Murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher

– in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 22nd February 2022.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gareth Johnson.)

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing) 7:26 pm, 22nd February 2022

May I begin by paying tribute to and thanking all the police officers who at this very moment are policing our streets and putting themselves at risk and in danger to protect others and to keep us all safe?

I declare an interest in this matter: in January 1972, I joined the Metropolitan police as a police cadet, on the same day as John Murray, who features prominently in this speech. We trained together for over a year and became friends. Mr Murray is present this evening in the Under Gallery. In addition, I was a serving detective sergeant in the Metropolitan police on duty and nearby on the day Yvonne was murdered.

In 1984 Yvonne Fletcher was a 25-year-old police officer who had served in the Metropolitan police for seven years and had recently become engaged to be married. In the words of her late mother, Queenie,

“Yvonne loved being a policewoman. It was her life.”

On 17 April 1984, Yvonne and her policing partner and friend PC John Murray had paraded for duty at Bow Street police station expecting to undertake their normal duties as community police officers in the Covent Garden area. However, instead, they were requested by the duty inspector to assist in the policing of a political demonstration which was expected to take place outside the Libyan People’s Bureau in St James Square. The bureau, formerly known as the Libyan embassy, had been taken over and was under the control of a new revolutionary committee consisting of four individuals, including a senior official known as Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk.

Just after 10 am, about 70 anti-Gaddafi demonstrators congregated behind barriers on the pavement directly opposite the bureau. WPC Fletcher and PC Murray were positioned on the road in St James Square with their backs to the bureau and facing the demonstrators. At about 10.20 am, two windows on the first floor of the bureau opened, and Sterling sub-machine-guns were pointed out of those windows and opened fire towards the crowd of demonstrators and the police officers standing between the bureau and the demonstrators. Yvonne, who had her back to the bureau, was struck in the back by a bullet and fell to the ground. PC Murray, who was standing next to her, immediately went to her assistance and with colleagues moved her to the safety of a nearby street. An ambulance attended and PC Murray accompanied Yvonne in the ambulance, where it was clear that she had sustained injuries that were likely to prove fatal. At that time, PC Murray promised Yvonne that he would find whoever was responsible. That promise became the basis for the campaign for justice for Yvonne that Mr Murray has continued tirelessly and relentlessly for 37 years.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which I know carries great personal meaning for him as a former officer with the Met. PC Fletcher unfortunately paid the ultimate price in the name of public service, and it is shameful that even now, more than three decades on, the onus remains on her former colleagues and not on the Government to continue to fight to hold those responsible to account. I am keen to know whether the Government intend to open an inquiry into the matter, which I am sure my hon. Friend will push for tonight.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing)

I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

Yvonne was conveyed to Westminster Hospital, but sadly she succumbed to her injuries on the operating table about an hour after arriving at the hospital.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I have studied the matter at length and must say that the bravery of that lady after she was wounded was astonishing. I understand that all she was concerned about was the safety of other people. What service. How wonderful for the Metropolitan police.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for holding a previous Adjournment debate on this matter.

The fact that the shots that murdered WPC Fletcher and injured others were fired from the Libyan People’s Bureau is not disputed and is supported by overwhelming eyewitness accounts, videos and forensic evidence. Immediately following the events of 17 April, Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk, along with other members of the bureau, was deported to Libya. Mr Mabrouk was subsequently allowed to return to this country by the British Government and in 2011 he settled permanently in Reading. As there was evidence that he was involved in a conspiracy, we must ask why he was ever allowed to return.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

In Northern Ireland, we have had more than our full share of murder and heartache. It must be remembered that our officers, past and present, offer to pay the ultimate sacrifice in their service. The fact that WPC Fletcher was willing to sacrifice her life will never make that sacrifice acceptable and negate the need for justice for her family. When the hon. Gentleman asks for a public inquiry, I want him to know that I fully support him.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will address that matter later in my speech.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

As the hon. Member—my friend—knows, I have been involved in this issue for many years; before that, Sir Teddy Taylor was trying to get justice for the murder of Yvonne Fletcher. The question I have to ask—I asked it when I was the police Minister and I have asked it in parliamentary questions—is: why was that man allowed to come in and out of the country? He was not just a suspect in the Yvonne Fletcher murder but accused of other criminal activities, and yet he walked in and out of this country. That is why an inquiry is vital.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree. Hopefully we will get answers to those questions.

In 2015, Mr Mabrouk was arrested by the Metropolitan police following an investigation of money laundering and in connection with the murder of Yvonne. Following a two-year investigation, it was announced by the Crown Prosecution Service in 2017 that no prosecution was possible due to evidence withheld by the Government on the grounds of national security not being available to it. Mr Mabrouk was therefore released without charge.

