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

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

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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.