Guenter Podola

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1959.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton 12:00 am, 20th July 1959

Mr. Paget (by Private Notice) asked the Home Secretary what happened to Guenter Podola during the six hours at Chelsea Police Station which necessitated his removal to hospital on a stretcher, and why his lawyer was denied admittance?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am informed that the hospital authorities have agreed that Podola should leave the hospital. He has been charged with murder and is being taken before a magistrate. In these circumstances, it would not be proper for me to say any more.

Hon. Members:

Oh.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

I am not concerned about the charge against Guenter Podola. I am concerned about the people who beat him unconscious. Have charges been preferred against them? If charges have not been preferred against them, the subject matter of this question is not sub judice.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The hon. and learned Gentleman has no right to say that this man was beaten unconscious, and he has no proof that it is so. This is a matter which I must now leave to the courts, as he has been charged with murder.

Hon. Members:

No.

Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Smethwick

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whereas there was, naturally, universal horror about the cold-blooded murder of a policeman, and determination that whoever is guilty shall be brought to justice, none the less there is widespread feeling that unless even the most unpopular man in the country is given his full rights, our justice is in danger?

Owing to the widespread concern about the rather mysterious circumstances of this man's stay in hospital, would not the right hon. Gentleman do something to allay the concern by perhaps appointing an inquiry?

Could he also say by what authority the police held the man all this time when, apparently, he was not charged and was not brought before a magistrate? Has he been in police custody all the time, and if so, by what authority?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The man has been in hospital because he was not in a fit state to be charged. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Now that he has been charged with murder and the hospital authorities have agreed that he is in a fit state to be so charged, it would not be right for me to make any comment or in any way to prejudice the situation.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Without sufficient evidence I certainly make no charge against the police, but what I wish to know is this. A statement appeared in the Press—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can say whether it is accurate or not—that a number of business gentlemen had instructed a solicitor to act on behalf of the man, but that the solicitor was not permitted to see his client. Is that true? If so, why was the solicitor not permitted to see his client?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have ascertained the facts about that. Podola made no request to see a solicitor, either at the police station or at the hospital. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Perhaps the House would listen. A solicitor called at the hospital, but Podola was not thought to be fit to see him. That was natural, as he was put in the hospital for the reason that he was not fit to be charged. I want to give the House this assurance, that the solicitor will be given every facility to see Podola, and he may see him in the very near future.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Does the Home Secretary deny that Mr. Podola was kept in hospital in police custody, and can he assure the House that it is untrue that he was chained to his bed? Is it also untrue that it was the police who refused permission for a solicitor? Finally, would the right hon. Gentleman consider making an inquiry into the whole circumstances of the arrest, which cannot be fully investigated simply by leaving it to the trial?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think that it could be stated that Podola was in hospital under custody. I am not prepared to go further into the case, as it is sub judice, and I am not, therefore, prepared to answer the question.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

Will my right hon. Friend go so far as to say what is the nature of the man's illness or injuries that made it necessary for him to be taken to hospital?

Hon. Members:

Answer.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I do not wish to prejudice this case. I think that it is unusual, Sir, for questions to be allowed when a man has been charged. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, but in my experience it is very unusual. Anything I may say may prejudice the future course of the trial and I am not prepared to do so.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I think that the House ought to listen to the Home Secretary's plea in this regard. It is true that the line between what is sub judice and what is not is sometimes difficult to draw, but it seems to me, speaking from practice, that anything which may be said now about the previous conduct of the police—if that is the line—or the previous experiences of the man since he has been in custody might well have a bearing upon the trial. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Order, order. That is my view, and the House would not be well advised to discuss at any length a matter which might conceivably affect the fair trial of a man who has been charged.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Further to that point of order, Sir. With great respect, are there not two quite distinct things? There is a charge with regard to the murder of a policeman. There is another matter on which, I gather from the Home Secretary, no charge has been brought, as to an attack on Mr. Podola in which, according to some accounts, he received injuries to his skull and jaw. Surely the attack on him when in police custody cannot possibly have any bearing on whether or not he committed a murder previously, nor can his trial elucidate that question.

In my submission, what this House is concerned with, and concerned with very intimately, is that people should be safe in British police stations, and that the idea that either vengeance or beatings up occur in British police stations is utterly unacceptable. Because the person who was the victim of that beating up is also the subject of a charge, that ought not to prevent us from investigating the beating up, which is eminently our business.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I see the hon. and learned Member's argument but, speaking from practice, I have frequently known it, in a trial of this gravity, to be alleged on behalf of the prisoner that he was ill-treated by the police, because that might have a very strong bearing upon whether any statement he made was admissable or not. That is the point which may come out. If the Home Secretary is asked questions about it at this stage it may have an effect upon the trial—I do not know that it will not; I am merelyasking the House to play safe in the matter. If there has been anything wrong with police conduct in this case, it can be discussed later, but let us give the man a trial free from any argument on our part.

Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Smethwick

Whereas, naturally, I agree that we must do nothing which would prejudice the trial, Mr. Speaker, is there not a great distinction between the matter of the trial and the question about the actual authority by which the police detained the man? Apparently, on the evidence, they detained him for a number of days although they were only entitled to do so for 24 hours, when he was, according to their own statement, not seriously ill. Therefore, he could have been brought before a magistrate even in hospital. This matter of the authority of the police to hold a man is something which concerns deeply the liberty of the subject, something in which the House is always interested, and which has nothing, as such, to do with the trial and could not possibly prejudice it.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am not dissenting from the right hon. Gentleman's view as to the importance of this matter, which is one in which the House always takes a very deep interest, a vital interest. I am saying that if the man is charged, all these matters will be in the hands of the judiciary to examine. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, if there is any complaint about his treatment by the police it can come up, and I would say that it is safest not to argue the case.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

Could we not have an assurance from the Home Secretary that when the objection about the case being sub judice no longer exists a full statement, including medical evidence, will be given to the House?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am absolutely satisfied that this man was not beaten up in the police station. I am equally not prepared to go further into the details, largely because I think that it might prejudice the defence, quite apart from the other side of the trial. It would be wrong for me to say any more at present, but, of course, I will pay attention to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

May I ask the Home Secretary this question? If this man is now, I understand, being charged with murder, would the Home Secretary agree that it is all the more desirable in the public interest that he should have the benefit of legal advice at the earliest possible moment? Would the Home Secretary please explain to the House why this man was denied access by a lawyer who wished to give him advice?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

As I said before, Podola was thought not to be fit to see a solicitor—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and that has been confirmed by the hospital authorities. I am not responsible for the direct police action, but the police must have been governed in this by the view of the hospital authority. But I can assure the hon. Gentleman that from now on there will be no impediment to this man seeing his solicitor. In fact, it may well be that he will see him this afternoon.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Keighley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people would have considered the police to have been extremely foolhardy if they had taken any chances when arresting this convicted criminal, who was known to shoot at sight? However, in view of the allegations by my hon. and learned Friend that Podola was beaten up, will the Home Secretary make a statement to the House as soon as possible, giving the facts as to what happened when Podola got to Chelsea Police Station, because that is the real point?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the police were dealing with a difficult case. I do not want to say anything to prejudice the man's character, or anything to do with it, now that the matter is sub judice. I cannot add to what I have said. However, I will say this, that the police called in the divisional police surgeon and it was on the divisional police surgeon's advice as to the state of the man that he was sent to hospital. Therefore, I do not think that any fault lies at the door of the police.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will make some facts clear which could not prejudice either the prosecution or the defence and which ought to be made clear now? Would he say at what time and on what date the arrest was made? Would he say at what time and on what date the police surgeon held that the man ought to be removed to a hospital? Will he say on what date and at what time any charge whatever was brought against this man, and on what authority he was held in custody between the moment that he was first arrested and the moment when any charge was brought against him? Is there any authority whatever in the law of our land for holding a man in custody without making a charge?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question answers the point of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, which, I think, deserves an answer. Before I come to that, I would say that the arrest was made at 4 p.m. on Thursday, 16th July, and Podola was taken to St. Stephen's Hospital shortly after midnight, and in between those times he was resting in the surgeon's room.

The other point raised by the hon. Gentleman is governed by Section 38 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952. It provides that when a person is taken into custody for an offence without a warrant and is retained in custody he shall be brought before a magistrates' court as soon as practicable. Where it is not practicable to bring the detained person before a magistrates' court within 24 hours—the point raised by the hon. Gentleman—the officer in charge is obliged by Section 38 (1) of the Act to inquire into the circumstances of the case and to release him on bail.

But by the terms of the Section this obligation to release on bail has no application where the offence: … appears to the officer to be a serious one … Plainly, therefore, it has no application where the alleged offence is murder.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that the answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given to the House is an answer to a question which was not asked? I did not ask him—I feel that it is most important that we should get this right—what authority there was for holding a man in custody for 24 hours when he was arrested for an offence. I asked him what authority there was for holding a man in custody at all where no charge has been made of any kind. Ought he not to answer that question before the House really knows what is sub judice and what is not?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has answered that question.