There is no suggestion that Saleh Mabrouk fired the weapons that killed Yvonne. He was in police custody—perhaps intentionally and conveniently—when the shots were fired. However, there is significant evidence that he, as a senior member of the revolutionary committee responsible for the control of the people’s bureau, was involved in the events that led to the shootings taking place. He is a clearly a major suspect in a criminal conspiracy that led to the death of Yvonne.

Following the failure of the Government to support a criminal prosecution, the only avenue available to bring Mr Mabrouk to justice of any kind was for John Murray to initiate a civil court action against him. Accordingly, in November 2018, while Mabrouk was still resident in this country, John Murray lodged a civil court action against him in the High Court for the nominal sum of £1. The civil court action was brought primarily to bring the evidence of Mabrouk’s involvement in the death of Yvonne into the public domain and to prove that he was involved in, and liable for, Yvonne’s death. Very shortly after the case was filed on 9 January 2019, the Home Secretary wrote to Mr Mabrouk at his address in Libya informing him that he was excluded from the UK on the grounds that his presence here would not be conducive to good public order due to his suspected involvement in war crimes against humanity in Libya.

On 1 July 2020, I asked a question at Prime Minister’s questions in relation to reopening the criminal investigation into the murder of Yvonne. The Prime Minister, in response, said:

“The murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher was sickening and cowardly.”

He agreed to meet me to

“see what we can do to take the matter forward.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 327.]

We met in the Prime Minister’s office on 29 September 2020. My memory of that meeting is very clear. I asked the Prime Minister a series of questions, the most significant of which was: would he carry out a review of whether evidence, which had been withheld by the Government from the Crown Prosecution Service during the criminal investigation into Saleh Mabrouk on the grounds of national security in 2017, could now be released as Saleh Mabrouk had now left the country and had been excluded from returning by the Home Office. He replied that yes, he would do that and would reply to me.

On 10 November 2021, the civil court case brought by Mr Murray against Saleh Mabrouk took place at the Royal Courts of Justice and was presided over by an experienced senior judge, the honourable Justice Martin Spencer. Despite being properly served with notice of the court proceedings, Saleh Mabrouk failed to respond. He was also given the opportunity to appear by video link, but again no response was received. The trial judge’s conclusion was that Mr Mabrouk had chosen to play no part in the trial, and that the trial could fairly proceed in his absence. Mr Justice Spencer delivered his judgment on 16 November 2021, which runs to 25 printed pages.

These are just a few of the highlights from that judgment. Mr Justice Spencer said:

“I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that there existed a common design to respond to the planned anti-Gaddafi protest by using violence, and specifically by firing shots at or in the direction of the protestors. Witness statements and statements made by Mr Mabrouk demonstrate not only his knowledge of the common design, but also his views of the inevitability of that response.”

He quoted Mr Mabrouk as saying: “We have guns here and there’s going to be fighting,” and said that:

“This is a statement confirming a plan to shoot protestors.”

The judge went on to say:

“Coupled with his position as one of the few leaders of the Revolutionary Committee controlling the People’s Bureau, it amounts to confirmation of the common design to fire upon the demonstrators, in which he was an active participant. On that basis, I am satisfied that on the balance of probabilities the defendant”—

Saleh Mabrouk—

“is jointly liable for the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher on the doctrine of common design.”

That was a hugely significant judgment delivered by a senior High Court judge, having heard evidence from witnesses over three days. It was clear that Saleh Mabrouk was involved in, and jointly responsible, for the death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. It is without doubt a landmark victory secured as a direct result of John Murray’s determination, courage and commitment to seek justice for his murdered friend and colleague.

I ask the Minister to address the following questions. Given that the evidence presented and accepted at the High Court has been available for over 37 years, how can the Government justify that it was left to John Murray, himself a victim in this case, to bring Saleh Mabrouk to justice in a civil court, rather than see him prosecuted in a criminal court? Will the Government undertake to review whether the evidence withheld from the Crown Prosecution Service in 2017 can now be safely released, as requested by me and agreed by the Prime Minister at our meeting on 29 September 2020? Has Saleh Mabrouk ever been provided with a letter of comfort or letter of assurance by the British Government, which guarantees that he will never be prosecuted in a British criminal court?

Will the Government acknowledge that the judgment delivered by Mr Justice Spencer confirms Mr Mabrouk’s culpability in the murder of Yvonne Fletcher, and in the light of that, what action are the Government and the Metropolitan police now taking to bring Saleh Mabrouk to justice by requesting his extradition from Libya to face a criminal prosecution for the murder of WPC Fletcher? Will the Government now reconsider the need for a public inquiry into the events surrounding the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher and subsequently?

