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Arrest, Camden Town

Volume 480: debated on Thursday 16 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

7.18 p.m.

I want to turn the attention of the House to another subject, which is of small importance in comparison with some of the matters which we discuss in this Chamber. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary to the Home Office for coming along at short notice to answer the case which I want to put before the House. The hon. Gentleman is always very courteous, but whether he will be as satisfactory tonight as he is courteous, I have some doubt.

The case which I want to raise, involves what is, to my mind, an injustice towards one of the citizens of this country whose name is Charles Albert Raines, and who, some little time ago, endeavoured to assist the police and was rewarded in a most shocking way for the assistance he tried to give. Mr. Raines was going home one evening, when, at Camden Town, he heard the ringing of a police bell and saw a man running. Mr. Raines, like a good citizen, did what he thought at that time was his duty in intercepting the man, who, I might say, was in plain clothes. Mr. Raines, not a very strong man, got the worst of these exchanges and was, in fact, hit on the head with a truncheon.

This was not the end of this sad story, so far as Mr. Raines is concerned, because not only was he hit on the head with a truncheon when trying to assist the police, but he was also driven to the police station where a charge was preferred against him of obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. Nor is that the end of this extraordinary story about what happened to Mr. Raines. He was quite a normal, honest person and had been for three and a half years in the Army, which he left in 1938. He had worked as an engineer in a local cinema, and he has—I hasten to assure the House—no bad record so far as the police are concerned. In fact, he was, I am told, friendly with the police, though I doubt whether he is friendly with them now. Mr. Raines, for assisting the police, was dragged up in court the next day, and there he was dealt with by the magistrate.

I may say that I have the greatest hesitation in the ordinary way in commenting on what a magistrate says and the decision that he makes. I think, however, that some comment on the magistrate's remarks is essential in this case. The evidence was heard and Mr. Raines's case was dismissed.

No. He was found guilty.

That makes my case even better. He was found guilty of obstructing the police, and he was ordered to pay 10s. costs. The magistrate, on this occasion, performed what some of us regard as a very doubtful public duty by telling Mr. Raines that this was the sort of thing that he ought to expect when he went and poked his nose into other people's business. I want to ask tonight whether it is the view of the hon. Gentleman, and whether it is the view of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that people who go to the assistance of the police with the best of intentions should be regarded as poking their nose into other people's business.

This, to my mind, is a serious case, although it has its humorous aspects. For Mr. Raines it is a very serious case indeed. What is the sum total of the cost of his public spiritedness? It is, first, that he was ordered to pay 10s. costs, and, second, that he lost one day's pay when he had to appear at the police court. He also had a new suit very seriously damaged by blood stains from the injuries to his head made by the truncheon. I ask the hon. Gentleman why this sort of charge is preferred. It was, at its best, a malicious and vindictive charge. Why was it that some officer at Camden Town police station did not see that it would do tremendous damage to the prestige of the Force and to the extent to which people would be inclined to help the police, and stop such a charge going forward? We cannot say, of course, much about the comments of the magistrate, but I doubt whether many hon. Members in this House would approve of the comments which were made.

My own view is that co-operation between the police and the citizen is essential today, if we are to combat crime. I should have thought that, if the Home Secretary supports the view taken by the magistrate and the action taken by the police, he could find no better way of stopping that co-operation. The House will appreciate that it is quite impossible when one is called upon to go to the aid of the police, to know where one is before one starts. Assistance to the police in circumstances of this kind must be immediate and automatic, and unless it is so, it is of no value.

The Home Secretary, unlike the Minister of Agriculture, has a fund upon which certain claims can be made in circumstances similar to this, and I wrote to him that I felt that this was such a bad case, both from the point of view of elementary justice and from the effect that it would have on people going to the assistance of the police, that he ought to do two things: first, pay Mr. Raines back the 10s. which he was ordered to pay as costs, and second, pay Mr. Raines the amount which he lost for one day's pay.

I am sorry to have to tell the House that the Home Secretary wrote to me on 19th October, stating that, although he had considered the case carefully, he could not do this. He said that there was good legal authority for the view that an assault on a police officer was no answer to the charge that the defendant did not know that the person assaulted was a constable. That seems a rather unfortunate attitude on the part of the Home Secretary. I should have thought that the interest of combating crime would not allow the Home Secretary to support what happened on this occasion. I should have thought that t would have been a noble gesture, and one which would have helped cooperation between the police and the public, if he had done as I suggested and made these payments to Mr. Raines.

