On 15th April, I put a Question to the Attorney-General asking him
… whether he will institute an independent inquiry into the preparation, organisation, and conduct of the prosecution's case against Dr. Adams, who was recently acquitted at the Old Bailey on a charge of murder, excepting the proceedings in court.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman quite curtly answered, "No". I make no complaint about the nature of the reply, although, of course, it was not as courteous to the Chair as it might have been. That is not primarily my business.
I put a supplementary question to the Attorney-General asking him whether he was
quite unaware that throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles, the recent case of Dr. Adams has evoked discussion in terms which bring discredit upon the law and upon his office.
This evoked from hon. Members opposite cries of "Shame". Later, after an hon. Friend of mine had put further supplementary questions, the Attorney-General said:
I am glad to have an opportunity of repudiating some rumours which have been maliciously circulated."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 15th April, 1957; Vol. 568, c. 1525.]
If one puts together the cries of "Shame" and the suggestion that rumours have been maliciously circulated, the democratic process has reached an extraordinary state, for if any hon. Member in any part of the House thinks it right to question the Executive surely he has a right to do so. Indeed, it is his duty to do so. It is certainly not a shameful procedure to suggest that in proceedings which have been concluded in the courts British justice and the office of the Attorney-General, to use my own words, have been discredited. It is certainly not shameful to suggest that proceedings have been conducted in such a way as to bring discredit upon the law and— I repeat the point—upon the Attorney-General's office. There is nothing shameful about holding that view. I
should have thought that any hon. Member in any part of the House must admit, both from what he reads and what he hears—and hears, not least of all, in the corridors and smoking rooms of this House—that things have been said which are the reverse of bringing credit upon the institution of British justice.
I entirely repudiate, therefore, any suggestion that my questions were either shameful or prompted by any idea of a personal attack upon the Attorney-General. Let me hasten to add that if I wanted to make a personal attack upon the Attorney-General I should do so, and would not think that there was anything shameful about it, provided I said it face to face. But I did not. I am not concerned with the Attorney-General nor, may I add, am I concerned with Dr. Adams.
If there was anything about which I was concerned, let me say quite frankly that it was the memory of Mr. Timothy Evans, who died on the scaffold after being convicted of a murder which he did not commit. During the course of those investigations I played the role of staff assistant or, perhaps, labourer, to Mr. Geoffrey Bing, and I did enough work on that case to convince me that Mr. Timothy Evans, a poor man, a not highly-intelligent man, was innocent. Hon. Gentlemen opposite smile, but I do not mind that.
Mr. Timothy Evans died because at some stage in the proceedings, someone, either in a Government office or elsewhere, reached the conclusion that Timothy Evans was guilty and then, regardless of what happened, set out to prove it. I have never forgotten that experience, and it was that memory that made me investigate what has happened in this case. I repeat, I am not concerned with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General—
Like my hon. Friend I am quite convinced—as I think that every dispassionate-minded person is—that Timothy Evans was, in fact, innocent; but I must say that I examined that case with every care, and read every line of it, and that I cannot myself find anything whatever to criticise in the conduct of the prosecution in that case.
I am not criticising the prosecution. I do not mind being interrupted, but I trust that the interruptions will be a little relevant. All that I was saying was that if there was any driving force that led me to look at the case of Dr. Adams with care it was the memory of what had transpired in a previous case. where I played a quite humble part in carrying out investigations that satisfied me, at any rate, beyond a shadow of doubt, that an innocent man had died.
In my judgment, that innocent man would not have died had he commanded great sums of money, or had there been a great profession behind him. That is my opinion. The facts which I managed to establish, had they been established at the time, would have created sufficient doubt for the courts to have taken a different course, and the case might not have had to be reopened years afterwards. I do not want to reopen the case of Timothy Evans but, as I say, that is the thought at the back of my mind, and I do not think that there is anything shameful about it.
After my Question, in a desire to be fair, I wrote to the Attorney-General, and I put to him certain facts. He was kind enough to reply. I will not deal with his letter at length, but I want, first, to deal with just one point in connection with it that arises from what I have already said. I asked him whether, if I was wrong on certain facts, I could look at the transcript of the legal proceedings in the magistrates' court. The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied that he could not let me look at the transcript, but suggested that I should apply to the defence.
With respect, I suggest that that was a quite improper suggestion to make. I am communicating with a Minister of the Crown, and questioning him here, because he is a member of the Executive. I am exercising the right of any hon. Member in any part of the House. To suggest, therefore, that I should go to Dr. Adams indicates, to me, a lack of subtlety, an insensitivity—almost, I might say, a stupidity—to which I must draw attention. It is not my purpose to pursue the controversy which, the Attorney-General says, has been directed against him in the Press. Hon. Members can inform themselves. They can read the account in the Spectator or, if they wish, they may go to the defence. They may be more fortunate with the defence than I was with the Attorney-General.
I want to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if I was wrong in holding the view I did hold, I was wrong in very good company. The Attorney-General can brush me off, and so can the claque that supports him, but I want him to look at the transcript of a broadcast interview with Sir Norman Birkett which took place on Independent Television on 12th April, in a programme called "This Week". Sir Norman Birkett was questioned by a Mr. Kenneth Harris. The Attorney-General has said that I was quite mistaken. I do not know whether he means that I was maliciously mistaken, but he certainly said that I was mistaken in suggesting that the Crown had opposed the application of the defence that the Eastbourne proceedings should be held in camera.
Let us look at what transpired, and learn what Sir Norman Birkett, who was a Lord Justice of Appeal, has to say about it—and as we have plenty of time, no harm is done if I read the actual questions and replies. The interlocutor, as I say, was Mr. Kenneth Harris who, in page 2 of the transcript, asked:
Now, is it the case that magistrates, if they like, can see to it that the original proceedings are held in privacy?
SIR N. BIRKETT: Most certainly. You see. it has always been so—at least since 1948, the Indictable Offences Act, Section 19, and Mr. Justice Devlin was careful to point out that an Act of 1952 made it perfectly plain, if there ever had been any doubt, that justices, if they wish, can say 'These proceedings shall he in private.'
SIR N. BIRKETT:
No. Of course, it was a matter entirely for the discretion of the justices, but I presume that they felt that because their attention was drawn to it in fact, that the publicity attendant upon a criminal trial is a very important thing, and they thought they (oughtn't) to depart from it. That is what I think.
SIR N. BIRKETT:
Well, of course, one can only speculate, but I think for my part that if the defence had made the application, and it had been strongly supported by the prosecution, then I think the justices would probably have said, Well, let it be in private.'
SIR N. BIRKETT:
Well, I think they left it to the discretion of the justices, pointing out that it was for the justices to decide, but publicity was an important matter, and, therefore, the justices felt, Well, we had perhaps better not depart from the old standards.'
Well, I gather there will be some Questions asked about the attitude of the prosecution in the House of Commons."
Of course, Mr. Kenneth Harris was quite right.
I turn now to the letter that the Attorney-General sent to me. Again, I do not want to dwell overmuch on the point which is now in issue between, not only myself, but the Spectator and the Daily Express and other organs of the Press, and the Attorney-General. As far as I am concerned, I retire in favour of Sir Norman Birkett, who held the view which, as I say, is widely held, both inside this House and outside, that the defence asked for the proceedings to be held in private and that the Crown opposed that request. That is my first point.
If Sir Norman Birkett heard that and repeated it on television to an audience of millions, and if the Attorney-General is right and the prosecution did not do this, the matter ought to be cleared up in the interests not only of the Attorney-General but, above all, of British justice. I would have thought that it was axiomatic that a prisoner on a charge is innocent until he is found guilty and that it is the job of the Attorney-General not to secure a conviction, but to ensure that justice is done. Mr. Justice Devlin, in his summing up, with the approval of the Lord Chief Justice, said that it would have been wiser if the proceedings in the magistrates court had been held in private. They were not.
I want to be scrupulously fair and I have given the Attorney-General notice
of what I have to say. In his letter to me, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
It is clear beyond doubt that Mr. Melford Stevenson did not oppose the application that the evidence in relation to the charge should be heard in camera.
