Dr. Alan Clift

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th March 1988.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 12:00 am, 17th March 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how long elapsed between the discovery that the Home Office forensic scientist Dr. Alan Clift was unsatisfactory and the first quashing of a conviction based on Dr. Clift's evidence.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Dr. Clift was suspended from duty on 9 September 1977, and on 8 June 1978 three men had their joint convictions for robbery and burglary quashed.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Before I call the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) I say again that the case of Dr. Skuse is sub judice and supplementary questions should be confined to events in which Dr. Alan Clift as involved, not to other matters.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Are there not remarkable similarities between the cases of the forensic scientists Dr. Clift and Dr. Skuse? Were not both retired early by the Home Office for unsound forensic work and, in Dr. Clift's case, did not Home Office procrastination mean that many innocent people had to wait a long time before they were released? Does not the same apply to Dr. Skuse? Does not the fact that the Home Office is not clear about the errors in his work confirm that many unsound judgments have taken place in the courts?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

The Home Office acted quickly after unsatisfactory reports about Dr. Clift's performance and he was retired on the date that I have just given. The hon. Gentleman really must recognise the improvements that have been made to Britain's forensic science service since 1979: first, by the introduction of continuous checking, including blind trials, by scientists from other areas; secondly, by a full review which was undertaken by scientists in 1986; and, thirdly, by the important oversight now given to the forensic science service under the chairmanship of Sir Ronald Mason FRS.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Is my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) not correct when he says that there are now increasing and uncanny echoes of the case of Dr. Alan Clift when we consider Dr. Frank Skuse? Is the Minister aware that, after the departure of Dr. Clift, no fewer than 16 cases were taken to the Court of Appeal and the sentences were quashed? Would it not be better for the public, the police and those who may be the innocent victims of mistaken forensic evidence if the Minister were to order a public inquiry now into the cases dealt with by Dr. Skuse?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

We should be concerned, not with echoes, but with evidence. If anyone has clear evidence of collusive or collaborative activity on the part of anyone, or of failures in a forensic scientist's judgment, that evidence or allegation should be taken to the police.