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Mr Paul Cleeland

Volume 22: debated on Thursday 29 April 1982

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

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Thompson.]

10 pm

Will the hon. Gentleman wait a moment, in his own interests and mine, while hon. Members who wish to leave the Chamber do so?

The House has been deeply concerned tonight about the lives of 1,800 Falkland Islanders. My speech is concerned with one life, but it is none the less as important as any life. My subject is the conviction for murder of Mr. Paul Cleeland.

Mr. Cleeland was convicted of the murder of Mr. Terry Clarke on the night of 5 November 1972, and in June 1973 he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. He has consistently maintained his innocence and says that he knows who the actual murderer is but cannot reveal his name for fear of repercussions for his family and for himself if he is released.

Mr. Cleeland's case was first brought to the attention of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) when she represented Stevenage. I pay tribute to her untiring efforts to have his conviction reviewed because of the many disturbing discrepancies in the case. The fact that the Home Office has admitted errors in Mr. Cleeland's records which were material to the success of his appeal, and that the assistant chief constable of Northamptonshire, Mr. Boothby, carried out an investigation under the police complaints procedure, is due almost entirely to the right hon. Lady's untiring efforts. I have invited her to join me in the debate to give proper consideration to Paul Cleeland's future.

It is frustrating and ironic that we cannot, as a result of the right hon. Lady's efforts, have our anxieties put to rest one way or the other by the Boothby report, because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary resolutely refuses to show it to us in whole or in part and will not order a judicial review, because he claims that he needs fresh evidence. That is the essence of the debate.

My objective is to persuade my right hon. Friend, through my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, in the interests of justice to order a judicial review as the only means open to us to satisfy our legitimate doubts. If a judicial review is inappropriate, I should like to see some form of inquiry into the very unsatisfactory nature of the prosecution and appeal in the case.

In view of the time available I shall review quickly the essence of the case. The police case against Mr. Cleeland is that he owned the gun which was the murder weapon. Mr. Cleeland denies that. The police maintained that the gun produced during the course of the trial was the murder weapon. There is much evidence which makes that statement very questionable.

The third major point is that the police maintain that in a conversation in the cells of Stevenage police station Mr. Cleeland, an experienced criminal, had a conversation with a cell mate which amounted to a confession. It is very doubtful that someone who knows the criminal world and police methods as Mr. Cleeland does would do that. None the less, that was the police contention.

The motive for the murder was alleged to be a continued, deeply felt argument between Mr. Cleeland and Mr. Clarke. The wife of Mr. Clarke, the victim, has confirmed to me that that argument had long since been buried and that friendship had flowered again in the months immediately prior to the murder.

Because of the procedure for looking into complaints against the police, it is not possible for me to know exactly what the report commissioned by the Home Secretary and the chief constable of Hertfordshire contained, because fundamentally Mr. Cleeland's case is that the police framed him. That means that the police themselves are being complained against, and that in turn means that the procedure of a separate police force investigating the possible malpractices of another took place. That is the difficulty that we are in. But, because we do not know exactly what was referred to the assistant chief constable and what matters he considered, let alone what his findings were, we cannot ascertain precisely what that says.

I ask the Home Secretary for an explanation of the following disturbing facts. First, there is a discrepancy in the evidence of the whereabouts on 17 November of the murder weapon known as the Gye Moncrieffe 12-inch bore weapon, between Detective Inspector Ratcliffe, who was investigating the case, and Detective Sergeant Atkinson and Police Constable Kittle. This question concerns the crucial reliability of the ballistic evidence given at the initial trial.

The second disturbing question is whether the confession of Mr. Cleeland could or had been overheard by a fellow prisoner, Mr. Nash. Is Detective Sergeant O'Connor, who was with the Stevenage force at that time, correct or the other policeman who gave evidence correct on when and if Mr. Nash was moved to the female cells? Is Mr. Nash correct when he says that he stood throughout the night at the door of his cell and heard no such conversation between Mr. Cleeland and a fellow prisoner?

Thirdly, why did the prison authorities allege from their records that Mr. Cleeland had seen Nash in prison when it was subsequently proved and admitted by the prison authorities that he had not?

