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BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

Motion made,


Hon. Members: Object.

HUMAN RIGHTS (JOINT COMMITTEE)

Motion made,


8 Jan 2001 : Column 847

Hon. Members: Object.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Motion made,


Hon. Members: Object.

8 Jan 2001 : Column 848

Claire Oldfield-Hampson

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

1.7 am

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): For a moment, I was rather worried that the press would not be able to report this very important debate. Many of my constituents, like many people across the country, would be very interested to learn about and to follow the issue. I am therefore pleased that the motion to sit in private has been defeated.

As the Minister knows, and as the title of the debate indicates, the purpose of this debate is to promote consideration of the way in which victims are treated by the courts. I have been provoked to initiate the debate by reading the transcripts of the two trials on the manslaughter of Claire Oldfield-Hampson. Before I deal with some of the details of the case, I assure the Minister that I do not intend to seek a 30-minutes Commons retrial of it. I simply want to make the case for greater consideration in the courts of victims and their families, especially in cases involving capital offences in which victims cannot be present in person to defend themselves against accusations that may be made against them.

When a defendant attacks the character or reputation of his or her victim, that victim--or the family of that victim--should have the opportunity to defend himself or herself. Such an opportunity should be a fundamental right enshrined in both our law and our court procedure. Even when a defendant is pleading guilty, if he or she chooses to mount a defence in mitigation based on claims against the victim, he or she should expect to have any and all aspects of his or her claims against the victim subjected to rigorous scrutiny and cross-examination. Not to do so would result in the type of travesty that occurred in the case of Claire Oldfield-Hampson.

I did not know Claire Oldfield-Hampson, or her husband or mother. They did not live in my constituency; nor did the killing or the trial take place there. However, Claire's sister and brother-in-law, Joanne and Alex Bryce, have lived in my constituency for many years and I have known them for many years. Claire's mother moved to my constituency recently.

The bald facts of the case are that Claire Oldfield-Hampson was born on 14 November 1954. She married David Adrian Hampson on 14 September 1985. They lived in March in Cambridgeshire and had a daughter, Felicity, who was born on 30 September 1988.

The life of the family was not easy. Claire, who was formerly a civil servant, had to go back to the job market when her daughter was seven to do unskilled work for Tesco. Her husband had a poor employment record and there were allegations that he had been sacked from most of his jobs. Claire stood by him despite his continual and obvious failure to establish any kind of permanent, secure job. For prolonged periods he was unemployed.

Claire loved her daughter Felicity very much. The testimonies that I have received from family and friends and the letters that I have seen, in which Claire talks only about her daughter and not herself, clearly demonstrate that that was the case. It is important that I tell the Minister that. Claire took her daughter to many events, such as riding, drama, opera and swimming, and was saving for her future by buying children's bonds.

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Claire Oldfield-Hampson was, according to the courts, unlawfully killed by her husband with a hammer on 25 September 1996. He buried her body in a shallow grave in the garden in the early hours of the following day and, within two days, was using her bank accounts and leading a life of deception involving their child Felicity--who was then seven--who provided excuses about her mother's whereabouts.

The deception was perpetuated for two years, while calls in person and by telephone were received by Hampson and further excuses were given. Regular contact was maintained between Felicity and her grandmother, Mary Oldfield, who lived only five miles away. Mary met the child on a fortnightly basis, baked cakes to send to Claire, knitted for her and exchanged Christmas, birthday and wedding anniversary cards; they were very close. Mary Oldfield gave a cheque for £3,000 to David Hampson to give to Claire to help them through some difficult times, and she offered them a car. There were many ways in which the family were supporting the Hampsons.

The deception continued until the family--largely through their own efforts and persistence--encouraged the commencement of police investigations. Hampson confessed to killing his wife only when it became absolutely clear that there was no other possible explanation. Hampson was tried at Northampton Crown court in October 1999, when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility because, he alleged, he was depressively ill as a result of his wife's constant nagging.

The judge--His Honour Judge Francis Allen--concluded by accepting that Hampson's wife behaved to Hampson in a way which was calculated to impact on his mind. The judge gave Hampson a six-year prison sentence, which was then reduced on appeal in July last year to just four years. He was released last month, only 14 months after the original trial.

During the two-year deception, Hampson plundered Claire's personal bank account, shares and insurances to the tune of £11,000 and fraudulently claimed benefit. The intention of seeking a conviction for fraud was dropped on the ground that Hampson would ultimately be tried for a more serious capital offence. The Crown Prosecution Service accepted just four days before the original trial the plea for manslaughter. No witnesses were called, there was no jury and the trial took under an hour.

I intend to dwell primarily on the quality of justice and the procedures at the trial. I am not a lawyer and I have no experience of criminal law. I speak as a lay person seeking justice for victims. The Minister will understand how deeply aggrieved a victim's family might be if they experienced the kind of justice meted out in this case.

Most of us have a shrewd idea of what most normal people consider to be fairness and natural justice, and this case clearly does not represent that. The trial consisted basically of a chronological description of the facts by the Crown Prosecution Service, followed by an outrageous denigration of the character of the deceased by the defence. Claire Oldfield-Hampson had her reputation defamed, her character assassinated and her memory vilified. No one defended her and the CPS could not even get some of its basic facts right. It got wrong the wedding day and the date when the police first made contact with Hampson.

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The court heard a one-sided case with a litany of uncorroborated claims and accusations made without scrutiny, cross-examination or questioning. The reduced plea was propped up solely on the flimsy science of retrospective psychiatry. Psychiatrists have an honourable profession, but to say that one can know the state of mind two to three years earlier of someone who was capable of deception for two years should be open to question. The fact, however, is that the CPS accepted that that was sufficient to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter. That should have been fully tested in the court, but unfortunately it was not.

