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PC Gordon Warren

Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate, which is the third parliamentary debate on this subject in the past 14 years.

This must be, without a doubt, the Metropolitan Police Service’s longest-running unresolved dispute. The beginning of this tragedy dates back to a period in policing when Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt, the tough nut in “Life on Mars”, would have felt in his element. It started in April 1982, with a booze and blue movies all-night party, about which I will give a little bit more detail later. This story has blighted Mr. Warren’s life and has hung like the proverbial albatross around the necks of a succession of Metropolitan Police Commissioners—Sir Kenneth Newman, Sir Peter Imbert, Sir Paul Condon, Sir John Stevens and Sir Ian Blair. With a story that has spanned 26 years, there will be long, static periods where nothing happens. But much has changed since the last debate eight years ago, which is why a debate now is appropriate.

The medical officer, who was central to this story, is now deceased. Sir Ian Blair, who was also central to it, is gone—I must say that neither Mr. Warren nor I particularly lament his departure. I speak only from my personal experience of Sir Ian Blair’s involvement in this case. I can tell the Minister that what I thought was a confidential conversation that I had with Sir Ian was then relayed in writing to Mr. Warren in a way that was completely inappropriate and unacceptable. Another change is that the new Mayor clearly intends to take a hands-on attitude towards the Metropolitan police. The final thing that has changed is that Mr. Warren has prostate cancer. I mention this with Mr. Warren’s agreement, not to engender sympathy, although it may do that, but to highlight the urgent need for closure on this matter.

The House is no stranger to the case of Police Constable Gordon Warren. I debated the case in this Chamber on 12 January 2000. It was also raised by my predecessor, Nigel Forman, who said in his speech that it was his longest-running constituency case. Unfortunately, it was my longest-running case in 2000, and it has dragged on for a further eight years.

Ministers are no strangers to the case, either. I met two Home Office Ministers when they were in office—the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). The Metropolitan police is, of course, familiar with the case. I have met Sir Paul Condon, Sir John Stevens and Michael Bennett and Glen Smyth of the Police Federation. We now have a new Minister who is familiar with this case.

In the previous debate this morning, I mentioned how the Minister would have to face four, five or however many debates on knife crime in future years. He may, indeed, be faced with a number of debates about the case of Mr. Warren, unless it is satisfactorily resolved shortly.

I want to set out, again, the key events of this sad saga, so that the Minister is fully briefed. He has clearly been briefed by his officials, but there are always two sides to a briefing, and the Minister needs to hear the other side as well. The case started in April 1982, when Mr. Warren, then a serving police officer, was asked by his senior officer, an inspector, to attend a party at Sutton police station while on duty. Quite rightly, Mr. Warren refused, but that event triggered the whole sorry saga. That inspector actively tried to secure Mr. Warren’s dismissal.

Another key event took place in January 1985, when a medical certificate was issued by the doctor, who I mentioned earlier—the medical officer who is now deceased—saying that Mr. Warren was medically unfit. That assessment was overturned by a number of consultants who confirmed that that was not so. But a year later, another medical certificate was issued by the same doctor.

In 1988, Mr. Warren won damages for wrongful dismissal and further damages in the Court of Appeal in 1989. In February, 1994, an ex gratia interim payment—I stress that it was supposed to be an interim payment—of £85,000 was offered by the Met. In April 1994, as I have mentioned, my predecessor as Member of Parliament, Nigel Forman, secured an Adjournment debate in the House on this subject.

In 1995, Sir Paul Condon finally—13 years after the blue movies party that Mr. Warren rightly refused to attend—wrote to Mr. Warren issuing an apology, in which he stated that there were absolutely no grounds for Mr. Warren’s dismissal and no question of mental instability or paranoia.

The story moves on. In April 2000, and then in May 2000, letters were received from Sir Ian Blair, then deputy commissioner, offering a conditional settlement and then withdrawing it after Mr. Warren did not accept the settlement within an arbitrary period of time set by the Met.

In April 2002, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), wrote to me challenging a number of assertions made by Mr. Warren and, interestingly in my view, stated:

“It is difficult to think of another respondent”—

by which he means the Met—

“seeking over a long period of time to offer a sum of money to a plaintiff well in excess of the sum awarded by the court.”

I wonder whether the then Home Secretary, when he wrote to me, pondered why that might have been so. Perhaps the Minister intends to refer to that letter as well, in which case he may also want to reflect on why the Met was so adamant that it wanted to provide compensation that the letter says was

“well in excess of the sum awarded by the court.”

The Met is not a charity, so it must have had a reason for making its offer. I can suggest a few reasons. Could it be that the Met thought it had a serious case to answer, had done Mr. Warren a terrible injustice and might still be subject to a legal challenge? Or is John Kenny, an ex-inspector who has followed Mr. Warren’s case closely, right to state in a letter to the Daily Mail just a couple of days ago:

“If ex-Police Constable Gordon Warren...wins his case then it will conclusively prove that not all police ill-health retirements have been honestly earned and will thus fuel further the long-held suspicions that this expensive ploy of awarding such golden goodbyes has been used by the service for years to rid itself of those considered to be causing it an embarrassment”?

