§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the arrest and trial of Alderman Dilleigh and Councillor Trusler were properly conducted. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name, and I apologise for doing so at such a late hour. First, I must declare an interest. The two people concerned—Ron Dilleigh and Carol Trusler—are old and dear friends of mine. I first knew Ron when he was a young petty officer, discharged from the Navy. He married a girl whom I had known all her life. She was the daughter of one of Northampton's first Labour mayors. I knew him very well and he was a splendid character, of great integrity. I had known Carol as a bright little girl in our League of Youth. I saw their rise in local government, Ron to become the leader of the county borough council; Carol to become chairman of some of its most important committees. I remember my pleasure some years ago when our town clerk told me, when we were discussing various councillors, that in all his experience he had never met so able a chairman of a committee as Carol had proved herself. Ron's marriage had a sadness. They had a mongol son and to that child, who is now a young man, they have devoted themselves and are still devoting themselves.
§ These are good people, valuable people and, to my knowledge from long experience, honourable people, and I was most deeply shocked when I heard of their arrest on 7th December, 1974. They were a year in bail or on trial. Their trial lasted 40 days and cost, almost certainly, over £250.000 of public money. A unani 1116 mous jury found them not guilty. They were acquitted and ruined. I raise this matter because, having examined the documents, having known the case, I believe that the arrest was both wrong and illegal, and that the charges were ones which ought never to have been persisted in. It is only by looking at the law's mistakes that we can avoid their repetition.
§ When Ron Dilleigh came out of the Navy, he got a job with the Electricity Board. In 1964, he founded his own company, Dillsons Electrics Limited. It was a small, private company and was very successful. It grew fast, because it was good at its job; it did a very good electrical contracting job. It was short of capital and it may have been trading beyond what its capital really justified. There was not very much directorial experience. In 1967, Carol joined. She was a first-class secretary, but not a qualified accountant. She became the company secretary and, eventually, a director.
§ Early on in the life of this company, Ron met Dan Smith, who was then a very famous figure. He was doing a tremendous job in the North-East. There was a mutual attraction between this, then, great man and the young, bright man in local government, passionately keen on what he was doing. I remember Dan Smith in those days, when he used to come down to the House of Commons. There was almost a three-line Whip to meet him in the Committee Room, for all the North-East Members and, indeed, for almost anybody who was interested in local government—and there is no doubt that he was doing very great things. Now he isin gaol. When the ledger is struck, it may be that his achievements, which were great, will outweigh his sins. Dan Smith was never a greedy man and he never got rich; I do not think he ever tried to get rich. He was tremendously and passionately keen on getting things done. In local government, he found that the key to getting things done was corruption. So he corrupted, and he corrupted on the biggest scale, and I do not excuse it. But he did not corrupt for his personal gain, and it was not he who invented corruption in local government contracting.
§ To return to my story, in 1968 Dan Smith became for a short time a director of Dillsons, and I have no doubt that Ron 1117 Dilleigh was honoured to have him; much greater companies at that time would have been honoured. It was not until 1970 that Dan began to get into difficulties. In 1971, lie was arrested for corruption over a Wandsworth contract and at that time he was broke. Ron asked him to stay with him and rejoin Dillsons. That was an act of personal loyalty and generosity which Ron was to have every occasion later to regret. On that charge of corruption in Wandsworth, Dan Smith was acquitted in July, but in the autumn the Poulson case bankruptcy examination started.
§ There were two eminent figures in local government, not only members of the Northampton County Borough but also members of the Northampton Development Corporation. They were friends of Dan Smith and, of course, it was up to the police to be suspicious. Of course, it was up to the police to investigate—they would not have been doing their duty if they had not—and they investigated very thoroughly. Our town clerk came to London, to Scotland Yard, spent some hours there, and was questioned very carefully about these two local government leaders and their friendship with Dan Smith. Nothing was found; there was no evidence of any local government corruption. I myself was confident, because there is no local government corruption in Northampton and there never has been. I have been there a very long time. I have been in other areas where there has been local government corruption and I know the smell of it, but there has never been a whiff of it in Northampton. We have been very fortunate; we have always had honest local government.
§ At about this time Dillsons were having what I believe is termed cash flow trouble. The contracting slump was starting. Dill-sons were electrical contractors on bigger jobs. Chain reactions were beginning and Bacal, contractors from Northampton but with a national reputation—very big people indeed—got into difficulties on a contract and Dillsons, who were the electrical contractors, were let in for £60,000. That put them into very serious trouble for they were a small company. Other contractors were defaulting. The last straw was when another local contractor, called Shepherd's, on 13th February 1973 defaulted on an architect's cer 1118 tificate for £12,000. That made them insolvent and a week later a receiver was appointed. Their total deficiency was about £90,000, two-thirds of it being Bacal's.
