To ask the Attorney-General when he last met the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the investigation by City of London police into telephone calls made by Dr. Frank Skuse during his appearance as a witness at the Old Bailey in the case of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.
I will undertake to remind the hon. Gentleman of the course that the inquiry has taken. On 17 March he made the assertion that Dr. Skuse had been in touch with the former Detective Sergeant Paton in the course of his evidence at the Court of Appeal hearing. My hon. Friend the Minister of State advised the hon. Gentleman to place any evidence he might have of any possible irregularity before the police. It was not until 3 June, in response to a request made on 9 May from the Commissioner of the City of London police for the source of the information, that the hon. Gentleman identified the source of his information. That turned out to be somebody who, in turn, had it from somebody else, anti he has refused to identify that person. Therefore, the inquiries have come to an end.
On 20 June, when I Last answered questions on these matters, I said that I deprecated as being very harmful, determined attempts, as they are seen to be, to undermine confidence in the administration of justice. I reiterate that opinion today in response to my hon. Friend.
I recall that the Court of Appeal, in its judgment delivered in February, had this to say about the scientific evidence to which much of the inquiry and the fresh evidence had related. I shall cite what was said by the Court of Appeal:
We repeat the question which we posed for ourselves before considering the impact of the fresh evidence and answer it without any hesitation as follows: nothing has emerged from this mass of material which causes us to doubt that the scientific evidence proves that one or more of these appellants had been in recent contact with explosives.
The conclusion of the judgment states:
As has happened before in References by the Home Secretary to this Court under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, the longer the hearing has gone on, the more convinced the court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct.
We have no doubt that these convictions were both safe and satisfactory.
As to whether any witness at the main trial or at the hearing before the Court of Appeal gave conflicting
evidence in any regard, each of those matters was considered in a hearing before the Court of Appeal, which lasted longer than any similar hearing. That is the measure of the confidence that the country should have in the outcome.
Is not the fact of this case that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary exercised his powers to refer the case to the Court of Appeal? Having heard all the evidence that the men's legal representatives wanted to put before the Court of Appeal, the court decided that the convictions were safe and that there was no reason to interfere with them. Having regard to the length of time that the Court of Appeal took in hearing the case, is it not now time to say, once and for all, that there is absolutely no reason why those convictions should in any way be questioned or interfered with?
It is very important to remind ourselves that every opportunity was given to those who take the view of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), that there was something unsafe in the original convictions, to call fresh evidence and review the previous evidence before the Court of Appeal. I have read, because I thought that it would be helpful to do so, the opinion of the Court of Appeal on that fresh evidence. Accordingly, to keep on and on seeking to undermine the reliability of the conclusion of the Court of Appeal without further evidence is very harmful to public confidence.