Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr Coleman].
I am rewarded for having waited this length of time. I have a constituent who has suffered at the hands of a rogue, and he is a rogue whom counsel, advising the Director of Public Prosecutioins, has described as a public menace.My purpose in raising this matter on the Adjournment is that I want to protect the public from this menace. I want the rogue prosecuted for crimes that I believe he has committed. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions has refused, even with the complete and damning facts before him in the massive police report that he has received, to prosecute this man. For nearly two years I have discussed this case with the Solicitor-General, and I am pleased that he is here tonight. It may be a coincidence that, on the very day it became known that I was successful in getting this debate, the Director of Public Prosecutions saw fit to anticipate the debate by writing to the rogue out of the blue to confirm that he would not be prosecuted. I propose to use the privilege of hon. Members of this House to state the facts as I believe them to be, even if it is necessary for me to make serious allegations in that statement. The man concerned is Thomas Patrick Denton Taylor. He is qualified as a solicitor, but also practises as a tax consultant.
Is he a Tory?
I hope not, from what I have to say. In 1970 he entered into an oral partnership with my constituent James Francis Kenny. One of the objectives of the partnership was to acquire and develop land known at the Forum site at Southport, in which Mr. Kenny had an interest. He was also at an advanced stage of negotiation for acquiring further interests. By deceit and dishonesty in 1970–71, Mr. Taylor defrauded Mr. Kenny of all his share in that property and development project.That deceit and dishonesty were brought about, first, by writing, unknown to Mr. Kenny, a letter over a forged signature requiring the leasehold interest in the property to be assigned to a company of which Mr. Taylor was proprietor—the company was called Messina Securities Ltd., incorporated in the British Virgin Islands—secondly, by ensuring that the freehold interest in the property was also conveyed to Mr. Taylor's British Virgin Islands company, Messina Securities Limited, and, thirdly, by forming a company of the same unsavoury name in England and forging, with his clerk and fellow conspirator, Robert Thomas Shade, a lease from the British Virgin Islands company to the English company of the same strange name by the old trick of deliberately making illegible signatures on the document. The next step in this deceit was to mortgage the English company's leasehold interest to a company belonging to Mr. Ellis Bor, whom I must call another fellow conspirator, and to persuade Mr. Kenny to agree to guarantee jointly with Mr. Taylor the repayment of the mortgage, and then leaving Mr. Kenny as the sole guarantor, and then ensuring that three days after the mortgage the British Virgin Islands company demanded that the broken covenant be remedied, so that Ellis Bor's company, the mortgagee, could realise its security by saying that it was in jeopardy and demand repayment, and in default exercise its power of sale. It sold to the English company below value by means of another of Ellis Bor's companies advancing most of the purchase money. This is a complicated story, as all fraud must be, especially when there is conspiracy among a number of persons. But the result was that Mr. Taylor and his associates ended up with the asset of the reversion and with the right to kill the English company's lease by enforcing the restrictive covenant. That asset and that right certainly had value. I presume that they have been sold, but not a penny has come to my constituent, Mr. Kenny, from that transaction. That was a transaction based on forgeries and fraud, but it was not an isolated transaction. There was another case related to land at Dodleston in Cheshire, where much the same technique was operated by Mr. Taylor of having a "phoney" company, in this case called Marshcrest Properties Limited, with fabricated minutes of the company, all leading eventually to the exclusion of Mr. Kenny from any share in property in respect of which he had consolidated negotiations for development. I am informed that the police are now investigating two other projects of Mr. Taylor's, one relating to insurance and the other relating to clients' moneys. In neither of these is Mr. Kenny involved, so I think that I was justified in thinking that not only my constituent but the public in general should be protected from this public menace, as he is being called in advice to the Director of Public Prosecutions. My constituent has indeed suffered, partly by his own fault in, in exasperation, disobeying a court order and finding himself in gaol for contempt of court. However, the police investigation in which I am interested, and in which I think the House will be interested, is that which lasted nearly four years into Mr. Taylor's activities and which took the police investigators overseas. It was a very thorough investigation and resulted in a 400-page police report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I have not read the report, of course, and have not even seen it. I am only told that it is of that size. But I know that it covers three periods of investigation. The first was for a year or more, up to May 1973. That investigation culminated in the police arresting Mr. Taylor and his clerk, Mr. Shade, and charging them with the forgery of the lease which I mentioned, the lease in April 1971 from the British Virgin Islands Company to the English company. The police started that prosecution but the Director of Public Prosecutions was, I understand, advised in July 1973 that there was insufficient evidence upon which to continue the prosecution. Therefore, the police dropped it and left it to continue as a private prosecution. Not surprisingly, it foundered and was dismissed because, as I understand the position, the forgery was held to be a fraud by Mr. Taylor on Mr. Taylor's British Virgin Islands Messina Securities Ltd, and of course that company would not appear to say that it had been defrauded. It seems that the court found that the fraud on the ultimate victim was too remote for the prosecution at that stage. The second part of the police investigations into Mr. Taylor's activities proceeded almost immediately and continued through 1973. On that second report the Director of Public Prosecutions was advised by counsel that Mr. Taylor was without doubt a devious trickster, a complete stranger to the truth, and that, if lying was a crime, his conviction several times over would present little difficulty. Counsel also advised that there was a proven readiness by Mr. Taylor to make false signatures, that he had acted in a deceitful way throughout and that his activities proved conclusively that he was a fraudulent liar. But the Director was advised that there was still insufficient evidence on which to prosecute. The police therefore continued their investigations and on their third report to the Director in December 1975 he was again advised by counsel. He was advised that Mr. Taylor was a knave and that there was strong suspicion that two of his associates were little better, and that they all had low standards of honesty and integrity. Counsel then repeated that Mr. Taylor was a devious trickster, a fraudulent liar, and a public menace. At this stage I should mention that one of the most peculiar aspects of the activities of Mr. Taylor and his associates is the involvement of well-known merchant banks with well-known names on their boards in financing these activities.