§ I do not believe that this failure of a small private company would have been of the slightest interest to the police had it not been for Dan Smith. It was a very common occurrence. In those years, I suppose hundreds, maybe even thousands, of small companies like this went broke. There were none of the badges of fraud which would interest the police. The directors had not been milking the company. In order to save the company, in the last few weeks Ron had put into the company £12,000 of his own free money. The directors were not debtors of the company. In fact, Ron was the company's largest creditor. There was nothing wrong with the books. The receiver made no complaint regarding the co-operation he was receiving. The liquidation continued for 20 months, with co-operation between the liquidator and the directors. Dilleigh and Carol Trusler continued with their public work on the Northampton Development Corporation. Ron continued to get other businesses going.
§ Then suddenly, on 7th December 1974, the police swooped. The charge was fraudulent trading. Now fraudulent trading is a technical offence under the Companies Act. It consists of continuing to trade at a point at which you have no reasonable prospect of being able to fulfil the trading undertakings which you are making. It is not an offence which is rated very high in the Companies Act. The maximum sentence is two years or a fine of £500. In fact, it is not the kind of charge upon which people with good character, or first offenders, would be sent to prison. It is basically, in the circumstances, a fineable offence. Yet an operation was mounted of the kind of character which one would expect if the Kray twins were being brought in.
§ Warrants were obtained from Welling-borough. It is interesting that whereas the Northampton magistrates mark warrants for bail, the Wellingborough ones do not; so the police obtained warrants not marked for bail and executed them in the dark at 7.30 on a Saturday morning on these directors in various parts of the country. They were taken to the 1119 police station. A court was sitting in the same building but they were not brought before it. They were not allowed to see their solicitor until it was too late for him to get to the court and obtain hail. They were held over the weekend in humiliating circumstances. For instance, Carol was not allowed to go to the lavatory by herself. Even when the Monday morning came the police were still offering objections to bail. They refused an accountant who was also a magistrate; they refused the chairman of a local football club; they refused the editor of one of the local papers. Perhaps I should not complain much, because eventually they accepted me!
§ During this weekend when they had got them the search took place. All their private letters in Ron Dilleigh's house were seized and searched. The documents in his offices were seized and searched and the documents of other companies were taken—all of them. The documents in the hands of the receiver were seized. In Miss Trusler's flat, one which she shared with Miss Ruth Perkins, the headmistress of a school, and an ex-mayor of Northampton, everything was seized, including all Ruth Perkins's private papers.
§ My complaint with regard to this arrest is that a warrant for arrest is lawful and, in my submission, only lawful when its purpose is to bring an accused before a court. That was not the purpose of these warrants. Summonses would have been perfectly adequate for that purpose. There was no question or suspicion that anybody was going to abscond. The real purpose of these warrants was in order to have a general search for documents, a general search for which no search warrant could be obtained. In my submission, this was wholly illegal. It is the 18th century case Entick v. Carrington. A general search for documents is illegal. The documents for which they were looking could not support the charge they were bringing, which was fraudulent trading. They seized documents which had absolutely nothing to do with the company. They seized all the documents of other companies. They were looking for local government corruption. They saw an opportunity to use warrants in order to complete; the search which had proved 1120 unsuccessful and again it was unsuccessful. Nothing at all was found.
§ At that point the charges ought to have been dropped, if only for economy. There has to be proportion in these matters. You do not spend hundreds of pounds in order to nail a chap for riding a bicycle without a lamp and you do not spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in order to nail directors for a £500 fine because perhaps they went on trading a little too long. These were not. They were persisted in with a diligence so disproportionate to the gravity of the charge that one must look for the ulterior motive, which was quite simple. Somebody had said. "We have got to nail them for something or there will be no end of a row about these arrests and search. The only way we can get out of that is by nailing them for something "; so I believe this was pressed on and on. We were told they were acting under the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions. On that, I should like to ask a question or two.
§ First, what is the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Secondly, is he in charge of the police, or is he not? Thirdly, is his instruction based on police-supplied information? Is it, indeed, like counsel's opinion, which nobody can rely on very much unless counsel has been given the right information?—because certainly in this case I would be interested to know what information the Director had. The accused were given notice of 77 witnesses which the prosecution were taking, and whom, as a condition of bail, they must not approach. Those 77 witnesses included all the bank managers, and the accountants of the company. When people are charged with this, is it reasonable or proper that they should be deprived of all consultations with people with whom one would obviously expect them to consult?
