HC Deb 02 July 1964 vol 697 cc1545-54

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of the statement given in evidence by the Principal Medical Officer of Brixton Prison, that Detective-Sergeant H. Challenor is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and has been mentally abnormal for some considerable time, he proposes to reopen cases in which convictions were secured wholly or partly on evidence given by this officer.

63. Mrs. BUTLER

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now hold a full public inquiry into all the cases with which Detective-Sergeant Challenor has been concerned in the past eighteen months; and if he will now release all the men who were convicted in these cases and who are still serving prison sentences.

65. Mr. PAGET

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will move to appoint a Select Committee to investigate the events leading up to, and resulting from, Detective-Sergeant Challenor's insanity.

66. Miss BACON

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of public anxiety, and in view of the delay in his Department in investigating all aspects of the case of Detective-Sergeant Challenor, he will now move to set up a select committee of inquiry.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what investigation he is making into evidence that Detective-Sergeant Harold Challenor took bribes in the course of his duty; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will move to appoint a select committee to inquire into the allegations arising from the case of Detective-Sergeant Challenor.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what date he first instituted investigations into the whole background of the cases with which Detective-Sergeant Challenor was concerned; on what date doubts of this officer's mental stability were first reported by his colleagues; and if he will make a statement detailing the course of the inquiries that have been held so far and the further action that he intends to take.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I will, with permission, now answer Questions Nos. 54, 63, 65, 66, 70, 72 and 74 together.

Detective-Sergeant Challenor is a man with a record of great bravery during the war, who, by excessive devotion to duty and overwork in the police service, appears to have precipitated a mental breakdown. He was pronounced medically unfit for duty on 6th September, 1963, and seven weeks later was certified insane.

I have been investigating cases in which he is known, or is alleged, to have been concerned since the autumn of 1962. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT further details about these cases and the reasons for my conclusions. I find no grounds for taking any action in the cases of Andreas Loucaides and Wallace Gold.

I propose to exercise my powers to refer to the Court of Criminal Appeal the cases of Ricardo Pedrini, John Ford, Alan John Cheeseman, Joseph Oliva and James Thomas Fraser.

I have decided to recommend the grant of a free pardon to Lionel King, David Silver, John Ryall, Ronald Alfred Ryall and Colin Derwin.

I pass now from these individual cases to the central problem of the behaviour of Detective-Sergeant Challenor.

I think that there are two matters on which there is public anxiety: first, as to the circumstances in which it was possible for him to continue on duty at a time when he appears to have been growing mentally affected by overwork; second, as to whether there is evidence of criminal practice such as corruption that might give rise to further criminal proceedings.

I have decided to set up a statutory inquiry, under Section 32 of the Police Act 1964, with authority to compel the attendance of witnesses and to take evi- dence on oath, to inquire into the first of these matters.

As regards the second, there has already been a very full investigation and report by a senior officer of the Metropolitan Police, and the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided that the report provides no ground for further action on his part, apart from the cases which have recently been prosecuted.

There are now fresh allegations of corruption which require immediate investigation. I have decided that the right course is to appoint a senior police officer unconnected with the Metropolitan Police to inquire into these further allegations, to review the report which has already been prepared, to make such further inquiry as seems to him necessary, and to prepare his own report as quickly as possible.

The Commissioner, at my request, has invited Mr. Norman Goodchild, the Chief Constable of Wolverhampton, to do this. If this report discloses any ground for the consideration of criminal proceedings, it will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I myself will be able to take it into account in determining the terms of reference for the inquiry which I intend to set up under the Police Act, because that inquiry cannot in any even be launched until the 1st August when the requisite statutory powers, which I do not at present possess, become available to me.

Mr. Driberg

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that none of us underestimates the personal tragedy of this man or the other personal tragedies of various kinds that are associated with this business, including that of men who have been wrongly imprisoned—the pardon for whom we gratefully welcome—and the tragedy of the young policemen who were serving under Detective-Sergeant Challenor and are now in prison? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether and why he has fixed on a point in time—perhaps in the autumn of 1962, in view of his statement—before which he is certain that this officer was completely sane?

Mr. Brooke

I am obliged to the hon. Member for what he has said. I have no reason whatever to believe that there was anything wrong with the state of mind of Detective-Sergeant Challenor before the date, but, of course, I am ready to examine any argument or evidence that is put before me. Obviously one must go back to a certain date and it seemed to me that the autumn of 1962 was the appropriate date to take.

