Mr. G. E. Mariner (Old Bailey Trial)

Petition – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 22 May 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton 12:46, 22 May 1981

In seeking to draw the attention of the House—but more particularly that of the Home Office—to the conduct of the Metropolitan Police in the case of Mr. Geoffrey Mariner, I am motivated more by frustration and sorrow than by anger. Nevertheless, I am very angry at the way in which the law appears to have operated in the case of my constituent.

I accept at once that the Home Office is not directly involved in the matters that I am raising and that there are procedures that the Minister and the Secretary of State have to follow, but this is the only way in which I can seek to draw the matter directly to the Secretary of State's attention and have a personal exchange on it.

Although I shall be critical of the manner in which the police appear to have behaved, I hasten to add that I hold the Metropolitan Police in very high regard. In particular, the forces of Y Division, operating in Enfield, now under Chief Superintendent Goodson, and at Edmonton, now under Chief Superintendent Markham, have proved over the years to be first-class protectors of the peace and to have served my constituents well.

Mr. Geoffrey Mariner and his brother Philip had lived at 72 Park Avenue, Bush Hill Park, Enfield, for many years. They were industrious and hard working. Even when they were into their late sixties—as they were in 1979—they still went to work.

On Sunday 24 June 1979 the brothers were having a late tea when they heard a noise at their door. Geoffrey reached it in time to see a hand withdrawing through a broken glass door. On opening the door, at first no one could be seen, but then he saw a person crouching by the bay window. In the ensuing struggle the intruder lashed out and stabbed at Mr. Mariner with a large pair of scissors. Mr. Mariner was cut on his arm and then stabbed above his eye. Mercifully, his eye escaped damage, but it was a very close thing.

Subsequently, a man was captured and charged. Mr. Mariner and his brother were interviewed, and they then received a witness order ordering them to attend and give evidence at the trial. A part of that notice—with which the Minister will be familiar—read: You should enquire of the police officer in charge of the case when you will be required to attend the court of trial". Mr. Mariner went to Enfield police station immediately and spoke to the officer in charge of the case. He was assured that he would be given ample warning, and he was told to go away. All this took place in June and July 1979. No other approach was made to Mr. Mariner.

I now move on to January 1980. An issue of the local newspaper, theEnfield Gazette & Observer, dated 24 January, carried the headline Burglar gaoled for two years. The report stated: A man who stabbed an elderly resident in the face when disturbed in a burglary was gaoled for a total of two years at the Old Bailey on Wednesday". The Wednesday refers to 16 January.

It was two further paragraphs in that account that caused great shock and dismay to Mr. Mariner. They said that the burglar pleaded not guilty to further charges of committing burglary while armed with an offensive weapon and not guilty to malicious wounding. I hope that the Minister will take careful note of the following paragraph: The prosecution told Judge Lewisohn that the pleas of not guilty were accepted by the Crown because the victim had since moved house and could not be traced and so would not be giving evidence. Mr. Mariner, who had this newspaper account drawn to his attention on 26 January, was justifiably thunderstruck. He had lived continuously at No. 72 Park Avenue, and his home had at all times been in occupation. He went immediately, on Saturday 26 January, to Enfield police station and asked to see the officer concerned. He knew his name and, of course, I know it, as does the Minister, and I shall not repeat it in the House. He was not available, but Mr. Mariner spoke to the desk officer and told him of his agitation. He was asked to return on Monday 28 January to see the officer, which he did.

The officer told him that in the late afternoon on Wednesday 15 January he has received a call to say that the case would be dealt with at the Old Bailey the next day, 16 January. The officer was about to go off duty, but he left instructions about informing Mr. Mariner. Attempts were made that night to inform Mr. Mariner, but no response was obtained to repeated heavy knocks on the door. A further attempt was made in the early morning of 16 January. The officer said that inquiries showed that the house appeared to be empty and not occupied.

I entered the picture when Mr. Mariner came to see me on 15 February. I was appalled by what I learnt. As the Minister will know from his files, I wrote to the Home Secretary on 18 February setting out this astounding series of events and asking him to investigate the matter fully. His files will show that it was five weeks later—24 March—before the hon. and learned Gentleman's noble Friend Lord Belstead replied, after a reminder from me advising him that the matter was one for the Commissioner of Police.

