“Don’t be put off clearing paths because you’re afraid someone will get injured. Remember, people walking on snow and ice have a responsibility to be careful themselves. Follow the advice below to make sure you clear the pathway safely and effectively. And don’t believe the myths—it’s unlikely you’ll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries if you have cleared the path carefully.”

Curiously, this page was recently removed from the site, but we still have the words of the new Attorney-General, who in 2010 said that

“the courts are very unlikely to find the public-spirited domestic snow shoveller negligently liable for any injuries, in the absence of spectacular incompetence.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 171.]

More seriously, the signal that the Government are sending to volunteers in clause 2 is misleading. It implies a lower standard of care is needed by those engaged in altruistic pursuits. Parents may face the fear that if their child is injured on a school trip due to fault with the organisers, they will struggle to get compensation. Parents may well take a dim view that because the negligent organiser failed to use the right safety equipment, they will not receive compensation to help them support their newly injured child. Alternatively, they may boycott the activities the school has arranged. How does that help the school, the parent or the child?

Secondly, the Lord Chancellor bemoans the

“member of the emergency services who feels they can’t come to the rescue of someone in difficulty because of the fear they will end up in trouble for breaching health and safety rules”.

If this is intended to give the green light to anyone, trained emergency service worker or public-spirited bystander, to act with less care and a feeling of impunity, it is dangerous. The emergency services have vast experience of how and when to intervene. As the TUC has said:

“There is not a shred of evidence that there is a problem. The police, fire and ambulance unions have worked closely with their employers and the HSE to develop guidance which ensures health and safety protection is compatible with emergency situations...There is not a case of anyone being prosecuted for trying to save someone in an emergency situation”.

The few, but widely reported, cases of systems breaking down require better training and communication, not legislation. The everyday hero is not put off from helping out in a crisis by fears for his or her own safety, so why would they be by fear of litigation? Yet the Bill will give no more legal protection—so much for clause 4.

Clause 3, while equally vacuous, has a more malign intent. The Lord Chancellor told The Sunday Telegraph yesterday:

“This is a Bill that’s out to…slay the health and safety culture. It is about trying to restore common sense to the kind of situations which happen all too often and very seldom get to court - where

21 July 2014 : Column 1210

somebody has an accident at work, it’s entirely their own fault, they have got a perfectly responsible employer who has the normal health and safety procedures in place but that person does something dumb, hurts themselves and sues the employer anyway.”

In that situation, the court would find against the claimant on liability or quantum. This is a further, though probably ineffectual, attack on the rights of employees, and an attempt to give the whip hand to employers, even in this sensitive area, and to please the Association of British Insurers, whose members are such generous donors to Tory party funds. They hope that claims will be suppressed and individuals driven to self-insure.

Once again, where is the evidence? The number of workplace claims has halved in the past 10 years; more than half of claims are for less than £5,000; and 75% are for less than £10,000. It is a myth that negligence cases are easy to bring, and now that the Government have all but abolished strict liability, who is the stronger party in workplace disputes—the employer, insured and in control of the accident site, or the injured employee, unable to earn their salary and plucking up the courage to sue their boss?

The case for the Bill is not made out. The Lord Chancellor said he did not need a Bill to dismantle criminal aid or embark upon his disastrous privatisation of the probation service, so why does he need one to tackle what has been overwhelmingly proven to be a matter of education, rather than enforcement? The Bill does nothing to tackle the growing crisis in British prisons or the hundreds of thousands of people going unrepresented in the family courts or lacking the most basic advice where social welfare legal aid has been taken out of scope. The Bill addresses none of the damage the Government have done to the criminal justice system.

Rather than stoking unjustified fears, the Government should be tackling the real crisis in our legal system: the steady erosion of our civil liberties and access to justice, which protects the strong and leaves the ordinary citizen without justice or redress.

6.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate, whether with speeches or interventions.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice indicated in his opening speech, the core aim of the Bill is to ensure that people, especially employers, who generally take a responsible approach towards the safety of others during an activity, feel confident that the courts will take full account of this in the event that they are sued. Employers should not be prevented from growing their businesses by irresponsible employees who seek to harm them financially by bringing unfounded negligence claims. The fear of litigation can force businesses to go further than they need to when planning and managing for health and safety risks, which in turn can have a damaging effect on growth. The Bill should reassure employers who adopt a generally responsible approach towards the safety of others during the course of an activity that the courts will always take full account of the circumstances prior to making a decision on liability.

