§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]
§ 12.2 am
§ Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East)
I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate this debate about a miscarriage of justice. I should like to draw the attention of the House and the Minister to the case of the brother of one of my constituents, Paul Cleeland, who was committed to prison 16 years ago after being convicted of shooting a friend, Mr. Terry Clarke. Mr. Clarke was shot dead while he was returning home with his wife in their Jaguar. Clarke was shot first in the back and then in the chest. His wife did not recognise the killer. She thought the killer was 5 ft 8 in and dark, whereas Paul Cleeland, the accused, was 6 ft and fair.
The case was fraught with irregularities from the outset. Paul Cleeland took the unusual step of dismissing his barrister who, in Cleeland's opinion, was not critical enough. He went on to conduct his own case. It was a complex case with many contradictions, and much of the evidence put forward by the police was discredited much later. The police attested at one stage through witnesses who were known criminals that they had sold the murder gun to Paul Cleeland. That later was conclusively refuted and it was established in fact that they had given it to the murdered man.
The whole complicated process went through a trial and a retrial at which Paul Cleeland was found guilty. That disturbed many people who had followed the case, as much of the evidence had never been fully pursued. These disturbing facts have had the attention of many people who followed the case, people such as newspaper reporters and politicians, and they have requested the Home Office to carry out a further review and redress what they believe was an unjust conviction. Until that is brought about, it means that a murderer walks free and has been free for 16 years while Paul Cleeland languishes in gaol.
The most recent representation of a lengthy period of representation was made by Paul Cleeland in petition form. Because of the limitations of time I shall put before the House a condensed version of that petition. On 11 March, 1986, PA Stanton, C3 division criminal department, informed B. M. Brimburgh and Co. that he was in receipt of a petition submitted by Jonathan Caplan, QC on behalf of Mr. Paul Cleeland. The petition was supported by written statements from an analytical consultant chemist, Dr. Grant., and a firearms specialist, J. G. J. Rothery. The brief of Mr. Rothery was to examine the murder gun, to establish the validity of the evidence concerning the shot pattern that was used to convict Paul Cleeland, and to comment on the shot penetration.
The tests were carried out in the presence of inspector Ratcliffe, Mr. J. McCafferty, Mr. R. Jennings, Mr. Bartlett and Mr. Stevens. Inspector Ratcliffe provided the dead man's jacket and the weapon which Mr. McCafferty, the trial forensic witness, claimed was the murder weapon. A n examination of the jacket established that the shot pattern matched the wounds on the dead man's body. Internal measurements of the internal bores of the gun established that, when fired at the same distance, they would produce the same size pattern. The tests were carried out in a manner conducive to the circumstances that existed when the murder took place. At their conclusion Mr. Rothery 923 stated that if the firearm that he had tested had been fired 18 ft from the victim, as described by the prosecution forensic witness, Mr. McCafferty, far more damage would have been done to the car and to the back of the victim. The conclusion must therefore be drawn that, if the gun that he tested was the murder weapon, it was fired from a distance in excess of 38 ft. Alternatively, if the range was 18 ft, the gun that he tested was not the murder weapon. Mr. Rothery's statement was that if a frontal shot was fired at a distance of 18 ft, as attested by the forensic witness, Mr. McCafferty, material from the cartridge wadding would have remain affixed to the victim's jacket.
There is much conflicting evidence. Mr. Rothery's tests established conclusively that the firearm which was defined as the murder weapon by the prosecution in the trial was not used to kill the victim. That positive declaration was further endorsed by tests conducted by R. H. Jennings and Dr. Rufus Crompton, who Dr. Grant referred to in his statement. In that statement he draws attention to the alarming major discrepancies of 18 to 20 ft between the distances calculated by the prosecution forensic witness, Mr. McCafferty, and the distances calculated by the other three firearm specialists. Dr. Grant also refers to erroneous prison records, which were admitted by the prison authorities. There are five falsified records for which the Home Office has never given an explanation. This is important information. It is of such major significance as to warrant a reopening of the Paul Cleeland case.
There is more information which raises many doubts about the creditability of Paul Cleeland's conviction. It defines emphatically that a miscarriage of justice took place. As well as the tests on the guns having been contradictory, there was more police information which comes under the same classification. There is information that two days after the murder one police officer stated that he had delivered the murder weapon to a police laboratory. In contradiction, another officer swears that on the same day he had the murder weapon 30 miles away, taking photographs of it and cartridges. Both officers have stuck to their stories.