§ These witnesses were subjected to a questionnaire, that questionnaire being to see what they could say that would assist the police. There was no opportunity to see what they could say to assist the defendants and. indeed, they were not allowed to do so. When they volunteered things beyond the questions they were being asked, they were told not to do so. An example of this was Mr. Atkins, a managing director of Bacal. This is a striking example. This was the company 1121 who let them in in a big way. It was opened to the court at the trial, and therefore I presume that that information was conveyed to the Director of Public Prosecutions, that the claim against Bacal was worthless; and had always been worthless. What the managing director of Bacal was able to say, and did say, was that that claim had been included in full in the claim which Bacal made against the Northampton Development Corporation, that they had succeeded in their claim against the Northampton Development Corporation, that the money would have been payable to Dillsons but for the fact that by then Bacal had gone broke, and the sub-contractors'money was taken by the secured creditors. That was the extent to which the Director of Public Prosecutions was wrongly informed as to that part of the evidence.
§ My Lords, secondly, schedules were prepared for the court, and therefore presumably for the Director. I suppose that in a case of this sort there can be no more important schedule than that which sets out the trading debts at the various dates. That schedule was acknowledged by the prosecution to be £19,000 out, and was alleged to be as much as £33,000 out. Then there was the question of the documents. The documents had all been seized. The prosecution selected for copying those which supported the case for the prosecution. There could hardly have been a more relevant document than Shepherd's repudiation of the architect's certificate for £12,000, which made Dillsons insolvent, and was the signal for them to stop trading. That was not selected as being relevant. It was suggested that this had been in December. When, eventually, this was found by the defence, it turned out that its date was 13th February, just a week before they called their creditors together and appointed a receiver. Again, presumably, as it was not selected for the court, it was not selected for the Director. If I may use an Air Force expression, I would suggest that it is not much use hiding behind the Director when you have fed him "duff gen." on that scale.
§ My Lords, I am not asking for compensation. No compensation could compensate for the tragedy that has happened to these people. They may go to a jury. I think someone would have very little 1122 answer to an action for false arrest and malicious prosecution. Damages might be heavy. Going through these documents, I have found it very difficult to keep my "cool ". Mr. Crispin who very ably defended these people was clearly very angry indeed, and so was Mr. Justice Payne, in his quiet way, very angry at the manlier in which he had found these people had been treated.
§ All that we are really asking for is a little repentance, a little feeling on the part of the police that they might do something about the great injury they have done. But instead, just the opposite has happened. They have asked for documents back which they seriously need—tax cards, P.11s, the employers'weekly tax, income tax returns, wage books, card holdings, PAYE returns, of other companies and other people who have nothing at all to do with this charge. These documents were quite unlawfully seized in the first place. What conceivable justification can there be for keeping them now? But the police refuse to return them, saying that the Director of Public Prosecutions might want them. I cannot conceive that the Director of Public Prosecutions ever wants to hear of this case again.
§ There is great anger in Northampton about this. One of the better things one can say, perhaps, is that it is an anger which has come every bit as much from the Conservative side as from the Labour side. I do not think there is anyone on either side of the council who is not indignant. I am not asking for a public inquiry. The case has probably had enough publicity. I am asking that someone should be instructed to look into this, and to report, just to see how this sort of disaster can be avoided in the future. Someone must look into it, see what is wrong, and see what can be avoided in the future, because I am quite sure that whatever else the Minister is going to say, he is not going to say that he wishes ever to see something like this happen again.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, after the tremendous speech of the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, and while we await with interest the speeches of the eminent lawyers who are to follow me, I hope the House will forgive me if 1123 I am fairly brief and ask only a few minor questions about this immensely complicated and lengthy case. It seems that it was only in December 1972 when the company, Dillsons Electric Limited, of which the two councillors and a number of other defendants, were directors, found itself in financial difficulties.
As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, a receiver was appointedtwo months later in February 1973, but I understand that this warrant was issued for the arrest of the directors in December 1974 nearly two years later. Also, I understand it was issued under Section 332 of the Companies Act 1948 which, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord who will follow me in the debate will know, deals with all persons who were knowingly responsible for carrying on the affairs of a company in a fraudulent manner or in an attempt to defraud creditors. Section 334 of the Companies Act directs that in voluntary liquidation—and I understand that this case was about voluntary liquidation—the receiver shall (he is not given an option; he is compelled) inform the Director of Public Prosecutions whether in the course of any inquiries the liquidator or the receiver believes that any officer or anybody who is in business with the company is guilty of any offence.
It seems that the Director of Public Prosecutions heard of some local inquiries by the police at some time in August and September 1974. Clearly the case must have been exceedingly complicated, if the liquidator and the receiver found no evidence of fraudulent trading nearly two years earlier. But however complicated the inquiries, it appears that the receiver found no immediate evidence of fraud or malpractice which could have given cause for complaint to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The police in Northampton did find enough to warrant further inquiry. I wonder whether, when the noble Lord, Lord Harris, comes to reply, he could throw a little light on this.