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The social action clause is part of a wider package to fulfil a coalition agreement commitment. Figures published last year showed that the proportion of people volunteering at least once a year increased from 65% in 2010 to 73% in 2013. This is due partly to the initiatives that we have been backing to support people getting involved in their local communities. For example, the National Citizen Service programme for 16 and 17-year-olds saw 40,000 young people give more than 1 million hours in 2013 to socially useful activities. The Step Up to Serve initiative, launched last November by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, aims to double the number of young people aged between 10 and 20 participating in social action by 2020. Earlier this year, in April, the Prime Minister launched a new volunteering award called “Points of Light”, which recognises outstanding individual volunteers who are making changes in their community and inspiring others.

Those are only a few of the initiatives that are happening on a local basis all around the country. The commitment that people show to volunteering is something that they and we can be proud of, but we also know that volunteering rates could be increased further if barriers that deter people from getting involved are removed. That is where the Bill has another important role to play. We want people to feel confident about participating in activities that benefit others without worrying about what might happen if something goes wrong and they find themselves defending a negligence claim in the civil court.

The same goes for good Samaritans who might be deterred from intervening to help somebody in an emergency in case they are sued for making the position worse. The perception of legal risk can be a bar to positive action. As the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, the Bill should provide a valuable reassurance to people who are acting for the benefit of society or intervening in emergencies: that the court will take the context of the person’s actions into account when reaching a decision on liability.

As I have said, I am grateful to those who have contributed to this debate, although I must say that I am somewhat disappointed, but not surprised, by the tone adopted by the Front-Bench spokesmen for Her Majesty’s official Opposition. They ask for examples; I suggest that they need only refer to Hansard to see an example given by their colleague, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck), who said in a debate:

“I once stepped off a bus and found a lady lying on the pavement in front of me. There was a group of people around her, but none of them had done anything. Some of them said, ‘I don’t want to be sued.’”—[Official Report, 10 June 2014; Vol. 582, c. 489.]

That is an example from one of their own colleagues, and of course—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) chunters away from a sedentary position, as always. He says that that is the only example, but if he had taken the trouble to read Hansard, he would know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) also gave an example from his experience as a first responder.

Mr Slaughter rose

Mr Vara: The hon. Gentleman seeks to come back, having been put in his place. I am happy to give way.

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Mr Slaughter: There were two such hon. Members—who have now been mentioned three times—but there were a couple today who took the opposite view, including my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. I believe there were 50 Members of the other place who spoke in the debate and not one of them mentioned that issue. This is a turkey of a Bill; the hon. Gentleman ought to admit it.

Mr Vara: The hon. Gentleman says I have given two examples. That is two more than the number of times he has repeated the same question, over and over again. I am sorry that he does not like the answer, but he will have to live with it.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) was quite candid in his comments. I have to say that while I respect his distinguished career in the law and his legal brain power, on this issue I will respectfully disagree with him. What we are trying to do is consolidate the measures elsewhere in the statute book in one Bill. Also, as my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary made clear, we are seeking to send out a powerful message to public: that when they do the right thing, the law will take them into account.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who spoke in support of the Bill. As he rightly put it, we should judge the Bill by its content, not by the number of clauses. He asked whether it would be extended to Northern Ireland. That is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, as it is a devolved matter, but I will certainly be following with interest to see what progress is made by the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is comforting that he has put on the record his support for the measure.

We need to be clear that there is nothing in the Bill to stop an employee bringing a negligence claim against an employer. [Interruption.] Clearly the paymasters of the Labour party, the trade unions, have been lobbying it hard, as was abundantly clear from the way Labour Members spoke about their friends in the trade unions. The Bill is not designed to reduce standards of health and safety in the workplace or to leave workers without a remedy where they have been injured by the negligent actions of an irresponsible employer. It will, however, provide valuable reassurance to employers who have taken a responsible approach to safety, but end up in court when, for example, an employee suffers an injury that simply could not have been foreseen by any reasonable person. The Bill will send the powerful message that the courts will always consider the employer’s general approach to safety in the course of the activity in question before reaching a decision on liability.