I wrote immediately on 26 March to the Commissioner. It was not until 3 October, more than six months later, that I received a reply from Sir George Ogden, deputy chairman of the Police Complaints Board. That letter and subsequent correspondence that I have had with him and with the noble Lord have caused my constituent and myself great unease and have prompted me to raise questions to which I hope the Minister will get answers that we have failed to get.

The first area of unease relates to the manner in which witnesses such as Mr. Mariner are kept informed about a matter which in Mr. Mariner's case could have cost him his life. I find it deplorable that this matter should have been disposed of without Mr. Mariner hearing anything about it. May we be told how this happened.

I am informed that the officer in charge of the case received his orders as he was going off duty. He made arrangements about informing his witnesses, including Mr. Mariner. I accept without qualification that those endeavours were set in train. But, in the event, they failed.

I am told that after attempts to contact Mr. Mariner that night, a further attempt was made the following morning. It is this aspect of the matter that causes Mr. Mariner and me most disquiet. Let me quote again from Sir George Ogden's letter: The officer whose duty it was to assign someone to go to Mr. Mariner's house in the morning states that he did so and that the officer reported being unable to gain a response. We should take careful note of this: It has not been possible to identify and interview that officer as the relevant records have been destroyed. Let me spell out the nature of my unease. Mr. Mariner was in his home that night, and never left his home until 9.30 the next morning. His neighbours, whom I have seen, confirm that. No one can be found who spoke to any police officer that night or that morning, yet the court was told by the prosecution that Mr. Mariner had since moved house and could not be traced. We are then told that the officers who passed this information on to the prosecution cannot be traced as the records have been destroyed.

Why and how were they destroyed? Again, Sir George Ogden writes: In January 1980 Enfield police station was taking part in a pilot scheme preparatory to the adoption throughout the Metropolitan Police District of a computerised system of recording messages, allocating them to officers to deal with, and noting the outcome. Records of these messages and the associated action were kept for 31 days then destroyed. It was therefore simply a result of the practice then current that the January records had been destroyed when you wrote on 26th March. This will be no comfort to Mr. Mariner, but you may like to know that, as a result of his complaint, the period of retention has since been extended. I want the Minister to take careful note of those dates. A record was made on the morning of 16 January that an officer had been deputed to warn Mr. Mariner. We are told that that record was destroyed after 31 days—16 February. Sir George says that the officer insists that someone was allocated to attend, but he cannot remember who. When Mr. Mariner called at Enfield police station and expressed his intense distress and anger to the officer in charge—I have his name—those records, I am told, were still in Enfield police station. How was it possible for those records to be destroyed after that officer was fully alerted to the distress of my constituent? Will the Minister attempt to give an answer about that problem?

At no stage had there been any attempt to contact Mr. Mariner after the trial, no moves to confirm the hurried assumption that he was no longer living at 72 Park Avenue. I am mindful that Enfield police station is as busy a station as one will find, and I am aware that this matter may not figure high in the order of priorities of a busy station with hard-pressed officers, but I suggest that, far too often, police officers are less then sensitive to the fact that what to the police is just one incident in a busy day is for members of the public a worrying, frightening personal burden. This is an illustration of less than adequate thought being given to a victim of violence.

Sir George Ogden told me that the charges were originally listed for hearing on 6 September 1979, but It was thought"— I repeat "It was thought"— at that stage that there would be guilty pleas to all charges, and, as Mr. Mariner was not required to attend, the officer in the case did not wish to trouble him unduly. How about letting Mr. Mariner decide for himself whether he wanted to attend? How about telling him, after 6 September, what was intended? To treat in such a cavalier manner a man whose life has been in grave danger is very shabby treatment indeed.

We now come to the trial. I am told that it was with little more than 12 hours' notice, overnight, that Enfield police were told that the case would be heard at the Central Criminal Court. I am further told that that is not unusual, due to pressure on the courts and the late opportunity to hear a case due to a late withdrawal. Surely our system of justice cannot be allowed to rest on such capricious whims of fortune. In this instance it led to the most unfortunate string of events. Will the Minister comment on that aspect of the matter?

The final aspect of this unhappy matter is the manner in which victims such as Mr. Mariner reach the end of their traumatic experience with the feeling that they are treated in a very offhand way by the police and the system.

Mr. Mariner sustained dreadful injuries. He was not advised of the court hearing. He was not advised of the second court hearing. He failed to obtain satisfactory answers to the extraordinary series of errors that led to the court being told that he had left his home. As a result, his attacker escaped two serious charges. He waited almost nine months, only to be told that no officer involved would face disciplinary charges.