I know that the Minister is not responsible for the CPS and that these questions should really go to the Attorney-General, but we must ask what performance targets the service is trying to achieve. Is it simply seeking to secure any conviction with the minimum cost and use of court time, irrespective of the cost to the family and their reputation?

There were several travesties in the court, beginning with the opening words of the defence counsel, who said that Hampson was


Hampson killed his wife, buried her in the garden, took money from her, deceived the family and the world, involved the child, attempted to defraud the benefit system, fraudulently accepted money from his mother-in-law, accepted guilt only at the 11th hour and had a less than impressive and rather dubious employment record; but apart from all that, perhaps he was a man of good character--but those matters should be taken into account first.

We were told that Hampson was depressively ill and that there was a causal link with the killing, but we were also told in the court that he was last seen by a psychiatrist on 28 August 1996, one month before the date of the killing, and was said to have


We were told that he was well and that his symptoms had settled. We were also told that he miraculously recovered from his illness following the killing of his wife, and that that proved the causal link, but we were not told the history of the depressive illness before he met Claire.

We were asked to show sympathy for a man who had been so depressed that he attempted suicide in 1996. We were told that it was a genuine suicide attempt and not just pathetic attention seeking, yet a letter from a friend of Claire's says that he went to the north of England to attempt suicide because


We were told that Claire was "constantly nagging" Hampson, making him depressively ill, but once again there was little corroborative evidence and no opportunity for proper cross-examination. Perhaps most hurtful of all were the claims that Felicity


and turned


8 Jan 2001 : Column 851

What part? A big part or a small part? Was it corroborated? We are not given the information.

We are also told that Claire was not on speaking terms with the family and quarrelled with them all, but even the most cursory cross-examination would bring that claim into serious question. The family are criticised for having failed even to


However, they had no reason to believe that she had disappeared for that period, and the accusation was wrong, particularly since, as I said earlier, they were still exchanging Christmas cards and wedding anniversary cards.

The court was told that at the time of the killing, Hampson was doing DIY in the kitchen, and approached Claire from behind and hit her on the back of the head with a club hammer. Why did he need to do DIY in the kitchen, when his mother-in-law had only just bought a whole new kitchen suite for them? Why did he use a club hammer for DIY in the kitchen? It might be used to smash plates, but not to do DIY. Hampson was left-handed, so why did he bludgeon his wife on the right side of her head?

Finally, as I have already said, there is the propping up of the case with the flimsy science of retrospective psychiatry. Sympathy was shown for the perpetrator, although it should have been shown to the victim. Perhaps she was going through some kind of stress. We certainly know that she saw her GP the day before she was killed, and was given a prescription, which was never made out. We do not know what state of mind she may have been in.

When the case came to appeal in July last year, the family received a letter from the registrar of criminal appeals two working days before the appeal took place. They were given no advice, as they should have been, about what was admissible and what was inadmissible evidence. They were given no help whatever.

The Minister may kindly point out that it is not possible for me, as a lay person, properly to understand the complexity of the legal processes that surround such a trial. However, even if it were possible--I am sure that it is--to take me round the labyrinth of small steps of tortured logic that end up with the way in which such trials are conducted, that detailed understanding fails to recognise the big picture that we see out there in the public domain.

That picture is that, from a victim's point of view, such trials provide an horrific phantom of justice. What kind of message do they send to potentially violent men? It is that if their wives or partners nag them enough, and they feel a bit mentally unwell, it is okay to bludgeon them to death and dump them in the garden until the crime is found out. When the case comes to court the court will show such men sympathy, while showing only contempt for their victims.

Victims deserve justice, not to be cast as perpetrators, without any opportunity for defence. On a superficial level, reading the transcript of the case, one could not help coming to the conclusion that there was only one victim

8 Jan 2001 : Column 852

and one perpetrator--that the victim was the perpetrator, and the perpetrator was himself the victim, for whom we should show sympathy.

That is a contortion of justice. To the victim, the courtroom shows a world turned upside down. If this is what our country calls justice, we should be ashamed of what we are doing for victims. Claire Oldfield-Hampson was first unlawfully killed by her husband and dumped in the garden; then she was exhumed by the state, taken to court and slaughtered again.

Our courts are supposed to be courts of justice, not courts of compromise--hideous and appalling compromise, at that. From the public's point of view, justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done. First and foremost, our justice system should consider the victims and their families. After all, it is primarily on their behalf that our society seeks to uphold the law and administer justice. Victims are already grieving and aggrieved parties. The process should not leave them more aggrieved.

The family have further complaints about the way in which the police and social services have dealt with the case--but I shall now draw my conclusions, which I hope the Minister will take on board. First, Claire Oldfield-Hampson deserves an apology for the way in which the state has treated her and her memory. If that is normal practice, we need to learn lessons and an urgent review of the treatment of victims in courts is needed. Victims should have the right of automatic reply during the trial to respond to the case for mitigation. Defendants should be fully aware, even if they accede to a guilty plea, that any claims that they make against their victims will be open to full and proper scrutiny.

The Lord Chancellor's Department should undertake a full assessment of the appropriate weight given to psychiatric reports, especially in circumstances in which assessments of mental state are made years after the event. The Department should consider whether it is appropriate to give sole weight for a decision on whether a charge for murder should be commuted to manslaughter if the primary source of evidence is a retrospective psychiatric report. Even where a victim is not attacked in seeking mitigation, the judge and the jury should hear a statement from the victim, or his or her family, before the consideration of sentence. I believe that the Government intend to do that in due course, and I welcome that.

Finally, victims and their families should be given at least a month's notice, state-sponsored legal advice, and support on how to present admissible evidence in cases where a convicted killer appeals for a reduced sentence. I look forward to the Minister's reply.


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