There is also the evidence of particles of lead on Paul Cleeland's clothes that was used to convict Paul Cleeland. That forensic evidence would not be accepted now. It has no credence as it failed to differentiate between environmental contamination and lead from firearm residue.
Many of those who have followed the case, and specialists referred to in Dr. Grant's report, have discredited the prosecution evidence. They have proven that Mr. McCafferty was not qualified to act as a prosecution forensic expert at Paul Cleeland's trial or any other trial as an expert for the department of public prosecution.
That important qualification was not attained through the generous committed co-operation of the prison authorities, the judiciary or the Home Office—quite the opposite. It would never have been brought to light but for the tenacity of Paul Cleeland and newspaper reporters who assisted him. Their endeavours eventually sparked an inquiry conducted by assistant chief constable Boothby whose report was finalised just prior to 1979. In normal circumstances, that report would have affirmed that Paul Cleeland was guilty or that his case should be reopened or, 924 most importantly, it would have questioned the competency of the forensic witness Mr. McCafferty and most alarmingly bring into question the justice of every sentence passed at every trial at which McCafferty had given evidence.
That report would bring to light the fact that innocent people had been convicted unjustly. For example, James Hanratty was hanged for a murder which many people believe involved MI5. The suppression of the report in addition to covering up the incompetence of Mr. McCafferty also covers up the inadequacies of the judiciary and the police. It has the most serious implications because over time the people involved have moved on to more esteemed positions to make bigger errors. As serious as the consequences may be for those individuals, the report must be made available to the public in the interests of Paul Cleeland.
Paul Cleeland's circumstances demand publication as the injustice surrounding his trial has been compounded by his treatment in prison where he has fought against attempts to certify him as insane and attempts to administer drugs to him. He has been threatened like a political prisoner in Russia. He has been forced to fight the prison authorities at every step, otherwise he would have suffered the same fate as Des Warren, a member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, who, following the building workers' strike in 1973, was forced to take habit-forming drugs in prison—a tranquilising medication known to prisoners as the liquid cosh. That medication was addictive and left Des Warren with severe health problems for which the Home Office has accepted responsibility.
But for the strength of character of Paul Cleeland, that would have been his fate. He too would have finished up a malleable prisoner offering no problems to the prison authorities or threatening the stability of the police or judicial hierarchy who were involved in the trial and many, many more—even MI5.
The three Home Secretaries who many people have approached to make available the report on Paul Cleeland's case have failed to do so. Tonight I add my name to the list of people who have made that request. If people are locked up, they should be properly in prison for the crime that they have committed. In Paul Cleeland's case, many questions remain unanswered. If it is simply a question of guilt or innocence because of evidence, the last word has not been said in this case.
The circumstances surrounding the case demand that the report produced by Mr. Boothby be made available. The whole concept of justice demands that. There is no greater sin against humanity than the detention of an innocent man in gaol for 16 years. That sin against humanity is of a greater magnitude if anyone at ministerial level deliberately withholds a report that would prove an individual was innocent because publishing it would incriminate important people or Government Departments. Because of the irrefutable evidence—
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in relation to the prosecution case that he has outlined so well in his argument, there is a need for a judicial review of Paul Cleeland's case even though the Minister will almost certainly say that he cannot reveal the report to which the hon. Gentleman has referred? A judicial report would go over all the evidence. Mrs. Shirley Williams and I have pursued that aim for 925 some time. I have pursued it since 1979 and Mrs. Williams since before that, when she represented Hertford and Stevenage. We believe that that is the right way to proceed for justice to be seen to be done in the Paul Cleeland case.
§ Mr. Hughes
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention, and I agree that a judicial review would assist Paul Cleeland. Nevertheless, I still believe that the Home Secretary should make the Boothby report available. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), who is in the Chamber, has also been asked by my constituent to support that representation.
Because of the irrefutable evidence and substantial fresh issues in this case, the question cannot be asked too many times: in the interests of justice, will the Home Secretary make the Boothby report available to enable a just assessment to be made and a judicial review to be undertaken?
