MR. Hugh Stewart

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden 12:00 am, 27th July 1977

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the case of Mr. Hugh Stewart, who is serving a sentence of nine years' imprisonment for a robbery which I have very good reason to believe that he did not commit. I shall also refer to the refusal of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to refer his case to the Court of Appeal under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeals Act.

This is a case of a man who has protested his innocence throughout. There were no verbal admissions and there is no objective evidence against him. He was convicted solely on identification evidence, which was extremely weak, confused and contradictory, and which would certainly not be admissible under the rules in the Devlin Committee recommendations and the rule in the case of Turnbull and others.

The case was heard before the Devlin Committee on identification evidence. In the light of that Committee's report and the ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case of Turnbull and others last summer, it is my view that if the case were referred to the Court of Appeal by my right hon. Friend, it is virtually certain that Mr. Stewart's conviction would be quashed.

But there are additional and fairly dramatic reasons for believing in Mr. Stewart's innocence. I have been investigating this case over a long period. I have been able to obtain a statement from one of his co-defendants at the trial, who had pleaded not guilty but who had been convicted and who now admits his guilt but wholly exonerates Mr. Stewart. However, much more important is the fact that I have also been able to interview another man. 1 shall not name him. He has convictions, but this robbery is not one of them. He has given to me a detailed account of the planning and execution of this robbery and he has named to me the man who had taken the part for which Mr. Stewart was convicted. He agreed to my passing this information to the Home Secretary, and I have done so. Understandably, the man concerned imposed, as a condition of giving me this statement, other conditions of secrecy, which of course I intend to respect.

I have been a practising lawyer for over 20 years in a mixed criminal and litigation practice. I have a great deal of experience in interviewing witnesses. Although I have sometimes been misled, I am absolutely certain that in this case, that man's statement, in which he exonerates Hugh Stewart, was the truth.

I fully accept that that evidence could not be admissible in the Court of Appeal. I have not suggested to my right hon. Friend that it should be admissible, but I am suggesting that it is a ground upon which he could refer the case to the Court of Appeal, because the evidence on which Mr. Stewart was originally convicted was so weak and so in conflict with the rules laid down in Turnbull and others that the conviction could be quashed.

My right hon. Friend has said that he is not proposing to apply the rules in Turnbull and others retrospectively, but it seems to me to conflict with the principles of natural justice that a man who was convicted on evidence which would not now be admissible should be left in prison because the Home Secretary is not prepared to apply retrospectively rules which we now accept, even though we have strong new grounds for believing in this man's innocence.

Old injustices are no less injustices for the fact that they took place some years ago.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) gave me notice this morning that he intended to raise this matter, and he sent me details of the case that he believes should be given precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member. He wishes to raise the case of Mr. Hugh Stewart, who is serving a sentence of nine years' imprisonment for a robbery which the hon. Member has very good reason to believe that Mr. Stewart did not commit As the House knows, I have to take into account all the relevant factors. I am not called upon to give the reasons for my decision to the House. I am afraid that I cannot grant the hon. Member's application.