Before the Minister responds, I pay tribute to John Murray, who, for the past 37 years, has worked tirelessly and relentlessly to achieve justice for Yvonne and without whose efforts the callous murder of a young policewoman, for which no one has ever been charged, may have faded in people’s memories. I also thank the police officers who have served for their service—some of whom are present in the Public Gallery this evening—and those who have helped and supported John through these incredibly difficult years to keep the memory of Yvonne and the campaign for justice for Yvonne alive.

Finally, in addition to seeking answers to those questions, my hope, in bringing this debate to the Chamber this evening, is that it will send a powerful message to the Government and to Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk that the murder of Yvonne has not been, and will never be, forgotten. The campaign for justice for Yvonne continues. It will never give up; it is not going away; and it will continue the fight, by any legal means possible, to finally achieve justice for Yvonne.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 7:41 pm, 22nd February 2022

I congratulate Allan Dorans on securing this debate and recognise his indefatigable efforts to secure justice for PC Fletcher and her colleagues, friends and family. I thank him for the advance indication of his questions, which I will come to in a moment, and join him in celebrating the dedication and perseverance of PC Fletcher’s friend and colleague, John Murray—most recently, for bringing the case to the civil court, as well as for his continuous efforts ever since PC Fletcher’s death. They are testament to the high regard in which PC Fletcher continues to be held to this day. I also pay tribute to the hard work and commitment that the Metropolitan police has shown over a prolonged period in its efforts to bring to justice those involved in the murder of PC Fletcher. Her death was an appalling tragedy and my thoughts remain with all who loved her.

The murder of PC Fletcher was one of the most notorious crimes of the past 40 years, representing an act of state-sponsored terrorism that resulted in the fatal wounding of a serving police officer on the streets of London. The hon. Member shared in great detail the findings of the civil case of 16 November 2021, which found that Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk was jointly liable for the killing of PC Yvonne Fletcher.

Following the conclusion of that case, many, including the hon. Member, have been lobbying for a criminal case to be brought against Mabrouk. In 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service made the decision not to pursue a prosecution in this case, and I understand that that decision was disappointing and frustrating for PC Fletcher’s family, friends and colleagues. It remains, however, an operational matter for the Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service to consider any criminal prosecution.

It is important to note the differences in making a finding on liability in a civil court as opposed to in a criminal court. A civil court is required to make its findings on the balance of probabilities. That means that a court is satisfied, on the evidence available, that the occurrence of the event was more likely than not. A higher threshold is imposed in criminal cases, which requires an allegation to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. That means that the jury must be sure that the person is guilty. It is therefore not by any means automatic that Mr Murray’s success in the High Court would or could translate into a successful criminal prosecution.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

The Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police can make such a decision only if they have the evidence that the Government have, which they have not handed over to the CPS. Will the Minister answer the question about whether or not the information that the Government have will be passed over to the CPS so that it can make that decision?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I will come to that point in a moment, if I may.

Following the Prime Minister’s meeting with the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock in September 2020, the Home Office contacted the CPS in December of that year to ask whether it had received any more information on the case; it had not. The position remains the same as in 2017, which is that the CPS is not currently considering charges in the case. As with any case referred to the CPS by the police, a decision to prosecute is made in accordance with the code for Crown prosecutors, and a case must meet the evidential and public interest stages of the code test. In accordance with the code, the CPS will consider any new information referred to it by the police in relation to the case.

On the hon. Member’s question about evidence being withheld, it has been the long-standing policy of successive Governments not to comment on the existence or otherwise of intelligence material. I am therefore unable to confirm or deny the existence of any material that may or may not relate to the case.

The hon. Member asked for confirmation of whether the Government issued a comfort letter to Saleh Mabrouk. We are not aware of any evidence to suggest that any such letter ever existed or was ever issued.

In response to the hon. Member’s question regarding the extradition of Mr Mabrouk, the House should know that whether an extradition application is sought in any case is an operational decision for law enforcement and prosecution agencies. The UK Government, as a matter of long-standing policy and practice, will neither confirm nor deny that an extradition request has been made or received until such time as an arrest has been made in relation to the request.

On the question of a public inquiry, I am aware of the strong feeling in this case and of the early-day motion that the hon. Member tabled calling for such an inquiry. While of course we recognise the strength of feeling that the case evokes, the Government are not currently considering an inquiry into the death of PC Fletcher.

In closing, I would like to state once more that my thoughts are with PC Fletcher’s family, friends and colleagues. They continue to have my deepest sympathy. I, like many, have often stopped at the memorial stone in St James’s Square to consider a moment in our history that had a huge impact on many of us who were around at the time. I would also like to recognise and pay tribute again to the efforts of John Murray and the courage and resilience that he has shown in seeking justice for PC Fletcher. Finally, I thank the hon. Member for securing this debate. The murder of PC Fletcher was a heinous act that shocked our country to its core, and she will never be forgotten.