HC Deb 07 July 1980 vol 988 cc22-4 2224
§ 29. Mr. Christopher Priceasked the Attorney-General when the Director of Public Prosecutions will have reached his conclusions about further prosecutions as 23 a result of the Operation Countryman investigations.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)The director has under consideration at the moment allegations against 11 officers as a result of these investigations. It is impossible to estimate when he may reach a decision in respect of any of them.
§ Mr. PriceHow does the Attorney-General reconcile his statement in the House earlier this year—to the effect that, although there had been no obstruction by senior officers, there could have been obstruction by junior officers—with Deputy Commissioner Kavanagh's recent statement from Scotland Yard, to the effect that there had been no obstruction by anybody? In addition, how does he reconcile his statement with that made by Mr. Hambleton, the previous head of Operation Countryman and retired chief constable of Dorset, who said that there had been considerable obstruction by junior officers and some obstruction by one senior officer? Does he not accept that such statements should be cleared up before Operation Countryman is brushed under the carpet?
§ The Attorney-GeneralNaturally, I have sought to clear up what has been reported in the press. As regards junior officers, some weeks ago I said in the House that anybody, whether a police officer or not, was entitled to refuse to answer possible incriminating questions that were put by police officers inquiring into criminal allegations. Like any other citizen, he is exercising a right that is protected by the law. That cannot be treated as obstruction. I can see nothing inconsistent about Mr. Kavanagh's statement and my answer. I have had a long interview with Mr. Hambleton. The Director of Public Prosecutions has seen him several times. At no time did Mr. Hambleton give me, or the Director of Public Prosecutions, details of any obstruction of the type reported in the newspapers.
§ Mr. EmeryHow long has Operation Countryman been in progress? Is it not an inordinately long time? Although everybody wishes to ensure that the police are above reproach, does not my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it does good to no one if such things are allowed to drag on for so long?
§ The Attorney-GeneralIt is inevitable that an inquiry of this size, which involves several allegations that have been made by people serving long sentences of imprisonment, should take a considerable time to investigate. Other delays have been caused for other reasons. For example, it was intended to call two persons to give evidence in a case against a police officer. Those two persons were awaiting trial. It was rightly decided that the trials involving the future witnesses should be concluded before the two persons were called as witnesses for the prosecution against a police officer.
§ Mr. Jeffrey ThomasHow many more police officers will be investigated by the Operation Countryman team? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that any attempt to truncate the inquiries will be seen as an attempt at a cover-up?
§ The Attorney-GeneralI can reassure the hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no intention of truncating the inquiry. Eleven more officers are now under investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions. As the inquiries are in progress it is impossible for the Director of Public Prosecutions or me to estimate how many more cases there will be. Neither the Director of Public Prosecutions nor I intend to call a halt to this inquiry before it has been properly concluded.