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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 February],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.-- [Mr. Clelland.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 January],

Hon. Members: Object.

7 Mar 2001 : Column 391


Motion made,

Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Clelland.]

Hon. Members: Object.

7 Mar 2001 : Column 392

Customs and Excise

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

10 pm

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to hold this debate on a subject whose history goes back nearly 10 years. That may lead hon. Members to ask why I should raise the matter now. It has been precipitated by a recent court case in Liverpool, which came to an end two weeks ago last Monday, and by the press comments and speculation on that case and its history.

In July 1993, 50 kg of high-grade heroin, with a street value of £18 million, were seized in my constituency. That led to the arrest and conviction of eight men for their part in the smuggling ring that had brought that heroin into the country. In July 1996, two of those criminals, John Haase and Paul Bennett, were given a royal pardon by the then Home Secretary--10 months after they had been jailed for 18 years on those charges.

Having heard that those criminals were back on the street, I was about to leave my home to talk about the matter on Sky News when I was telephoned by the then Home Secretary. He asked me not to comment as it would imperil their lives and they had provided significant information to the authorities. Since then, I have discovered that only two people in the witness protection programme were involved in the case--to my knowledge. One was a woman informant who was a friend of one of the Turkish people convicted. The other person was a Customs officer, who had helped to penetrate the ring.

The two villains were on the streets, bold as brass, and back up to their old tricks almost straight away. I deferred, nevertheless, to the privileged information and advice of the then Home Secretary and did not publicise what was happening. However, I took the precaution of telephoning the then shadow Home Secretary to tell him what had eventuated. Sky, The Observer and the Sunday Mirror all came under heavy Government pressure not to run the story, but eventually it came out.

The intervention of the then Home Secretary came at the instigation of the trial judge--David Lynch--who had sentenced Haase and Bennett. He, in turn, was reliant upon information from Customs and Excise. That was the key to the release of those two criminals. A self-styled tough Home Secretary extraordinarily pardoned truly vicious, serious criminals, at the behest of the judge who had handed down 18-year sentences in the first place.

I have heard all the sophistry and the reasoning behind those decisions, but the matter is not easy to explain to people on the street. All that was to protect two Customs and Excise informants--the two criminals concerned. What was their valuable information? In effect, it fell into two areas, according to their Customs and Excise handler, Paul Cook. I have in my hand his witness statement, which is the key to what eventually happened.

One area was primarily concerned with the seizure of more than 150 weapons, including Armalites, Kalashnikovs and Uzis. The second area concerns an

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alleged potential hostage taking in Strangeways prison. During the intervening years, I have examined the matter in great detail.

In Liverpool, it was, and is, generally thought that the gun caches that were given up to Customs and Excise through the handler were an insurance policy for Haase and Bennett--something that they could trade with the authorities. A senior source in Merseyside police had confirmed that view. After all, no arrests took place in connection with those weapons seizures. It has been further alleged that all those weapons were bought for £82,000 from decommissioned stock held in a west midlands police depository and a north Wales police store, allegedly somewhere in Liverpool. I am cautious about those allegations because so many have been made. I am not interested in unsubstantiated allegations, some of which are very bizarre. However, an issue that, in my view, requires further investigation is being raised in this debate.

The second critical area in Mr. Cook's statement to the judge involves a gun that was smuggled into Strangeways prison. Again, there is a strong case to be made that Haase and Bennett were behind that, to curry favour with the authorities. Such new arrangements were certainly recognised by Metropolitan police as having set a precedent for a new type of bargaining between the law and criminals. The behaviour of Haase and Bennett in that case was later aped in the south-east, leading Scotland Yard's directorate of intelligence to alert all the agencies--the prisons, the police and Customs and Excise--to that plea-bargaining scam.

It is my belief that Haase and Bennett set up the arms caches in Liverpool and the smuggling of a gun into Strangeways prison. I ask the Paymaster General whether her Department, for example, has interviewed Paul Ferris about Haase and Bennett's attempts at weapons purchases. Does she know whether John Lally, Dominic Donnelly or Roger Jordan have been interviewed in connection with the smuggled guns?