That may be so, but I repeat that people other than myself do not believe it.
I come to another point made by the Attorney-General in his letter to me. In the quotation which he was kind enough to send me from the Eastbourne proceedings, Mr. Melford Stevenson said:
I do not for one moment concede that the admissibility of this evidence can be the subject of serious debate.
There we get to the crux of the matter. To secure a committal, the Crown had to get evidence submitted on what are called systems. I must repeat that statement by Mr. Melford Stevenson:
I do not for one moment concede that the admissibility of this evidence can be the subject of serious debate.
I ask the Attorney-General specifically whether Mr. Melford Stevenson was instructed to use those words. Demonstrably, they are untrue. There are plenty of lawyers in this House and perhaps they will give their opinion whether that statement is true and whether it is clear beyond doubt that there could be no serious debate as to the admissibility of the evidence.
If there is any doubt on the point, let us turn to the proceedings at the Old Bailey, where this evidence about which there was no serious doubt was not even produced by the Crown. So there had been a change of heart on this evidence, which Mr. Lawrence had been trying to oppose being given in public, on which he cast doubts concerning its admissibility and on which the Crown was saying that there was no serious doubt. When the case got to the Old Bailey that evidence had been completely dropped. Again, I say that these are matters which should be looked into, but in this connection I want to make another point.
It is my information that before the trial opened at the Old Bailey, there was a conference between the Crown, the defence and the police concerning the question of the Hullett case. The news of this conference must have been known only to the three parties taking part. It is my information, however, that every newspaper office in London without exception was informed privately of what had happened at that conference. If the Attorney-General does not know the answer to this one, will he make inquiries to see how it came about?
I am concerned not with Dr. Adams but with any person or subject of Her Majesty who might himself or herself in the position in which Dr. Adams found himself, particularly if such a person lacked the resources which, happily, Dr. Adams had at his disposal.
It has been a bit of a job, but I have looked through most of the national newspapers in and around the period from 22nd August until the end of that month. I will not mention particular newspapers, because certain proceedings are pending and others, I gather, may be taken in respect of some of these articles. I invite hon. Members who are interested to look at the articles which appeared day after day from 22nd to 31st August and see the reports which then appeared and to ask themselves whether, once those reports had appeared, it was possible for a jury to be assembled which could have an open mind on the subject.
That happened in newspaper after newspaper. Some newspapers are worse than others. I am not mentioning them by name, but some of the headlines are a scandal. They are a disgrace to the British Press. I am not making political points. I am not concerned with the Press—it can be dealt with by the Press Council. What I am concerned with is how the Press got that information. Clearly, it is of such a detailed character that it could have come only from official sources. I suggest that it could have come only from those who were actively engaged in the preparation of the case.
There were stories that 400 people had been poisoned and that a mass murderer was at work. Some of the information was printed in such a form and Dr. Adams' name was put in juxtaposition with the headlines as to make it quite clear what was being said. I put to the Attorney-General, and, through him, to the Home Secretary, the earnest plea that there should be a detailed inquiry, conducted not by the Home Office or by police officers, however senior, but by a judge of the High Court, to see how it comes about that over that period this detailed information was leaked in this way.
Is not the logical conclusion of the hon. Member's argument that he disagrees with the existing law and is saying that in all cases which are likely to arouse publicity, or in serious murder cases, we should go further than the existing law and say that they should always be heard in camera and that no evidence should be heard in public?
I do not know how long the hon. Member has been in the House, but he will have been here long enough to understand some of the simple rules of order. Either he is trying to trap me, or he should keep his mouth shut. On the Adjournment—
I am much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your protection. I am prepared to be charitable and to assume that the hon. Gentleman, like so many of his colleagues, does not understand the rules of order. His time this evening will not have been wasted if he has learned this one of them. The lesson may be useful to him when he himself raises a matter on the Motion for the Adjournment.
I was saying that the national newspapers over this period had published detailed information about this case which they could have obtained only from official quarters, and I ask the Attorney-General, and, through him, the Home Secretary, to consider setting up an inquiry, conducted in secrecy if necessary, but by a judge of the High Court, having, like a Select Committee, power to send for persons and papers and to hear evidence in camera, to decide just how this happened.
Quite clearly, there is something more involved here than merely titbits of information being given to newspapers to prevent an interesting news story. Here was a systematic, planned campaign over this period of ten days to build up a picture of a monster at large who had murdered people not by the score, but by the hundred; and done in such a way as to fasten it on to one individual.
If my general case is not good enough I ask the Attorney-General to have a look at the News of the World of 26th August. On 26th August there was a story again giving detailed information about what was going on on the South Coast, and containing a picture of a graveyard, a picture, so the caption says showing Superintendent Hannam and Detective Inspector Pugh as they
Survey the graves in Ocklyne cemetery.
Somebody must have told the cameraman that Superintendent Hannam and Detective Inspector Pugh were to be among the graves at that time. I would ask specifically, how came it that this appointment was made in this way, in such a way as to prejudice the accused's opportunity of a fair trial?
Let us go on from this original campaign to build up the story of hundreds of murders. Let us go on to the day on which Dr. Adams was arrested, 19th December. I have examined in detail all the national newspapers of the next day, 20th December. The Daily Express carried a story on its front page, and so did the Daily Herald, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Sketch, the Daily Telegraph and the News Chronicle.
All the stories there are stories which are given by their special correspondents, and all the newspapers publish large photographs of the arrest of Dr. Adams. As far as I can discover, none of the photographs is the same as another. They obviously did not come from a news agency. So somebody must have told each of those newspapers that Dr. Adams was to be arrested at a certain time, because it is beyond the realms of probability that all the newspapers, quite accidentally, should have had their star crime reporters and photographers outside of Dr. Adams's surgery. Here, again, is more evidence of inside information being supplied from official sources to the Press.
Again, two days later, in the newspapers of 22nd December, all the national newspapers carried their own independent stories and pictures of the exhumations in a cemetery near Eastbourne. Again, it is beyond the realms of probability that this was coincidence. Again, there must have been a supply of information by the police.
It is perfectly clear that when all this was going on the papers, each of which, after all, employs its own legal department, knew perfectly well the risks they were running in infringing the law of contempt and the law of libel. Why did they take this risk? I suggest that the answer is quite simple. They took the risk because they were being fed by the police authorities with information which encouraged them to believe they were on to the biggest thing in crime history.
Over a period there was a steady dribble of information to selected newspapermen, and then on the occasions when the story started to hit the front pages, 22nd August to 31st August, and again at the time of the arrest and of the exhumations, there was a mass and planned attempt to supply information, which, in my judgment— although this is a matter for inquiry— was done in such a way as to be known to be prejudicial to the accused when he was brought for trial.
Again, from information I have been able to gather, things got so hot at one stage that the police themselves became a little worried, and an order was given from Scotland Yard that a shorthand writer should be present when the police interviewed the Press at Eastbourne. I should like to know from the Attorney-General whether he had any knowledge of this instruction, whether it was given under his authority, or whether it was given under the authority of the police themselves.
In the course of giving an answer to a supplementary question arising from my Question on 15th April, the Attorney-General said that he was glad of the opportunity of denying the story that there was any disagreement between himself and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Needless to say, once the Attorney-General gives that assurance one accepts without reservation what he says, but one must confess, not only myself but others who have taken an interest in these matters, that one was a little flabbergasted.
I wonder whether I may put the question in another way. Of course, the Director of Public Prosecutions is a civil servant, and once a decision has been taken by the political head of his Department it would be quite wrong for him to insist in his objections. I presume that were it not in keeping with his conscience he would feel compelled to resign. Now, I ask the Attorney-General whether he would be good enough to say whether the proceedings against Dr. Adams were launched on the positive advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions; that is to say, whether the Director of Public Prosecutions was entirely satisfied that there was a case against Dr. Adams; or whether there were doubts, and that only later those doubts resolved themselves, after action had been decided upon?
