are made upon the motive of someone who undertakes a task of this kind, if the Minister who has appointed him has not the courage to meet the attacks with as dispassionate a survey of the ground as he can make, then we are putting in danger not only the justice of the matter, but the great power of the Government of being able to call on people who will know that if they conduct an inquiry and fearlessly state their conclusions, and their motives and methods are attacked, they will be defended in this House by the person who has appointed them, unless a case is made out showing that the charges against them are justified.
I do not believe that the case has been made out. I do not believe that there is a scintilla to support the attack on the motives and methods of Mr. Scott Henderson. Therefore, I must regretfully refuse the inquiry which has been asked for.
§ 12.40 a.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that when a public man undertakes an inquiry he has a right to be defended. Can he be better defended than by publishing the evidence upon which he acted?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I said there would be a private inquiry. That was my promise to those who came forward, or who would come forward. Would 1480 the hon. and learned Gentleman, after that, publish the evidence?
§ Mr. Paget
What about Christie's evidence? That is published. What about the chaplain's evidence? That is published. Why not ask the other people if they object to their evidence being published? Why not ask the carpenter if he objects to having his evidence published? It is suppressed in this Report. Why not ask Dr. Odess if he objects? His evidence is suppressed in this Report.
Let there be no misunderstanding about this matter. We are not attacking this Report merely because, in our view, this Report does not disclose the truth; we are attacking the Report because we say that it deliberately conceals the truth. We are attacking this Report not because it is mistaken, but because, we say, it is dishonest. I put that charge, and I ask that it be inquired into.
§ Mr. Paget
I cannot give way. I want to be brief.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made four points. The first was that Mr. Scott Henderson said in his Report that he was satisfied that nothing was said to the prisoner relating to the bodies and the causes of death other than that given in the evidence of Chief Inspector Jennings. Either Mr. Scott Henderson did not read Superintendent Black's evidence—I prefer to believe that—or that was dishonest. There is no kind of question but that that is a categorical contradiction. Chief Inspector Jennings was asked if he was quite sure he did not mention wood or timber. His answer was, "No, sir." Superintendent Black was asked whether Chief Inspector Jennings also told Evans that he found the body of a baby concealed behind timber in the outhouse. His answer was, "Yes, sir." Is that a categorical contradiction or is it not? That is only one of them. I take it as a sample.
I wish also to refer to the last few lines of paragraph 34 on page 14 of Mr. Scott Henderson's Report, where it says that Evans's statement:… was an exact description of how the body had been dealt with and where it had been put. Similarly, his statement that he 1481 had strangled his baby with his tie and hid her body behind some wood in the wash-house was also an exact description of what had happened to the baby. I have already stated my finding that Evans could not have obtained these details from the police. …Compare that with what Superintendent Black said about his being told that the body of a baby was found concealed behind some timber in the outhouse. That is precisely one of the things which had been mentioned. Either Mr. Scott Henderson had not read Superintendent Black's evidence, which was grossly negligent, or both those observations were dishonest.
Secondly, there is the evidence of the carpenter. The charge against Evans was that he killed his wife on the Tuesday, took her body to the outhouse and concealed it with timber, and that he murdered his baby on the Thursday and took the body into the outhouse and concealed it with timber. But he had left for Wales on the Monday. If—the time sheets of the carpenter seem to make this plain—the timber which concealed the bodies was part of a floor until midday on Monday, Evans could not have committed the crime.
The only conceivable opportunity he would have had would have been in broad daylight on the Monday, and it would have involved going through Christie's flat, going past the window of his kitchen at a time when both Christie and his wife said they were at home, and carrying the bodies to a washhouse overlooked by a dozen windows. The thing is fantastic. There is evidence given to Mr. Scott Henderson and suppressed. We want to know why, and we are entitled to know why.
Next, there is Dr. Odess. One of the most powerful points made against Evans at his trial was that Christie, owing to fibrositis, was too weak in the back to have moved the bodies. That evidence was given by Dr. Odess at Christie's trial. Dr. Odess then goes to the inquiry and says, "I am sorry. I am wrong. Christie did riot complain of fibrositis or a strained back to me until the Saturday, and what he complained of was consistent with his having carried an unusually heavy weight a day or two before." Was that not evidence that was worth a mention? Was it not at least as relevant as the fact that, as is admitted, he had sold his wife's clothes and his 1482 wife's furniture, and also his wife's ring, which, because it is prejudicial, rates a whole paragraph? But the evidence of Dr. Odess contradicting what he had said, which had carried some weight in the Christie trial and had been printed in all the papers, has not even been mentioned. Is that an honest way to prepare a report?
Finally, referring to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), were there two interviews with Christie or was there only one? If there were two interviews, why does the Report not say so? Why is the Report dressed up to conceal the fact?—for that is what it is.
