British Transport Police

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 10:35, 22 May 1981

I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman has already strenuously taken up his complaint with British Rail. I am sure that the chairman of British Rail will see what he has said about the length of time that it took to reply to letters. Ministers have many letters to reply to, and I am the last one to be heavily critical of delays in replying. However, it does seem to have taken a long time to reply to those letters. I am sure that the chief constable will consider whether the apology given was adequate.

Nevertheless, eventually the hon. Gentleman received a full reply. As the issue turns on the unfortunate error in the age of the child I should put on record the fact that, as was clearly explained in the board's letter of 29 April, the information that misled everybody originated from the boy's mother. The board's director of public affairs wrote: When the police officer went to interview her following the offence, she was ill in bed and had to get up, despite her condition, to answer his questions. The officer took a statement and as the boy did not appear to be older than the twelve years he was said to be, the officer had no reason to suspect the information to be untrue. In the circumstances, he saw no reason to prolong the interview unduly, a decision which I believe was not unreasonable in a matter of this nature as there is always a wish to avoid any accusation of harrassment. That was the explanation. The boy's mother was ill, and no doubt the policeman was anxious not to bully or pressurise her excessively. She appears to have lied about her son's age. Some time thereafter—it was already far too late to do anything about it—it was discovered that the boy had avoided prosecution. It is an old case, which has now been thoroughly aired. I am sure that the police regret it if there was a mistake. However, the issue does not call into question the way in which this chief constable or the force as a whole exercise discretion over prosecutions.