The Attorney-General was glad of the opportunity of quashing the rumours which had spread on these particular points, but surely he is aware that similar rumours have circulated about the opposition of Scotland Yard. Stories are told, and are certainly current in Fleet Street and amongst the crime reporters of the national newspapers, that Scotland Yard was by no means unanimous in thinking that this case should have gone on.
But these are small matters compared, first, with the actual handling of the case prior to Dr. Adams's arrest. I regard it as a matter of major importance that a case can be built up against a man in such a form as to prejudice his chances of acquittal even before a charge has been formulated. We are still some way from lynch law, but the publications in the national Press in the month of August had got perilously near to trial by newspapers.
If the Attorney-General again thinks that I am exaggerating—and I am sure that some of the learned hon. Gentlemen on the benches behind him hold the view that this is all much ado about nothing —he and they should acquaint themselves with some of the articles which are appearing in the French Press at present. The French are rubbing their hands with glee. They are saying, "Here are the British who, for centuries, have been holding the view that their form of justice is superior to ours. Now what about it?" The Attorney-General, as custodian of the prestige of British law, has a great interest in putting these matters right.
The way to put these matters right is not in the course of debate in the House of Commons. These are matters which ought to be inquired into. When any Government are in difficulty they never find it very hard to set up an inquiry if it suits them. I am not asking for a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, or anything of that kind. I am saying that the behaviour of the police, specifically, up to the time of Adam's arrest and the actual preparation of the case from that time onwards warrant the most detailed and careful inquiry. It should not be an inquiry by the Executive, not by high officials of Scotland Yard. not by somebody appointed by the Home Office.
I am sure that nothing less than an inquiry held by a judge of the High Court will quieten public opinion and restore that confidence in the fair name of British justice which is one of the reasons why I have troubled the House tonight.
The last time that I heard the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) speaking in an Adjournment debate it was in a debate begun by me and I think that he spoke for one hour and fifty minutes. I can assure the hon. Member that I do not intend to do what he did on that occasion. Listening to him I feel sometimes that if he were to have a further life à la Walter Mitty he would be in the rôle of Sir Edward Marshall Hall or one of the great lawyers of our time.
The hon. Member has spoken in this House on many occasions about the law and the practice of barristers. I have said on a previous occasion, and I say again, that the hon. Member spent a great deal of time in the Army and little, I imagine, in the law, whereas some of us have spent at least some time in the Army and a little more in the law.
There seemed some confusion of thought in the matters which the hon. Member was raising tonight, in what I suppose must be a good fat subject for an Adjournment debate. The hon. Member has before called himself a radical and has referred to the only other radical in the House as being the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).
We are surrounded by radicals. As we have radicals to the front of us, behind us and a little to the left of us, perhaps the particular radical, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, can recollect—if he should intervene in this debate—expressing the opinion that there were certain charges which he felt were better dealt with by magistrates and not by juries; that, for instance, the offence of being drunk in charge was better dealt with by magistrates because they were certainly persons on whom one could rely to convict, whereas a decent, responsible British jury would at once acquit. So if he has anything to contribute, I wonder if it will be in the role of vile prosecutor, as on that occasion.
But who has the hon. Member for Dudley put in the box here in the great indictment which he has raised in this Adjournment debate? Who is, in fact, the prisoner? The prisoner is nobody but the Press, dealing apparently with the various matters that had arisen in the preliminary stages of this trial.
I am coming to that, if the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) will wait a little.
I have a certain sympathy with what the hon. Member for Dudley said about the circumstances of what happened then, but what this has to do with the conduct of the prosecution—as I understood from the great indignation with which the hon. Gentleman opened this debate—I fail to appreciate. I understand that writs of libel have already been issued. Obviously, there were wicked and gross exaggerations by some reporters who, I imagine, are looking a little silly at the moment when they are being summoned into their editors' or their proprietors' offices. There have been these gross exaggerations, and I stand second to none in being firmly against trial by rumour or trial by Press. And I stand second to none in believing that there should, in fact, be such discretion used by magistrates and by prosecuting counsel in preliminary proceedings as to ensure that there is not trial by the Press.
What did happen in this case? Apparently, all these wicked things done by reporters were published all over the place. How did it end? By an acquittal, a triumph for British justice, it could be said. It is the duty of a prosecutor to prosecute. There is the duty, if a man is a criminal, of seeing that he is brought to justice, that he is prosecuted fairly and squarely, and that he is convicted and sentenced.
Justice is not enough. Though many of us are engaged in seeking it a great deal, because that is our particular profession, justice lies not only in seeing that there is obtained a verdict of "not guilty." On countless occasions justice is served by the finding of a verdict of guilty. In these particular circumstances and on this particular occasion there was a verdict of "not guilty", despite all the terrible things which, the hon. Gentleman has said, happened.
What happened in the preliminary investigation and if, in fact, matters were conveyed improperly by anybody to the Press, is surely a matter which should be investigated—which can surely be properly investigated—
If the hon. Gentleman will wait a moment, I will tell him.
It is a matter which can surely be properly investigated, not necessarily by a judge of the High Court, but by that Department and by those persons who do not wish to see, and would never wish to see—unless the hon. Gentleman thinks they are all a collection of rogues—this kind of conduct happening, information slipping out, and being handed out to the Press in the dark corners of bars in Fleet Street after conferences, as has been suggested by the hon. Gentleman. If that has happened, then let that be investigated, and let it be prosecuted, if that should come to light.
But what happens when the police make a report? I understand—and many others here know from practical experience better than I do—that when the police make a report they lay that report before the responsible person—the Director of Public Prosecutions—and say, "This is the information that we have. Are we to prosecute or are we not?" Ultimately, the responsibility may lie with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, based upon the information which he is given, and, based upon that information, the prosecution is conducted, and conducted usually, as I think it was in this case, with perfect fairness and perfect propriety.
One of the most absurd notions is illustrated by the story of one of our judges —I think it was Mr. Justice Swift—who was told by one particular counsel "Judge, I had one good win before you today." Mr. Justice Swift, in his good North Country accent, replied "Nobody has a win in front of me," and nobody does win in front of the judge. If one loses or wins a case, it does not matter particularly whether one has done it well or badly. The fact is that a man should prosecute as ably and with fairness, but with the same vigour and strength as a man should defend, and I think it would be an unfortunate and bad day if ever that should cease to be the case.
There has been a great deal of unfairness about this matter. I think there has been a great deal of gossip and rumour, based on a great misunderstanding, which the hon. Gentleman has apparently overheard in the Smoking Room, and which he said had been talked about in the lobbies and corridors here. Where the reports and statements are such that they are made before a responsible Judicial officer, who has his duty to do, then it is in the interests of us all that the prosecution should be conducted fairly, as I believe it was in this particular case. If there was a fault earlier, I hope that it will be investigated, and I am sure that that can be done without the inquiry which the hon. Member has suggested.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) supports an investigation, because I certainly feel that this is a case in which there ought to be one. Certainly, in nothing that I say do I wish it to be understood that there is the smallest personal attack upon the Attorney-General. Nothing would be further from my mind. We have been brought up in the same circuit.
I feel that there is a matter to investigate. I do not think that there is anyone who would like to see another Adams trial, or who would feel that it would be for the credit of British justice that it should occur, because a combination of circumstances led to a state of affairs in which it was impossible to empanel a jury which did not know or had not heard a very great deal which it ought not to have heard. I think everybody will be in agreement with that. It was impossible to empanel jurors who could bring new and fresh minds to the issue before them or who had not heard a mass of rumours which could not be put before them in evidence. That is surely very wrong.
In the event, it was extremely fortunate that they had no issue to try, because, when the event came, it was so abundantly plain that the prosecution had produced no case whatever. That is what Mr. Justice Devlin, in a magnificent and powerful charge to the members of the jury, indicated to them, and they followed his advice. But if there had been an issue to try, could it ever have been fairly tried? I think the answer is that it could not have been fairly tried, and, that being so, surely we should investigate in order to see that no man is ever again in future placed in a position in which, if there be a case against him, that case is one which cannot fairly be tried. That is the first point which I would put on this matter.
