§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD REDESDALE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government why neither Mr. Stratta nor Mr. Campbell were called to give evidence before the tribunal which recommended that Constables Maclennan and Bourner of the Metropolitan Police be reinstated, considering that the constables were apparently made to resign on account of what they did to Messrs. Stratta and Campbell. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it might be of use to your Lordships' House if I 951 quickly ran over some of the facts which led up to the case which concerns my Question this afternoon. In September, 1962, a schoolmaster by the name of Stratta was going up Putney Hill when he saw four men and two police officers. The two police officers arrested three young men and left one standing there. Stratta, who was passing at the time, was approached by the fourth man who was rather older than the other three and was asked for his assistance, because the fourth man was a Scotsman who had come down to London and was staying with his son, who was one of the younger men. One of the other younger men was also his nephew. The man asked if Stratta could help, because he did not know how to get home, as only his son knew the place and had the key to his house.
§ Stratta took this older man down to the police station and tried to find out what had happened to the younger men. He was told there that they were being charged. He asked the police officer what they were being charged with, and the reply was that they were being charged with being drunk and disorderly. He then asked the police officer on behalf of the older man, whose name was Campbell, when they would be released. The sergeant at the desk apparently said that they would be released in half an hour. This appears to have started the whole case, because when Stratta asked if it was not strange that they should be released in half an hour if they were drunk and disorderly, he was apparently told to get out of the police station. So he took the older man out of the police station and waited there.
§ Shortly afterwards, the two police officers who apparently had made the arrest came out. One was Bourner and the other one was Maclennan. Quite what happened is obviously open to doubt, but my information is that they started an argument, after which the police officers arrested Campbell and Stratta, and put them inside. They were charged with obstruction and resisting arrest, and Stratta was accused of spitting at one of the policemen. Campbell and Stratta were then put in cells and charged, and the case came up next day, when there was an adjournment for ten days.952
§ An important point now comes up. The spit on the jacket was shown, and it was agreed at that time that half of it should be given to Dr. Camp who had agreed to investigate this matter, and, that the other half should be taken by Scotland Yard. Spit in 70 per cent. of cases shows the blood group of the individual; 30 per cent. are what are known as non-secreters. When the hearing came up before Sir John Cameron the spit tests were given as evidence and it was shown that the spit on the jacket was "O" group, whereas the spit of Stratta was "A" group. Sir John Cameron, who threw the case out, criticised the police, and as a result of this case a year later the two officers were asked to resign. To be absolutely exact, Bourner was asked to resign and Maclennan was dismissed, but subsequently on appeal it was agreed that he should be asked to resign.
§ In this period of a year Maclennan made 50 arrests and gained 50 convictions. During the same period, as a result of the magistrate's case Stratta sued the police for damages. At the end of a year he was given a payment of £750 and Campbell was given a payment of £300. This payment was really brought to a head by the fact that towards the end of that year the police asked Campbell for a sample of his spit, which he refused to give. Subsequently, he wrote to Stratta and asked what he should do. Stratta's solicitor recommended that he should approach a firm of solicitors who had dealt with the "Kiss in the Car" case. There is another connection here, in that Maclennan was one of the officers in the "Kiss in the Car" case. As a result of these solicitors writing to the police, it was agreed that a payment should be made in the form of compensation.
§ After their resignations the two police officers appealed, and a tribunal was set up under Mr. Sutcliffe. The tribunal apparently examined all the revelant evidence and, at the end of their examination, made a recommendation that the two police officers should be reinstated. The Home Secretary acted upon this, and the two police officers have been reinstated. The slightly worrying thing is this: that neither Stratta nor Campbell were called to give evidence in this case. There is mentioned of this in the 953 tribunal's findings, but in fact Mr. Sutcliffe could have subpoenaed Stratta and Campbell to give evidence.
§ It is rather strange that after the magistrate's statement at the end of his case, and after the evidence of the blood group tests and everything else, the tribunal should have made this recommendation. It would seem that there are a number of inconsistencies in the tribunal's finding, and it would appear that the evidence was rather one-sided. The Commissioner of Metropolitan Police was criticised by the tribunal for allowing this year to elapse. This, obviously, is unfortunate. At the same time, it seems very strange that a tribunal should come to a decision without calling what could be described as the evidence for the prosecution. The prosecution in this case was, in fact, the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, and he also could have called for the subpoenaing of Stratta and Campbell.
§ Various questions have been raised in another place by Mr. Lubbock, and a copy of the tribunal's findings has been placed in the Library of the House of Commons. One of the questions which I feel must be raised is as to how Mr. Sutcliffe came to his decision without calling Sir John Cameron, who had very strong views on the case and who was, after all, concerned with the case when it came up. The discrepancies which I mentioned earlier are in the evidence given by the two police constables. In the earlier case, they stated very definitely that Stratta had spat upon the police officer outside the police station. Before the tribunal, it becomes all rather confused and they say, well they thought that one of the four men spat—in fact one of the five men; Stratta, Campbell or the three younger men who were originally arrested. Consequently, my Lords, I should be most grateful if Her Majesty's Government would give some indication why neither Stratta nor Campbell was called to give evidence before that tribunal.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, like, I imagine, all your Lordships, I am an admirer of the British police. Unlike some of your Lordships, perhaps, I am ready to criticise when I think criticism is justified. Nevertheless, as carefully and, in many respects, as fairly as the 954 noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has put his case and asked his questions, I regret very much that he has thought fit to raise this Question at all.