There are also one or two other points that give me ground for concern as regards the proceedings in the magistrates court and the Crown Court, later on. Of course, all of us appreciate how difficult it is for the police and for local solicitors to act in cases where the directors of a 1124 company happen to be so well known locally. But there seems to have been some delay in this case coming from the magistrates court to the Crown Court; I understand it ultimately took place in Birmingham. This may have been due to the care with which such very complicated commercial cases are normally taken, but I would be glad to have the noble Lord's confirmation on this point. I should also like to ask him whether he can confirm that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police did have adequate grounds for carrying out a search of Dillsons'premises for the books, the records and the documents. It seems that there was a connection; indeed, one of the directors of whom we have heard, Mr. Dan Smith, had already been at the centre of a great deal of publicity before this case came to light. From inquiries that I have been able to make, it seems that the police acted on this occasion, as they saw the matter, correctly and tirelessly, but of the original six defendants only two had a case against them in the Crown Court to put to the jury, and these two were indeed Alderman Dilleigh and Councillor Trusler.
I am not a lawyer and I think it is well that I should be brief. In conclusion I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about these points. Could he comment on whether or not the delay between the voluntary liquidation in February 1973 and the arrest of the directors in December 1974 is normal in cases of this sort? Secondly, would lie be able to confirm that the police acted correctly on the information they had received and that such information was not simply malicious? It seems to me that they were correct, but the noble Lord may well have more information than I have been able to acquire. Finally, could the noble Lord confirm that the receiver—whose primary task is to protect the interests of the creditors in any voluntary liquidation of this sort—did not find any immediate evidence of criminal conduct or fraud?—because from the length of the proceedings between December 1974 and October 1975 it seems that the receiver could not, other than through an outrageous stroke of fortune, have discovered fraud. But the noble Lord and the other noble and learned Lords who are to follow will doubtless be able to set my fears at rest.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lord GARDINER
My Lords, I shall be short, as befits the hour. I know nothing about this case except what my noble friend Lord Paget has told me. If what he says is right, it appears as if the police acted less than well. I shall be interested to know how far this really was a Director's prosecution or how far it was a prosecution by the police. Of course, we are. so fat as I have been able to discover—when I say "we "I mean England and Wales—the only democracy in Western Europe in which the police ordinarily interrogate suspects, decide whether there is to be a prosecution and, if so, who is to be prosecuted, what the charge is to be, what evidence is to be called, and then prosecute. As your Lordships know, this happens nowhere else at all. Everywhere else there is an independent prosecuting authority which stands in an independent position between the police and the citizen. In Scotland, as the noble Baroness will know, the police have never been allowed to prosecute; and we have now applied this process to Northern Ireland. So I should be particularly interested to know how far this was a Director's case or a police prosecution.
My Lords, on the face of it it sounds as if the police acted, to put it mildly, less than well, and that there ought to be some form of inquiry into the facts which have been explained to us by my noble friend. The question is, what sort of inquiry? I am bound to say that my experience has been that inquiries against the police get you absolutely nowhere at all. Let me take a simple case, the Dougherty case. In Justice, of which I was chairman, we cannot take up individual cases; we have not the money and we have notthe staff. But here we found a man who was a local shoplifter and small thief who was in prison. He had been convicted. He wrote and said that he was on a coach miles away, on a trip to the sea, at the time of the offence. This is a very easy thing to decide, because you simply need to write to a dozen of the passengers on the coach. Most of them, of course, did not know him at all previously, but they were able to remember him, partly because it was a parents' and children's trip to the sea and all the other passengers were mums except Mr. Dougherty and one other father. So not unnaturally 1126 they remembered him. Justice got about a dozen replies saying: "Yes, of course we remember him; he was on the coach ". So, rather reluctantly, some members of the council put their hands in their pockets to provide means for an appeal.
The appeal went to the Court of Appeal, who dismissed it. Everything that could go wrong went wrong in this case. The solicitor, who was acting on a legal aid basis, left it to Mr. Dougherty to decide which witnesses to call. Of course, if he had been sensible he would have called people he did not know, rather than the two or three friends of his who were on the coach, because obviously they would be more effective as witnesses, being completely impartial. If what the woman who organised the tour said was right, the police called on her and told her that if she had given a statement to Mr. Dougherty's solicitor she need not go to court; so she never turned up. Only two people eventually turned up and the jury apparently did not believe them.
Mr. Dougherty has said from the start that he was on this coach. The police appeared to have made no attempt at all to check his alibi. From the start he had asked for an identification parade; it was never held, and it was never explained why not. Ultimately as chair- man of Justice, I wrote to the Home Secretary, asking him for a further case to go back to the Court of Appeal. By that time an independent chief constable had been appointed to inquire into the case, and I have no reason to think that he did not conduct an honest and thorough inquiry. When the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal the prosecution, the police, said that they had to accept that Mr. Dougherty was on the bus and that they could not support the conviction. Of course, by that time he had served practically the whole of his sentence.