The second point concerns the conduct of the prosecution. Here, I join with my unlearned Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who raised this matter, in very emphatically saying that prosecution is a function of the Executive; it is the Executive in the name of the Queen which prosecutes, and, that being so, it is a function which it is the duty of an Opposition, and, indeed, of Parliament as a whole, to watch jealously and to criticise if necessary.
I do not say that I shall criticise here, but I shall raise certain questions which require an answer. I have felt on one other occasion—that was the trial of Lord Montagu, which I unsuccessfully tried to raise—that there were grounds for criticism. Lord Montagu was charged with regard to a scout who had been on his estate. At the trial, the jury disagreed. A new trial was ordered. A second charge was then brought. Before that second charge was brought, or the original charge could be retried, the prosecution ascertained information about the boy on whose evidence it had relied which showed clearly that the boy's evidence was not to be relied upon.
The new charge was tried before retrying the old charge, and when Lord Montagu's advisers insisted on the old charge being withdrawn the prosecution admitted that it could not rely on that evidence and accepted an acquittal. I believe that that should have been done before the second trial. That was a case which I sought to raise here, but did not succeed in so doing. I am very glad that my hon. Friend has been successful in this case.
I want to ask certain questions about this case. The first of those questions is about the Hullett evidence. That was the evidence about a married couple whom it was suggested at the police court Dr. Adams had also murdered. That evidence was introduced as evidence of a system. The famous case of a system is the Brides in the Bath case. That was a case in which a gentleman married a number of women under a variety of names. They all died on the honeymoon by being drowned in their baths and he benefited under all their wills. That is something unlikely to happen to a man often.
But is it so unlikely that a doctor's patients sometimes die? Is it unlikely that when a doctor's patients die, they have had drugs and medication from him? Is it even so unlikely that some of them remember their doctor in their wills? As evidence of a system, it always seemed to me to be very tenuous indeed. I gather that the Attorney-General agrees with me on this, because he did not produce that evidence at the trial at the Old Bailey.
If doubtful but highly prejudicial evidence of that sort is to be produced, are there not two courses? The Rouse case was the case of the man who burned a wayfarer he had picked up in a car, apparently in order to disappear and provide evidence of his own death, but he was found by two men coming back to the place. In that case a lot of evidence as to his various amorous successes, and as to the reasons why he should want to disappear, was produced at the police court, and Sir Norman Birkett, when he came to prosecute, felt it was not evidence which ought to be presented because it was highly prejudicial and did not go sufficiently to the issue.
There, again, was a case in which a jury had read prejudicial evidence coming before the magistrates, but which, in great fairness, Sir Norman Birkett did not think it proper to present before the jury. This issue was raised in the Court of Criminal Appeal. I think I am right in saying that it was said in the Court of Criminal Appeal that evidence of this sort whose admissibility was doubtful should not be given before the magistrates, but should be given by way of notice of additional evidence which could be presented to the defence after the hearing before the magistrates. That is one of the courses available where there is a prima facie case on which it is felt that a committal can he obtained—to leave evidence which may be of doubtful admissibility to a notice of additional evidence which then does not come into the Press, but which could be dealt with by the judge at the trial. That was the course suggested in the Rouse case.
The other alternative is to have the hearing before the magistrates in camera. The Attorney-General told us that the prosecution here did not oppose the application by the defence that this evidence should be heard in camera. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman again, is that enough? Surely, in the circumstances should not the prosecution have supported the application? Should not the prosecution have urged strongly on the magistrates that in the circumstances this evidence should not be made public until the judge who was to try the case had decided whether it could or could not properly be placed before a jury? That is the first point.
The second point which causes me a great deal of anxiety is the question of the exhumations which took place, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, with the maximum conceivable publicity. Those exhumations resulted in post mortems which, I am told, showed that the deaths were due to natural causes and that there was no occasion for suspicion with regard to them. Surely, once that was ascertained it should have been given publicity equal to that given to the exhumations. But that fact never "leaked" to the Press, or, if it did, it was not published. Surely, once the suspicion about the exhumations had been allowed to get around, in fairness it should have been demonstrated, when it was known, that that suspicion, as it happened, was entirely unfounded. That is the second point on which I should like an answer.
The third point, which, I admit, concerns the Attorney-General directly, is this. For some extraordinary reason which I do not entirely understand, but these things do happen, it was the defence and not the prosecution which found the nurse's notes. Once the nurses' notes were handed to the prosecution, it had the opportunity to examine them and it recognised their genuineness. Is it not really quite obvious that there was no longer any kind of a case against Dr. Adams? At that point, why was it necessary for the prosecution to go on?
Those are the three questions with regard to the prosecution itself with which I should like the Attorney-General to deal. I regard those questions as of very minor importance compared with the question with which I dealt first, that is, that a variety of circumstances built up a state of affairs in which a fair trial had become impossible if there had been—and in the event very fortunately it turned out that there was not—a real issue for trial. I feel that we should investigate in order to find out some means of avoiding that occurring again. It has not been good for the reputation of British justice.
Now that the hon. and learned Gentleman has concluded his remarks on the third of those points, would he not agree that with regard to the nurses' notes the judge, apparently, decided, when he ruled against the submission of the defence, that there was something to answer.
Yes, the judge decided that it should go to the jury. But I do not know whether the hon. Member has observed this. It was reported in the Press that the judge sent a message, which was conveyed to Dr. Adams, that if there were a conviction, sentence would not take place that day. From that I draw the inference that, in fact, if the jurors had not followed the very strong direction which the judge gave them, he would at that point have ruled that there was no case.
The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has raised this case on the Adjournment tonight does, I think, establish one thing, that there is widespread public misgiving about the case that we are now discussing. On that, I think that there can be no division of opinion. Even the hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson), although he did not agree with much that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said, was, to this extent, so shaken by what had happened that he suggested that there should be some form of inquiry. He was not particularly specific as to the form it should take—although I took it upon myself to interrupt in the course of his remarks—and that part of his argument is still, in my opinion, a little vague.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has clearly established, first, that there is widespread public misgiving; and, secondly, that there should be some kind of inquiry. There can be difference of opinion as to the nature of the inquiry. I do not think that a Departmental or any hole-and-corner inquiry will satisfy the public, and that is why I think that, on the whole, it would probably be better to have an inquiry conducted by a High Court judge.
What ought to be stressed is that, in connection with investigations into a serious criminal charge, it is surely a matter of concern that the details of those investigations should be made known so quickly and so accurately to all kinds of people. That cannot be a good thing. We are entitled to expect that when the police authorities are conducting an investigation which may result in a very serious charge being made very special steps shall be taken to ensure that the details of those investigations shall not leak out to the public. It cannot be to the advantage of the police that the detailed investigations on which they are engaged should be known to all and sundry. If there was a leakage it shows laxity somewhere which ought to be checked.
I shall not take up the time of the House in discussing the disadvantage of hearing certain cases in public before magistrates. On the Question that I put to the Home Secretary just before the Easter Recess, he announced with commendable promptness that a special inquiry would be made into what I know is a difficult point, whether proceedings of this kind or any kind should, to a greater extent than hitherto, be heard in private by magistrates. I hope that we shall have a report of the inquiry very soon, and that when it is forthcoming the Government will take the necessary action.
Taking all the circumstances into account, I think that there was a grave error of judgment in deciding to prosecute. It is not good enough to say that the case has demonstrated a triumph for British justice in that the accused person was acquitted. I know that it is very easy to be wise after the event; the Attorney-General is entitled to make use of that line of approach if he wishes. It is difficult for the outside person to come to the conclusion that there was a strong case on which to proceed with the murder charge.
It is known that many doctors make the final weeks or months of life of their patients as comfortable as possible. We have not yet reached the stage at which euthanasia is legal, but we all know that in the case of people suffering from incurable and agonising disease the final weeks of life are made a little more comfortable by the medical profession. This case has shown that it will be extremely difficult to make any doctor a criminal who engages in that kind of treatment, which I think is regarded as standard by the overwhelming majority of doctors. But that is another issue.