I shall look directly at the Minister as I say my next few words. Mr. Mariner is not a vindictive man. He has not sought compensation. All that he wanted was a satisfactory explanation. His reply from the complaints board was: The Board agree with the Deputy Commissioner —namely, that no disciplinary action can be taken,— while sharing in his regret that circumstances should have conspired to produce a situation in which Mr. Mariner was bound to feel that he was treated with less than adequate understanding and consideration. Why not state that Mr. Mariner was treated with less than adequate understanding and consideration? Why not express regret that he had been treated in that way? Why not use the word "sorry" and apologise? Sir Robert Mark had something to say about that aspect of the complaints procedures.

I acknowledge that the board was in some difficulty, largely because of the curious circumstances arising from the destruction of the vital record, but I consider that relations between public and police would be much improved if police procedures allowed more sympathetic letters to be sent to complainants I am not in any way asking for admissions of either guilt or error that have not been borne out by an investigation. Sympathy for Mr. Mariner from the Minister would do much to restore his faith in our system of redressing grievances.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells 1:02, 22 May 1981

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) for having raised and explained so thoroughly an issue that he properly brought to the House on behalf of his constituent, Mr. Mariner. To express sympathy for Mr. Mariner, as he asked, is much the easiest part of my task today, and one which I fulfil readily.

Mr. Mariner may feel that he has been treated in a manner that falls far short of satisfactory. I hope that it is some mollification to him to know that he still lives in a country where such a matter can be brought to the Parliament of the land and be answered by a Minister of the Crown. I readily acknowledge that it is my responsibility to do that.

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about the handling of his constituent's case. I can well understand Mr. Mariner's feelings on discovering that the court had disposed of the assault part of the case against his assailant without conviction and, therefore, without imposing a penalty because Mr. Mariner—through no fault of his own—had not been in court to give evidence. Although it will be of little comfort to Mr. Mariner, I think that the police are also less than satisfied with the outcome.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the Metropolitan Police force in general, and about the officers of Y division who serve his constituency. Those observations will be noted and received with gratitude. I am sure that they are well deserved.

The hon. Gentleman put the case clearly, and I think that it will assist the House if I explain the background. A number of factors combined to produce an unfortunate result. There is a large backlog of cases awaiting trial in the Crown courts. That in itself is a product of the increasing number of crimes committed, especially in the Metropolis and in the South-East. The courts are under pressure.

Secondly, the case in which Mr. Mariner was involved could not be finally set down by the court authorities for trial for some considerable time. In the event, the police were given less than 24 hours in which to warn the witnesses to attend court. I understand from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that their efforts to notify Mr. Mariner were not successful. In the absence of Mr. Mariner's evidence, the accused person's plea of not guilty to the assault side of the case was accepted.

I understand also from the Commissioner that the prosecution's request for an adjournment for the case to be tried was refused by the judge, but that before disposing of the case the judge commented that if a conviction had been secured the sentence that he might have thought appropriate for that offence would have made little difference to the total penalty imposed in respect of the other offences to which the accused had already pleaded guilty, in respect of which he was sentenced to a total of two years' imprisonment. From this I deduce that a concurrent sentence would probably have been imposed so that the man would have served no more, or little more, than two years in all.

The judge also refused an application by counsel for the prosecution for compensation to be granted to Mr. Mariner in respect of the attempted burglary and the injury that he sustained. In doing so, however, he made no criticism of the police for the failure to bring Mr. Mariner to court. These matters of judicial discretion are entirely for the court to consider and decide. It would not be appropriate for me to make any comment on them.

As hon. Members are aware, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has no power to investigate complaints against the police. However, Parliament has provided for an independent system of investigation of complaints made against the police as a safeguard against the Executive leaning, for example, upon a proper investigation of matters that might prove to be embarrassing. I am certain that that is a right and proper piece of legislation for Parliament to have passed.

Under the Police Act 1964 and the Police Act 1976 responsibility rests with the chief officer of police concerned, the Director of Public Prosecutions where the complaint might involve a possible criminal offence, and the Police Complaints Board. Accordingly, as the hon. Gentleman has said, when he wrote to the Home Secretary complaining on Mr. Mariner's behalf about the Metropolitan Police, he was correctly advised by my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State of the relevant statutory procedures and advised that he should forward the complaints to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. In other words, he was told that the Home Secretary, to whom the hon. Gentleman had naturally written, had no jurisdiction to investigate the matter.

