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Stalker/Sampson Report

Volume 128: debated on Thursday 25 February 1988

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2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the disciplinary proceedings of the Royal Ulster Constabulary following events reported in the Stalker/Sampson report.

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has discussed with the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary relevant issues arising from the Stalker/Sampson report.

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any discussions during the past three weeks with the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in relation to incidents which were investigated by Mr. Stalker and Mr. Sampson.

As the House will be aware, the first part of my statement on 17 February dealt with the aspect of possible disciplinary proceedings as a result of the investigations carried out by Mr. Stalker and Mr. Sampson. I undertook to inform the House of further developments.

As I also told the House on 17 February, I have discussed the relevant aspects of the Stalker-Sampson inquiry report with the Chief Constable. In particular, he has accepted in principle all the recommendations made by Mr. McLachlan.

How can the Secretary of State claim any credibility for the disciplinary proceedings when senior officers who have perverted the course of justice are still in command? John Stalker was suspended as soon as any accusation was made against him. Given that the E4A unit was responsible for murder — [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw"] — will the right hon. Gentleman suspend from duty the man described by Stalker as

"the senior police officer with the bulging briefcase,"
the man who set up the unit, Assistant Chief Constable Trevor Forbes, head of the Northern Ireland special branch?

What I could hear of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question consisted partly of a farrago of stories gathered from various press sources, for which I am not sure how much authenticity he would claim.

I do not accept the original premise of the hon. Gentleman's question. Matters concerning ranks of chief superintendent and below are the responsibility of the Chief Constable. Mr. Charles Kelly and his team have already started work and are in the Province now. The more senior ranks are a matter for the police authority. I can inform the House that Sir Philip Myers is already in touch with the authority.

May I ask the Secretary of State a question that I asked him on 17 February, which escaped him in the course of his answer? Since we all agree that the RUC cannot operate effectively without the confidence of the public, and since the right hon. Gentleman is now seeking to resolve that unhappy episode, would it not be wise to inject an independent element into the inquiries so that it cannot be said that this is merely police officers being investigated by yet more police officers?

With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the last thing that Northern Ireland and the police need are further inquiries of the length and scale that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have in mind; there has already been an exhaustive inquiry. I made it clear to the House that there was no question of Mr. Stalker's work being suppressed. His work and that of the bulk of his team was available to Mr. Sampson, and that work was carried through. It is necessary to bring these disciplinary matters to an independent conclusion with the arrival of Mr. Kelly and with the appointment of a police authority to tackle its responsibilities.

As the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, Mr. John Stalker, was suspended for the most spurious of reasons while investigating matters in the north of Ireland, does the Secretary of State not find it a curious contradiction that the Chief Constable of the RUC, who is under inquiry by the Northern Ireland Police Authority, remains on duty directing that force? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the expressions of absolute confidence in the Chief Constable of the RUC by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister must inevitably prejudge the findings of the inquiry?

It is vital that the House remembers—it owes it to the RUC—that the events giving rise to these difficulties occurred in 1982. Before the reports and action of the Attorney-General, many hon. Members in all parts of the House paid tribute to the impartiality and determination of the RUC and to the courage that it showed in doing its work. I hope that hon. Members will not forget those words and that they will recognise that the credit for a substantial amount of the improvements that have taken place over the years must inevitably be given to the man who has led the force during that period.

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to answer the question that was put to him last week by the representative of the police body in the House, namely that those police officers who were brought to court and charged with murder but who were found not guilty will not be tried or disciplined again under the present inquiry? Does he agree that it is wrong for hon. Members to pick out police officers and name them without substantiating the charge being made against them?

While I do not wish to imply that those officers will be affected, I must say that it is now Mr. Kelly's responsibility. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Jones, who is the Deputy Chief Constable, are working very actively with their team on this matter and it would be wrong for me to anticipate their findings. What I do know—I think that the hon. Gentleman also knows this—is that there is great feeling in Northern Ireland, after all the years that this matter has taken, that it is important to resolve it at the earliest possible date. With regard to this matter, I do not wish to comment on individual cases.

The Secretary of State has paid tribute to the RUC. Is he aware that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, who for 20 years have been subjected to a brutal and callous terrorist campaign, have the utmost confidence in the RUC? They view it with the greatest pride and treasure the memories of those RUC officers who have been murdered violently by the Irish Republican Army.

The hon. Gentleman may recall my closing remarks when I was announcing the disciplinary procedure. I said:

"This is a particular tragedy for a police force of the courage and professionalism of the RUC today, who have given ample recent evidence of their commitment to protecting the whole community from violence from whatever extreme it may come." — [Official Report, 17 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 980.]
I stand by those words.

I warmly welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend announced a short time ago. However, will he accept that there was a degree of amazement at the response of the Republic of Ireland, which considers that the Government somehow preside over a banana republic in which the judiciary can be affected by a political decision? Will he at once lay to rest any such suggestion?

I am seeking to address some of the differences of view both on the Benches in this House and on the Benches in Dublin. The discussions that we had yesterday were most useful in that respect. These are very difficult issues and anyone who approaches them must honestly be conscious of the extraordinarily different—indeed, totally different—views on a number of issues. We are seeking a rather better common understanding.

Will the Secretary of State more firmly refute the allegation made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay), who suggested that the police were guilty of murder? Will he confirm that the police who were tried for murder were found not guilty, and will he also tell the House how he intends to deal with the situation where John Stalker, at a time when he was supposed to be carrying out an objective investigation into the RUC, was in fact communicating with the Manchester Evening News, conjecturing as to when Sir John Hermon might retire and suggesting that Mr. Anderton might like to succeed him? He later showed how subjective he was when he suggested that he, himself, was doing such a magnificent job that he might succeed Sir John Hermon as Chief Constable of the RUC. Is that not a disgraceful demonstration of unprofessional conduct by a man placed in a trusted position?

As I made clear to the House in my statement, much of the work done and various recommendations that I announced flowed from the inquiry carried out by Mr. Stalker and his team and all the recommendations were accepted in principle by the Chief Constable. I must add, however, that certain other aspects of the inquiry give cause for concern—not least what appeared in The Guardian, if it was correct—about the degree of confidentiality that was preserved. I am also concerned about the recent letter of a superintendent on Mr. Stalker's team and about the anxiety of a number of members of that team about the number of leaks during the inquiry.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the special branch in Ulster carries out its duties with great courage and at no small risk and that we should show our appreciation of that? Will he also confirm that those killed in the original incidents were given funerals with full military honours by the IRA?

On the latter point, that was certainly true in some cases. Undoubtedly, the special branch has performed outstanding service in Northern Ireland. It has saved very many lives in the security forces and among the general population. At the same time, as I made clear in my statement, it cannot be a force within a force. There were things that needed changing after 1982, and I believe that those changes have been understood. It is very important that, in the final analysis, whichever part of the police force a person may belong to, he is ultimately accountable.

I am sure also that the whole House will agree with the last sentence of the Secretary of State. I am sure also that the right hon. Gentleman will recall the comment of Sir John Hermon that the family tree incident was "untrue and deeply offensive". If it was untrue, it was certainly deeply offensive. The Secretary of State will also recall that Mr. Stalker said:

"It is supportable by evidence".
Does the Secretary of State agree that this is no longer a private matter between two very senior and experienced police officers, but that the integrity of both of them is now at issue and that, in the interests of the police, it is essential that Mr. Stalker should now put his evidence into the public domain?

I should like to think a bit more about what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am not at all sure that I think that it is anything other than a private matter,. It is a most regrettable matter, and I do not want to enter into judgments upon it.