Birmingham Pub Bombings

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th January 1990.

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Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood 12:00 am, 25th January 1990

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to complete his consideration of the new evidence on the Birmingham pub bombings case.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I am considering the further material that has been presented to me by a solicitor on behalf of the Birmingham Six, and will decide as soon as possible whether it justifies any intervention on my part.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his answer. I very much hope that he will consider the matter with an open mind, in order to secure justice. These six men were convicted on the basis of two pieces of evidence, the—first, forensic and the second, confessions. By the time that the case returned to the Court of Appeal last time, it was clear that the forensic evidence was rubbish and did not stand, so we are left with only the confessions. The court said that to believe that the men were innocent, it would have to believe—[Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, do you think that you could secure order?

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

The hon. Lady is going a little wide. She must ask a question.

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

Order. The hon. Lady must ask a question.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am completely in order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you will reconsider what I have said. It is a serious matter and Conservative Members should consider it seriously.

The second piece of evidence was based on confessions. The Court of Appeal said that to believe that the men were innocent, it would have to believe that a large number of policemen colluded and fabricated—

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

Order. The hon. Lady must ask a question. She is outlining a case.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am asking a question.

The Home Secretary knows that the serious crime squad has now been disbanded and that 11 of the 20 men involved in questioning those men have been disciplined. Hardly anyone in Birmingham believes that they are guilty—[Interruption.]

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

Order. The hon. Lady really must ask a question. It is not fair to other hon. Members.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am asking a question, Mr. Speaker.

Will the Home Secretary assure the House that he is interested in securing justice for the six men, and in vindicating our system of justice, as its reputation is being eroded in Britain and internationally by the effects of the case?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Like my predecessor, I shall always be prepared to consider whether any new evidence or consideration of substance may cast doubt on the safety of a conviction. In that light, I am looking at the material furnished by the defendants' solicitor. However, it is an important principle that questions of guilt and innocence are decided by the courts, free of political interference. It is also important to bear in mind that the matter has already been considered at great length by the Court of Appeal, which examined the circumstances in which the alleged confessions were made and the forensic evidence to which the hon. Lady referred.

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear it in mind that many people in Birmingham still regard that crime, which killed and injured so many people, with utter horror? There have already been two inquiries and two appeals. One inquiry looked into the matter with great care. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is outrageous that persons such as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who claim to have more evidence, have repeatedly refused to make that evidence available to the police or to the relevant authorities?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend will not be surprised—and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is present to hear it—that I find it quite extraordinary that anyone who criticises the convictions should be unwilling to co-operate with the police and to furnish the police with the evidence that he says casts doubt on the convictions. I hope that even at this late stage the hon. Member for Sunderland, South will realise how thoroughly irresponsible is the attitude that he has adopted.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

The Home Secretary is obviously unaware that at the request of his predecessor I was interviewed for four hours by two senior civil servants at the Home Office and by an assistant chief constable of the West Midlands, who told me that he was dragged here by the scruff of the neck by the Home Office. May I put it to the Home Secretary that the fact that the men were convicted partly on the basis of confessions obtained while they were in the custody of the West Midlands serious crime squad and that officers of the West Midlands serious crime squad, including a number of those involved in the original investigation, have since been caught red-handed forging confessions, without any other evidence, is sufficient reason to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was mere flannel, because he failed to address himself to the point that I was making. He says that he knows who committed those diabolical offences, yet when asked to disclose their names, he flatly refuses to do so. He knows perfectly well that an inquiry is being carried out in the west midlands by West Yorkshire police, who are considering what has occurred since 1986, which gave rise to the complaints leading to the inquiry. I have made it plain on many occasions that if the Yorkshire police find any evidence or matters that lead them to believe that they should consider earlier matters, they are perfectly at liberty to do so.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the European Parliament continues to make inquiries into matters such as this, it will give itself a bad name?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I gather that the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament has not yet decided whether to delve into this matter. It is absolutely certain that it is entirely outside the competence of the European Parliament and nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

If the West Yorkshire police, who are inquiring into the conduct of the West Midlands crime squad since 1986, discover that since the offences have been committed by officers who were previously involved in the investigation of the Birmingham pub bombings, will that, in the Home Secretary's view, justify a new inquiry, because it certainly will in our view?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

If new matters or considerations are put before me that may cast doubt on the safety of the convictions, I shall look into them.

Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the people of Birmingham have put up with the arguments for and against in this case for 15 years, but the issue still will not be decided until all the evidence is available from all the sources, and is not withheld, and a decision is made on whether the case against the Birmingham Six is to be upheld?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

The case against the Birmingham Six was upheld; a jury of the land found against them. I remind my hon. Friend that as a result of an inquiry carried out by Devon and Cornwall police, the case was passed to the Court of Appeal, which carried out a most protracted inquiry. Literally days were spent considering the strength of the forensic evidence, and further days were spent considering whether the confessions could be relied on. Therefore, the House should bear those matters in mind before leaping to conclusions. I have said—and I say again—that I know my duty. If new matters and considerations are put before me that might cast doubt on the convictions, I shall take the appropriate action.