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5.1 pm

Mr. Wills: With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly. I echo the thanks others have expressed to all who have been involved with the Bill.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) raised the complex and technical issue of manorial rights. I will write to her in detail in response to the concerns raised by her constituent, but I can say now that there is an effective network for the spreading of information about new developments among lords of the manor and their professional advisers.

There is another side of this coin. Members have complained to me about the many anxieties, and the costs, that can arise from uncertain rights held by lords against them. We must strike a balance, and 10 years seems about right to us; but as I have said, I will write to the hon. Member for Upminster with a detailed response to the complex and technical issue that she raised.

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The task of the Land Registry remains to ensure that the legislation is implemented effectively. I repeat my assurance that the Government will do all we can to help it to rise to the challenge.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(4) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Contracting Out

Question agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With permission, I shall put together the remaining motions.



5.3 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I wish to present a petition about the use and abuse of fireworks.

There are problems in north-east Derbyshire and surrounding areas that affect vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, and also affect animals. The petition is particularly concerned with the impact on animals, but there is much concern in my constituency about wider issues.

The person who organised the petition expected to receive support only from friends, local vets and animal organisations, but because she had written two letters to the Derbyshire Times she secured 1,866 signatures rather than the 500 or so that she had anticipated. I only wish that I could receive a similar response when the Derbyshire Times contains material from me.

The petition reads:

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The petition is in the name of Brenda Elridge of Nethermoor road, Tupton, Chesterfield and the other petitioners.

To lie upon the Table.

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James Ashley

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

5.6 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): The fatal shooting of the sleeping, naked and unarmed James Ashley at around 4.20 am on 15 January 1998, when five of a group of 25 heavily armed police burst into his Hastings flat, demonstrates the failings of Sussex police, the inadequacy of police accountability and a lack of concern for the bereaved.

A single bullet fired at point blank range by Police Constable Chris Sherwood killed James Ashley, aged 39, as he stumbled out of bed dazed by the light of the torch shone by the raiding police. No arms or drugs were found on the premises, contrary to the information on which authorisation for the raid rested.

Jimmy Ashley's family are my constituents. I have witnessed their deep grief at their loss but that grief has been followed by anger and incredulity that no one has been brought to account for that needless death. Indeed, in the four years since, little has been revealed in the public sphere, little action has been taken, no one has been brought to account for what happened and it looks as if few lessons have been learned.

The Ashleys first heard of Jimmy's killing through chance television and teletext viewing. Indeed, at one stage a neighbour who had been listening to the radio approached them. They heard that someone who answered the description of their son had been shot dead by police in an area of Hastings where they knew their son lived. No name was given at that stage but they suspected that something was wrong.

The family made a series of telephone calls to Sussex police, to coroners and to a range of other individuals and organisations. They were given little information and even less help. They were never officially informed that James Ashley had died and they have never been officially told what happened. It was only after their numerous telephone calls, each striving to access the information that they needed, that they finally established that the dead man was their son and brother.

To make a tragic situation even worse, a few hours after stumbling on the news of Jimmy's death, the family were to hear on television Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse publicly casting false aspersions on Jimmy's character and insisting that his officers had acted properly.

The family made a referral to the Police Complaints Authority. It was after that complaint was made that the PCA commissioned reports into what had happened. Barbara Wilding, then assistant chief constable of Kent constabulary, was asked to investigate, and the late Sir John Hoddinott, then the chief constable of Hampshire police, was asked to produce a report into the chief constable's involvement in what happened. Those reports were produced and delivered to the PCA, which, following its normal procedures, issued letters accepting the adequacy of the reports. Yet neither report has ever been published and neither report has ever been exposed to public scrutiny.

The information in the reports has become known only because there were leaks to the press, specifically to The Guardian, which published a detailed article in 2001. I draw on much of the information in the leaked articles for my comments.

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It is a matter of importance, for the record, that, to the best of my knowledge, nothing in the reports has been denied. The Wilding report found a complete failure of corporate duty by Sussex police. The Hampshire inquiry concluded that three police officers lied about their intelligence in order to persuade Deputy Chief Constable Mark Jordan to authorise the raid. The report found that the raid was

That is absolutely damning.

The report also showed that the guidelines on firearms put together by the Association of Chief Police Officers was breached. Experts on firearms and the law told Kent police that even if the intelligence had been correct, the firearms should not have been authorised.

The chief constable was castigated. Sir John Hoddinott concluded that Paul Whitehouse, the then chief constable,

Sir John found evidence against Deputy Chief Constable Mark Jordan. That included criminal misfeasance and neglect of duty, discreditable conduct and aiding and abetting the chief constable's false statements. There was suggested evidence of collusion between some or all of the chief officers and an arguable case of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

These statements were contained in those investigation reports. The reports have been kept secret—apart from the leaks made to the press—and have never been available for public scrutiny. After four years, it is reasonable to ask what action has been taken in the face of such gross abuses.

I note that there are a number of players in the complaints system for the police, which has relevance when we consider that four years have passed. Those players are the Police Complaints Authority, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Sussex police authority and others. In considering the comments that I am about to make, I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider what the role of those key players should have been and where the dereliction of duty lay.