One of the unsatisfactory things about making complaints about the police is this: that to this day neither Mr. Dougherty, nor his solicitor, nor Justice, nor have I ever been sent a copy of the police report. We do not know what they found. I do not know of any case of anybody who has complained against the police who has ever been shown a copy of what the police found. My noble friend Lord Harris and I have had 1127 patient and kind correspondence about this. There is a great lacuna in trying to match this question of inquiry of complaint against the police with a criminal appeal. In the first place most chief constables decline to start the inquiry until the appeal is over. If an innocent man is convinced that he has been framed by the police, this is what he wants put before the Court of Appeal. The first thing he finds is that if he makes a complaint against the police they do not even start on the inquiry until the appeal is over. I do not believe that the Court of Appeal have ever seen the police report themselves. They always say, "We are not here to hear complaints against the police ". So the truth never comes out. This seems to me to be most unsatisfactory. 1 believe that there ought to be a procedure by which, if a complaint is made against the police, they hurry up with their inquiry and their report is before the Court of Appeal, otherwise the two things never match up with one another.
What ought to happen here? I have been reading in the Library today a recent book by Mr. Jeffrey Marshall called Police and Government in which, in substance, he points out that the only good you can ever do in an inquiry is if you can get the Home Secretary to appoint a "silk "or some independent person to go into the matter. Of course the Home Secretary can do this in any particular case, and has done it in a number of cases. Indeed, in the book there are specific cases of appalling practices by the police which were in the end exposed only because the Home Secretary had ordered an independent inquiry. I would agree with my noble friend Lord Paget, and see no reason why this necessarily should be in public, but I do not see how, in a case like this, anybody can ever get to the bottom of the matter unless the Home Secretary, as he is entitled to do whether in public or in private, appoints somebody to inquire into what really happened. In that respect I support my noble friend's Question.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord HALE
My Lords, it might be convenient if I took on this matter where I left off in the devolution debate a week or two ago. We had reached the point 1128 there where gifted men are endeavouring to produce a system of justice in Britain which will be based on honesty and integrity; in which judicial offices will not be bought and sold; in which politicians will not be able to dispose of appointments as their property; in which the high appointments of the Bench and of the Judiciary generally will be made by persons of good will—often in those days of limited attainments in one sense of the word, not terribly progressive, never in advance of their time—at least trying to produce a system of justice which will be worthy of our people, and which will protect them from the most excessive exercises of authority, the worst of which then was of course the general warrant.
The general warrant was the licence to do anything you liked against your political opponent. The general warrant gave a right to search without a specific authority. It gave a right to have a blank space that could be filled in. It gave the chance of depriving your opponent of virtually all those effective protections on which we valued our rights for years. It is curious how in all those years some exceedingly undesirable things survived, and one I think is the powers of the Attorney General. I am making no reference whatsoever to whoever may at the moment be Attorney General, or the Law Society Gazette, which is usually a reserved and undemonstrative organisation. It was making some observations only a fortnight ago, and unfortunate ones. But everybody has always conceded that this is an anomalous situation. As always when they try to defend anything as obviously anomalous as to be indefensible they end up by saying that it works pretty well. Of course, it has never worked well. We owe to the unwritten rule that an Attorney General can recommend the appointment of Lord Chief Justice, and insist on the right to succeed to his office whenever he likes, some of the curious things which have happened on the Bench in our time.
The office of Director of Public Prosecutions has grown up rather like Topsy—to some extent almost unobserved. Curiously enough, so far as I know, in debates it is very rarely examined, very rarely subject to criticism, very rarely having a clearly identified position in the minds of most of us. It is only in the 1129 last half-hour that a casual glance in the Library has brought from Archbold the information that the Director of Public Prosecutions is under the Attorney General. I may be wrong, I frequently am, and if I am I apologise. The Director of Public Prosecutions takes his instructions from the Attorney General, a politician; a politician concerned in controversy; a politician who has recently litigated before the courts as persona on behalf of the Government over the Cross-man diaries. This seems to me to lead to the possibility of anomaly.