I ask that question because there is deep concern that Customs and Excise has been gravely misled by two practised liars--Haase and Bennett--who have manipulated their handlers. The evidence is there for all to see. In particular, John Haase, who went down for another 13 years in the recent case, had a long history of doing deals to extricate himself from legal problems. As I say, happily, he was sent down two weeks ago, revealing him to be the recidivist that we all knew him to be. His confederate, Bennett, is on the run, facing drugs importation charges.

Yet Mr. Cook told the judge:

How wrong he was. Since his pardon, Haase has been arraigned on firearms, drugs and money-laundering charges. He cut Peter Flanagan's throat in the view of surveillance officers and he has intimidated witnesses, but he was accepted as a credible informer.

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Everything to do with Haase, in particular, remains suspect. From the original arrests in the Turkish connection drugs case onwards, there are urgent questions to be asked. I do not expect the Paymaster General to answer my questions, but the Government should. What should we make of the role of Detective Sergeant Williams--the only person retired from the south-east regional crime squad on ill-health grounds, according to an answer that I received to a parliamentary question, who had been charged with stealing seized heroin, corruptly demanding money and rape? He was suspended for more than four years on full pay, before being dismissed. None of the 34 original charges against him ever went to court.

What of the serious allegation that Haase planted a gun on Thomas Burke in Strangeways prison? The allegedly planted gun was a critical determinant in that man's conviction for murder. Although those matters are the responsibilities of other Departments, they stem directly from the handling of Haase and Bennett as informers. I specifically ask the Paymaster General whether she can tell me when John Haase ceased to be an informant.

I have a copy of a memo--written as late as 3 August 1998--that the assistant chief investigation officer, Steve Rowton, sent to Paul Cook, his subordinate, in which he tells him to cease contact with Haase and Bennett because of on-going political interest in the case. I shall, of course, place the documents in the Library. That happened after I had expressed an interest and had been afforded the opportunity to meet senior Customs officers to tell them about my disquiet about what was going on.

Has the Paymaster General been shown a report into the gun-smuggling incident at Strangeways? I understand that there was a report, but it has never been published. I wonder whether it will ever be published. If it is not published, why not? I appreciate security considerations, but major matters of public interest are involved. I also ask why there was no liaison with Merseyside police over the arms caches. Is it because they might have been seen as a set-up, which was the eventually expressed view?

The vast majority of our law enforcement personnel, across all the agencies, do a good job in difficult circumstances, but there have been some faux pas involving Customs and Excise. I may be wrong, but I believe that officers are still suspended both in the north-east and in Yorkshire because of cases that went spectacularly wrong. The Charrington case remains fresh in my memory and, in many ways, it overlaps with the case of Haase and Bennett.

It is interesting that the Dutch found themselves in a similar situation some years ago, with informers running their handlers rather than the other way round. A root-and-branch reform of procedures ensured that that did not happen again. Indeed, the Dutch succeeded in locking up a major league drug dealer, Curtis Warren from Liverpool, when Customs and Excise had failed to do so. However, when the case against Warren and others failed, he was able openly to boast to the investigating officers that he had made £87 million out of the deal and that there was not a thing they could do about it.

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The changes in Holland came about only after a full inquiry. I would go a lot further than having an inquiry. I propose two inquiries: one into the procedures for dealing with informers; the other into all the cases touched upon by Haase and Bennett. It is important to put on the record that many of the cases involve villains. "None of them are guilty, they are all innocent" is the clarion call that Members regularly hear in our constituency surgeries. It is never easy to divine who is telling the truth in these matters and I do not underestimate the mendacity of some of the people involved. However, even villains are entitled to justice. Such an inquiry would obviously need to be independent and transparent, so that justice might at last be lifted from the mire in which it has found itself in this sorry saga.

Although I was not to know, it is entirely appropriate that this issue has been raised on the day that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a bold and brave initiative and lots more new funding for the fight against drugs in our towns and cities. It is appropriate that we start off with a clear idea of where we are going. Every Member in the House knows of the damage that is done by these people. I just ask us to consider the damage that was done by allowing Haase and Bennett back on the street, on the basis on which they got out. Could anything usefully have been achieved by pretending that one could handle such people?

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