HC Deb 17 January 1977 vol 924 cc27-33
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

The House will be aware of the events which led to the murder of four people in Derbyshire between 12th and 14th January. It is a story of murder with tragic consequences for the Moran family. I am sure that the House will wish to express its sympathy with Mrs. Gillian Moran in the grievous loss which she has suffered.

I have received a preliminary report from the Governor of Leicester Prison and have instructed the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service to conduct an immediate inquiry into the security arrangements at the prison and for the escort of prisoners to courts. I have received a preliminary report from the Chief Constable of Derbyshire and as a result I have asked him for a more detailed report, in the light of which I will consider whether further inquiries are necessary. It is my intention to publish the report of the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service.

Mr. Whitelaw

Is the Home Secretary aware that the Opposition would like to be associated with his expressions of deep sympathy to Mrs. Gillian Moran?

Is he further aware that this is one of the most serious breakdowns of security arrangements affecting the police, the public and the Prison Service since the last war? Does he appreciate that there is deep and widespread concern about the handling of the case? I have received very disturbing reports from responsible people in the area concerned. In the circumstances, the reports which the right hon. Gentleman has already received and requested will not in themselves be enough to reassure the public. Will he therefore undertake to set up immediately an independent inquiry into the whole incident, as many unresolved questions require to be answered?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his initial remarks. Until we have seen the report of the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service and are not dependent on Press reports, it is impossible to decide whether matters are unresolved. I have yet to receive a full enough report from the police. But, speaking for myself and the Government, if need be, a fully independent public inquiry is not ruled out. I suggest that we see what comes from the report, which I shall publish and which I hope to get quickly.

Mr. Swain

As the Member of Parliament for the area in which the two major crimes took place, I should like to express my deepest sympathy with all the relatives of the bereaved families, plus the two warders who were viciously stabbed by this beast of a man at outlet 29 on the M1.

I should also like to pay tribute to the police, because they were working in Arctic conditions during the last three days of the search. Such conditions have not prevailed in that area for 16 years. No doubt if mistakes were made, they will come out at the inquiry.

Why was a man with a known violent record over 16 years allowed out of prison with a knife on his person to be conveyed to Chesterfield for the hearing of a most violent crime—grievous bodily harm and rape—in a taxi hired by the prison authorities? Why were there only two warders in the car? Why was the prisoner handcuffed only to one of the warders, the other warder riding in the front seat? Anyone who has been in handcuffs, as I have in 1926—this is no laughing matter—will understand that the captor is equally as handicapped as the captive if only one handcuff is used. That was a serious mistake.

Will the Home Secretary instruct that a public inquiry be held into this matter? I have been out on the moors this morning and met a deputation of my constituents. They are very disturbed. There is a lack of confidence, quite rightly, in the security arrangements of the Prison Service and doubt about the way that the police—this doubt is in the minds of people, not in my mind—handled the search during these atrocious nights of terror.

When my right hon. Friend has given instructions for and received the report of the inquiry, will he make the report public so that it can be debated in this House in order that we may allay the fears of people not only in my constituency, but in other constituencies near prisons?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the police in the first instance. I think that he has raised all the questions that need answering. Indeed, he was right to put them. I have seen the preliminary report, which reinforces in my mind that those questions need answering.

The use of hire or contract cars is not new. It has gone on for a very long time.

Regarding a public inquiry, I suggest that we await the report from the Chief Inspector of the Prison Service, which I will make public, as that would be a better base from which to proceed than newspaper reports and feeling in the community.

Mr. Thorpe

On behalf of the Liberal Party, I should like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy with Mrs. Moran in the appalling holocaust in which she has been involved.

I should like the Home Secretary to confirm that two matters particularly arising from the question asked by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) will be inquired into. First, how was it possible that a handcuffed man, albeit armed, was able to inflict his will on three able-bodied men? Secondly, why did those responsible for transporting the man, or, alternatively, those who had responsibility for his custody, not inform themselves of the violent propensities of a man whom they had in their custody?

Mr. Rees

The two questions posed by the right hon. Gentleman are two of the most important which need to be answered. They must be answered. If they are not answered in the way that I have proposed, we must look at the matter again.

