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Shooting of Abdulkarim Boudiaf

Volume 633: debated on Monday 11 December 2017

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Rebecca Harris.)

I wish to use this Adjournment debate to raise the case of Abdulkarim Boudiaf, a constituent of mine who tragically lost his life in Tottenham on 14 March 2009. As Members of Parliament, we are first and foremost representatives of our constituents: we are sent here to speak for them, to represent them, to serve them, and to fight for their interests. This is a responsibility that I have always taken with the utmost seriousness, so tonight I stand here as the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, but also as the representative of the Boudiaf family, who are yet to find closure and are yet to get justice for their son who was taken from them in the most brutal of circumstances.

Eight long years have passed since Karim’s untimely death, yet the family’s grief remains as raw as on the day he died. Their search for justice goes on, and their son’s murderers are yet to be brought to justice for this heinous crime. Many listening may reflect on a high-profile case from a different constituency and think that the case of my constituent is eerily similar to that of Stephen Lawrence. Two of the original murder suspects, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were convicted and are serving minimum life terms. The remaining three prime suspects in the murder of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April 1993 are still free from conviction and punishment, however. I hope tonight that I will be able not only to shed some light on the circumstances of the case, but to highlight wider concerns about the implications of the double jeopardy rule in pursuing public prosecutions.

Karim, as he is known to his family, was a talented and outgoing young man with aspirations of attending the University of Northampton to read law. I was once a young man from Tottenham with aspirations to go to university to read law, so it breaks my heart that the opportunity was snatched away from Karim when he was callously murdered outside the Elmhurst pub on Broadwater Road in my constituency on Saturday 14 March 2009.

At the time of the tragic incident, Karim was enjoying an evening out with friends. Aged just 18 years, he was shot in cold blood at point-blank range and sustained fatal injuries to the abdomen and neck shortly after 10 o’clock in the evening. Emergency services were called to the scene and paramedics fought desperately to save his life, yet, sadly, in vain; he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Karim left behind a mother, a father and two siblings. As each day passes, the family struggle to come to terms with what happened and with the horrific circumstances in which Karim lost his life. No motive was identified, nor was the murder weapon ever found. It has been extremely difficult for the Boudiaf family to accept, first, that their son is gone; secondly, that the murder case remains unsolved; and, thirdly, that the perpetrators of this senseless crime walk free among us today.

I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter forward with such dedication. Does he agree that the reward offered for information in 2016 should be reviewed, and that a renewed publicity campaign should be launched to seek justice for the family of this young man, who was planning to study law and was a much loved member of his family and of the community?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is important that, when we offer incentives to the public to come forward, the sum involved is appropriate and the right amount to draw attention to the crime and to bring people out of the woodwork. The threshold in these sorts of cases is so high.

The perpetrators of this crime are walking free—free from conviction for this serious offence, free from justice, free from having to face up to their crimes and free to live under the pretence of being just another ordinary citizen in society. Karim’s family are not free. They cannot find any peace. They cannot find closure. They cannot live their lives with this injustice hanging over them.

Karim was out with a crowd of friends in the vicinity of a busy pub on a Saturday night. There were numerous witnesses who saw what happened to him, and some of them gave evidence, but their testimony was undermined during the investigation into his death. The Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service brought charges against two men, Asher Vance and Jack Johnson. However, the defendants were acquitted during a trial heard at the Old Bailey in 2009, much to the family’s disgust. The family’s grief was further compounded when they heard that any further prosecutions involving the only defendants charged with the murder of Karim could take place only if new and compelling evidence was brought to light in accordance with double jeopardy legislation.

Since the prosecutions failed, I have been raising questions about the relationship between double jeopardy and prosecution appeals. Was the original investigation robust and watertight? Were any stones left unturned? Why did the prosecution fail? Why was the murder weapon never found? Why was a motive never established? Is there anything that the police and Crown Prosecution Service could have done differently?

During the trial, Karim’s mother shared her anguish with the public through the recital of poetry. It is heartbreaking to have to say that the family felt that their ethnic background and Muslim faith was held against them, and that they felt marginalised throughout the process. I am no stranger to the issues of how race and ethnicity interact with our criminal justice system, having published a review into this subject area for the Prime Minister in September. The Boudiafs are a proud, loving family of Algerian descent, who have close ties to the Algerian community in my constituency and across London. It is a cause of real concern that any family would feel that their race, ethnicity and religion could influence and play a factor in whether the person responsible for a murder is brought to justice. Unfortunately, this is very much the situation that the Boudiaf family are faced with. Karim’s mother in particular has always felt that her Algerian background resulted in conscious and unconscious bias in the course of police investigations, which in turn contributed to a failure to secure a conviction at trial.