There was a grave error of judgment in deciding to prosecute at all. I do not know whether the Attorney-General will adopt, in his reply, the usual formula of congratulating the hon. Member. who introduced this subject on the Adjournment by saying that he has rendered a useful public service in so doing. In any event, if he does not make use of that familiar opening gambit, many other hon. Members will say that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has rendered a useful public service in bringing the matter to the notice of the House.
We have had an objective discussion of a very difficult case. It was difficult, if only because of the voluminous amount of evidence and writing there has been about it. There are many aspects of the case, as the Attorney-General has heard tonight, about which people are concerned. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that the two points of paramount importance are the hearing in public before magistrates and what happened about the nurses' evidence.
The other points, which I will deal with first are, of course, of importance. An inquiry into them has been supported by every hon. Member who has spoken. I hope that there will be an investigation. There is concern about this aspect of the matter. It is not a matter which can be dismissed by saying that there is nothing much in it. On both sides of the House, in the profession, and throughout the country, there is concern. I hope that there will be an investigation and, if an investigation takes place, that it will not be that which was suggested by the hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson), a purely Departmental investigation.
In a matter of this kind, which has attracted so much attention and concern, it would be an advantage to have an investigation conducted by a judge. I am not for a moment suggesting that it should be in public. It should be an investigation by somebody independent altogether of the persons whose actions are being investigated, and should be conducted by a person who commands the complete confidence of the whole country, whether it is held in camera or in public. What is wanted is an investigation by someone of that kind.
I should have spoken at some length on the question of the preliminary hearing before the magistrates being conducted in public or private, but that matter has been considered by lawyers on our side of the House and we have come to the unanimous decision, on such information as we have been able to obtain, that there should certainly be far greater practice of hearing cases in private than there is at present. As the matter is at present—very wisely, if I may say so—referred for inquiry under the most distinguished chairmanship of Lord Tucker, I should merely be taking up the time of the House if I carried that matter further than my hon. Friends, so I shall leave that part of the question altogether.
The next matter is that of the nurses' evidence and the nurses' notes. I put a Question to the Home Secretary asking if he would be so good as to make a copy of the transcript of the proceedings at the trial available to hon. Members.
The Attorney-General and the Joint Under-Secretary were so good as to let me know today that they were this evening doing so and making the records available for hon. Members in the Library of the House of Commons. I am certainly very much obliged to them for that. I was particularly concerned to have those records for the purpose of considering, so far as I was concerned, the position in regard to the nurses' evidence.
We had very full newspaper accounts, some really admirable newspaper accounts, but it is quite impossible, however objective and admirable those accounts may be, for them to give the full presentation and full picture of the case, which can only be obtained by a transcript of the evidence itself. There is simply not the space for newspaper accounts, however admirable they may be, to give an absolutely complete picture. As every lawyer will know, it is very misleading, in a matter of this kind, to base one's assumptions or conclusions upon anything less than a complete picture of the case.
What I was concerned about in relation to the nurses' notes was the extent to which the separate evidence of the different nurses conformed to that of the others, so that, as it were, they were speaking in unison, and the extent to which their speech in unison would be contrary to what the notes, which were admittedly accurate, themselves stated. The impression which one had from newspaper reports is that there was a conflict there, and it seems to me to be a matter of deep concern that there was a conflict, because it would present itself to my mind in this way: either the nurses had come quite independently, quite separately and quite genuinely, each one separately giving her own proof but nevertheless giving it in a sense which was substantially and in substantial respects contradicted by the notes; or alternatively, as one newspaper reported the evidence, they had been speaking to each other and as a result of that, and as a result of giving three statements on separate occasions, they had somehow formed a consensus of view in the process of producing their own proofs. If that were so, of course, it would be desirable to take every conceivable precaution one possibly could against that kind of thing happening.
The hon. and learned Member is asking what I thought. I thought the notebooks which were produced were not in their entirety covering the whole period to which they referred.
I am not sure that that is exactly what the hon. and gallant Member said before but I do not want to misunderstand him in any way.
To my knowledge, no suggestion has been made anywhere that there was anything in the notes which was not completely accurate. I have looked at the judgment this evening, very briefly, since the Attorney-General has been good enough to put the transcript in the Library, and I can see nothing to suggest otherwise. I understand that the whole of the case was based on the assumption time and again that the notes were an absolutely complete and accurate record and that there was no question of expurgation or anything of that sort.
In order to see how far there are these differences and how substantial are the differences between the nurses' evidence and the notes, it is obviously important to look at the transcript of the evidence, and in the circumstances it would be quite wrong for me to attempt to deal with these matters upon the footing of what has been reported in newspapers. I therefore do not propose to carry the matter any further, because I have not yet had time to examine the transcript and to work out what the position is.
I am grateful to the Attorney-General and to the Joint Under-Secretary for ensuring that the transcript is available so that we can have the complete picture, and before raising the matter again in any form, if I so desire, I shall let the Attorney-General know precisely the points about which I am concerned and the extent to which it appears to me that it is desirable to have an inquiry into the matter.
The important matters appear to be the two which I have mentioned—the magisterial proceedings being in camera and the position about the nurses' evidence—the way they came to give their evidence—and the nurses' notes. It was, of course, on the nurses' evidence, as Mr. Justice Devlin pointed out in his judgment, that the Attorney-General opened his case. With regard to the other matters, I hope that the Attorney-General will give serious consideration to the general demand that there has been for an inquiry.
I would begin by thanking the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for his courtesy in giving me notice of the points that he desired to raise in this debate. I shall endeavour to deal, not only with the points raised by him, but with those raised by other hon. Members.
It is, I think, true to say that the points raised by the hon. Member for Dudley tonight differ greatly from those raised by him on 15th April. He then alleged that the Crown had opposed the defence's application that the preliminary proceedings should be heard in camera. I told him that he was quite misinformed. He was. In fact, there was an application that certain evidence should be heard in camera, and on that occasion I told him, as, in fact, is the case, that counsel for the Crown had made it perfectly clear that he did not oppose the application that certain evidence should be heard in camera. I shall indicate later that counsel went even further than that.
Following upon those Questions, the hon. Gentleman wrote to me, said that if he was wrong he was prepared to say so publicly, and asked to see a shorthand copy of that part of the proceedings at Eastbourne. Now, no shorthand notes of those proceedings were taken on behalf of the Crown. Indeed, the expense of doing so could not ordinarily be justified, since the evidence before the committing magistrates is taken in the form of depositions. The defence did have a shorthand note taken, and since the trial at the Old Bailey they have supplied to me a copy of that part relating to the application. That was the only copy in the Crown's possession.
When the hon. Gentleman wrote to me, I did not delay. I wrote him a reply which was long, and which he has not quoted from in any detail. I do not complain of that in the least degree, but I set out in that letter, verbatim, all the relevant extracts, I think, from those two shorthand notes of which the defence had supplied me a copy. I told him that if, having read that—which completely confirmed what I had said in answer to the Question—he still doubted my veracity, he could ask any of the counsel engaged in the case, and I was quite certain that they would confirm what I had said. I told him also that the defence might be able to provide him with a copy of the transcript.
I really do not see that, in those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman has any grounds for complaint at all with regard to that letter. As I say. I set out all the relevant extracts, told him that I could not spare him the only copy we had, and also told him where he could get further information if he doubted at all what I had told him. Therefore, he having had that letter, having had the advantage of reading exactly what was said by counsel for the Crown, it was with some surprise tonight that I did not hear him say publicly, as in his letter of 16th April he indicated that he would, that he was wrong in making that suggestion—
No, I will not give way. I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech in full, and not only did he not withdraw what he said, but said that if he had erred he had erred in good company, and referred to an account in the Spectator and to the broadcast given by Sir Norman Birkett. Sir Norman Birkett, in the passage which the hon. Member read out, did not say that the prosecution had opposed the application.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Dudley in a moment or two if he wants now to admit that he was wrong. I do not suggest that he made the allegation in bad faith, but I do suggest that he made it without any grounds whatever. It was made also—and the hon. Member has this to comfort him—by the Daily Express and the Spectator. When it had seen the passages in the transcript of which I sent copies to the hon Member, the Daily Express had the decency to make a prompt, unqualified and public withdrawal.