The courts will, of course, need to consider in every case whether someone was acting for the benefit of society or adopting a generally responsible approach to the safety of others in the course of a particular activity. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) chunters away from a sedentary position. All I will say to him is “Where are your Back Benchers?”

Sadiq Khan: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Vara: I will give way, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to answer the question that I have just put to him. Where are his Back Benchers?

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Sadiq Khan: I am intervening to ask whether the Minister can tell us the difference between the position created by the Bill and the position under the Compensation Act 2006. It is a simple question: what is the difference?

Mr Vara: The right hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening. He was concentrating so hard on preparing his question that he completely ignored the question that I had asked. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. Mr Khan, you have got your point on the record. Everyone is joining in the shouting across the Chamber, and it is very undignified. Minister, will you please continue your speech?

Mr Vara: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am happy to continue, in a reasoned and measured way.

As I was saying, the courts will need to consider in every case whether someone was acting for the benefit of society or adopting a generally responsible approach to the safety of others in the course of a particular activity. However, as has already been pointed out, the Bill will not preclude them from considering any other relevant factors. It will not give medics, police officers, teachers or anyone else immunity from being found negligent if all the circumstances of the case warrant that. Nor will the Bill have any bearing on criminal liability. If a person’s conduct amounts to the commission of an offence such as gross negligence manslaughter, there may be criminal as well as civil repercussions.

I believe that the Bill will serve an important purpose in reassuring a wide range of people that the law will treat them fairly, and that they should not let worries over being sued deter them from making a valuable contribution to society. Again, I thank all Members who have contributed today. I simply say to Opposition Members that they should illustrate their observations by their actions. If they really mean what they said earlier, where are their Back Benchers, and why will they not be voting against the Bill?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill: Programme

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 14 October.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

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(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration o of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): With the leave of the House, I shall take motions 3, 4 and 5 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Children and Families

That the draft Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years, which were laid before this House on 11 June, be approved.

Local Government

That the draft Local Government (Transparency) (Descriptions of Information) (England) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 24 June, be approved.


That the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 9 July, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Reform of the Eu’s Staff Regulations

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 18638/11, a draft Regulation amending the Staff Regulations of Officials and the Conditions of Employment of other Servants of the European Union; further notes that this Regulation is now in force; further notes that the UK voted against the Regulation at the Council of Ministers in October 2013; regrets that, in the context of the first real-terms cut to the multi-year EU Budget framework secured by the Prime Minister in 2013, the final Regulation was not more ambitious in achieving genuine reform and real budgetary restraint in the EU Institutions; and welcomes the modest reforms and savings that were achieved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.


Restoration of the Mainline Platforms at Carnforth Railway Station

7.3 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I wish to present two petitions. The first has been signed by more than 5,000 people and declares that the petitioners support Peter Yates, MBE, and the people of Carnforth in their campaign.

21 July 2014 : Column 1215

The Petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the Petitioners support David Morris MP's campaign to support the reinstatement of the platforms at Carnforth Station on the West Coast Mainline.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to put pressure on Lancashire County Council to approve funding for a feasibility study to allow the platforms to be re-instated.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Train Services at Silverdale Train Station

7.4 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): The second petition has over 300 signatures.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that there should be more train services stopping at Silverdale rail station. The Petitioners believe that the trains to Barrow and to Manchester Airport that pass through Silverdale should all stop at the station.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take steps to support Silverdale station in any further franchise applications in the area.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Youth Centres in Cleethorpes

7.6 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I rise to present a petition on behalf of petitioners from the Haverstoe and Croft Baker wards in Cleethorpes and the wider area of north-east Lincolnshire, who are greatly concerned