The CPS refused to prosecute senior officers. In May 2001, the presiding judge halted the Old Bailey trial of the police officer who shot James Ashley dead. At a separate trial in Wolverhampton the same month, the officers who planned the raid were acquitted when the CPS offered no evidence, alleging that the depth of corporate failure was too great to make any individual responsible. Two of the officers involved were promoted with backdated pay increases—an insult to the memory of James Ashley and an absolute affront to his bereaved family.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Jordan was suspended on full pay for nearly three years before being retired permanently on ill-health grounds with a full retirement pension at the age of 43. That enabled him to escape disciplinary procedures, yet, on 21 March 1998, during the debate on the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into police complaints in the aftermath of anger about the

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consequences of the Hillsborough tragedy, the House was promised that the police would no longer be able to evade disciplinary action in that way. That promise was given to the House in March 1998, yet four years afterwards apparently nothing has happened.

Indeed, the only definitive action has been the resignation of Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse in June 2001. That followed an intervention by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I praise the Home Secretary for his resolute action. His was the first clear action from the Home Office that led to the police having to face up to the consequences of what they had done. In the days that followed the Home Secretary's statement, Paul Whitehouse started to criticise the Home Secretary and queried the legitimacy of his statement, but the result was obtained, and Paul Whitehouse, the chief constable at the time of the shooting, resigned.

During the past two months disciplinary charges have been filed against three police officers. I presume that the hearings that relate to the disciplinary charges will be internal, not a matter for public scrutiny.

What should happen now? It is self-evident that the criminal justice system has failed the Ashleys. I call for the immediate publication of the Hoddinott and Wilding reports and for a full public inquiry into the events that led up to the shooting of James Ashley and in its aftermath, including the handling of the complaints.

Today, by a great coincidence, I have seen a report submitted by Sussex police authority that says that the police inspectorate has carried out an investigation, that 26 recommendations about changes in the way that the Sussex police operate have been made and that many of them have been implemented. However, having read that report, I still find it impossible to ascertain whether all those recommendations have been implemented. Indeed, none of them refer to the need for public scrutiny of what happened on the early morning when James Ashley was shot dead. Nothing in that report tells us how we should overhaul the police complaints system.

In a letter to me dated 27 June 2001, Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, stated:

After four years of non-action, I plead those special circumstances. I specifically reject the explanation passed to me by my right hon. Friend the Minister on 8 January 2002, when I was informed that the reports could not be made public because the Sussex police authority would not agree to it. It cannot be acceptable for a police authority that is in the dock itself to veto action of such great public importance. I do not intend to shoot the messenger, but I castigate the ruling of the police authority.

It is clear from the experience of the shooting of James Ashley and subsequent events that the whole system of police accountability must be overhauled. Scrutiny of that issue and use of police firearms must be improved. The needs of bereaved families must be paramount. No other family must be treated in the uncaring and cavalier fashion suffered by the Ashleys. No police officer should be able to evade disciplinary action by taking early retirement. The promises made to the House in 1998 must be fulfilled.

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I applaud the steps taken by my right hon. Friend in responding to my questions and representations in recent months. He was willing to listen to those representations and I was present when he met the Ashley family. I have been impressed by the way in which he listened carefully to the information on the train of events, which beggars belief. I commend him for initiating two new inquiries about which he informed me in responses to written questions. I should be grateful if he could indicate the scope of those inquiries and confirm that all the reports emanating from them will be published and subject to open scrutiny.

Public disclosure of James Ashley's killing will bring some comfort to the Ashleys, whose indefatigable and determined efforts have kept the issue in the public eye. I applaud them. It will also serve a wider public interest. In the past decade, the number of times when police officers have been armed has trebled, from 3,722 to 10,928. Some 57 people have been shot, 24 of whom have died. I am concerned in this debate about the shooting of James Ashley, but questions could equally be asked about Harry Stanley, who was shot in September 1999 when the table leg that he was carrying was mistaken for a sawn-off shotgun, or Andrew Kernan, a mentally ill schizophrenic who was shot dead by police in Liverpool on 13 July 2001. Many others have been shot dead without explanation.

The Ashley case exposes a culture of secrecy and cover-up. The means of investigation have shown themselves to be powerless and ineffective. I made a number of representations to the PCA on behalf of the Ashley family. Although I received sympathetic hearings, I did not feel that my representations were treated with the seriousness and urgency that they deserved. The Police Complaints Authority acted slowly. It may well explain that slowness by reference to the nature of the proceedings in which it is trapped, but I complained more than once that I was not being kept informed about how the inquiries were progressing. When the Police Complaints Authority referred me to other police authorities or to the Crown Prosecution Service, I felt that it was abdicating its responsibility.

It is extremely important that organisations that exist to deal with matters of public interest recognise the important role played by Members of Parliament as public representatives. Members pursue matters of public interest and matters that relate to their constituents. When a Member of Parliament is determined to get to the truth and to secure a satisfactory answer, he or she will not be deterred by a failure to communicate.

Major reform of police accountability is urgently required to ensure that there is justice in the many outstanding cases in which it is believed that there has been wrongdoing by the police, whether that is the ultimate wrongdoing—shooting dead innocent people—or any other kind. That is important also if the public consent that is essential for good policing is to be retained. I call on my right hon. Friend to complete the positive and welcome approach that he has demonstrated in his dealings with me in recent months by acceding to the renewed requests that I have made in this debate.

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