Those are a few explanations as to why the Met thought it appropriate to offer for a long period of time a sum of money in compensation

“to a plaintiff well in excess of the sum awarded by the court.”

There is an extensive case history, documented in parliamentary debates—I am sure the Minister has had to read them or summaries of them—Home Office questions and correspondence between successive police commissioners, Home Secretaries and Home Office Ministers. However, 26 years on, there are still, unfortunately, outstanding issues.

First, I shall mention the apology to which I have already referred. An apology was issued by Sir Paul Condon, who said that

“you are entitled to a full apology, which I unreservedly give and regret the distress caused to you.”

That apology was accepted, or considered acceptable at the time. However, the fact is that that was issued 13 years ago, and the matter is still unresolved. Therefore the apology has worn rather thin, and it would be appropriate for a further apology to be issued, reflecting the fact that the matter did not end with Sir Paul’s letter.

The second impasse relates to the compensation figure. In fairness, I should point out that the matter has been before the Court of Appeal, which did not award aggravated or exemplary damages. However, as I have just quoted, it seems that the Met believed that there was a very strong case for offering Mr. Warren compensation. At one point, £95,000 was mentioned, but it came forward with a figure of £85,000, which was well above the sum awarded by the court, and recognised that the Met knew that it had done wrong and that it had to be seen to be offering a financial settlement that repaired some, but clearly not all, of that damage.

The third sticking point, which can never be resolved, is the Met’s reluctance over decades to record Mr. Warren’s allegation of perjury against the medical officer. Crimes may now be recorded over the internet, and everyone in the police force knows that every allegation of crime must be recorded, but for decades the Met refused to record Mr. Warren’s allegation. However, we are where we are, and the medical officer is deceased, so there is no point in pursuing that issue, and it is impossible to continue down that road.

I anticipate that the Minister will refer to the fact—I want to address this pre-emptively—that the perjury allegation was investigated. That was stated in correspondence from a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke). Mr. Warren contends that the court papers make it clear that perjury was never fully investigated in the way in which the letters to me allege that it was, and that what was investigated was bias.

One could argue about the fine detail of what is or is not in the relevant court papers, but I emphasise that in 1994 the Met acknowledged that it had a serious case to answer, and the offer of what was then a substantial sum of £85,000 acknowledged its failings in the case. Mr. Warren and I do not find that offer acceptable. He has not worked for the past 26 years because of the apparent vendetta against him, which made him leave the force. If one considers the cost involved and the anguish experienced, the offer of £85,000 was paltry.

Where does Mr. Warren stand 26 years after the fatal party? He has been unable to pursue the career to which he had, until then, devoted his life. He wanted to continue carrying out his daily business as a policeman in, as Sir Paul Condon described, an exemplary way. He suffers to this day from the legacy of that vendetta. He has had the false allegations about his mental health thrown back at him by neighbours decades after the fateful party in April 1982, because his case, as the Minister knows, has received considerable coverage in the local press, the police press and publications such as Private Eye. It is a well-known case locally.

The case smacks of the bad old days of the Met. It features attempts by less principled colleagues to throw a straight policeman out of the force, with a medical officer working for the Met producing a medical certificate stating that Mr. Warren was suffering from a personality disorder with paranoid tendencies, which the courts later found to be unlawful. It contained offers, which were unjustified in Mr. Warren's view, of medical pensions designed to persuade him to leave the force. Perhaps it was simply a case that his face did not fit and he was too honest for the job that he was being asked to do.

Twenty-six years down the track, it is time for justice to be done. Mr. Warren now suffers from cancer, and it is likely that it will take his life. All he wants at this point is the knowledge that his struggle for justice was not in vain, and a simple apology and settlement. I implore the Minister, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office to give this man the closure that he has tried to obtain for the past quarter of a century.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on securing this debate. The issue is longstanding, as he said, and I pay tribute to his commitment to his constituent in pursuing it. However, I am not sure what I can say that is new on the matter. As the hon. Gentleman has made us aware, the issue has a very long history, having run for nearly 26 years. It was raised in debates by the hon. Gentleman and his predecessor on at least two occasions—in 1994 and 2000. In the light of its long history, I do not intend to go into it in great detail, but it is important to set out the main points.

In January 1985, a medical certificate was issued to Mr. Warren by Dr. Charles Bott, the selected medical practitioner for the Metropolitan police, certifying that Mr. Warren was medically unfit and suffering from paranoia. The decision set out in the certificate was overturned on appeal by the independent medical referees appointed by the Home Office, but in 1986 another medical certificate was issued by Dr. Bott, and in 1988, the second certificate issued by him was declared by the administrative court to be unlawful, based on the technical ground that, when a medical officer of the force has already expressed a view that is adverse to a particular police officer, he cannot lawfully act as the qualified practitioner for deciding whether the same officer is permanently disabled. In acting as a qualified medical practitioner, Dr. Bott was performing a quasi-judicial function and was under a duty to act fairly.