21 July 2014 : Column 1216

at proposals from North East Lincolnshire council to close youth centres in the borough and, in the jargon, to reconfigure the council’s youth services. Four of the centres are in the neighbouring constituency of Great Grimsby, but of the two in the Cleethorpes constituency, one has acceptable alternative provision but the centre known as “Trin” in Trinity road, Cleethorpes, is greatly valued by local youngsters. I have visited it on a number of occasions and on one of those occasions was accompanied by the Humberside police commissioner, Matthew Grove, who, like me, was extremely supportive of the work done there by the youth leader Cazzie Adams and her team. The petitioners believe the proposals are “unfair to young people” and

could lead to an increase in antisocial behaviour

and the loss of “up to 24 jobs”. They urge the council

to urgently reconsider their decision to close

the youth centres.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Humble Petition of the people of North East Lincolnshire,


That the proposal of North East Lincolnshire Council to close youth centres in the Borough is unfair to young people who would be forced out onto the streets, which could lead to an increase in antisocial behaviour, and to the staff with up to 24 jobs being lost.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges North East Lincolnshire Council to urgently reconsider their decision to close the aforementioned youth centres.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.]


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Alleged Police Crimes (Investigations)

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

7.6 pm

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): I am most grateful to have this chance to introduce this Adjournment debate shortly before the summer recess.

Late one February evening five years ago my young constituent, Luke Bland, received a call from one of his closest friends, Ben Blackford. Ben’s car had been involved in a minor accident and he asked for Luke’s help to move it. Even though it was a dark night and the conditions were icy, Luke—a bright 20-year-old who was hoping to join the police—did not hesitate and went off to help him on the road between Uckfield and Lewes.

At around 1.30 in the morning, having moved Ben’s car to a safe position off the main road into a side lane, the two young men were walking along the public footpath to meet the police officers who had arrived at the scene. At that moment, another car, a Lotus Exige, came round the corner, out of control. It hit both young men. Luke was hit so hard his body was knocked over a fence and into an icy pond 12 metres away. He died instantly. The Lotus then hit Ben and carried him underneath it, as it careered over the verge, went through a fence and came to a halt in the pond. Ben sustained injuries from which he has not yet recovered, and in all probability never will do.

There are other matters which are not the subject of this debate but which should cause us disquiet, such as the fact that the driver’s insurers paid for him to have a new car, but there was no claim entitlement for the loss of a young man’s life. Indeed, in seeking justice Luke’s family had to spend thousands of pounds of their own money to take on the system.

One could put this down as a tragic accident. For Luke’s parents, Sally and Peter, and his brother and sister, it was the loss of a much-loved son and brother, but could it have been avoided on such an icy night? How could the driver have known that two people would be on the pavement that night? Indeed, that was the outcome of the trial, which found that the driver was not guilty of dangerous driving. However, the more I have looked into this case, the more evident it has become that there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice.

The driver of the other car was an off-duty police traffic officer, Stewart Chalmers, who was back at work quickly and without a blemish on his record. His destroyed Lotus was replaced, by his insurance company, with a Porsche. His life was back on track. He was back at work as a road traffic officer, stopping other motorists who were breaking the law, perhaps without a valid MOT or insurance. But thanks to dedicated research by the parents of Luke and Ben we know now that that is exactly what Mr Chalmers had himself been doing prior to the accident: driving without a valid MOT or insurance. The issue in this debate is how crimes by police officers are handled and how the rights and interests of the victims can be lost.

In my 13 years as MP for Wealden, I have met hundreds of Sussex police officers—we all do this in the course of our work. I have found them exactly as I would hope police officers to be: conscientious, decent, hard-working people who want to make their communities

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safer. But for all those hundreds of good officers, every barrel has, as they say, some rotten apples. As soon as Stewart Chalmers had hit the two young men, those police officers who were already at the scene, having witnessed the accident, ordered him out of his damaged car. It is recorded in witness statements that they soon realised that the Lotus driver was a police officer, and he was ushered into a police vehicle. Had it been any ordinary member of the public involved in a death by driving incident, we would rightly have expected him to be questioned there and then, and indeed taken to a police station for further questioning. However, for reasons we have never established, he was not held for questioning and he was not taken to a police station. Instead, he was taken to be checked out at hospital and then allowed to go home.