I said that the general warrant was oppressive, the old symbol of the past. It appears to have become the symbol of the present. I cannot see in the account that we have heard of what happened in this case anything but a general warrant. You do not give a blank warrant now; you shove a name in them. You charge the person with something that does not much matter, that is not a matter of grave concern, that does not necessitate your particularising any very special details. You then arrest him without notice. You do it, if convenient, as a regular practice, on a Friday night so that you can have him locked up on Saturday or Sunday whatever happens and whether applications are made for release on bail or not; you seize all his papers, and you go through them, and, with a bit of luck, you may get something, or you may get some additional information, or the neighbours may begin to talk, or something comes. Then, in due course, one bungs in four, five, six or seven other charges derived from the papers one has, morally speaking, illegally pinched and confiscated.As I understand the situation, for today there is nothing terribly special about this.
I always accept that my noble friend Lord Paget—I was about to refer to him as my honourable friend—speaks with an integrity and sincerity which is known to everyone. He is as capable of inaccuracy as most of us are in putting forward a case, and I should have thought that in the speech he made tonight there were one or two omissions. Therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, whose contribution was most helpful—I say that in the nicest possible way—in perhaps suggesting that a little rawlplug here or there might he required to 1130 strengthen the tiny gaps there might be in the law.
Be that as it may, the question is, what is happening? For many years I have had a close and intimate affection for the village copper. Taking him by and large, he is the salt of the earth. Normally he has to carry an immense burden of work and responsibility. I do not think he is terribly over-particular about the niceties of certain matters; we in the village agree that it is anti-social to prosecute the squire unless that is absolutely necessary. This is based on a decent social order and mutual repect, and the village copper is a very important man.On the other hand, when he is acting under the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions, all that has to go. He has for long now ceased to have any authority at all. The operation is planned in detail and, somehow or other, the television people seem to be hanging about in remote places and lonely spots loaded with cameras at the precise moment when this secret operation is about to take place.
This will not do. I suggest that it needs an inquiry and some questions being asked. One thing that is certain here is that one can search the reports of the law courts for 70 or 80 years to find a serious major prosecution based on the proposition that a man went on trading for a few days when he ought perhaps to have found out that he was insolvent, that he ought perhaps almost immediately to have committed complete financial suicide and that he did, in fact, according to my noble friend, actually finance the concern with his own monies in the period during which he postponed a decision which would have been a major personal tragedy.
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, that is the completely unique factor. I do not believe that there has ever been a prosecution for fraudulent trading of a man who put money into the company during the period in which he was said to have been fraudulently trading. I do not think that has ever happened before.
§ Lord HALE
My limited but lengthy knowledge completely corroborates that, my Lords; I have never heard of such a thing. As I said, I worked for five years in the office of the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy. I was concerned with 1131 liquidation and, indeed, one afternoon when I was about 17—long before the Sex Discrimination Act, of course—I made a lady bankrupt without finding out that she was not carrying on a trade or business; she should be in the Guinness Book of Records as the only person who was ever made bankrupt contrary to the law. So efficiently did I do it that they decided that, on the whole, it was better not to ask her what she was, but, rather, to smuggle it through as comfortably as possible. Nobody found out that anything was wrong, and I rather think that I invented an extremely useful procedure which, later, I suggested could be adapted more considerably on the county court debt report.
I have made the points that I wanted to make. I want to know whether this matter was under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions and to what extent the Attorney General is in charge of these things. Here we have an organisation which was founded as an advisory organisation in 1879 and which then, in 1906 or 1908, developed a small staff and which in about 1950 was the subject of an announcement that there was no intention of extending its activities. That announcement was made in another place, I think by the Prime Minister. It was so obvious that the appointment of a Director of Public Prosecutions was perhaps very useful, very admirable, and so on. But the appointment of a Director of Public Prosecutions with 70 or 80 assistants completely refuted the whole concept of the idea, because it is perfectly clear that the Director, who was there to advise, could not possibly advise over so extensive an area.
My noble and learned friend has produced matters of substantial consideration, which are leading to further consideration of some of those events which have been giving very great anxiety in the past few days, including reports which we are waiting to have elucidated, because the report in The Times one day completely refuted a report on another day. We will have to pay some attention to the question of the administration of justice. There must be proper respect, with grateful thanks, for the great minds devoted to it. There must be a realisation that our Judiciary compares with 1132 those of any other country in the world, in learning, in integrity, in industry, and in zeal for the public service. Never before have we had a Judiciary of these great gifts, great brilliance, and great talent. But it must be realised that around us all there is rising the tide of corruption here, and the tide of violence there. There is also the tide coming over from America of prolonged and unnecessarily costly trials. Somehow we must see how far we can restore the conception of integrity which I can recall in my father's day, perhaps before the lights were put out in 1914.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lord Paget of Northampton has had to say about this case this evening, and what has been said by noble Lords on both sides of the House. The chief constable of Northamptonshire has sent me a report, and my right honourable friend the Attorney General has supplied me with some information about the involvement of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the proceedings against Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler. But before going on to deal with the particular points which my noble friend has raised this evening about this case, I should like to say a few words about the nature and the limits of Ministerial responsibility in relation to criminal proceedings of this sort.