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Lewisham North

Can the Home Secretary confirm or deny the statements which have been made in the Press that at no stage did this man make any statement to the police? If it is correct that he has made no statement, can the Home Secretary say how he considers that the question of this man's treatment by the police could possibly become relevant to his defence in the offence with which he has been charged, since Mr. Speaker has pointed out that it is only on a question of the admissibility of a statement that the treatment that a man has received from the police has any relevance in the courts at all?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The hon. Gentleman is an able lawyer and I would not disagree with him, but I want to be sure of not making a statement which prejudices this man or the case, however serious we may all think it to be. I am unaware of any statement that he has made to the police.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Judges' Rules, published in 1912, and amended, I think, in 1930, deal with the admissibility of statements, and that the question of the time when a man is charged and the question of his treatment in the police station are extremely relevant for decision by the judges or the jury as to whether a statement is admissible? [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite think that they know better what happened in the police station. Those matters are extremely relevant in deciding questions which have to be decided, first, by the judge acting alone and, secondly, by the jury. A statement made outside the court may be extremely prejudicial either to the prosecution or to the defence at the trial.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

In answer to my hon. and learned Friend, that is precisely why I have not gone further in the House this afternoon. I am convinced that I am right to say no more.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

May we press the Home Secretary a little further? He has said that he is satisfied that nothing was done improperly, or words to that affect, to this man in the police station. He has said that, whether that is prejudicial or not. Is it not true that the man has made no statement, and, furthermore, that he has not yet been charged? How, then, could his treatment last Thursday be relevant to anything raised now?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I want to be correct about this. I thought I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that this man has been charged with murder. Thai is the whole ground of my objection to further questions on this matter. The House should recognise that if the man is charged it may be a case which carries the most severe penalty known to our law, and this House has always been scrupulously careful not to let its proceedings interfere with those of the judiciary, whose duty it really is, with the jury called for the matter, to determine the innocence or guilt of the man.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

As you pointed out, Mr. Speaker, if there had been a statement which was being challenged, maybe by the defence, this might have arisen at the trial. The Home Secretary has now told us that there is no such statement. This idea that one can say "sub judice" to hush up something which may be Ministerially inconvenient—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I do not know whether there has been a statement made by this man or not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Neither does the Home Secretary."] I do not know that the Home Secretary knows. What if evidence comes forward later that Podola made a statement and it comes into his trial? Then I think we should all be sorry that we ever raised the matter, or tried to discuss it here. I think that that is the point that we have to consider.

Photo of Mr Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Pontypool

The Home Secretary has told us of the circumstances in which the solicitor was unable to see his client. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why it was that, in view of these circumstances, the solicitor was not permitted to take a doctor along with him, as is a very regular custom in cases where men are under suspicion of murder, when the solicitor is often accompanied by a psychiatrist? Why could that not have been done in this case? There would then have been no possibility of the suspicions which have been aroused.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am not aware that the solicitor asked to bring a doctor with him. If he had asked to bring a doctor the matter would have been different. But now the man who is held under charge will have an opportunity of seeing his solicitor, and that will be the most satisfactory course.

In answer to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I absolutely repudiate that Ministers or anybody else are trying to hush up anything. I am the police authority, but I have no particular responsibility for this aspect of the case.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Membersrose

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. We have had quite enough discussion on this.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of order. Surely it is vital to the House's consideration of the matter that we should know whether or not what was done between the moment of arrest and the moment of charge was done under any legal or constitutional authority. It is that which lies at the basis of the whole of the discussion which we have had. Is it not now clear from the Home Secretary's answer that the whole of this custody up to the moment when a charge was made was without legal authority of any kind? Therefore, ought not the Home Secretary, who is responsible for the London police, to explain to the House how and why that was allowed to happen?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I think that that all can be thrashed out by the judiciary. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I think that it can, and we had better leave it to the judiciary.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Further to that point of order, Sir. Surely there are two quite separate and distinct matters. It is certainly a matter for the judiciary to decide whether this particular man has or has not committed a murder, but surely we are equally entitled to question the Home Secretary about the behaviour of the police towards a person who has been arrested and detained before a charge is made. Surely, in the interests of public justice and in the interests of seeing that a person charged with murder has the best possible advice, we are entitled to interrogate the Home Secretary and require better answers than we have yet had as to why a person in that predicament was deprived of legal advice at the very moment when he was most in need of it.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The hon. Member is over-simplifying the matter. It is easy to say that these are two separate matters, but in by experience the two impinge upon each other and general discussion, debate and questions, when one does not know what will be said, are dangerous if there is to be a fair trial. That is my feeling. If there is a complaint against the police, all these matters can be probed to the full at another stage.