Not so the hon. Member or the Spectator. The Spectator sought to justify that allegation by making selective quotations, deliberately omitting to refer to passages which did not suit its thesis and citing in its article a passage completely out of its context, I should like to give the House one instance—I could give more—of the way in which that article was compiled.
Thanks to the courtesy of the defence which, of course, has the copyright in these shorthand notes. I have now been able to have copies made of them and I have had a copy of this part of the proceedings at Eastbourne placed in the Library so that hon. Members can see for themselves what happened.
I want to give one instance of the kind of thing that was done to support the allegation that the Spectator sought to maintain. When the case at Eastbourne began, Mr. Lawrence said that he wanted to make an application in camera. Mr. Stevenson opposed that. What Mr. Stevenson said in opposition has been taken by the Spectator and quoted as if it related to the hearing of evidence in camera. It did not.
Mr. Stevenson made it quite clear that it did not relate to the question of hearing evidence in camera, for he said:
At this moment, I am addressing myself to the question whether you should hear the application which the defence wish to make in closed court.
That is what Mr. Stevenson said in the middle of the passage quoted by the Spectator, but when the Spectator quoted that passage it left out that sentence and put in three dots. It left it out and so represented, deliberately and falsely, that what Mr. Melford Stevenson then said related to the question of hearing evidence in camera. I could give other instances of the same kind of thing.
As the hon. and learned Member will see, before eves the case was opened, Mr. Lawrence said that he wanted to make an application in closed court. Mr. Stevenson objected to the application being made in closed court. It was within his discretion, and I think he was right. The application was, in fact, made in open court. There is nothing at all that happened in the making of the application which could have prejudiced the trial.
I have given that one instance. I do not want to multiply it and take up too much time, but as a general observation I would say that if hon. Members who read the transcript compare it with the article in the Spectator, when they see what has been deliberately omitted and what has been deliberately ignored, they will, I think, be driven to the conclusion that it would be difficult to find an instance of more deliberate perversion of the truth and a more dishonest and disgraceful piece of journalism.
Before the case started at Eastbourne, Mr. Melford Stevenson came to me and said that he knew the defence would apply that the evidence of system should be heard in camera. I told him what was my view then, and is my view today, that the Crown certainly should not oppose that application. He entirely agreed with me. I would have been staggered to find, had it happened—but it did not—that he had gone down to Eastbourne and done exactly the opposite of what he and I thought was the right course. So much for that allegation, which has been persisted in by the Spectator and the hon. Gentleman.
First of all, I based my case in the intervention of 15th April on a report in the Evening Standard of 14th January. I kept it. I thought that account was pretty accurate. It is perfectly true I offered to withdraw, but I am not going to withdraw until I am convinced. I heard about Sir Norman Birkett's broadcast. I want that answered. The Spectator is not a Member of this House. I do not know why the right hon. and learned Gentleman brings in the Spectator at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member did.") If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to bring in the Spectator what he must also bring in is whether under his instructions or not Mr. Melford Stevenson telephoned the Daily Express, the Spectator and other papers and threatened them with an action for libel if they did not withdraw.
It just shows what an error it is to assume that the hon. Gentleman would have the decency to withdraw an unfounded allegation. He said in his letter, "If I am wrong, I am willing to say so publicly." He has in his possession a letter which sets out verbatim what Mr. Melford Stevenson said on this matter. He has had ample time for studying it. He has not taken the course, which the Daily Express had the decency to take, of making a prompt public and complete withdrawal.
I should like to conclude this part of my speech by saying that when hon. Members see that shorthand note they will see it was only at the instance of Mr. Stevenson that that part of the opening which related to the Hullett evidence was heard in camera. They will see that he made it clear more than once in the course of the hearing in open court that he was not opposing the application. Further than that, he conceded that there was ground for it. The hon. Gentleman will see that in the transcript of the shorthand note. Despite that, the magistrates—I do not wish to criticise them: it is not for me to do so— decided in their discretion that that evidence should be heard in open court. So much for that. I am glad that the procedure will be the subject of investigation and consideration by the committee presided over by Lord Tucker.
I now want to turn to what seems to me really to be the main point which has been raised in this debate with regard to the conduct of the prosecution, and that is the decision to call before the magistrates evidence which in the event was not called at the trial.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that that evidence was called because without it the magistrates would not have committed for trial. He has no grounds whatsoever for making that suggestion. It would be most improper, and I should certainly not be a party to any tactic of that sort, but the hon. Gentleman's technique is to throw out the wildest suggestions without any evidence or grounds to support them, and then, when he is told that there is no ground for them, when he is sent records of the shorthand note, he has not the decency to withdraw.
He is quite wrong about that. It is an entirely false accusation. I would say this to him, that not only did the magistrates commit, but at the trial the judge held, without calling upon the Crown, that the prosecution had without calling the Hullett evidence established a case which required an answer.
The evidence called at Eastbourne, without the evidence relating to the Hulletts, therefore itself established a case, and I will refer to it in a moment, which justified the magistrates in committing. In my opinion, they would have been entirely wrong if they had not done so. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) suggested that an alternative course might have been to have embodied all the evidence relating to the Hullett matters in a notice of additional evidence. I must say that I cannot conceive the defence regarding that as a proper course to take in this case. Views might differ, but that is my view. I do not agree with the hon. and learned Member at all as to the admissibility of that evidence being in any real doubt. I agree with what Mr. Melford Stevenson said on the question of the admissibility of that evidence. I do not want to go into detail on that evidence and I do not think that the hon. and learned Member is fully aware of its character, but I do not think that, on the authorities, there could be any real issue about its admissibility.
I want to say a few words about the evidence which related to the deaths of two persons other than Mrs. Morrell. I want to say this about the evidence, and it is right that I should say it. I do not want to conceal anything about the case that is within my knowledge. After the committal proceedings were over, facts came to light which satisfied me that the evidence relating to Mr. Hullett did not support the view of the case put forward in the magistrates' court that that evidence supported the allegation of system. Further evidence came forward and further investigation made it right, in my opinion, not to pursue that evidence at all.
I want to make this clear. In my opinion, the evidence relating to Mrs. Hullett was clearly admissible, as the magistrates held it was, and that evidence, in my opinion, could quite properly have been called at the trial of the charge of murdering Mrs. Morrell. I want to tell the House why it was that I decided, and it was my responsibility, not to call that evidence at the trial on that charge. It is the established practice that evidence of this kind—evidence of system—is excluded if, notwithstanding its admissibility, it is, in relation to the weight it bears, so prejudicial to the accused that its admission would operate to prevent his having a fair trial.
It was on that ground, after the committal proceedings had ended, that I decided that the evidence relating to Mrs. Hullett should not be called on the trial of the charge relating to Mrs. Morrell but that the leave of the judge should be sought to prepare a separate indictment charging the murder of Mrs. Hullett. As the House may know, that leave was granted and it was because there was that second indictment on the file that the leanned judge sent the message to Dr. Adams to which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton referred and in relation to which he drew quite the wrong inference.
I can also now pick up another point. There is no foundation at all for the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dudley—
The fact that there was a second indictment upon the files is perfectly well-known. It has happened in many cases. It happened, for instance, in the Evans case, but it has never been the occasion for postponing sentence.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member will accept it from me that the fact that there was a second indictment on the file was not well-known, except to the prosecution, the court, and the defence. The greatest care was, in fact, taken to keep that secret, so that the information that there was a further charge of murder should not appear in the Press and increase the risk of Dr. Adams's trial being prejudiced.