In the days following the accident, the inspector in charge went on holiday but, having read the eyewitness statements, he left instructions for Stewart Chalmers to be arrested and questioned. We know that the Police Federation made representations—“ferociously” was the word used—against his arrest; shockingly, it actually threatened the arresting officer that he would be sued personally if he proceeded. Mr Chalmers was not, therefore, arrested until the inspector returned from holidays and demanded it—two whole weeks later. That two-week delay allowed Mr Chalmers to come up with a range of explanations for what had happened and why he should not be held responsible.

On the night of the accident, Ben’s mother was called by the hospital where her seriously injured son was unconscious. Luke Bland’s parents were contacted in the middle of the night, not by the police but by a friend, to be told that their son may have been injured in the accident, too. They were only informed of his death when Mr Bland and his younger son went to the scene some four hours after the accident, fearing for Luke’s well-being.

The police, and the county’s excellent new chief constable, Giles York, now readily accept that they should have done many things differently: they should have questioned Stewart Chalmers immediately; they should not have told Mr Bland in front of his 17-year-old younger son Josh that Luke had been killed; they should have given more professional support to the grieving family; they should have been more thorough in their search of the area—the roof of the Lotus was not even found until Mrs Bland pointed out that it was missing from the vehicle inspection, and she herself found it, still sticking out of the pond; and they should not have escorted Mr Chalmers to his trial in a police car or taken him away at the end, with his lawyer, in a police car with its lights and sirens blazing.

My principal concern today, however, is the failure to investigate properly Mr Chalmers’ defence. I believe that the version he told the court was not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It has been left to Mr and Mrs Bland and Mrs Browning to unearth the true facts, and in this desperately sad and awful case they should have been able to look to the police to do that. Mr Chalmers said in his sworn police statement, which was referred to in court, that

“there had been no occasions when control had been lost”.

He explained that the vehicle was serviced two weeks before the crash and was “in good condition”. His statement stated he was a careful driver, and indeed his defence rested on that claim.

21 July 2014 : Column 1219

Luke’s parents have discovered that that was not the case. On 28 October 2008, four months before the accident, Mr Chalmers took his car to be MOT-ed at Kwik-Fit in Uckfield. It failed its MOT because its nearside front tyre was below the legal threshold. Had Mr Chalmers been the good custodian he claimed, then surely, especially as a police traffic officer, he would have checked on a regular basis that his tyres were legal, but apparently not.

Mr Chalmers was allowed to take the car away to get the tyres replaced, which he did—eventually. It was three weeks later, on 19 November, that he took the car to Dream Machines in Heathfield to have the tyre replaced, by which time the car had been driven an extra 455 miles. That is 455 miles without a valid MOT and so, by definition, in a car without insurance; that is 455 miles of illegal driving. The car was then given a further MOT, which it passed but only with an advisory notice that that the rear tyres were close to the legal threshold. One might have thought that this time Mr Chalmers would have acted quickly, but no, he continued to drive the car without changing the tyres. By the time of the accident on 14 February, three months later, those rear tyres were indeed below their legal limit.

No one will ever know if the accident could have been avoided if the tyres had been in a roadworthy condition, but the court case would have been very different. If it had been established that, far from being the responsible driver he claimed, Mr Chalmers drove his car illegally, in an unroadworthy condition, and did not bother to check the legality of his tyres even when warned they were close to the limit, the main line of his defence would have fallen apart.

Mr Chalmers did not tell the Court that he had been issued with an advisory notice and he allowed the assumption to be drawn that he had replaced the worn tyres in November when that related to the front tyre and not the rear tyres, which were the ones in question. After the trial, when this information eventually came to light through the persistence of Mr and Mrs Bland and Mrs Browning, I wrote to the police to ask them to reconsider the case. The response included the following paragraph:

“It is possible that the defective tyre was changed immediately on returning from the failed test on 28th October and the vehicle then driven for 3 weeks on legal tyres until its re-test. It is possible someone else drove the vehicle throughout this period. It is possible the additional mileage was driven on a private road or even outside of the United Kingdom”.

It went on:

“The officer himself denies committing any traffic offences and is unable to account for the usage of the vehicle stating that he cannot recall details from 5 years ago.”