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
I have a relatively short time in which to reply to the complex case marshalled by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes). I agree with him that there can be nothing worse than the wrongful imprisonment of someone convicted of a crime that he or she did not commit. I wish to assure both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), to whose intervention I listened with great attention, that the Home Office exercises considerable care in examining alleged miscarriages of justice. That is a tradition that goes back to the days when we had the death penalty in this country, and when the greatest and most scrupulous care needed to be taken by all who advised the Home Secretary of the day.
I listened with considerable care to everything that was said by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, and I shall read and carefully reflect upon his remarks, as I shall reflect on my hon. Friend's suggestion of a judicial review, but I thought that the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East was wrong to suggest that any prisoner in this country is treated like a political prisoner in Russia. That does not help the hon. Gentleman's case, and when he reads his speech in Hansard tomorrow he may reflect that that remark does not help his case.
There are a number of threads to this complex case, which has been subject to continuous public scrutiny by a number of former and present hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, who has done so much in this case.
It may be best if I begin by summarising the basic facts. Mr. Cleeland was convicted at St. Alban's Crown court on 25 June 1973 of the murder of Terence Clarke, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. That was on a second trial, when the jury's verdict was unanimous. Mr. Cleeland subsequently applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against his conviction. That application was refused on 26 February 1976.
It is important that the circumstances of the offence are before the House tonight. Mr. and Mrs. Clarke were returning home with a friend in the early hours of the morning of 5 November 1972, in Stevenage. As Mr. Clarke got out of his car, he was fired at twice and fatally wounded by a man with a shotgun, who had presumably lain in wait for him. Neither Mrs. Clarke nor the car passenger was able to identify the assailant, but at the 926 scene police found distinctive wadding of a kind used in a particular make of cartridge known as Blue Rival. I am advised that the wadding used is particularly distinctive and allows clear identification.
Later that day, 5 November 1972, in the same area children found a shotgun containing two expended cartridges and, lying nearby, a discarded box of unused Blue Rival cartridges. Later, tests carried out by Mr. McCafferty of the Metropolitan police forensic science laboratory established that the Blue Rival cartridges, when fired from the abandoned shotgun found by the children, produce firemarks matching those on the spent cartridges found with it. Those were important findings. Further police inquiries produced a number of witnesses whose evidence linked Mr. Cleeland with the acquisition of both the shotgun and the cartridges shortly before the murder took place. The forensic evidence was formidable.
Mr. Cleeland's defence at his trial was based on an alibi produced by his wife for the night in question, on evidence from another ballistics expert and on allegations against police officers concerned with the case and against prosecution witnesses, some of whom had criminal records—as both prosecution and defence witnesses sometimes have. In effect, the defence amounted to an allegation of conspiracy, probably by quite a large number of people, against Mr. Cleeland.
It was not for Ministers of the day to decide on the facts of the case, any more than it would be if Mr. Cleeland were coming to trial now in a similar case. It was for the jury to decide, on the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defence, whether the charge against Mr. Cleeland was proved. I think it is fair to say that, by their verdict, the one notion that they did reject was the notion of any kind of conspiracy mounted against Mr. Cleeland by the authorities, to which, on the face of it, it seems very hard to give credence.
Quite properly, from his point of view, Mr. Cleeland applied for leave to appeal against his conviction. The main element in his case was the evidence of a Mr. Michael Nash. Mr. Nash had for some time occupied a cell near Mr. Cleeland's at Stevenage police station, where the prosecution alleged that Mr. Cleeland had an incriminating conversation with a fellow prisoner. Mr. Cleeland maintained that the conversation never took place, and Mr. Nash supported him.
It later came to light that a visit by a Mr. Russell to Mr. Cleeland in Wandworth prison had been wrongly recorded there as a meeting between Mr. Cleeland and Mr. Nash. That error, if left unremedied, would have fostered the suspicion that the two men had colluded over the evidence to be given at the appeal hearing. However, the Home Office prison department eventually established that mistakes had been made and corrected Mr. Cleeland's record accordingly. The Criminal Appeal Office was informed by the Home Office by letter on 8 January 1976 of what had occurred, and was left in no doubt that the Home Office accepted that there had been no prison visit to Mr. Cleeland by Mr. Nash.
