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Dr. Frank Skuse

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:22 am on 16th February 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 12:22 am, 16th February 1988

The allegations made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) appear to have been made with no evidence at all, for no evidence has been produced. They appear to represent a distortion both of any role that any of the people whom he has named under the cloak of parliamentary privilege might have had and of the Court of Appeal's judgment in the Birmingham pub bombings case. The hon. Gentleman's attack on a member of the judiciary was totally inappropriate and wrong.

The defence had the opportunity to put before the court any evidence that it wished. The court gave the case careful consideration. It is not clear to me, nor to my hon. Friends, exactly what purpose the hon. Genetleman seeks to serve by using the cloak of parliamentary privilege to make entirely unsubstantiated allegations based on nothing more than his personal interpretation of some of the facts for which he has produced no evidence, even when he has been challenged. His attack on a member of the judiciary is entirely inappropriate for an hon. Member following the conventions of the House.

The hon. Gentleman has clearly not read the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case. He has distorted Dr. Skuse's role in the prosecution and chosen to ignore the corroboration that his evidence received at crucial points. The speech that the hon. Gentleman read at great speed, presumably as a trailer for a future book or television programme, was one of the worst and most wretched performances that I have ever heard in the House of Commons.

I shall give a few facts about the retirement of Dr. Frank Skuse, who, along with members of the judiciary and others, has been subjected to attacks by the hon. Gentleman under the cloak of parliamentary privilege.

Dr. Skuse joined the Home Office forensic science service in 1963 at the age of 28. After six years service he was promoted in 1969 to the next grade of principal scientific officer. It was in that grade that he passed the remainder of his career in the forensic science service. Over these years he developed a particular interest in arson and explosives. Throughout the 1970s Dr. Skuse's career followed a normal pattern, with him gaining experience in the matters in which he had developed his particular interests. It is unremarkable, therefore, that among the cases he handled was one that later became known as that of the Birmingham bombers. Dr. Skuse's career continued on these lines until the early 1980s, when his managers noted some falling off in his performance as a principal scientific officer.

It was that deterioration in performance, noted in a number of staff reports—[Interruption.] I am giving the facts and the evidence. I am not making unsubstantiated and wild allegations. That deterioration in performance led to an invitation to Dr. Skuse to consider early retirement. At the same time, it was made clear to Dr. Skuse that in view of his current performance the Department was bound to make moves to secure his compulsory retirement on grounds of limited efficiency. "Grounds of limited efficiency" is a perfectly ordinary term of art that is used in the Civil Service across all Departments. It is not something to be sneered at.