I fully accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but what I do not follow is why the existence of a second indictment on the file should have been an occasion for postponing sentence. One has always known that sentence is given right away.
The hon. and learned Gentleman may think that, but I hope he will accept it from me that it was thought desirable, if that indictment was to be proceeded with, that Dr. Adams should plead to it before there was any question of passing sentence.
Now I want to come back to the point made by the hon. Gentleman. He said that he had information—though what the information was, he did not reveal, nor did he reveal its source—that there was a conference between the Crown representatives, the defence and the police with regard to the Hullett evidence, and that every newspaper office was informed privately of what took place. That is what he said. Let there be no mistake about that.
May I tell him that there never was a conference between counsel for the Crown, counsel for the defence, and the police, in relation to the Hullett evidence. Nothing of that sort took place. There was no reason why it should. There was nothing in the nature of a conference with the defence about that evidence at any stage. As I have said, the Crown was informed by the defence before the preliminary proceedings that objection would be taken to the calling of the Hullett evidence. I informed the defence in turn, after the committal proceedings, when I had decided not to call the Mullett evidence at the trial, and there were the usual interviews between counsel which take place in trials of this kind, sometimes at the request of counsel for the defence.
There was nothing of the sort suggested by the hon. Gentleman, on information he says he received, but the source of which he carefully refrained from disclosing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Then the hon. Gentleman pursued that point by suggesting. without giving a single ground for it except inference, that there had been vast leakage of detailed information in the same way. I must confess this, that he has one advantage over me. I did not see those Press reports of August and September because was in the United States at the time, but I do not think one can safely conclude in these days that reports which are made in the Press are necessarily due to, or likely to arise because of, a breach by an official or police officer of his duty. There is this to be borne in mind. Eastbourne is not a very large place, and the information I have is that there was no shortage of Press men in Eastbourne the whole time that this inquiry was taking place.
A point was made about the exhumations. It is never the practice to reveal the results of exhumations unless they are given in evidence. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he knew what the results of those exhumations were.
If that is the source of the information I will not bother to answer it. As regards information to the Press as to when and where exhumations are to take place, the hon. Member for Dudley has given no ground whatsoever for assuming that there was any improper leakage of information by the police—no ground whatsoever.
I would say this to the hon. Member. I am not responsible, of course, for the conduct of the police in making inquiries into matters of this sort, but I do know that if the hon. Gentleman has any information in his possession which is worthy of any credence at all. or if it is even a justifiable basis for the wild allegations which he has thought fit to make, I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be only too glad to investigate that information.
In the absence of any source or any grounds for it, relying entirely on the inference which the hon. Gentleman chose to draw from the headlines, it really is monstrous for him to assert that the Press—and I quote his own words—" were being fed with information by the police authorities ". He went on to suggest, so he said, from the information he had been able to gather, that a shorthand writer was present when the police interviewed the Press, and he asked me to confirm or to deny it. I cannot tell him. I know nothing about interviews between the police and the Press, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will read and will give such consideration as is due to the words which the hon. Gentleman uttered in that respect.
Then, despite my answer on the 15th April, the hon. Gentleman sought to suggest that there had been disagreement between me and the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is an old canard, and I think the hon. Gentleman might have given that one up. I should like to correct him to this extent. I am not the political head of the Director's Department. He is under my general charge and superintendence, but he is no part of the Law Officers' Department. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there was no disagreement between those responsible for the preparation and institution of this case on the question whether or not a charge of murder should be preferred—no disagreement at all. That is the fact and I cannot say more than that.
I am not concerned with the gossip which the hon. Gentleman has picked up from crime reporters on the views of unknown people at Scotland Yard. All I can tell him is that those who were responsible for the decision were unanimous in their view. The hon. Gentleman also compared the acquittal of Dr. Adams with the conviction of Timothy John Evans, and sought to suggest that the fact that, while one was defended privately, the other was defended at public expense, had something to do with the result. I do not think this is the occasion to canvass once more the merits of the conviction of Timothy John Evans, and I do not propose to do so.
I do want to repudiate as emphatically as I can that the defence of accused persons is in any way prejudiced if they are defended by counsel instructed under the Poor Persons Defence Act. It is a proud tradition of the Bar, although the hon. Gentleman may not know it, that those who are accused of serious charges such as murder do get, often at great sacrifice, experienced counsel to act for them, and, in fact, the counsel who defended Evans and who is, if I may say so, a very able and competent junior, was my junior in the prosecution of Dr. Adams. I really do not think that that comment was worthy of the hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was."] Yes, it was worthy of him.
I want to refer now to the suggestion which was made yesterday in a Question to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the costs, or at any rate part of the costs, of Dr. Adams should be paid out of public funds. Under the Costs in Criminal Cases Act, 1952, the court has power to order that the costs of the defence may, if the accused is acquitted, be paid out of local funds. No application was made to the court for an order of that kind.
Now I come to the question which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, why this case was not dropped directly the nurses' note books were produced, and the question raised by the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) when he said that this case ought never to have been brought. Let me summarise for this House the basis of the case for the prosecution, and the evidence on which I decided that the prosecution should be launched. It was on evidence about which there was no dispute, that very large quantities of drugs had been prescribed between 8th and 12th November, 1950, by Dr. Adams; on evidence, which was not contradicted, that Dr. Adams had said that he had administered that quantity to Mrs Morrell; that in the opinion of experts of considerable standing, that quantity was lethal; and that, in the opinion of those experts, there was no legitimate explanation for the administration of the drugs prescribed in those quantities.
Whatever may be the criticism, in my opinion I would have been failing in my duty as Attorney-General if I had not placed that evidence before the court. If I was asked now to decide the same question I had to consider then. I should have no hesitation in reaching the same conclusion. Let me remind the hon. Member for Brixton what the judge said himself on this point. He said:
No one can say that the Crown was not justified, on the material they had at the beginning of this trial, in prosecuting Dr. Adams.
It is said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton—and there is a certain amount of substance in it—that the case presented by the Crown at the beginning of the trial differed from that left to the jury as a result of the discovery of the nurses' notebooks. I cannot accept the imputation that the prosecution was negligent
in failing to find those books. So far as I am aware, they were at all material times in the possession of the defence. Our information was that they had been destroyed, as one would have expected them to have been destroyed, just as the doctor's own notes were destroyed. No evidence was given as to where they came from, or, indeed, how they came to be kept.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) was quite right in saying that the accuracy of the entries in those books was not challenged at all, so far as those entries went—and, I repeat, so far as those entries went. I remind the House that there was expert evidence that even the lesser quantity of drugs shown by those books to have been administered— that is to say, shown as administered by the nurses or as injections which Dr. Adams said he had given, because he always gave them alone in the room—was lethal in its quantity and not justified as treatment of a doctor's patient. That was the evidence of expert witnesses. If those books had been available to the prosecution before proceedings were instituted, I should nevertheless have decided, again with hesitation, that the evidence ought to be laid before a court of law.
I would remind the House that it was the case as based on those notebooks which the learned judge, without calling upon the Crown to uphold it, held constituted a case which required an answer from the defence. That is the real answer to the hon. and learned Member who asked why, when the notebooks were produced, we did not stop the case. There was a case to answer, and the judge so held, on the notebooks and an issue for the jury to try and determine as it did.
The Attorney-General referred to the notebooks and said that they were accurate so far as they went and he repeated the words, "so far as they went." Can he explain that a little? What does he mean by that? Is he referring to injections, not recorded in the notebooks, but given by Dr. Adams or by the nurses, and was any evidence put before the court that there were injections which were not recorded in the notebooks?
The answer to that—I will deal with it as shortly as I can—is this. The evidence of the nurses was that they entered every injection that they gave; they entered the particulars of injections which Dr. Adams told them he had given. The prosecution did not challenge that at all. But there was ground, detailed ground, for saying that that was not a complete record of the injections. One instance which comes back to my mind is that, although there was a constant daily medication, there were, for instance, on one day no entries of any injections at all. There were also various entries of what was called a special injection. The defence tried to make out that the special injections were always of the same character. The prosecution said, "Well, by just giving it a label, ' special injection ', you cannot tell what it is."