My noble friend has referred to the decision of the magistrate to grant warrants of arrest against Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler, and to the subsequent proceedings. I am sure that the House will appreciate that no Minister—not even my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor—has any power to interfere with a decision made by any court or by any magistrate. In so far as my noble friend's remarks imply any criticism of any court or, indeed, of any magistrate, I should make it clear that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, on behalf of the Government, to enter into any discussion of the appropriateness of any judicial or any magisterial decision.
However, as my noble friend has indicated, the bulk of his criticism is directed at the parts played respectively by the police and by the Director of 1133 Public Prosecutions. Ministerial responsibility for the actions of the Director rests with my right honourable friend the Attorney General, with whom my noble friend has been in contact about this case. So far as the police are concerned, the Ministerial responsibility is that of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. But I should like to make it plain at the outset that responsibility for operational matters of the kind raised by my noble friend rests with the chief officer of police concerned; in this case the chief constable of Northamptonshire. The chief constable is also responsible for the discipline of his officers. Noble Lords will be aware that there are established procedures by which members of the public may make complaints against the police. The responsibility for investigating these complaints rests with the chief officer of the force concerned. I should mention at the outset that I understand from the chief constable that no official complaint has been made to him about the actions of any officer in this case.
My noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner said that in his judgment the police had behaved less than well in this case. As he knows, I share with him some disquiet about the existing complaints procedure, and that is why the Government have introduced a Bill in another place to deal with this matter. But I am bound to say that in my experience in day to day dealings with cases of this kind, I am impressed by the diligence with which the police investigate matters of this nature. I am well aware that there is disquiet caused to many people as a result of the existingprocedure—I understand that point totally—but I would emphasise that I am constantly impressed by the care with which complaints made by members of the public are investigated by the force.
As my noble and learned friend will know, a complaint can be dealt with in one of two ways. It can be dealt with by officers of the force concerned, against whom the complaint is made, or in certain circumstances officers of another force can be brought in by the chief constable if he regards that as the appropriate way to deal with the case. But before he can do that he has to have a complaint, and at the moment he does not 1134 have any complaint against a member of his force.
My Lords, I thought it right to say those words by way of introduction because of the terms of the Question put down by my noble friend, but I come now to the detailed points which he has raised about this case, and perhaps the most sensible way would be to deal with them chronologically, taking first the application for the warrant of arrest, then its execution, then the holding in custody of Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler and, finally, the proceedings against them.
My Lords, the decision to apply for warrants of arrest—and this is a point which my noble friend Lord Hale raised—was made on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. My right honourable friend the Attorney General has informed me that this was in pursuance of the advice of counsel. I understand that the decision to arrest, rather than to proceed byway of summons, was taken because of the number of people involved and the need to ensure that evidence which might be material to the prosecution was not destroyed. My right honourable friend informs me that he can find nothing irregular in the decision to proceed in this way. The granting of the application for warrants by the magistrate indicates that he was satisfied that a case for issuing the warrants had been made out.
Now the chief constable of Northamptonshire has informed me that the warrants were executed on Saturday morning, the 7th December 1974, not because of any bail consideration but because this was the earliest convenient time following the receipt of the Director's advice on the 5th December and the issue of the warrants on the 6th December. The chief constable has informed me that in searching Miss Trusler's home—and this is a point which my noble friend raised specifically—it was not possible to differentiate altogether between documents which she claimed as her property and those claimed by the lady living in the same house. Some documents eventually found to belong to this lady were indeed taken away—I concede that straight away—but I understand that when their proper ownership was established they were returned.
All those arrested were taken to Campbell Square police station in 1135 Northampton. The chief constable informs me that Miss Trusler arrived at the police station at 8.50 a.m. and asked to see a solicitor at 9.15 a.m. A solicitor was contacted by telephone at 9.20 a.m. —five minutes later—and visited Miss Trusler at 10 a.m. He was, however, unable to act for her, and therefore contacted another solicitor, who saw her at 10.35 a.m., and on three further occasions that day. Meanwhile, Mr. Dilleigh had been taken ill and did not arrive at the police station until 10.15 a.m. He was placed in a cell at 10.30 a.m. when he asked to see his solicitor, who was contacted immediately and arrived at 11.50 a.m. This was the solicitor who had in fact seen Miss Trusler but had been unable to act for her, and he indeed found that he was also unable to act for Mr.Dilleigh. However, he contacted the solicitor who was by this time acting for Miss Trusler, and this second solicitor came to see Mr. Dilleigh at 3 p.m. and again later in the evening. I thought it appropriate to deal with it in that degree of detail because my noble friend raised in particular the delay so far as access to a solicitor was concerned.