I understand from the Commissioner that the subsequent investigation established that steps had been taken to warn Mr. Mariner to attend court once the date of the trial was made known to the officer in the case, late the previous day. Two officers made three calls at his house during the evening but were unable to obtain a reply. They gained the impression that the house was empty. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said about none of the neighbours recalling any conversation with a police officer at that time. However, one way or another the officers gained the impression that the house was empty.

On the third visit, it was thought too late to disturb the neighbours with inquiries. The officer considered that to dispose of the matter merely by leaving a note would not have been satisfactory. She decided to call again later but then herself became involved in an arrest and was unable to return. However, she said that she made arrangements for someone to come the following morning. The officer whose duty it was to assign someone to attend Mr. Mariner's house in the morning said that he did so and that the officer concerned reported being unable to gain a response.

I understand that it has not been possible to identify and interview that officer, who was the last officer in the chain, as the assigning officer cannot remember who it was and as the relevant records have been destroyed. There is nothing sinister in that destruction. During the period in question the police station concerned was taking part in a pilot scheme in preparation for the adoption throughout the Metropolitan Police district of a computerised system of recording messages, allocating them to officers to deal with and noting the outcome. Records of those messages and the associated action were kept for 31 days and then destroyed. Their destruction was a design feature of the pilot scheme, but I understand that, as a result of the difficulty experienced in this case, the period of retention has been extended.

I noted the point raised by the hon. Member, that when Mr. Mariner made his first complaint at Enfield police station, that was well within the period of 31 days, during which time, under the operation of the system, those records were retained. Therefore, it must follow, as the hon. Gentleman said, that any record taken by the computer would have been available at that time, had it been consulted. That must follow if the system had operated and if the request had been recorded. I make no bones about that. Therefore, I believe that either it was on the record but was not consulted or it was not on the record. That represents the alternatives which are available. When the matter assumed a more serious aspect for those in authority, once the matter had been taken up by the hon. Gentleman, unfortunately by that time the system had ensured that the records were destroyed. I cannot take the matter further. The hon. Gentleman has made a sound point.

Consequently, in the absence of records, it was only by interviewing all the officers on duty at the police station on the evening in question that the two who visited Mr. Mariner's address were identified. Similarly, the officers who had been on duty the following morning were also interviewed, but it was not possible to establish who, if anyone, had been asked to call on Mr. Mariner. In the circumstances, without evidence it was not possible to prove a disciplinary offence against any individual officer. I understand that.

Consequently, the deputy commissioner considered, as I believe the facts obliged him to do, that no individual officer could be identified as guilty of neglect or other conduct which could be made the subject of disciplinary charges. He so informed the Police Complaints Board in submitting to it the report of the investigation and the supporting papers in the case.

I emphasise that the Police Complaints Board is wholly independent of the Metropolitan Police or of any police body. Its purpose is to provide an independent review of the decision of a chief officer of police as to whether disciplinary action should be taken against any police officers. That is worth emphasising in relation to the concluding remarks of the hon. Gentleman, when he said that he felt that the Police Complaints Board could have said that it was sorry. In the correspondence cited by the hon. Gentleman, Sir George Ogden made it clear on behalf of the complaints board that he understood and sympathised with the feelings of Mr. Mariner. However, it was not for the Police Complaints Board to say that it was sorry because it is merely an investigating body and totally independent of the police. I hope that that clears up that aspect.

The Police Complaints Board agreed with the deputy commissioner's view, and the deputy chairman subsequently wrote fully to the hon. Gentleman. Both the deputy commissioner and the board very much regretted that circumstances should have combined to produce a situation in which Mr. Mariner was bound to feel that he was treated with less than adequate understanding and consideration and, moreover, that justice had not fully been done. From what I have said I hope that it is plain that I share their regrets. I regret that a combination of circumstances, the precise nature of which will now never be identified, resulted in Mr. Mariner having a perfectly proper sense of grievance and that the case of alleged assault went, so to speak, by default.