I may not, of course succeed in persuading the hon. Gentleman who will answer that he should make this repayment. What I am anxious to put to the hon. Gentleman is that he should not support the charge brought against Mr. Raines on what must appear to be purely malicious grounds, and that he should not subscribe to the unfortunate statement of the magistrate in this case, that a man who goes poking his nose into other people's business must expect to find a reward.

I think that this is an important case, although, in relative terms, it may not seem significant to a lot of people. I think that the ordinary man who tries to help the police needs some protection against such harsh and unconscionable treatment as that to which Mr. Raines was subjected.

7.28 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman gave me notice of the points which he was going to raise, and I will try to deal with them. In the very early hours of the morning of 26th August, a police car with two police officers in it was chasing a stolen car. The stolen car crashed, and two men jumped out and ran in different directions. The two police officers jumped out of their car, and one followed one man and one the other. One of these men ran into the courtyard of a block of L.C.C. flats and the police officer ran after him, calling out for help. Mr. Raines who was in the court-yard thereupon jumped out and tackled the unfortunate policeman.

The policeman shouted, "I am a police officer" and struggled with Mr. Raines; used his truncheon and freed himself. Mr. Raines was arrested. The facts that I have outlined now were recounted at the police station in Mr. Raines's presence. Mr. Raines did not then suggest that there was a mistake or that he had been trying to help the police. He said "Yes, I know" and he made no complaint when he was charged with obstruction. Later, at the police court, before he came before the magistrate, he said this:
"I heard the police gong sometime before a car went into Rowlett's Place. Two men got out of the first car and then you policemen got out of the second car and ran after them. In the commotion I just made a grab at one of them."
He had been charged and he made no complaint at all, and there is no evidence of malice whatsoever.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that Mr. Raines was doing anything other than he should have been doing in the circumstances; he is not suggesting that he was assisting these people who were committing a felony.

There was nothing to show from what Mr. Raines said up to the time he went to the police court that that was not the case. I am dealing now with the hon. Member's very serious allegation that this prosecution was brought about by malice. When he told his story to the magistrate, the magistrate said, "Why did you not stop the first man?" He replied, "I do not know." Then he said, "I only saw one man." The magistrate found him guilty of obstruction, but, in mitigation of his offence, did accept his statement that his obstruction was not wilful; and it is for that reason that for this extremely serious offence of obstructing the police, on which he was found guilty, he was dismissed with the very small penalty of a mere payment of 10s. costs.

Does not the hon. Gentleman know, as well as I know, that there are certain circumstances in connection with the presence of Mr. Raines, at that point, of a kind that makes the statement made by the hon. Gentleman wholly impossible? It is a serious thing when the hon. Gentleman knows that there was nothing at all possible on those lines.

Since the hon. Member has raised this matter and has cast doubt upon the integrity of a police officer and, incidentally, upon my integrity, I must say that this man was charged because there was no evidence—and Mr. Raines himself had advanced no evidence—that the circumstances were otherwise. It was a perfectly clear case for the police to bring this man forward. Some of them still think—though the magistrate has held to the contrary—that he was there for other purposes. But in view of what the hon. Member knows he should not have raised that.

This man was charged with obstruction and he was found guilty. The magistrate accepted his version that it was not a case of wilful obstruction. That being so, he dismissed the case with what would have been a ridiculous penalty, if he had found him guilty of wilful obstruction, of 10s. costs. The hon. Member has really made a great deal out of this which is not justified. As to his allegation that the magistrate penalised Mr. Raines for "poking his nose into other people's business," I have heard no evidence of that at all. It is extraordinarily unlikely that this should be so, because this man who had escaped as a result of Mr. Raines's intervention was eventually found and arrested, through the help of a resident of those flats. So far from anything being said by the magistrate which would not encourage a citizen to intervene in such cases, the magistrate complimented this man and thanked him very much for his assistance to the police.

Ignorance cannot be a defence to a charge of obstruction, and Mr. Raines was found guilty. The magistrate accepted his statement that it was not wilful and he, therefore, discharged him on payment of 10s. costs. Mr. Raines has not appealed against this conviction, no new facts have been indicated tonight, and my right hon. Friend has no reason for intervening in this matter.