I was going to name the banks in a moment. But I think that on the facts of the involvement of well-known and apparently reputable banks perhaps the Director thought that if those banks trusted Mr. Taylor, the Director's counsel's description of him must be exaggerated. In the Forum site discussion did not the Northern Commercial Trust Ltd. and Continental Bankers Agents Ltd. make completely unsecured loans to the British Virgin Islands company with that doubtful name of Messina Securities Ltd.? Did not the North British Bank Ltd. and the Central Bank Ltd. lend money Mr. Bor and Mr Taylor which facilitated the juggling with leases between the two Messina Securities Ltd. companies? Did not a one-time manager of the Northern Commercial Trust Ltd. go into business with Mr. Taylor in a company called Monarch Insurance Co. Ltd.?Whether that did influence the Director of Public Prosecutions, or whatever the influence of that faith of the bankers in Mr. Taylor upon the decision of the Director, I think that the Director fell back on the advice he received from counsel at that stage, which was that a criminal prosecution against Mr. Taylor would be contrary to public interest because the interval between the offence constituting the alleged crimes and the date of trial would be long. But is not that very frequently so in the case of any prosecution for fraud and conspiracy? Is there not bound to be long investigations before a case is brought on for trial, and is not that a very usual circumstance in such cases? It does not seem to me a good excuse for not bringing a prosecution after all the accusations which counsel had made in the advice he had given to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The second reason that counsel gave for not bringing a prosecution because it might be against the public interest was the cost of criminal proceedings. I have never heard it alleged that we ought not to prosecute because it might be an expensive case. It is quite wrong to use that as a reason for not prosecuting a man who has been declaimed by learned counsel to be a public menace and a fraudulent liar. The third point was the complexity of the prosecution. It was said that it would be against public interest to proceed with a prosecution because the transactions had been so complex. They are always complex in cases of fraud and conspiracy. One can think of innumerable cases where the hearing has taken weeks and sometimes months because of the complexity of the case. The fourth reason why it would be against the public interest to prosecute—as counsel advised the Director of Public Prosecutions—was the likely result of criminal proceedings. I do not know what he meant by that—perhaps he was fearful that a prosecution might not succeed. That is so in any case, but here I should have thought that, after the descriptions of Mr. Taylor by three eminent counsel advising the Director of Public Prosecutions and the sort of descriptions that I have mentioned, one could have said that the success of the criminal proceedings was a probability, if not almost a certainty. I consider that the reasons for not prosecuting are not valid. They are bad having regard to the general advice that was given to the Director of Public Prosecutions over the conduct, behaviour and character of this man and his associates. In those circumstances a prosecution ought to have been instituted against this public menace for the public protection.