It beggars belief that anyone could have written that. Even if Mr Chalmers had allowed someone else to drive his car—I think anyone with a Lotus would remember if they had lent it to someone else for a period of weeks—he would still have been responsible for its roadworthiness, or lack of it. We know exactly when Mr Chalmers had his tyre changed, and it was not immediately after the failed MOT, but rather 22 days later, on the very same day as it was retested. As a police traffic officer, how could Mr Chalmers not have known that he was driving illegally?

As for the suggestion that it could have been driven on private roads for 455 miles, or even taken abroad without Mr Chalmers remembering it, those comments

21 July 2014 : Column 1220

are so incredible that they would have been laughed out of court. The police investigation discovered none of this and now that this evidence has been presented to them, they still feel they cannot reopen the case.

Mr Chalmers still went about his work, stopping and no doubt charging people for this same offence. His Lotus was replaced by a Porsche, and no doubt his insurance company, Elephant, believed him when he said he was a responsible driver. He has put behind him the accident that resulted in Luke’s untimely death and Ben’s lasting injuries. He is free to get on with his life.

In the conditions that night, with tyres in perfect condition, the accident might of course still have happened. However, what remains for Mr and Mrs Bland and Mrs Browning is a searing sense that justice has not been done. Justice was not blind, as it seems to have been applied differently to a police officer than it would have been to any other member of the public. A police officer gave partial evidence in a court of law, with no action taken against him.

Four things should happen now. Sussex police should review again the civil case to consider prosecuting Mr Chalmers, or they must explain how they can still have confidence in Mr Chalmers as a serving officer. The Home Secretary should set clear rules for how potential crimes by police officers are investigated to ensure that they are treated no more lightly than crimes by members of the public. Mr Chalmers’ insurance company should instigate its own action to review his insurance claim, and it should award a payment to Mr and Mrs Bland and Mrs Browning for their loss and for the financial costs they have incurred in seeking justice. Also, Mr Chalmers should make a public apology to the families of Luke Bland and Ben Blackford and accept that his policing career is over. He has shown no remorse for what happened on that night or afterwards.

Mr and Mrs Bland have been through every parent’s nightmare. The strain and stress on them and their two other children, Josh and Lily, have been overwhelming. Together with Mrs Browning, they are three of the most courageous people I have ever met, but they have been ill served by the police and by the justice system. After more than five years, it is time to bring this matter to an end, so that their grieving for their much-loved son Luke can begin.

7.20 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) on securing the debate this evening. As an ex-fireman myself who regularly used to attend such instances, my thoughts and prayers are with the families and particularly with Ben. I hope that my hon. Friend is wrong and that Ben makes a partial, if not a full, recovery.

As the new Policing Minister, I was very concerned when I saw that this debate was due to take place, so I have taken some time to look into the event. It is not for this House to retry the case. With that in mind, I will try to address some of the facts of the case, then the way that the case should have been treated, and finally the four points that my hon. Friend raised. Even though, as he rightly said, the family have since found a lot of

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evidence, there is none to suggest that the accident would not have happened anyway. I think everybody accepts that. I am not responsible for the letter. That is a matter for Sussex police.

Sussex police have acknowledged that their procedures could have been improved. That is right and proper. Interestingly, the Independent Police Complaints Commission carried out an investigation into the complaints made by the family about the conduct of the investigation by Sussex police, and I know that there was some concern about whether Sussex police or another force should have carried out that investigation. I shall come back to that in a moment. The IPCC found that although some of the complaints were well founded, there was no misconduct on the part of the officer. The IPCC is, of course, a completely independent body.

The other fact that I should raise at this point is that the gentleman concerned was an off-duty police officer. Had he been on duty, what happened afterwards would have been completely different. I was not at the scene and I do not have some of the facts that my hon. Friend referred to in his comments, so I will stick to what I know and the information that has been passed to me. The IPCC said that the Sussex police investigation of the incident was conducted thoroughly and effectively, so that part of the complaint referred to by my hon. Friend was not upheld. It is important to note that.

