Amendment 292E

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (10th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 22 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative 10:30, 22 November 2021

My Lords, I have two points to raise. Following the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, I start by saying that this is a sensitive subject. I agree with him that, even though this is the day of burial of Sir David Amess, and he is in our thoughts, I do not wish to criticise the police and their conduct on that day or talk about that incident. I want to talk at a slightly more abstract level. I appreciate that anyone in charge of the crime scene on that day faced a difficult decision and it is not for me to criticise what they did at that time; that is not my point.

My first point is to stand back and ask a more abstract question: who owns a death? The assumption, especially when a death is violent or in emergency circumstances, is that the death is owned by the state—by the police and the ambulance service primarily. They are in charge, it belongs to them and everybody else must have permission to be admitted. Even the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds sort of admitted that and gave that point away by saying that police needed better training to understand why and when they should admit people to the scene.

I would go a little further and say that the claims of the police and ambulance service have to be understood and considered in the light of other claims. Those other claims include the claims of the family and the dying person themselves as to who owns what is going on and who has a say. If we simply collapse into thinking that it is just a matter of getting better police procedure, we are conceding the major point. Of course it is in the public interest that a criminal who has killed people should be brought to justice, that their trial should be fair and the evidence preserved. But that is not the only interest in a death. It is not the only subject and there are other claims we should consider.

This afternoon, as some noble Lords know, there was an Oral Question on this topic in my name on the Order Paper. One noble Lord genuinely asked: has this subject ever come up before? I think he meant: has it ever come to a ministerial desk before? The answer of my noble friend was that she thought not—that the Amess case had brought it to public attention, but it had not really come up before. However, the real answer to that question is, “Yes, yes, yes”. It has come up before, for example at the Manchester Arena, and countless times in care homes over the last year throughout this country; it just does not rise to the level of Ministers’ desks.

Here, I have to admit that I have taken some advice from a distinguished academic specialising in emergency response, and I am told by her that this is partly because there is indeed police training on this subject, but it is primarily focused on how to explain to the families afterwards why the priest was not allowed in. That is the main focus of police training, rather than training them to think of the circumstances in which they might relinquish their claim—valid though it is—in order to respect the claims of others. That is my first point, and I think we should reflect on that.

My second point is a little more practical: we can do this better if we want to. We have done it better in the past. I was told today, again by the same distinguished academic, that there are lovely pictures from the Second World War of ARP wardens going into bomb sites—arduous and horrible work—immediately after a bombing to try to rescue the dying and recover the dead. They were accompanied by clergy with “ARP clergy” written on their tin hats, because it was assumed that these people were correctly and properly embedded in any team that was going to identify, and to find and rescue, people who were dying in the wake of a bomb. Of course, in those circumstances, there was no question of identifying the perpetrator. The perpetrator was well known and was not going to be brought to criminal trial on that basis.

I am treading on slightly uncertain ground for me here, but if you go to other countries—to Israel, for example—I am told that where there are bombs and emergency responses, there are people who are again embedded with the police. They would not be clergy because Judaism operates in a different way; there is no function, as I understand it, reserved to a clergyman in Judaism that cannot be carried out by a lay person. Although the approach to death is slightly different—it is not a question of last rites for the dying, but more a case of the proper treatment of the dead—these people are embedded with the police and it is all well understood. My noble friend Lord Moynihan, asking a supplementary question earlier today, drew attention to practice in certain US states. Again, there is much better relationship, a working relationship, between the police and what are called faith groups, in exactly these circumstances.

That illustrates the two points. First, we need to ask ourselves some radical questions about who is charge in these circumstances, and who has a claim—not just as a petitioner, merely standing at the door asking—to be there at the death. Secondly, if we want to, we can do better. That is why, today, I asked my noble friend if she would at least undertake a study that looked at practice in other countries and jurisdictions to see how they do it and what we can learn from that. I think we would benefit greatly from that. I do not ask any more.