Before I say anything about the case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised I hope that the House will forgive me if I make a few general remarks in order to explain the course that I propose to take. The House will understand that they are intended to be general and that they do not necessarily all apply to the facts of this case.Those who have to decide whether to prosecute someone are rarely confronted with a simple issue. The first question that they must decide is whether there is evidence available on which a court could properly be asked to convict. If the answer is "No," that is the end of the matter, and there should be no prosecution. If the answer is "Yes", there then arise further questions. In 1925, Sir John Simon, then a Law Officer, told the House:
That was quoted with approval by Sir Hartley Shawcross, as he then was, then the Attorney-General, on 29th January 1951. The next question is, "Is there a reasonable prospect of a conviction in all the circumstances?". Even if the answer to the first question is affirmative, it would be oppressive to impose the strain and expense of a trial upon anyone when there is no reasonable prospect that he would be convicted. Even when both of these questions are answered in the affirmative, there are other questions to be asked. For, of course, it is precisely when there is a prospect of a conviction that there is greatest risk of an injustice. One has to consider how long ago it all happened and whether memories of those events can be relied upon. One has to ask how complicated the evidence will be, how long and expensive a trial may be involved, whether public expense would be justified when all these factors are weighed against the seriousness of the offence, the importance of the matter, and any probable sentence that may be passed. One needs to ask about the accused personally, the state of his health, his age, and whether it would be oppressive, in all the circumstances, to prosecute him. The ultimate question is whether it would be in the public interest, in the broadest sense, to bring proceedings. Where the Director or the Law Officers have participated in this procedure, they are of course responsible to Parliament. It is right that the Law Officers should be subjected to questioning in the House, though the House will always be conscious of the need to preserve the Director's independence. The letter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was written by someone, who was not aware that there was to be this debate, in response to a letter which arrived shortly before from Mr. Taylor's solicitors. There are difficulties about ventilating these matters fully in public. If one has decided to prosecute someone, the matter is sub judice, and it would be wrong to explain in detail why one has so decided. If one waits until the proceedings are concluded, it is not always fair to ignore the sifting and testing of evidence which have taken place in court and to rehearse the evidence which was originally available when the decision to prosecute was taken. If one has decided not to prosecute someone, it may be very unfair to embark upon a disquisition why he was ever suspected, of what allegations were made against him, by whom, and on what grounds. Sometimes it may be unfair not only to those who were potentially accused, but to those who have played a part in the story. It is difficult to hold a balance fairly between disclosing the facts fully to the House and protecting individuals from allegations which are unsifted and untested. Therefore, I do not propose to rehearse the facts of this case, except to trace the history of the matter, so far as I know it, since Mr. Kenny formed the view that he was the victim of a fraud. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman attempted the impossible by trying to bring within the compass of a 15-minute speech the complicated facts in this case. I hope that he will forgive me when I say that he did not succeed in that aim. If I were to elaborate on the original transactions, however fair I might seek to be within the limited time available, I might be accused, possibly quite properly, either by Mr. Kenny of omitting something important or by Mr. Taylor of mentioning matters on which he has had no opportunity to comment. The events which gave rise to this case took place in 1970 and 1971. Since then—I quote from statistics given by Mr. Kenny in one of his letters—there have been 19 Chancery actions and the matter has been considered by 16 firms of solicitors and 38 counsel. Charges against Mr. Taylor have been preferred and withdrawn, and a private prosecution against him initiated by Mr. Kenny has been dismissed. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Kenny has not succeeded in persuading any court that he is right. The question of prosecution has been carefully considered by counsel—some of whom were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman—in five opinions and they are all to the effect that a prosecution would not be justified. Rarely can any contemplated prosecution have received such careful and protracted consideration. More than once, matters which everyone thought were closed have been re-opened and reconsidered. That seems to have arisen from two factors: first, the passionate conviction of Mr. Kenny that he is the victim of fraud—I accept at once that he holds that conviction with complete sincerity—and, secondly, the great care that the right hon. Gentleman has devoted to this case on behalf of his constituent. The events, as I say, took place in 1970 and 1971. Mr. Kenny complained to the police, and there was a long and careful investigation. Everyone who has con- sidered the matter has paid tribute to the care with which the police report was compiled. On 18th January 1973 charges were preferred against Mr. Taylor, first, of conspiracy to defraud and, secondly, of the forgery of a counterpart lease. Later the Director of Public Prosecutions considered the position, and instructed counsel. The evidence, which at that time related to the Forum site transaction, was considered by junior and leading counsel. I have an opinion by them, dated 13th July 1973, in which they advised in the clearest terms that the evidence did not warrant proceedings either for conspiracy to defraud or for forgery, and on 21st August those charges were formally withdrawn. Mr. Kenny then brought a private prosecution in respect of the forgery. That came before the stipend diary magistrate by way of committal. It was argued by a very distinguished and competent counsel, but dismissed. Mr. Kenny was not content to let the matter rest there. I quote from a letter written by Mr. Kenny:"There is no greater nonsense talked about the Attorney-General's duty than the suggestion that in all cases the Attorney-General ought to decide to prosecute merely because he thinks there is what the lawers call 'a case'."—[Official Report, 1st December, 1925; Vol. 188, c. 2105.]