Fourthly, why did the prison officer state that Nash had not been in Stevenage police station at all when this was subsequently proved and admitted to be false and necessitated the police obtaining a contradictory subsequent statement from Nash, under police pressure, which defeated Mr. Cleeland's appeal?

Fifthly, why were Cleeland's prison letter and prison visit sheets in Albany prison different from those passed on by Brixton and Wandsworth prisons?

Sixthly, I ask my right hon. Friend, in all seriousness, whether we can be certain beyond all shadow of doubt that the gun produced in the court was the murder weapon in the light of the following factors. First, in evidence, two ballistic experts, Mr. Rothery and Mr. Jennings, claim that the Gye Moncrieffe gun must have been discharged at a distance of 36 to 40 feet from the victim, Terry Clarke, when Terry Clarke's wife, who accompanied him that night and was a witness to the murder, and the neighbours, who were also witnesses to the murder, claim that the gun was fired at point-blank range—that is, at not more than 6 feet. The nearest that we come to 6 feet in all the evidence is the police's own ballistics expert, Mr. McCaffety, a former police liaison officer, who states that it was fired at a minimum of 18 feet, three times the distance stated by witnesses.

Dr. Rufus Crompton, consultant pathologist at St. George's hospital, London, provided corroboration of the evidence of the ballistics experts when he concluded from medical evidence that the range was about 36 feet.

Secondly, it is much more probable that a sawn-off 12-bore shotgun found later in a weir at Harlow was the true murder weapon. It would at 6ft have produced the sort of pattern on the victim's body which can be seen on photographs. No evidence has ever been put forward to prove or disprove the allegation that the gun found in the Harlow weir was the true murder weapon.

Was the ballistic evidence and the police investigation surrounding the guns and the discrepancies ever examined by Mr. Boothby? We do not know. These discrepancies should be combined with a number of other matters.

During all three trials, Cleeland foolishly has conducted his own defence, which has meant that the prosecution case has never been expertly and professionally subjected to cross-examination.

Cleeland's criminal record meant that at the Appeal Court he was not given the benefit of being presumed innocent. Lord Justice Lawson, in dismissing the appeal said:
"This is clearly a case where a number of cunning criminals have got together to concoct a specious and on the face of it a creditable story to discredit the police."
A prominent Queen's Counsel to whom we submitted the case has stated:
"There are a quite unusual number of blemishes in connection with the police evidence"—
in particular the discrepancies between the ballistics experts—
"and there is the extraordinary coincidence of patently false prison records affecting, or reasonably calculated to affect, Mr. Cleeland's appeal."
Dr. Julius Grant, Secretary of the Society of Forensic Medicine, calls the ballistic evidence "disturbing" and said that it
"would appear to provide Mr. Cleeland with ample reasons for wanting his case re-opened and on purely scientific grounds I cannot do other than support them."
Does not this make the Home Secretary uneasy about whether he has got the wrong person in prison?

If we accept that we cannot be satisfied by the publication of the Boothby report because of the understandable need to protect the police self-investigating procedure, does not this make it essential that a judicial review of all the evidence is ordered so that if the judge who is appointed shares the misgivings which almost all disinterested persons looking at the case express, a retrial will be ordered? We could then be satisfied about whether Paul Cleeland is innocent or guilty, of which no one can be certain at present.

In a case like this where police evidence is being questioned, it seems almost impossible to find a way of reassuring the public that the police are innocent or that they have not made a mistake. That is because the Home Office jealously, and perhaps rightly, preserves the confidentiality of its inquiries. I shall leave aside the inherent difficulty that is posed by current procedures in letting the public see that justice is being done.

The Home Office directs that fresh evidence must be produced before it will re-open the case. We have produced expert opinion on the ballistics side from a forensic scientist, from a prominent Queen's Counsel, from solicitors, from prison officers and even from police officers that demonstrates that in their view the case is certainly not proven beyond a shadow of doubt.