The operational independence of the IPCC from the Home Office and from Ministers is an integral part of our system and we should make sure that no Minister intervenes in its working. Nor should we as Ministers intervene in police investigations. At the heart of my hon. Friend’s concerns was the investigation of PC Chalmers by his own force. I reiterate that if he had been on duty, the matter may well have been dealt with by another force. In this case, as he was treated as an individual off duty, it was investigated in the same way as a case involving any other member of the public. The fact that he was an off-duty policeman should not, I agree, have precluded Sussex police from investigating the death of Luke Bland and the rest of the incident. The really serious injuries that occurred, in particular to Ben, were taken into consideration when the prosecution decisions were made.

Sussex police’s criminal investigation led to the prosecution of PC Chalmers. The IPCC found that the case was investigated thoroughly and effectively by Sussex police. Therefore it would appear that the case was treated with at least as much integrity as an investigation of any other member of the public who had been at the wheel. It would also appear that even though prosecution was withdrawn, it was not because Sussex police’s investigation was at fault.

My hon. Friend makes four suggestions. I think I understand all the points that he is trying to make, even if I cannot agree with them at the Dispatch Box today. The first point— that Sussex police review again the case—is clearly a matter for the police force. It is not a matter for a Minister or the Home Secretary. I may not be dealing with these points in the same order as my hon. Friend.

The second point is that the insurers should instigate their own action and review PC Chalmers’ claim. That is clearly also a matter for the insurance company. I was

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at the Department for Transport for many years. Insurance companies tend not to pay out unless they have to. They will hate me for saying that, but they do not. They like taking our premiums, but rarely pay out. It is clearly a matter for the insurance company whether to pay for the damage to the car and compensation to the families. It might also be a matter for civil litigation should the families wish to purse that course.

The third point concerns whether the Home Secretary should ensure that the police are investigated in the same way as the public. They are, should they be on duty. If they are off duty, they are civilians: they are not doing their job of work, so they are not investigated by the IPCC in the same way. It is right and proper that those who are off duty are off duty, and when they are on duty they are on duty.

Lastly, should PC Chalmers make a public—

Charles Hendry: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I am particularly grateful to him for the sensitive and thoughtful way in which he is responding to the debate. Will he, however, look at the role of the Police Federation in this? When an instruction was left that Stewart Chalmers should be arrested, the Police Federation got involved in a way that was described as “ferociously” by the police themselves. They then suggested that if they went ahead and arrested Stewart Chalmers, the police officer doing that would himself be sued personally. That cannot be a level playing field, because that would not happen if it was not somebody who had been a police officer who had done it.

Mike Penning: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He must have read my thoughts on the point I was going to come to in my conclusion to this short debate.

The fourth point—made, I am sure, on behalf of the family but through my hon. Friend—is that PC Chalmers should make a public apology. That is a matter for the gentleman concerned and for his own personal thoughts and conscience. I personally cannot in any way instruct the gentleman to do so.

However, because of the comments that have been made in this evening’s debate, I intend to go away and ask my officials to look into the conduct of individuals from the federation. I do not think we should smear the federation. It is going through a transitional period at the moment. I met the senior management of the federation earlier this afternoon; it was actually a very convivial meeting. They were very much standing up for their members, and in many ways I sympathise with some of the comments that they made, but they are really moving on, and I think in the right direction. However, I will ask my officials to look into the matter regarding the comments that my hon. Friend has made about what the Police Federation representative may or may not have said. I will ask my officials to look into that immediately. If I do not have the powers to do that, I will find someone who does.

With that in mind, I am conscious that this has been a very difficult matter for my hon. Friend to bring before the House. If I was a Back Bencher, I would really have to rack my brains about whether to do so, not because I would have to decide whether standing up for someone was right or wrong, but because the courts have made a

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decision, based on the evidence placed before them. That is the justice system we have in this country and that is the democracy we live in.

With hindsight, and especially given the tone with which my hon. Friend has brought the matter before the House, I think it was right and proper that there was a Minister here to respond, even if on most of the points I do not have the powers to intervene, and nor would I wish to have them. With that in mind, I will take away

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the comments about looking into the Police Federation, and I truly hope that the family can have some peace after the loss of their loved one and that Ben gets better soon.

Question put and agreed to.

7.30 pm

House adjourned.