Social divisions, racial inequality and the disproportionate representation of individuals from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds as the victims of crime are issues we have seen highlighted time and again in criminal cases. Notably, all these issues were deeply rooted in one of the most high-profile cases in criminal history in the UK: the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and the subsequent miscarriage of justice that saw his case overlooked for 19 years.

Changes to the application of the rule of double jeopardy followed shortly after recommendations in the Macpherson report, published in 1999. Amendments to sections 75 to 97 in part 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 permit retrials where new and compelling evidence is brought against the acquitted. Those changes mean that acquittals can be quashed, and that qualifying and serious cases can be retried in the interests of, and in pursuit of, justice. However, it took 19 long years before significant failings were recognised. It was 19 years before substantial changes were made to the application of the double jeopardy rule. Ultimately, it took 19 years too long before only two successful convictions were secured under revisions to the doctrine of double jeopardy. How long will the Boudiaf family have to wait before justice is duly served and they can find some semblance of peace?

Following my interventions, the police launched a fresh appeal in 2015 for more information about the murder. To the family, the police efforts felt cursory. I understand that it is still an open case, but no active investigation is being undertaken at this point. For there to be an active investigation, the Homicide and Serious Crime Command would need to review the case. I am calling for a review and an active investigation as we approach the 10th anniversary of Karim’s death.

Against a backdrop of austerity and spending cuts since 2010, I am also concerned that police services lack the resources they need to actively investigate open cases—even in a brutal murder case such as this. The Met is already having to find £1 billion of cuts, which has led to the loss of 2,800 staff and the closure of police stations across the capital in recent years.

The Macpherson report will be 20 years old next year, and does my right hon. Friend share my concern that we still do not have the diversity in the workforce, particularly in the police, that we need so that communities are represented?

My hon. Friend is quite right that part of this story is about ensuring that Britain’s ethnic diversity is replicated across the criminal justice system at all levels. There has been some small progress in the Met police but, as my review found, we need to see diversity among the judiciary and our prison officers if we are to ensure that ethnic minority communities have faith and trust in our criminal justice system.

I am grateful to the Solicitor General for being here today to listen to and understand the feelings of the family. I am also grateful for his offer of a meeting with the family, senior representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, and I will take up that offer following this debate.

Karim was somebody’s son, brother and friend. As the family’s MP, I am not only calling for justice but representing them and ensuring that their voices, which have been silenced throughout the intervening years since the trial, are finally heard today in our Parliament. Karim’s family have not received adequate support from the state. They inform me that they continue to feel undermined and ignored to this day. Instead, they rely on the kindness of individuals in the Muslim community, in which they feel understood and supported.

This year marks the eighth year since Karim’s death, and his family’s determination to get justice for their son remains unwavering. Over the years, the family have repeatedly posed the same questions relating to the police’s failure to build a strong case to prosecute, the failure of the prosecution in court and the shortcomings of reporting methods and communication between the state and the bereaved family following the trial. The family, who are still reeling from the death, have said that they were not aware of any right to review the decision made by the CPS not to bring any further charges against the main defendant in the form of a retrial. The family were not made aware of the victim’s right to review and believed that any appeals would cost them financially. If they had been told, they would have submitted an appeal within the time limit, which is between five working days and three months following the CPS decision.

Clearly, this is an exceptional and alarming case. I would like reassurances from the Solicitor General today that if the family were to proceed with a review request, their submission would be treated and assessed under exceptional circumstances. What is more, the family are no clearer on who actually discharged the firearm that killed Karim, why witness intimidation was not taken more seriously, why special measures were not put in place to protect witnesses in the case, and whether there was forensic evidence that would have provided new leads and evidence for the investigation. The same questions that they posed almost a decade ago remain unanswered. In an all too familiar and tragic tale when it comes to victims of violent crime from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, the lack of communication and information about Karim’s case have caused the family to lose confidence and trust in our criminal justice system. Since Karim’s death, I have supported the family and witnessed at first hand the agony and trauma that they face and battle with on a daily basis. It pains me every time I meet the family to see the looks of despair and the glimmer of hope that has been dashed. Many who know the family believe that there is sufficient and compelling evidence that could lead to a conviction. They feel that, regrettably, the scope of the police investigation was limited. The thought of having no right of appeal and no retrial is unthinkable for them.