As to the question of bail, I understand that the warrants of arrest were not backed for bail. The decision on this is of course a matter within the discretion of the magistrate. I think it only fair that I should say that I am informed by the police that they do not accept as a matter of general principle that you get bail in Northampton but not in Wellingborough. I think it only right to say that after the point made by my noble friend.
The chief constable informs me that there was a brief sitting of the Northampton magistrates'court during the Saturday morning to deal with other business, but this was almost certainly completed by the time the last of those arrested (because there were a number who had to be brought from Warrington) arrived at the police station at 11.15 a.m. Police inquiries continued throughout the day and Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler were charged during the evening. They were brought before the court at 10.30 a.m. on the following morning, Monday 9th December, when a representative of the Director of Public Prosecutions appearedon behalf of the Crown. I understand 1136 that the prosecution did not oppose bail, which was granted by the magistrates, subject to the provision of suitable sureties and certain conditions.
The trial of Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler, and their co-defendants, took place before Mr. Justice Payne at Birmingham Crown Court on 6th October last year, and lasted until 28th November when Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler were found not guilty; their co-defendants had been acquitted in earlier stages of the trial. I am afraid that I cannot give any figure for the costs of the trial, but in cases of this length and complexity they will of course be considerable.
My Lords, I have no doubt at all about how distressing this whole experience must have been for Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler. However, I understand that the trial judge made no adverse comment about the actions of any police officer. And, as I have mentioned, none of those against whom proceedings were brought have made any complaint to the chief constable. The chief constable assures me that while Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler were in police custody they were treated in exactly the same way as any other persons in that situation. As for the decision to proceed by way of warrant rather than summons, this was taken on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, for reasons I have already touched on. The police were not therefore acting on their own initiative. The Director for his part acted on the advice of counsel in instituting proceedings. Counsel's view that there was a prima facie case was to some extent borne out by solicitors acting for the defendants when they made no attempt to challenge the evidence at the committal proceedings; at the trial the case against Mr. Dilleigh and Miss Trusler went to the jury for a verdict.
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, as to the whole of the 13 additional charges which were preferred after committal, there was no evidence whatsoever.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I was only dealing with the specific charge which formed the basis of my noble friend's case. My noble friend said that in his judgment the charge was a matter of rather secondary importance. 1137 I have only dealt with that and I did not deal with the question of additional charges.
I have explained that the responsibilities of the Government in matters of this sort are limited—and in my view properly limited—but I hope that what I have said will throw some helpful light on the points raised by my noble friend. He and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, have asked for some further action. Certainly, following the debate I will discuss with my right honourable friend the Attorney General the points which my noble friend Lord Paget of Northampton raised in very considerable detail in the debate this evening and, in particular, some aspects of the conduct of the prosecution. I will gladly discuss that with my right honourable friend. As for the position of the police, I apologise for saying this again, but whatever hesitation there may be in a matter of this sort when there is some disquiet in the country, which I recognise, about the current complaints machinery, I suggest that if serious allegations are to be made against the police it is only right that a formal complaint should be made against the officers concerned.
My noble friend, who spoke with great force because of his long-standing relationship with the two people in this case, used the phrase that someone had been feeding the Director with "duff "information. I do not know whether the suggestion is they knew it to be inaccurate and there was therefore some malevolent motive involved. If that is the suggestion, it is only right that a complaint should be made.
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, may I say at once that that was not what I said. The point which I made was that you could not rely on the decision of the Director when the information put before him was wrong. I do not say that it was deliberately 1138 wrong; but it was wrong and was admitted to be wrong afterwards.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend has cleared up that point. It seemed when he made that reference that he was suggesting something rather more sinister. I am glad to hear that no such suggestion was being made. Nevertheless, if the conduct of the police officers concerned is challenged it is right that a formal complaint should be made. I hope that those concerned will consider the matter carefully and come to a conclusion as to whether they wish to proceed on the basis of a complaint to the chief constable of Northamptonshire. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, raised a number of detailed questions about the receiver. I hope he will forgive me if I say I prefer to deal with this matter by writing because I cannot give him an answer tonight to the questions he raised.
My Lords, on behalf of the Government I say that I have no doubt there has been great anxiety about this case in the minds of many who have been closely involved, as has my noble friend Lord Paget. I recognise the difficulties which some people experience when they contemplate reopening a very painful episode in their lives; and that is inevitably involved if one has any form of searching inquiry into what undoubtedly has been a highly disagreeable experience for those concerned. Nevertheless, for the reasons I pointed out to the House, I will discuss the detailed questions raised by my noble friend with the Attorney General. If the complainants wish to make specific allegations about the handling of thiscase by the police, they would be well advised to make a formal complaint to the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire.
§ House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before ten o'cloc