But, however regrettable that may be, there is no way now to reopen the matter. Nor, I am afraid, is there anything more that I can say about the outcome of the investigation into Mr. Mariner's complaints against the police. By reason of the independent statutory complaints procedure, the Home Secretary has no power to intervene in decisions reached by the chief officer, the Police Complaints Board or the Director of Public Prosecutions as the result of investigation of a complaint; nor would it be right for my right hon. Friend to comment on a decision taken by the Police Complaints Board in relation to an individual complaint.

I turn now to the other main aspect of the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman—the question of securing some improvement in the arrangements for listing cases in the criminal courts, bearing in mind the need to warn witnesses. As the hon. Gentleman fairly acknowledged, listing is within the responsibilities of the Department of the Lord Chancellor and not the Home Office. I understand that in the Central Criminal Court—the Old Bailey, the court concerned in Mr. Mariner's case—the date of hearing of a heavy case is usually fixed in advance and all involved are notified. That cannot, however, be done in all cases without considerable loss of court time, and, of course, the more court time that is lost the more time is taken for individual cases to reach their hearing date.

Most cases, therefore, appear in a warned list a certain time before the hearing, and those involved are thus put on notice that the hearing is imminent and that they may be called to attend court at any time in the period of warning. Here I should say that I understand that the police concerned in Mr. Mariner's case undertood at the time of such notice that there were to be pleas of guilty to all the charges, so they took no steps further to warn Mr. Mariner for his future attendance at court.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman referring to the September or the January episode? From correspondence, it appears that Mr. Mariner was not called in September because the police understood that there was to be a plea of guilty. We are concerned with the warning and the action of the police in the period prior to the 16 January appearance at the Old Bailey.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

At this juncture I am referring to the September period, when the matter first came up. Where it is understood that an accused person is to plead guilty, witnesses are not warned to attend, because oral evidence on the facts of the case is not necessary and is seldom taken. That course is normally followed to save witnesses the worry, inconvenience and expense of attending court.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

I fully understand that witnesses may not be required by the police in such circumstances, but if I had been involved in such a traumatic matter, even though the police had told me that my presence was not required, I should like to know when the man who had harmed me was to be in the dock, so that I could be in court to watch the proceedings. Material witnesses should be told when the case is being heard, and that they may attend if they wish.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It plainly is possible. I have no doubt that what he has said will be noted by the Commissioner of Police and also elsewhere. I do not think that I can say more than that.

I understand also that the listing arrangements at the Central Criminal Court have recently been reviewed. A warned list is now issued a fortnight in advance, showing all cases expected to be listed for hearing in the ensuing four weeks. Witnesses in those cases are told that they may be called upon at any time in the four-week period to attend court on one day's notice. Great efforts are being made by the judges and staff of the court to reduce its backlog of cases awaiting trial. To maintain the necessary pace of business, it is necessary to fix the date of trial only a short time in advance, but the system of warned lists and the consideration that the court staff give to personal difficulties are intended to reduce inconvenience to members of the public as far as possible.

Efforts are also made, as far as possible, to avoid listing cases for hearing when there is little possibility of their being reached that day—with the result that those concerned, including witnesses, attend court unnecessarily—while striving to provide sufficient work to ensure that courts do not stand idle at a time when strenuous efforts are being made to reduce the backlog of cases awaiting trial. To achieve these aims, it is impossible to settle court lists earlier than one day in advance. This in turn means that it is not possible to give the parties, their legal representatives and their witnesses more than one day's notice of the date of hearing.

Nevertheless, I fully recognise that the position is far from ideal. It is a consequence of the pressure of business in the higher courts, which is particularly acute in the South-Eastern circuit. This is a problem of which all those involved in the criminal justice system are very conscious, not least my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. It has been the subject of discussions involving the judiciary, the police and the legal profession, among others. The Lord Chancellor's Department, in consultation with the Home Office, is continually looking —with some recent success—for ways of improving the speed and efficiency with which criminal cases are processed while protecting the proper interests of both the defence and the prosecution.

I realise that this will make no difference to Mr. Mariner's position, but I hope that it shows that we are not complacent about the problems that arise from the present excessive pressures on the courts, and that we take seriously the question of securing improvements designed, among other things to overcome the kind of difficulties that occurred in the case involving the hon. Member's constituent, Mr. Mariner.

I hope that, having heard the way in which the matter has been opened up and dealt with, the hon. Gentlemen will now feel that at least the matter has been fully investigated and explained. It was regrettable, and I trust that such a thing will not happen again.