Mrs. Butler

I thank the Home Secretary for the announcement which he has just made and the action which he has taken, but is not it now clear that if he had agreed to a full public inquiry when it was first demanded in the House, last autumn, a great deal of trouble to everyone concerned, and of suffering to some, would have been avoided? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the procedure which he is now recommending will really answer the disquieting questions which have been raised on this sorry affair, will do justice to the police and to everyone else concerned, and will help to restore good relationships between the police and the public unless the public and the Press can be admitted to the proceedings and the proceedings are fully reported?

Mr. Brooke

I think that the hon. Lady will find when she has time to examine my statement in detail that it will in full meet all public anxiety.

As to the inquiry, when I decide its terms of reference I shall have to consider whether it should sit in public, but at present I should like as much of it to be in public as possible. The House, of course, will appreciate that if evidence has to be given about aspects of operational police working against criminals, that is not the sort of evidence that should be given in public because it might put ideas into people's heads.

As for the hon. Lady's suggestion that all this could have been settled if we had had a public inquiry some months ago, I am sure that she appreciates that one cannot have a public inquiry and then have criminal proceedings, because the criminal proceedings would inevitably be prejudiced by the outcome of the inquiry which had been held in public. My concern throughout has been to ensure that where criminal offences appear to have been committed the Director of Public Prosecutions should have the opportunity to consider whether a prosecution should lie, and to separate those matters from the other matters which I have said today I think now should be the subject of a public inquiry.

Mr. Paget

In other words, the fact that innocent men have been held in prison is a minor matter compared with consideration of the convenience of prosecutions, Has the right hon. Gentleman considered that nine months ago, in September, he found that a considerable section of the prison population for which he is responsible were there because of the enterprise and the evidence of a man who had turned out to be a dangerous lunatic? Is he aware that he has kept a number of these men, whose innocence he now recognises by recommending a free pardon, in prison for nine months since then? Is he also aware that in this matter he who refused a public inquiry is now the principal accused and that it is quite outrageous that he should attempt to appoint a public inquiry when nothing can meet this save a Select Committee of the House, and does he refuse to appoint one?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. and learned Member's insinuations are quite disgraceful. There are these five men whose cases I propose to refer to the Court of Criminal Appeal. They were convicted on other evidence apart from that of Detective-Sergeant Challenor and I am sure that the House agrees that it is a court, the Court of Criminal Appeal, that should consider the situation now.

Miss Bacon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we recognise the personal tragedy of Detective-Sergeant Challenor and that we are pleased that the right hon. Gentleman is to refer this case to a committee of inquiry and that this is to be done under the new Police Act, which means that it will be possible to call witnesses on oath?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that we on this side of the House, as well as many people in the country, think that there has been a great deal of delay and that those men who are in prison at present and are being released as from today have been in prison for nine months longer than they should have been if the right hon. Gentleman had taken action earlier?

On the question of corruption, is there any other way in which the right hon. Gentleman could have this matter looked at instead of by means of an investigation by a police officer?

Mr. Brooke

On the last point, it is surely quite clear that any matters that may give rise to criminal proceedings should be investigated in the first instance by the police and not by anybody else.

There has been no delay whatever. The fact that there was cause for concern about the handling of cases by Detective-Sergeant Challenor was first brought to the notice of my Department in September. The first written report that I received was on 9th October. I announced on 24th October that I had asked the Commissioner of Police for a report on all of what are known as the "half-brick" cases. That report was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions on 15th January and certain criminal proceedings followed, which have just recently been concluded.

The senior officer conducting the investigations then continued with his investigations of the other matters and produced a report, extending to about 1,200 foolscap pages, which was sent to the Director on 19th May. There has been no delay whatever.

Mr. Grimond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that suggestions were made that the cases of the five men which he is now referring to the Court of Criminal Appeal should have been so referred two or three months ago? Can he assure the House that these cases will be heard with the utmost expedition? Can he say when they may be heard and disposed of?

Mr. Brooke

That is a matter for the Court of Criminal Appeal, but I am sure that it will wish to proceed as rapidly as possible. I do not see how it would have been possible for me to refer those cases to the Court of Criminal Appeal while the proceedings with regard to the "half-brick" cases were still in progress.