All I am saying—I hope that I am not boring the House by going on too long; but in my final speech to the jury I did say, and I say it again—is that while one accepted the nurses' books as telling the truth so far as they told anything, one does not accept—because there was no evidence to that effect, indeed there was evidence to the contrary—that they told the complete story. That was the point I made about that.
It is important to clear this up. Did not the judge rule, as a matter of law, that there was no evidence to go to the jury that anything was given apart from what appeared in the notebooks?
I wish to remind the House of the position as it was established by un-contradicted evidence, if I may do so, before come to the ruling. The first thing was that the amounts prescribed were lethal. The second was that the amounts prescribed had been supplied. The third element was to prove the amounts prescribed had been administered. On that we had the evidence of Superintendent Hannam and Detective Inspector Pugh that they had shown Dr. Adams a list of the prescriptions. Superintendent Hannam said he ran his finger down the prescriptions from 8th November onwards, and the answer made by Dr. Adams was, "Yes, she had all those. I gave them to her." I am quoting from memory, I think I am quoting accurately. But he did not merely say it once; he said it more than once at that interview.
That was the case for the prosecution, the case which was presented at the magistrates' court and presented at the Old Bailey and which formed the main part of the case in the final speech, although it is right to say that we depended up to a point on the nurses' books. I hope I have made that clear. The judge, in his summing up, did, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said —I will quote his exact words—direct the jury
as a matter of law that there is no evidence upon which you could properly come to the conclusion that any drugs were administered to Mrs. Morrell over and above the injections recorded in the nurses' books.
That was his ruling.
It is not for me—I do not wish to do so—to comment on that direction. But I think that in fairness, not only to myself but also to those who worked with me— there was a lot of work in this case, in the preparation and presentation of the prosecution's case against Dr. Adams— that I should point out that the defence never challenged, and the judge, in fact, did not deal with the evidence given by Superintendent Hannam and Detective Inspector Pugh—both of whom were commended for their fairness by the learned judge—that Dr. Adams had admitted to them that he had given Mrs. Morrell the amounts prescribed between 8th and 12th November, amounts considerably in excess of those recorded in the nurses' books.
I hope that I have not taken too long, and that I have dealt with all the points that have been raised in this debate and which have been causing anxiety in people's minds. I would, if I may, confirm and endorse what the hon. Gentleman said—how impossible it is to gain any impression of how a case is going from merely reading it in the newspaper reports.
I did not have time to read the full newspaper reports, but now and then I glanced at various papers—I was in court most of the time, and I think that I missed only a very little of the trial—and it was really quite astonishing, despite the skill of the reporters—and they are skilful— how seldom one got the same impression from reading the evidence that one had from listening to it in court. What struck me in court as an important sentence, or as something which had been said in a way which made it demand attention, had not, perhaps, quite that facet of news interest which required publication.
I would say that I am glad to have been able to put the whole record of the trial, the shorthand note, in the Library. I have gone further than that because I have put with the transcript not all the exhibits, because that would have been a tremendous bundle, but some exhibits without which it would have been quite impossible to follow some of the evidence. I have also put, as I have said, a copy of the shorthand note of what happened in the magistrates' court. That may be important for consideration in relation to the proceedings of the committee set up by my right hon. Friend, but it is also important because I want to make quite sure, so far as I can, that no further unfounded accusations are made against Mr. Melford Stevenson and those who assisted him in the conduct of the case at the magistrates' court.
By a figment of the constitution the hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) is supposed to represent me in this House. In the speech which he delivered earlier he alluded to a former debate in which I took part but in which, owing to his lack of knowledge of the rules of the House, he did not participate. He saved up for this afternoon the heavy belting he intended to give me on that occasion. But I do not intend to let him distract me from doing what I think ought to be done at this stage in the debate.
The House is under a great debt to the Attorney-General for the full and frank way in which he has dealt with the way in which this case was conducted and with some of the preliminaries to it. I think that the important thing which worries most of us who, in one way or another, have to participate in these matters is the point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), which he alluded to as "trial by newspaper ".
The right hon. and learned Gentleman explained to us that at the date about which my hon. Friend complained most, that is, the middle and the last days of August, he was not in this country but was in America. I am quite certain that anyone reading the newspapers, and not merely the sensational newspapers but any newspaper that reported what was then going on, could not have done other than have formed a most unfavourable view of Dr. Adams. That is a very serious thing.
I recall that in the notorious Haigh case the Daily Mirror published a series of articles—two or three—in which it alluded to the accused in that case as a vampire. The newspaper was prosecuted for it, and the editor was sent to prison, where he stayed, I think, for three months.
I can well understand the Attorney-General's merely passing over that part of my hon. Friend's case with the statement that he was out of the country. I assure the Attorney-General that if he now looks at the newspapers and the pictures that appeared, even at that early stage, some weeks before there was even an arrest, he will come to the conclusion that there could hardly have been anyone in the country who was likely to be called as a juror who had not, at that time, had put before him comments on the investigation that must have made it very difficult for him, when called upon to be a juror, to come to the case with an absolutely open mind.
I have no doubt that the Attorney-General found in America that trial by newspaper has reached a very advanced stage and that it is often far better to have newspapers with wide circulations on your side than to have retained the most learned counsel. In the Americanisation of our Press, which, unfortunately, has gone on to a very considerable extent in recent years, I hope that it will be felt to be the duty of the Attorney-General and of the Director of Public Prosecutions to watch very carefully how this habit spreads. I am certain that it will be a very bad thing for this country if trial by newspaper goes much further, or even continues as far as it has gone at present.
I had some responsibility at the time of the Haigh trial and I know the serious consideration that was then given to the matter of the articles which formed the subject of the prosecution before the Lord Chief Justice. I hope that the Press will be very carefully watched in respect of any repetition of what occurred in the case of Dr. Adams.
During my period at the Home Office, I had on one occasion to consult Mr. Melford Stevenson about a case in which he had been counsel for the prosecution. It was suggested to me that the defence in the case had been so conducted as not to give the accused person an opportunity to get his case in front of the jury in the way that it should have been put. That was a very delicate question to put to counsel for the prosecution, but I am bound to say that, without any breach of what I imagine to be the strictest rules of professional etiquette, he gave me, in the course of conversation, such an insight into the case as enabled me to feel that I had been impartially assisted by one who was not of necessity an impartial person in the consideration that was submitted to him. Mr. Melford Stevenson is the son-in-law of a very old friend of mine and I am certain that he would do nothing that would prejudice the defence in a case when he was the prosecutor.
The hon. Member for Epsom said that it was the duty of the prosecution to prosecute, but when the Crown or a public authority is the prosecutor it is also the duty of the prosecution to see that all the facts are in front of the court. I am glad to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he agrees with me in that view. Of course, occasionally that puts on the Crown or the local authority in the prosecution a duty which does not, of necessity, fall on a private prosecutor engaged in the courts.
I would say, with great respect, that it is the duty of the prosecution always to put the case fairly and to put all relevant facts in the possession of the prosecution before the court. My hon. Friend referred to winning cases. It is not the case that when conducting a prosecution the prosecution is "going out to win a case."
I notice that the trade union is unsplit on this occasion as it has been generally throughout the evening. I have sometimes thought that my observation led me to a different conclusion. I am glad to know that if such did occur it was an unprofessional act.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has fulfilled a duty in bringing this matter before the House. I hope it will be a long time before it is felt that to raise matters of this kind in the House is a thing that ought not to be done. It is the duty of hon. Members of this House to watch for misgivings in public opinion and, when they find them to exist, to take the steps which are open to them to ensure that, if possible, those misgivings shall be set at rest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, on this occasion—and not for the first time—has succeeded in performing that duty. I, for one, would like to thank him for doing it. At the same time, I think, as 1 said in the opening sentences of my speech, that the House is under a debt of gratitude to the Attorney-General for being as thorough, as frank and as revealing as he was in the reply that he made to this debate.