What else can we do? We have had to beg the witnesses and they have had to undertake their work in their own time without payment. Here I pay tribute to the solicitor, Mr. Olsen, who has given up his time and energy over a number of years to try to prove the case one way or the other. How can we prove to everyone's satisfaction that justice has been done? I beg my hon. and learned Friend to aid the cause of justice by devoting the resources of the State through a judicial review and a retrial to proving this case beyond a shadow of doubt.

If there were the possibility that capital punishment might be exacted for this crime, presumably we would make very certain that this case was properly reviewed. We must be equally vigilant, even though the penalty is now life imprisonment and not death. It is a fundamental concept of our law that if there is any shadow of doubt that a man is innocent that man should go free. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to honour that principle tonight.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) for permitting me to take part, albeit briefly, in this debate. He clearly set out the main causes of anxiety in the case of Paul Cleeland. These relate to the ballistic evidence, the ownership of the gun, the distance at which it was supposed to have been fired and the serious question of the changes subsequently made in the prison records.

I have served at the Home Office—I was a Minister of State in charge of prisons—and I am well used to what are sometimes called villains. I know that people often put forward elaborate explanations as to why they are innocent, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I am not easily persuaded that a person is innocent when he has gone through the process of the first court and then the Court of Appeal. However, for the past seven years I have been profoundly concerned about the case of Paul Cleeland, sufficiently so for me to have gone from Gartree to Parkhurst to see him on two occasions to pursue his case.

There is one piece of evidence with which I have been involved—the changes made in the prison records. It is fair to say that one mistake in the prison record might be assumed to be a mistake. Two changes might be assumed to be a coincidence. But there are three changes in the prison records of Paul Cleeland. The records were evidently inaccurate for Brixton, Wandsworth and Albany. When those same three inaccuracies follow a man from prison to prison, and when those inaccuracies are drawn attention to—because the truth is that the evidence from the prison visits made it clear that the police view that Nash had visited Cleeland could not have been the case, and Nash was crucial to the evidence of Cleeland that he had not made any confession to murder in the cells at Stevenage on the night of December 1973—it goes beyond a mistake and beyond a coincidence and begins to look extremely worrying.

Together with Paul Cleeland and the assistant prison governor I pieced together the pattern of prison visits that made it clear that the statement that Nash had visited Cleeland could not have been correct. Nevertheless, the case was persisted with. We finally discovered that the visitor had been a man called Russell—he was not involved in the case—only because one piece of evidence remained, and that was the information held by the gate officer at Wandsworth prison. I took this evidence to the Home Office, I wrote to the Home Office and I raised the matter with the police. It was not until 1974—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was Home Secretary—that changes were ordered to be made in the prison records. That was not mentioned in The Times article last week or by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage and is an example of how difficult it is to obtain the truth in such cases without going to the full limit of a meeting with the Home Secretary.

I could go on. The evidence on the ballistics, the position of the gun and the prison records is profoundly conflicting and disturbing.

There are strong reasons why the case is not to be reopened, but I ask the Minister one simple question. Will he order a retrial? At the very least, will he request the Court of Appeal to reconsider the case under section 17 since the Court of Appeal did not have before it the original statement by Nash—for reasons that the Minister will be aware of? Nothing less than that will bring those of us who are concerned about the case to accept that the verdict of the courts was right. I have grave reasons to doubt whether it was right.

10.18 pm

I have listened with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) and the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) have said about the case of Mr. Paul Cleeland. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the clarity with which he put his case. I shall of course study his speech and that of the right hon. Lady with care in the Official Report.

Before I take up some of the points that have been raised, I hope that the House will bear with me if I explain the functions of the Home Secretary with respect to individual cases in which it is alleged a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. I appreciate that what I have to say may be familiar to some, but because of its central importance to the matter before us I feel that it needs to be repeated.

Under our constitution, the duty of administering justice in individual criminal cases is placed upon the courts and, therefore, while the Home Secretary has certain powers to intervene—either by recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy or by referring the case to the Court of Appeal under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968—he must not exercise them in any way which might tend to usurp the functions of the courts. What this means in practice is that he can consider intervening only if some significant new evidence or other material consideration of substance comes to light which has not already been before the courts.