Mr. Curran

Does my right hon. Friend propose to pay compensation to the people who have been given a free pardon?

Mr. Brooke

Those who have been fined will certainly, of course, be able to claim reimbursement. As regards those who have suffered imprisonment, in accordance with normal practice when a free pardon is granted I shall be pre- pared to consider any claim which these men may make for ex-gratia payments.

Mr. MacDermot

Can the right hon. Gentleman say on what principle he has distinguished between those cases in which he has granted a free pardon and those cases which he has referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal?

Mr. Brooke

I did not think that my statement should be too long and, therefore, I have set out all that detail in a further statement which will be published in HANSARD. Of course, I shall be open to questions on these matters.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when an occurrence of this kind takes place which causes considerable disturbance to public opinion and to the Metropolitan Police, it would be more satisfactory if, instead of referring the matter to Mr. Goodchild, for whom one has the greatest respect, it were referred to an independent person outside the police?

Mr. Brooke

No, Sir. We discussed this point at length during the proceedings on the Police Bill. In these cases outstandingly where an investigation may give rise to criminal proceedings, it is essential for the police, and nobody else, to carry out that investigation.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Harold Wilson. Business question.

Mr. Lubbock

On a point of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

Mr. Speaker

If there is a point of order, I want to hear what it is.

Mr. Lubbock

I have been trying to see the Home Secretary about these five cases since March of this year, and I should like an opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman a question, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I am very sorry, but we have had quite a number of questions, including one from the Leader of the hon. Gentleman's party. I think that we ought now to move on.

Following are the details of the cases:

1. Andreas Loucaides was convicted at the County of London Sessions on 25th September, 1963, of attempted housebreaking and possessing housebreaking implements by night, and was sentenced to concurrent terms of eighteen months' imprisonment. Loucaides has alleged that Challenor was present at his arrest and left a jemmy to be planted: that, of the other police officers involved, one was concerned in the Pedrini case and another was one of those recently convicted: and that he has known Challenor since he met him when serving in Egypt during the war in the military police. In fact, neither Challenor nor either of the two constables mentioned nor any officer of his Division was concerned with Loucaides' arrest. One of the constables named by Loucaides was at that time on leave, and the other off duty with an injured knee. Challenor was never in the military police nor did he serve in Egypt. I can find no grounds for any action in this case.

2. Wallace Gold, at the County of London Sessions on 9th January 1963, was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to receiving 347 cigarette and pipe lighters. He has now alleged that Challenor, who was the arresting officer, planted one cigarette lighter when searching Gold's premises. Gold made no such complaint at the time, and it would appear that the evidence against him was in any event clear. I find no grounds for any action in his case.

3. Riccardo Pedrini, John Ford, Alan John Cheeseman and Joseph Oliva were convicted at the Central Criminal Court on 18th December, 1962, of various charges including conspiracy, possessing (in the cases of Pedrini, Cheeseman and Oliva) offensive weapons and (in the cases of Pedrini, Ford and Cheeseman) demanding money with menaces. Against these men there was other evidence in addition to that of Challenor. Pedrini was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in all, Ford and Oliva to five years, and Cheeseman to three years. James Thomas Fraser was convicted together with them of possessing an offensive weapon and has now served his sentence of 15 months' imprisonment. I have decided that the right course is to exercise my powers under Section 19(a) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907 and to refer all these five cases to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

4. Lionel King was convicted at the County of London Sessions on 20th June, 1963, of charges connected with the possession of detonators, and was sentenced to concurrent terms of two years' imprisonment The case against King, who has throughout contended that the detonators were planted on him, was based mainly on evidence by Challenor. In all the circumstances, I have decided to recommend the grant of a free pardon to King, and have authorised his immediate release from prison. I have also recommended the grant of a free pardon to David Silver, who was convicted together with King, but is no longer in custody.

5. John Ryall, Ronald Ryall and Colin Derwin stand convicted of charges of possessing an offensive weapon—a piece of brick—which were heard at Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court on 8th August, 1963. John Ryall and Ronald David Ryall were fined £5 each; Colin Derwin was conditionally discharged and ordered to pay £5 costs. The evidence against these men was given by the constables who have since been convicted of conspiracy to fabricate evidence. In all three cases I have decided to recommend the grant of a free pardon, which will entail the remission of the fines and the repayment of the costs.