I would remind your Lordships that these two officers (I will come to the facts of the case in a moment) have been subjected to action in a magistrates' court; they have been before a disciplinary board and have been dismissed the service. They have appealed; their appeals have been heard and the punishment modified to that of resignation. They have appealed against that decision, and have appeared before a properly constituted tribunal, presided over by a Queen's Counsel, where they were represented by counsel during a hearing that lasted four days and where the respondent, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, prosecuted. They have been all through that, which took a very great deal of courage and persistence—and, indeed, I would say, belief in their complete innocence of the charge—and they have emerged completely vindicated, as I think anyone who reads the report of the tribunal will agree. In these circumstances I should have thought that they would have been spared the ordeal of appearing before another court, your Lordships' House, where they cannot possibly answer. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to express some views in reply to the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.
First of all, in brief, the picture is that these two police officers in a police car, at 11.30 at night, in the dark, saw these three young men indulging in horse-play and told them to move off, which they eventually did. Shortly afterwards, a woman stopped the police car and complained about these three young men. The police went after them, and found them rather drunk. They would not move on and so they were put into the police car and taken to the police station. It was then somewhere about midnight. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that the older man—I think he said the fourth man; was it Campbell—
§ LORD STONHAM
—was related to two of the three young men. He neglected to say that he was also very drunk. I was not there, of course—I do not know 955 whether the noble Lord was there—but on this particular point I would read what the tribunal had to say. It said:While the formalities of the charge were in process, and while the two Appellants"—that is, the two police officers—were in the charge room, Leslie Stratta and Robert Campbell entered the front office of the station and were seen by a Police Constable and later by the Station Sergeant. Robert Campbell had drunk too much to make any material contribution to the discussion that followed, but Leslie Stratta, who was excited and argumentative, protested that the three young men had not done anything warranting arrest. This kind of protest is from time to time made by members of the public after street brawls. The Station Sergeant asked Stratta a few proper questions as to what he had in fact seen, but Stratta was so argumentative that the Sergeant decided to end the disturbance. He told both Stratta and Campbell that if they wished to appear as witnesses they should attend at the South-Western Magistrates' Court in the morning. Both men then left the Station.That is a somewhat different account, but it is the one which I would accept, having regard to the fact that it was produced after four days of inquiry in which four senior officers from the station concerned, including the particular station sergeant, had given evidence and had been cross-examined.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, very properly, asked why the chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Edward Sutcliffe, Q.C., did not call either of these two gentlemen as witnesses. I do not know whether he has read the report in full, but I would refer him to paragraphs 24 and 25, which say this:Neither Stratta nor Campbell gave evidence before us. We think that if this Inquiry had been a criminal trial of perjury—a crime not far remote from the disciplinary offences alleged—the Court would have required the clearest explanation of the Prosecution's failure to call as a witness at least one of the only two persons who could speak from personal knowledge as to the truth or falsehood of the charge. We were given no such explanation.My Lords, I find that puzzling because the Act which provides for the right of appeal by a member of the police force punished by dismissal sets out the power to summon witnesses in Section 3, and I quote:A person holding an inquiry under this Act may by order require any person to attend as a witness and give evidence or to produce any documents in his possession or power which relate to any matter in question at the inquiry, and are such as would be subject to production in a court of law"—956 and it goes on to say that "if any person fails to comply with the provisions", and so on. It was entirely up to Mr. E. D. Sutcliffe, Q.C., the chairman of the tribunal, to decide whether these or any other witnesses should be called.
Then the Report goes on to say:Neither Stratta nor Campbell have ever given oral evidence on oath and been subject to cross-examination as to these offences. The criminal proceedings against them were stopped before the prosecution case had ended; and the civil proceedings commenced by them were settled out of court. When invited at Maclennan's request"—and this was at the request of one of the two police officers—to attend the disciplinary board, they indicated through their solicitors that they would not attend unless compelled by subpoena.From that I should have thought two things were apparent: one, that constable Maclennan thought that their attendance at the board would help him; and two, that the two persons concerned thought that their attendance at the court would not help them.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, may I correct the noble Lord on that point? In fact, Stratta was advised not to attend on behalf of one of the two defendants; he was advised to wait until called by the tribunal itself. He was very ready to give evidence to the tribunal itself, but not to be called by one of the defendants.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, that does not alter anything I have said or the truth of what the tribunal said; but it gives me the opportunity of saying that, in my view, Mr. Stratta is a most respectable gentleman who had the misfortune to be an innocent bystander and really misunderstood what was going on. It must be some salve that it brought him in the end a dividend of £750.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, the money has been spent on the various proceedings which have taken place since.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I should like to deal with this point with regard to these two officers as the noble Lord fairly recounted what happened. It would lead to the inference, if you studied the Press and some of the garbled ways in which this thing was put in the Press, when everything was telescoped together without a proper explanation, that as far 957 as these two officers were concerned they were very well out of it when the case was settled out of court. The Report makes it clear it was nothing of the kind. In both cases Constable Maclennan, on the advice of learned counsel and the best possible solicitors engaged by the Police Federation, settled the matter; but he said that any settlement would have to be without prejudice to his denial that any offence had been committed; and the other police officer stipulated that he would not accept any terms which involved his apologising to either Mr. Stratta or Mr. Campbell. In other words, throughout the whole thing these two officers wholly maintained that they had not made any false arrest or any false statement or had done anything wrong at all. I think this should have been mentioned.