During the hearing that year, Mr. Warren was awarded £13,312.53 by way of full compensation. The court did not order his reinstatement, and exemplary damages were refused. In 1989, Mr. Warren appealed to the Court of Appeal, seeking reinstatement and exemplary damages. Although the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, he was awarded a modest sum of a further £3,500. In response to claims that Mr. Warren had told lies against Dr. Bott, the Court of Appeal determined that Dr. Bott did not act unreasonably or irrationally, and that he had reached his decision in good faith. Lord Justice Balcombe, who presided over the case, believed that it was important to express in his concluding statement that

“the police have behaved very properly”

with regard to Mr. Warren and his case. He urged Mr. Warren to recognise that there are two sides to the story.

It must be noted that Mr Warren’s case against the Metropolitan Police Service was considered by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and that full compensation was awarded. In April 2000, after many years of protracted correspondence, the Metropolitan police wrote to Mr. Warren stating that, after careful consideration of the case in its entirety, it would make an ex gratia offer of £85,000, which had already been offered, and that the offer would be available for a further 28 days, after which it would be permanently withdrawn. Mr. Warren did not accept the offer and declined it by telephone.

Correspondence on 8 May 2000 to Mr. Warren from Sir Ian Blair, in his then role as deputy commissioner, formally closed the matter. The letter clarified that no further correspondence about the matter would be entered into, any letters received would not be acknowledged, and that any telephone calls would be promptly terminated. I understand that, on behalf of his constituent, the hon. Gentleman wrote to the Metropolitan police on 24 July 2008 asking for his case for compensation to be reconsidered. It was explained to him that it would not be reconsidered, and that the case remained closed.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring the case to a resolution and to help his constituent, particularly in the light of Mr. Warren’s state of health. However, this is not a matter in which Home Office Ministers have a specific role, following the creation of a police authority for the MPS on similar lines to police authorities for other forces. The Home Office has no legal authority to intervene in a matter of this kind, as it is a dispute between the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and the Metropolitan Police Service. However, I am confident that the Metropolitan police will be aware of today’s debate.

I have heard the argument before that the Home Office has no remit in the matter and I must express some surprise at that. The Home Office clearly intervenes repeatedly in relation to policing issues and I am sure that it has regular dialogue with the Metropolitan Police Service, the police authority and the Mayor in relation to these types of issues. Therefore, it is astonishing simply to say, “It’s not within our remit and we cannot intervene or seek to influence the matter.”

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman and he has clearly listened to my comments. It is not simply a matter of saying that the Home Office has no remit; he is talking about a case that has been to court and that clearly has legal aspects. I reiterate: the Home Office has no specific role in regard to the matter. The arrangements are that the creation of a police authority for the Metropolitan police in line with other police authorities means that the Home Office has no legal authority to intervene. The Home Office clearly has a view about policing matters, but the parameters of the case in respect of it being a legal dispute between a former employee of the Metropolitan police and the Metropolitan police means that it is not something on which the Home Office can directly intervene in the way he is asking. I want to make that clear.

I also want to make it clear that I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the actions of the Metropolitan police and I understand very well his sincerity in raising the issue. He has a view that has been echoed in parts of our media about what the Met’s intention might be on these matters, but there are other views and sides to the case. The facts, on which we can all agree, are that the Metropolitan police has made an apology—although I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the timing of that—and it has made an offer. As he politely threatened at the beginning of the debate, I am sure that he will not let the matter rest. I have pointed out the limitations of Home Office Ministers with regards to the issue, but I am confident that he will look at what appropriate channels are available to continue pursuing the case on behalf of his constituent. Unfortunately, the line that he has taken today cannot be pursued and the assurance he is seeking from me is not one that I can give.

I do not know whether the Minister was about to conclude his remarks, but soon after he began his response, he said that he believed that the police had acted fairly in the case. Although I am sure that he now knows from his briefing where Mr. Warren is in relation to the incident, he may not be aware that the inspector who kicked the whole process off by issuing the invitation to a blue movies party when Mr. Warren was supposed to be on duty was offered some words of advice about how he should conduct himself as his punishment for organising that event during police time. I hope that the Minister would agree that the outcome has been very different for the two key protagonists in the case. My constituent, Mr. Warren, has suffered immeasurably, whereas the person who kicked off this whole sorry saga has suffered with some words of advice.

I was about to conclude, so let me say this. I understand that Mr. Warren and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman are more than frustrated about these matters. However, there are channels of investigation for the Metropolitan police—not only in relation to looking into the case of Mr. Warren, but the other issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. There are also ways in which the Metropolitan police can be held to account for how it has investigated the matter and dealt with it over a period of time. Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, I have to say to him today that Home Office Ministers do not have the authority that he is asking for and therefore I cannot give him the reassurance that he seeks.

Sitting suspended.