Although of course I appreciate the principle of double jeopardy, I am concerned that the rule is fundamentally flawed. It is for that reason that I call on the Government to look again at the rule. It is time for the Government to review how it operates in practice and whether it is working as it was designed, or whether in fact it is actually preventing miscarriages from being overturned, resulting in guilty individuals avoiding justice.

The Government must also consider how circumstances such as witness intimidation and shortcomings on the part of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service can be taken into account so that justice is served. It is, of course, right and proper that the law must safeguard against miscarriages of justice. Currently, to obtain a prosecution appeal against an acquittal, we have a strict and narrow application of the double jeopardy rule that uses a high evidential threshold to test for qualifying offences.

I believe the current legislation is inflexible and does not reflect modern conditions and scientific advances. The original trial must be fit for purpose, watertight and leave no stone unturned if the double jeopardy rule is to work properly and if we are to avoid miscarriages of justice like we see in this case. Recent evidence suggests that the scope for retrials of acquitted individuals under the legislation is too narrow.

The criminal law review published in 2014 confirmed that only 13 applications for retrial were made to the Court of Appeal under the provisions of the double jeopardy rule. Of those 13 applications, nine resulted in retrials. The defendants in seven of those cases were retried and convicted, with two defendants convicted on a guilty plea. Just one case led to acquittal. That evidence highlights clearly how restrictive the double jeopardy rule is.

In the case of Abdulkarim Boudiaf, there is still a long way to go until we can reasonably conclude that justice has been done. Those responsible for his murder are protected by this rule, so it logically follows that the tragic circumstances of this case call into question the fairness of the double jeopardy rule. The law must serve the interests of the victim, of the victim’s family, of the public and, most of all, of justice. In 2019 it will be 10 years since Karim was murdered. The case remains open.

I commend the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for movingly and persuasively putting his case on behalf of his constituents and for securing this Adjournment debate. I join him in expressing my regret and sadness that the family have not yet found justice for their son.

The right hon. Gentleman has already said that we have agreed to meet separately with the Boudiaf family, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to discuss this case in detail and, yes, to try to start rebuilding the faith that the family have clearly lost in the criminal justice system.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for providing detail on the investigation and trial. I hope to add some further context from the prosecution’s point of view. During the criminal trial, the prosecution presented substantial evidence, including three significant witnesses and closed-circuit television coverage that confirmed that the main defendant left the public house at the same time as the victim. However, one defendant was acquitted on the direction of the trial judge, and the other two defendants, including the one accused of murder, were acquitted by the jury.

Since the acquittal, as we have heard, the police have launched two media appeals for evidence in an attempt to try to find a breakthrough. Sadly, they have not been successful so far. I note the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman and by other hon. Members about the question of whether a renewed appeal for evidence should be made. I am sure that will be one of the specific questions about this tragic case that we will be able to discuss in person with the right hon. Gentleman, the family, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. Those questions are probably most appropriately dealt with in that forum. However, I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says with the greatest clarity, and I can assure him that the matter will be given the most anxious and serious consideration. Questions that he raises about the absence of the murder weapon and the evidence of motive—all these matters—must be seriously considered, and I give him that assurance.