The tribunal said:We should not necessarily be thought to decry the character of Maclennan when we say that Bourner has had throughout his life before, as well as after joining the Force in 1948, a particularly fine character and record. Bourner was described by two of the officers who appeared before us as 'probably one of the best constables in this part of London' and by Chief Superintendent Davies as an outstanding, upright and excellent policeman in whom he had never lost confidence, even with full knowledge of the present proceedings.The tribunal go on to make criticisms of the respondent, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, in this matter, and it seemed to me that perhaps the Commissioner did suffer in some respects from excessive zeal in this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that both these officers were charged and had to resign or were dismissed. He will be aware that no disciplinary proceedings were taken against Bourner until a year after Maclennan had been proceeded against, and the tribunal said that in their view it seemed likely that no proceedings would have been taken against Bourner at all had it not been for the fact that Maclennan appealed. They add that it is a very serious matter that this first-class officer should have had this matter hanging over his head unnecessarily for an additional year. Perhaps in some ways—although I still regret it—it may be a good thing that the noble Lord has raised this Question. But I am hound to say that, having studied this matter thoroughly, and having never been one to hesitate if I felt that criticism was properly justified, I 958 that not only were the tribunal absolutely right in advising the Home Secretary, on the facts, to reinstate these men, with effect from the time they were dismissed, but also that, in this matter at least, they have been completely vindicated. I hope the noble Lord will accept that, and that we shall count ourselves fortunate that we still have these two excellent officers in the force.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD DERWENT)
My Lords, may I start by saying that what evidence is called before an appeal tribunal under the Police (Appeals) Act, 1927, is not a matter for Her Majesty's Government; but is a matter for the tribunal. A tribunal would normally call such evidence—although they can call it themselves, and sometimes do—at the request of the appellant or the respondent. I should like to leave the matter there, but I do not think I can, because there have been criticisms from my noble friend that these two men, Messrs. Stratta and Campbell, were not called in front of the tribunal by the Commissioner of Police, and I think I must therefore answer that particular matter.
I do not want to go into the original occurrences of the brawl in the street. My noble friend's account of it was, I must say, very incomplete. I must also say that the account given by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, although slightly more accurate, was incomplete, because other things happened later which he did not mention. But the fact remains that these two police officers who were mixed up in the affair were eventually acquitted and are back in the force. That is all that need be said about what they were charged with and what happened. But I must say a word about the disciplinary and appeal proceedings.
The men appeared in front of a disciplinary board, which found the original charge, of making a false statement and wrongful arrest, proved. They then took the proper course of appealing to the Commissioner, who at this stage was the appeal authority. He upheld the decision of the board, with a slight modification of sentence. They then took the step of appealing to a tribunal, under the Police (Appeals) Act. The chairman of the tribunal was a distinguished Q.C., and sitting with him was 959 one of Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. It should be understood that while the Commissioner of Police is the appeal authority in the middle stage, when the matter comes before a tribunal he is the respondent and he is responsible for showing that he has taken the right decision.
I do not know why these two men were not called by the tribunal or by the Commissioner, but it seems to me fairly obvious that if the Commissioner and the disciplinary board had come to their decisions on evidence which both thought strong enough for a conviction, they would not think it necessary to call further evidence. One of the accused constables said that he would like to call Mr. Stratta and Mr. Campbell to give evidence, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, but these two men said that they would not appear unless subpoenaed. Constable Maclennan was then asked if he would like the Treasury solicitor to try to subpoena the two men or one of them, but, after he had taken advice from his own advisers, he said that he would let it go for the moment. At no later stage did he ask for them to be called.
In looking at the case as a whole, it would appear quite unnecessary that they should have been called. The constables were appealing against a decision in which the evidence of the two men had not been called, and it is not normal to call new evidence which has not been called before. To base a criticism of the Commissioner of Police on the suggestion that he had kept evidence from the tribunal does not stand. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, if the tribunal thought that this evidence was necessary, they would have called it themselves.
I think that that is all I need to say. The case has come to an end. Quite apart from what happened in the brawl, which had nothing to do with the matter we are discussing, these two police officers have been through the whole gamut of the police disciplinary regulations. They have been acquitted. So far as I can see, throughout the police procedure everyone, including the Commissioner of Police, has behaved in proper manner. I think that criticism of the kind which has been bandied about—I am not being 960 rude to my noble friend, but it has been bandied about—is quite unjustified.