In rejecting Mr. Nash's evidence, the Court of Appeal referred to an attempt—I quote from the judgment—bycunning criminals getting together to concoct a specious if, on the face of it, credible story to discredit the police.In reaching that conclusion, the court took account of Mr. Nash's credibility as a witness and of the circumstances in which he came to be giving his evidence. The court made it clear that the error disclosed in the Home Office letter 927 had no bearing on the outcome of Mr. Cleeland's appeal. It was accepted that the two men had not met face to face in Wandsworth prison. The court held—I think that this is important, because of the slight mystique of conspiracy that still surrounds the case—thatthere was not a shred of evidence that either the Home Office or Prison Department were conspiring with the police.Meanwile, in July 1975 Mr. Cleeland made a complaint to the police alleging perjury by police officers concerned with his case. Subsequently he raised further complaints, which led to the setting up of an inquiry under section 49 of the Police Act 1964. At the request of the chief constable of Hertfordshire, the investigation into Mr. Cleeland's complaints was conducted by the then assistant chief constable of Northamptonshire, Mr. Boothby. After a lengthy investigation, during which the police were allowed full access to Mr. Cleeland's prison records, Mr. Boothby produced a thorough and extensive report, on the basis of which the Director of Public Prosecutions decided in November 1979 that there was no evidence to justify any criminal proceedings against any person named in the report.
Subsequently the report was passed to the Home Office to see whether it revealed any matters that might have affected the safety of Mr. Cleeland's conviction. It was concluded that there would be no justification in recommending any interference with the decision of the courts in his case.
The release of the police report has been raised by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, and I dare say the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), who is also in the Chamber, supports his hon. Friend, in view of his interest in the case. It is a long-established principle that has effectively been accepted not just by successive Home Secretaries in this Administration but by successive Home Secretaries and Governments that police reports are confidential and are not made public—and never have been—either in whole or in part. The maintenance of that principle is crucial in ensuring full and frank communication between police officers themselves and between chief officers of police and the Home Secretary of the day. Many reports of investigations conducted by the police contain information that should not be disclosed freely, such as allegations and statements made to the police and facts disclosed in the course of an investigation that could be prejudicial to named persons. Such information always has been treated as confidential, partly on the ground that nobody should have a crime publicly imputed to him, except in court. That is what the release of many police reports of all sorts would consistently do. It is also treated as confidential partly to preserve the confidentiality of the investigations.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford may rest assured that both my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the then Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), have carefully considered Mr. Boothby's report 928 and can find nothing in its conclusions to suggest that it provides evidence that is supportive of Mr. Cleeland's claims. If it had, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department would not have hesitated to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, as he has done on other occasions.
Whatever might be said by those who feel that Mr. Cleeland has been wrongfully convicted, I can say that since his appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal hardly a year has passed, apart from the last 12 months, without some consideration having been given to the case. I understand that the interest of the former Member for Hertford and Stortford, Mrs. Shirley Williams, dates from 1974, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, who is here, has pursued the case since he succeeded Mrs. Williams in 1979 as the Member of Parliament for the constituency. Both have discussed the case with successive Home Office Ministers, and over the years there has been considerable correspondence between the parties.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East has read the report of the debate in the House on 29 April 1982. There have been representations from solicitors acting on Mr. Cleeland's behalf and from Mr. Cleeland himself. On each occasion detailed and careful consideration has been given to the case as a whole and to the individual points that were raised. Of course, my right hon. Friend and I will reflect on the detailed points made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East in exactly the same way.
There has not at any stage been any delay in the way in which the examination has been carried out. Mr. Cleeland's allegations have been given the most exhaustive consideration and nothing so far has come to light to support his claim that his conviction resulted from perjury, collusion or faults in the forensic evidence to which the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East has referred.
The exhaustive nature of the considerations is demonstrated by a long and detailed memorandum prepared by Home Office officials last year and sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford at that time. I shall certainly make a copy available to the hon. Members for Coventry, North-East and for Coventry, South-East, and I shall also place a copy in the Library of the House, because it is an important document.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is always ready to make a reference under section 17 to the Court of Appeal when he considers that there are grounds for doing so. The House will know that my right hon. Friend has not hesitated to do so in notable cases in the past year or so, but none of the matters raised so far tonight, including those put so clearly and in such detail by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, seem to me at this stage to provide grounds for departing from the view already taken by my right hon. Friend about this case.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to One o'clock.