What I can do productively in this debate is try to address the wider points that the right hon. Gentleman raised about support for the families of victims and about the double jeopardy legislation itself. I am of course deeply saddened to hear that the Boudiaf family feel so let down by the criminal justice system. I hope we can go some way to helping them to feel that they are being heard and understood when we meet them soon, but I understand that that cannot just be solved with a single meeting. To support families such as the Boudiafs, who suffer the trauma of the loss of a loved one and the acquittal of the alleged perpetrator, the CPS, the police and the charity Justice After Acquittal published a joint protocol in January. Under these national standards of support, bereaved families are offered a series of meetings with the CPS and the relevant police force. These standards also entitle families to a joint meeting with the CPS and the police following completion of full reviews of their case. The meetings are intended to provide an opportunity for the family to learn, in as much detail as possible, what might have led to the acquittal and what their options might be. Those standards did not exist at the time of this tragedy, but I very much hope they will go some way in helping us to improve communication, not just with families such as the Boudiafs but with every family that suffers such a trauma and such a tragedy.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly cites his recent review, and I am glad to have this opportunity to commend him for the work he has done to bring it about. The Government are currently preparing their response, and the CPS will respond as part of that. I welcome his findings in the review of the overall proportionality of CPS decision making, though we know there is still much to do. The CPS is considering his recommendations very carefully indeed. His review also notes that the CPS has proved itself willing to be open to external scrutiny, which gives different communities and groups an opportunity to hold CPS officials to account and to be heard. This serves as a strong framework to deal with situations where communication has broken down between a community and the CPS, as he suggests with respect to the Algerian community in Tottenham and indeed across London.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised concerns about the double jeopardy legislation. I hope I can reassure him of the importance of this legislation and provide some detail on the way the CPS applies it, though he will understand that wider policy considerations on this topic will be for my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to address. The double jeopardy rule that a person should not be tried twice for the same offence represents an important principle—a principle of providing finality in criminal proceedings that protects an accused person from a further trial and helps to ensure the efficient investigation of offences. One can see from a cursory view of that principle how important it is in a system where the rule of law must apply.

There are two principles arising from the common law which underpin the double jeopardy rule. The first is known by the terms “autrefois acquit” and “autrefois convict” Those principles provide a bar to the trial, in respect of the same offence, of a person who has previously been either acquitted or convicted of that offence. In addition, the courts may consider it an abuse of process for additional charges to be brought, following an acquittal or conviction, for different offences that arose from the same behaviour or facts. The law on double jeopardy was reformed in 2003 after recommendations of the Law Commission and those set out in Lord Justice Auld’s review of the criminal courts, which was published in 2001. Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Court of Appeal may, for certain specified offences, quash an acquittal and order a retrial, if the Court is satisfied of three particular alternatives.

The first is that there is compelling new evidence of guilt, to which the right hon. Gentleman did indeed allude. The second is that it is in the interests of justice for there to be a retrial—for example, it must be considered whether a fair trial would be unlikely because of adverse publicity about the accused or whether the police or prosecution has acted with due diligence and expedition with regard to the new evidence, and the length of time since the alleged offence must be considered. Finally, the Court must be satisfied that a retrial does not breach double jeopardy laws in EU law—that is, that the person has not been prosecuted and had a penalty imposed for the same acts in a contracting state. I said that the three were alternatives, but in fact they are cumulative reasons for the Court to be satisfied, so I correct myself on the record.

Parliament decided that there should also be other safeguards, including that the Director of Public Prosecutions must authorise a reinvestigation of an acquitted person. Indeed, the CPS published guidance on the retrial of serious offences that sets out in full the procedure and principles for instigating a reinvestigation of an acquitted person and an application to the Court of Appeal to quash that person’s acquittal. In essence, before the police can launch a full reinvestigation of acquitted individuals, they must provide the CPS with new and compelling evidence, which the police have not yet been able to obtain in this case. Examples of such new evidence might include DNA or fingerprint tests, or new witnesses to the offence coming forward.

Under section 78 of the 2003 Act, new evidence is “new” if it was not adduced at the original trial of the acquitted person. That would in fact include evidence that was available at the first trial but was not used. That is an important qualification that should be borne in mind. New and compelling evidence of guilt is required as a judge and jury would have already acquitted the person on the basis of the existing evidence before the court.

If evidence of a flawed investigation amounted to new compelling evidence of guilt and it was in the interests of justice to proceed with a retrial for a specified offence, that could be a basis on which to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal to ask for a retrial. Reliance on such evidence would raise questions about whether it would be in the interests of justice to order a retrial. If the failure to use the evidence was because of a lack of diligence or expedition by the prosecutor, that is a factor relevant to the application of the test set out in section 79(2)(c)—namely, whether it is in the interests of justice. There is currently no evidence that that is the situation in this particular case.

I praise the right hon. Member for Tottenham again for the seriousness with which he takes his duties to his constituents and for all the work he has done on the review that bears his name, which I am sure will lead to an improvement in the way the criminal justice system serves ethnic minorities in our country. My office will be in touch with his office very shortly to arrange a meeting with the Boudiaf family, the CPS and the police to try to start to rebuild that essential trust that has sadly but clearly broken down in this case.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.