Mr. Jim Marshall

I should like to express my personal sympathy to Mrs. Moran.

As the Member of Parliament for Leicester Prison, so to speak, may I ask my right hon. Friend to pay tribute to the two prison officers, both of whom were seriously wounded in the incident on Wednesday of last week? The House may be pleased to know that they have now returned home. They are still convalescing, but it is hoped that they will make speedy recoveries from the injuries that they received.

I recently visited Leicester Prison and was greatly impressed by all the staff from the governor downwards. I do not think that the House should jump to too hasty conclusions over any breakdown in security arrangements at that institution.

I concur with the remarks about the issues which this incident has highlighted. Is the Home Secretary aware that one of the prison officers is quoted today as having said that they were unaware that this man was of a violent nature? That might represent an internal breakdown in the Prison Service, but may go far deeper and indicate a lack of communication between the prison, the police and the courts. All those issues must be fully investigated.

Finally, may I repeat the point about the transfer of prisoners by private hire vehicles? This has gone on for many years and apparently is on the increase. The safety aspect must be investigated as a matter of extreme urgency.

Mr. Rees

All the questions asked by my hon. Friend must be answered and investigated. I know many of the prison officers who worked in Northern Ireland and they did an excellent job. I hope that those who were wounded will recover soon. Nevertheless, there must be an inquiry into what went on.

Mr. Rost

Is the Home Secretary aware that his statement about a full inquiry will bring reassurance to the people of Derbyshire, who have been particularly worried not only by the violence of the crimes but by the unfortunate incident involving security officers and police? Is he aware of the feeling that it is unnecessary that these people should be sitting ducks? Will he ensure that the inquiry brings out the full facts?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful for the hon. Member's first remarks. I can only repeat what I have already said. It is right that we should get the report from the Prison Service and then look at it. This was a terrible crime. It is terrible for the family and worrying for the people of the area. I want to ensure that the community knows the full facts.

Mr. Whitehead

May I associate myself with the tributes paid to those responsible for eventually apprehending this man and also with the expressions of sympathy towards the family? From the reports which have come to the right hon. Gentleman already, is he able to say whether this prisoner was searched when he first entered prison on remand or when he was seen off in the taxi where this course of incidents took place? Was there a search in the village of Eastmoor on the day of the blizzard?

Mr. Rees

We must leave these matters to the inquiry. I have a preliminary view but it would be wrong for me to say what it is. I have a responsibility for the police and for the Prison Service and hon. Members should take into account that disciplinary charges may be involved. I therefore want to be absolutely sure of my facts before I say anything.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In view of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who said that this was an extremely serious matter, does the Home Secretary agree that the inquiry could well be fairly protracted in those circum stances? Bearing in mind the overstretch of police manpower in Derbyshire and the real anxieties of many police officers when they are suspended from duty for long periods pending charges, will he suggest to the chief officer that, since no criminal charges are outstanding, this should be a matter about which no suspension from duty should take place?

Mr. Rees

I understand the hon. Member's concern. There is no question of suspension from duty. Of course, the hon. Member has an interest in and concern about the over-stretch of the police services. Overall there is a problem of recruitment. But we should treat the case on its merits and not relate it to current political problems.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Would the Home Secretary make preliminary suggestions to the officers of the various services about the handcuffing of one hand or two and about using hired cars?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend should take into account that when something as terrible as this happens everyone is on the qui vive and I have taken steps with that in mind. What matters is the type of prisoner who is conveyed by contract car. I think that the happenings that have saddened us all will sharpen people's minds without any instruction from me.

Mr. Whitelaw

While of course the Home Secretary is right in saying that we should await the report before asking questions—and that is why I did not ask such questions before—does he appreciate that the questioning that we have had makes it absolutely clear that there are many matters to be investigated other than those involving this incident in this locality, this particular prison and police force? Does he not agree that this affects the whole of our services and makes the case for an independent public inquiry stronger?

Mr. Rees

Until I see the full report on the events, I am not sure. If it were a breakdown in rules and arrangements that are normally used and work well everywhere else, I am not sure that it is necessary to look more widely. I ask hon. Members to let me look and then let me publish what comes out of the public inquiry.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I think that the House now prefers to leave the matter.

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