What the Home Secretary may not do, whatever might be his inclination, is to review the decisions of the courts on the basis of facts or arguments already considered by them or seek in any way to act as if he were himself a further court of appeal. In particular, it would be quite wrong of him to use his powers of intervention merely because, if the decision had rested with him, he might have taken a different view of the facts. The Home Secretary cannot act merely on the basis of opinion—even his own opinion, if he held one in a particular case—or of theories, however elaborate, constructed out of evidence already considered.

As my hon. Friend has told us, Mr. Cleeland was convicted—I should add, on the unanimous verdict of a jury—at St. Albans Crown court, on 25 June 1973, of the murder of Terence Clarke and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He subsequently applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against his conviction and his application was refused by the full Court of Appeal on 26 February 1976.

As has been mentioned, Mr. Cleeland chose to represent himself at both trial and appeal, although legal representation was of course available to him. That was entirely a decision for him. In its judgment, the Court of Appeal observed that his conduct of his case had been excellent and he did not appear to have been placed at any disadvantage. Indeed, he was said to have examined his witnesses in a way that would have done credit to an experienced member of the Bar.

Briefly, the circumstances of the offence were that Mr. and Mrs. Clarke were returning home with a friend in the early hours of the morning of 5 November 1972, in Stevenage. As Mr. Clarke got out of his car he was fired at twice and fatally wounded by a man with a shotgun who had presumably lain in wait for him. Neither Mrs. Clarke nor the passenger in the car was able to identify the assailant, but the police found at the scene of the crime distinctive wadding of a kind used in the make of cartridges known as "Blue Rival". Later that day members of the public found in the same area a shotgun containing two expended cartridges and a discarded box of unused "Blue Rival" cartridges. Later, tests carried out by Mr. McCafferty of the Metropolitan Police forensic science laboratory established that "Blue Rival" cartridges when fired from the the abandoned shotgun produced matching firemarks to those on the spent cartridges found with it. Further police inquiries produced a number of witnesses whose evidence linked Mr. Cleeland with the acquisition of both the shotgun and the cartridges shortly before the murder took place.

Mr. Cleeland's defence, as I understand it, appears to have been based upon an alibi provided by his wife for the night in question, on evidence from another ballistics expert and on allegations against police officers concerned with the case and against prosecution witnesses, some of whom had criminal records. It was, of course, for the jury to decide on the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defence whether the charge against Mr. Cleeland was proved. I think that it is fair to say that, by their verdict, they rejected the notion of a conspiracy mounted against him by the authorities.

Turning to Mr. Cleeland's application for leave to appeal against his conviction, it seems clear that the main element in his case was the evidence of a Mr. Michael Nash to whom my hon. Friend very properly referred. Mr. Nash had for some time occupied a cell near to Mr. Cleeland's at Stevenage police station, where the prosecution alleged that Mr. Cleeland had an incriminating conversation with a fellow prisoner. Mr. Cleeland maintained that this conversation never took place and Mr. Nash supported him. It later came to light that a visit by a Mr. Russell to Mr. Cleeland in Wandsworth prison had been wrongly recorded there as a meeting between Mr. Cleeland and Mr. Nash. This error, if left unremedied, would have fostered the suspicion that the two men had colluded over the evidence to be given at the appeal hearing. However, the Home Office prison department eventually established that mistakes had been made and corrected Mr. Cleeland's record accordingly. The Criminal Appeal Office was informed by the Home Office by letter on 8 January of what had occurred and was left in no doubt that the Home Office accepted that there had been no prison visit to Mr. Cleeland by Mr. Nash.