Let us put this perfectly plainly. This is not the last that this House or the right hon. and learned Gentleman will hear about the case of John Timothy Evans. Evans's mother, who is a devout Catholic, desires the body of her son to be taken to consecrated ground. It is the body of an innocent man, and it is entitled to be interred in consecrated ground. We shall not leave this matter, whatever Government is in power. We should raise it and raise it until that body is put at rest in holy ground.
§ 12.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
The House will probably not be anxious to carry on the debate for very much longer, but I would like to say this in answer to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I have listened to every minute of this debate. I think that probably that is the case with most hon. Members who are in the Chamber at present. I believe that if we strip ourselves entirely of any bias in the matter, which is not too easy to do in this Chamber, almost everybody will say not so much that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made an inadequate reply, because I believe that is self-evident, but that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought not to have tried to do this evening was to make a final reply.
That is where he has made the mistake. He admitted—no one blames him for that—that he did not have an opportunity of looking at some of this case until 4 o'clock. He did not have a chance to read the letter until late afternoon. He certainly did not know what my hon. Friends were going to deploy in full in the course of the debate.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I ought to say, in fairness to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), that he made eight points in the letter, and I think I am right in saying that he gave me notice of every one of the points he made tonight.
§ Mr. Bevan
Certainly, but I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, seeing five points, would not be in a position to appraise their weight until he had first heard them deployed in argument.
Therefore, it seems to me that he made his first mistake in coming to the Box and working up a great deal of emotion in defence of the person who was directed to make the inquiry. He is perfectly correct in saying that we have to be extremely chary in this House of imputing motives to people who do public work. They must do it fearlessly, and if they are to be frivolously attacked and to have motives attributed to them which cannot be proved against them, then, of course, he will not find men to do this work.
But, clearly, the charges made against this inquiry are inferred from the nature of the evidence. I take it from my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a very competent lawyer indeed, but if he is able to make a high income at the Bar on the kind of defence he made tonight then I have gone in for the wrong career, for really it was a weak affair. What he should have done was to say, "I am prepared to listen to what is said. I am hearing a great deal of it for the first time. I am prepared to examine it and find out whether new evidence has been brought forward as to whether there is any cause whatsoever for uneasiness, and if there is I will consult the House on some future occasion and discuss whether some further inquiry should not be made, and if so, of what kind."
Instead of that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has entirely disregarded, as far as we can see, Evans's character. He is much more concerned with defending the reputation of the member of the legal profession whom he appointed to conduct the inquiry than to defend the integrity of British justice, and far more concerned about that than he is to satisfy public opinion that justice has 1484 been done in this case. I consider his reply so unsatisfactory that it will be pursued, as far as I am concerned. We are bound to press this matter further because it would be a very bad thing if it were left as it is now.
It would be very bad indeed if the impression were given on this matter of Evans's innocence or guilt that the Labour Party takes up one position and the Conservative Party another. Nothing surely could be worse for the reputation of the British judicial system than for it to go out that it has become the football of party controversy. We have always believed that British justice stands superior to any party affiliations, and that ought to be maintained. But surely hon. Gentlemen opposite will confess that they have heard tonight at least a case powerful enough to justify a better answer than the summary one we have received from the Home Secretary. I think they would agree to that, and, therefore, it would be an exceedingly bad thing indeed if this went on for week after week, as it will, because my hon. Friends will persist in this matter until they see that justice is done.
I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman even now not to take up a final position. Will he look at the debate again? Will he examine carefully the speeches, and will he realise that my hon. Friends throughout their speeches have depended on what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) has called verifiable evidence. He himself is in possession of the evidence. He can publish it, he can confirm or deny what they have said. One thing stands out clearly above everything else, and it has been mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). It is quite clear that either Mr. Scott Henderson did not read the evidence of the Evans trial or he has misdirected his Report. That is quite clear because I have got the impression that Evans was guilty, because of the fact that Evans for the first time told nobody of the circumstances surrounding the death of his wife and child.
Here I really accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of something almost amounting to sharp practice when he took up my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch on the nature 1485 of the evidence given at the Evans' inquiry. He addressed his answer only to pointing out that in the course of the Report of Mr. Scott Henderson he called attention to the evidence at the trial of Evans. That was not the point. My hon. and learned Friend might have been wrong—I do not say that he was—in saying that Mr. Scott Henderson had concealed the fact that the evidence was given, because, in fact, in the Report he refers to it. But the evidence to which he refers points to the opposite conclusion to that which he himself reached. That is the whole point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman completely failed to reply to that, but the whole crux of the matter is that every material fact about the murder of the wife and child had been disclosed to Evans by the police before his confession. Yet Mr. Scott Henderson says that it is the prior knowledge of Evans which is conclusive evidence of his guilt.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman can do better than that. That is a weak one. Sometimes, in controversies in the House, we try to get away with a shoddy argument of that kind, but this matter is too serious for shoddy arguments and slick debating tricks. Therefore, I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to look at the matter again, and see whether at least a prima facie case has not been made out for a further and, in this connection, a proper public inquiry into Evans's alleged guilt.