and he names the official in the DPP's department dealing with the matter—"After the withdrawal of these charges I bitterly complained to Sir Norman Skelhorn of the handling of this case. Mr."—
The Director took a further opinion from junior counsel dated 23rd April 1974, this time relating to the Dodleston transaction. It is a full and careful opinion, occupying 11 pages. It concluded that the evidence available did not justify proceedings, but it suggested that certain further inquiries might be made. At this juncture Mr. Kenny alleged that both junior and leading counsel, who were well known in Manchester, were too involved in the local community to be objective, so he asked that the matter should be considered by counsel from London. It is not often that such a request is made and rarely is it sympathetically received I should make it clear that what transpired does not indicate any reflection on the counsel concerned. Nor is any reason known to the Director for suggesting that their opinions were other than fair and objective. But Mr. Kenny is a forceful and persuasive man, and he had his way. The matter was considered by leading counsel from London, who gave two opinions. He gave a long and careful opinion on 15th December 1975 devoted to the alleged conspiracy to defraud in relation to both transactions, and he advised that the evidence did not justify proceedings. In a further opinion, dated 20th January 1976, he considered the alleged forgery, and again concluded that the evidence did not justify proceedings. In the light of those opinions the Director arranged a consultation attended by counsel and the police. It took place on 9th February 1976. I am told that it occupied a whole day and those present concluded that the evidence did not justify proceedings. On 23rd April 1976, following certain further information which had become available, there was a further conference with junior counsel on the alleged forgery, and again the conclusion was that the evidence did not justify proceedings. At this stage all these people had considered the matter. The public had been put to a great deal of expense. I am not complaining. It is right that these matters should be investigated carefully. But I was then invited to consider whether yet further expense should be incurred. There was a further aspect of the matter with which I was confronted. Mr. Taylor had been aware throughout this time, as it was right that he should be, that, notwithstanding that the charges preferred against him had been in one case withdrawn and in the other dismissed, the possibility of initiating further proceedings was still under consideration, and by this time he, too, was complaining of injustice. I have a copy of an opinion by distinguished counsel instructed on his be half whose name is not included in Mr. Kenny's list of 38 counsel. He recommends that the DPP should be shown a copy, since it sets out Mr. Taylor's side of the case, including allegations against Mr. Kenny. I have not considered those allegations. I mention them only to show that Mr. Taylor is entitled to some finality in the matter. I had been exchanging correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman since he wrote to me on Mr. Kenny's behalf. On 9th September 1976 he wrote to me again, setting out Mr. Kenny's allegations, and considering fairly and carefully the evidence shown to him. On 15th September I replied that I would myself consider the matter. I did so and, after reading the papers and holding more than one consultation, I concluded that there was no reason to disagree with all those who had advised. In addition, I had to bear in mind that these complicated events occurred in 1970 and 1971, and if proceedings were launched at the end of 1976, there was no reasonable prospect of a committal for many months, and two or three years might well have elapsed before the case was considered before a jury. I emphasise that this was not the only reason why I reached that conclusion, but had it stood alone, it would have been a very weighty consideration. I have subsequently discussed the position with the right hon. Gentleman. He has seen the various opinions of counsel, which, so far as I know, is unique in these cases, and I should not like it to be thought that this is a precedent. After the use the right hon. Gentleman has made tonight of opinions shown to him in confidence, I can assure him that it will not be a precedent. A great deal of attention has been paid in this case to Mr. Kenny's allegations. He appears to consider that the issue of criminal proceedings against Mr. Taylor would assist him in his civil proceedings, in which so far he seems to have met with little success. I am not clear why they would assist him, but even if that were so, it is not a matter to which I can give great weight. As each successive counsel has considered the matter, he himself has been the subject of allegations by Mr. Kenny in the numerous letters which he has written, some of them in somewhat unrestrained terms, and each time he has demanded that someone more objective or more competent should look at the case. Each time he has persuaded some one that the matter should be considered still further. It is a tribute both to his persistence and to the system of public administration in this country. But the right to be heard does not entail a right to insist that those who hear should agree. No one could have presented the argument more persuasively than the right hon. Gentleman in correspondence and tonight under pressure of time. But all those concerned are entitled to ask that the matter should at some stage be considered closed. I have heard nothing today from the right hon. Gentleman which persuades me to the contrary."dealt with my complaint and informed me 'it you will bring me further evidence I will reopen the case'. I brought him evidence … and true to his word Mr. … re-opened this case."
The Solicitor-General has given the impression that everybody agreed that the evidence was insufficient. What was the advice from the police in their long report?
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that, much as I should like to answer that, I cannot.
Because the police report contained information given in confidence to the police by the people concerned.
Why can it not be given in Parliament?
The answer to my hon. Friend is that if police reports were ventilated openly and publicly in this House, the police would get little co-operation from the kind of people quoted in that report, who gave their evidence in confidence. It would be counter-productive—
The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Wednesday evening, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned at ten minutes past Twelve o'clock.