In rejecting Mr. Nash's evidence, the Court of Appeal referred to an attempt by
"cunning criminals getting together to concoct a specious if, on the face of it, credible story to discredit the police"
. In reaching that conclusion the court took account of Mr. Nash's credibility as a witness and of the circumstances in which he came to be giving his evidence. The court made it clear that the error disclosed in the Home Office letter had no bearing on the outcome of Mr. Cleeland's appeal once it had been accepted that the two men had not net face to face in Wandsworth prison. The court held:
"There was not a shred of evidence that either the Home Office or Prison Department were conspiring with the police."
In July 1975 Mr. Cleeland made a complaint to the police alleging perjury by police officers concerned with his case. He followed this with a series of further complaints involving not only the police but prison officers and officials working for the Director of Public Prosecutions. This led to the setting-up of an inquiry under section 49 of the Police Act 1964 into Mr. Cleeland's allegations. At the request of the chief constable of Hertfordshire, the investigation was carried out by Mr. Boothby, the assistant chief constable of Northamptonshire. After a lengthy investigation Mr. Boothby produced a thorough and extensive report, on the basis of which the Director of Public Prosecutions decided, in November 1979, that there was no evidence to justify any criminal proceedings against any person named in the report. Subsequently the report was passed to the Home Office to see whether it gave rise to any factors affecting the safety of Mr. Cleeland's conviction, and it was concluded that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would not be justified in recommending any interference with the decision of the courts in his case.

Since that time there has been criticism of the refusal of Home Office Ministers to disclose information from Mr. Boothby's report. I acknowledge with gratitude what my hon. Friend has said, that there may be sound reasons for that practice. I point out that it has been the invariable practice of successive Governments, including that of whom the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) was a member, not to disclose the contents of reports of inquiries prepared in those circumstances.

There is nothing new in this. It is a principle of long standing because these reports are confidential and should not be disclosed either in whole or in part. The maintenance of this principle is crucial in ensuring full and frank communication between police officers themselves and between chief officers of police and the Home Secretary. Many reports of investigations conducted by the police contain information which should not be disclosed freely, such as allegations and statements made to the police and facts disclosed in the course of an investigation which could be prejudicial to named persons. Such information is treated as confidential, partly on the ground that no one should have a crime publicly imputed to him except in court, and partly to preserve the confidentiality of the investigations. Erosion of this principle might well lead to the inhibiting of co-operation from people interviewed by the police.

As I have explained, in considering whether grounds exist for intervention in a criminal case the Home Secretary's concern is with new evidence not previously placed before the courts or available to them. The material put forward on Mr. Cleeland's behalf in newspapers and elsewhere, however, seems to consist primarily of a reappraisal of evidence already considered either at his trial or appeal hearing. For instance, such matters as the distance from which the shots were fired and the type of weapon used were thoroughly examined at Mr. Cleeland's trial, with evidence given both for the prosecution and the defence by experts in ballistics.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the guns found in the Harlow weir were never examined?

No, I shall not. I shall deal with that in a moment.

It has been suggested, nevertheless, that the shotgun found near the scene of the crime was not the murder weapon and that the crime was carried out by somebody using either one of two sawn-off shotguns later found dumped in a weir at Harlow. There is no substance, as I understand it, in this claim. The two weapons were examined in the Metropolitan Police laboratory after recovery from the weir and were found not to have been fired since the shortening of the barrels. Moreover, for a sawn-off shotgun to have inflicted wounds similar to those sustained by Mr. Clarke, there would have needed to be a difference of 10 ft in the range at which the two shots were fired.

Many of the other representations put forward on Mr. Cleeland's behalf focus on inconsistencies in entries in notebooks and other records kept either by the police or prison officers. It is regrettable that errors of this kind have occurred in Mr. Cleeland's case, but it would be wrong to regard them as casting doubt upon the safety of Mr. Cleeland's conviction or as providing evidence of a conspiracy against him, especially since in order to be effective such a conspiracy would have needed to have involved officials of other agencies of the criminal justice system.

As I have said, Mr. Cleeland's allegations have been given the most exhaustive consideration. I undertake to examine carefully what has been said in the House tonight. So far, nothing has come to light to support his claim that his conviction resulted from perjury and collusion by persons concerned with this case.

I am always prepared to look at any new evidence that might be thought to cast doubt upon the safety of a conviction, and I know that my right hon. Friend is prepared to make a reference under section 17 to the Court of Appeal of a proper case, and has done so on more than one occasion in this Parliament. I feel bound to say that none of the matters raised so far in connection with Mr. Cleeland's case provides any ground on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be justified in taking any action.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o'clock.