TREE PEOPLE: — two men and one woman —have been much in my thoughts recently. The men are General Pinochet, former President and dictator of Chile and Michael Stone, convicted recently of horrifying murders. The woman is Myra Hindley, an infatuated accomplice in the notorious Moors murcfers 32 years ago and my friend for 30 years. The arrest of General Pinochet has recently been quashed by the Appeal Court presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, but he is now on bail following an appeal to the House of Lords by the Crown Prosecution Service. Michael Stone's legal advisers are appealing against his conviction. He himself insists that he did not commit the crimes in question. The Appeal Court recently heard an appeal by Myra Hindley against the Home Office decision that she must stay in prison until she dies.
As I write her appeal has been dismissed. But the struggle goes on and her friends are far from despairing. There is no senior judge whom I would regard as more humane than Lord Justice Woolf, who has presided over her appeai. In dismissing the appeal he indicated that he was not saying that she should stay in prison for the rest of her life. He was assuming that her release would be reconsidered by this Home Secretary or the next one. I have not had the opportunity to study with sufficient care the full judgement. I can, however, draw some encouragement from it.
But I am very much disturbed by the idea that public confidence should be taken into account in considering her release. That is simply saying vox populi vox dei. Lord Woolf is better than that, so lovers of justice await the decision of the House of Lords. Beyond that lies an appeal to Europe which I hope will not be necessary.
T HAVE THESE three human beings in common? al my
eyes they all raise grave ques tions about our legal arrangements. If the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues, the Appeal Court, are right, it is monstrous that General Pinochet was ever arrested. He has visited Britain five times in recent years. It was held by the Court of Appeal that as a former Head of State he should never have been arrested.
The case of Michael Stone is very different. I must not pre-judge whether he did or did not commit these awful murders, but whether he did or did not, most people would assume by now that in view of his record of crime and mental disorder he should not have been at liberty.
Myra Hindley is in an altogether different category. The only one of the three known to me personally, she has for many years been accepted by a succession of Catholic priests as a religious woman. When I visited her recently she was more than ever sustained by her belief in God. No one outside a "loony bin" has supposed for years that she is dangerous. Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that our legal system is as good as any in the world. We all know that nothing in this life is perfect. We must therefore ask ourselves again and again how our legal arrangements could be improved.
It is far from clear at the moment how General Pinochet in fact came to be arrested. It seems that a Spanish judge issued an extradition order which was confirmed by the international organisation Interpol. The Metropolitan Police enquired from the Foreign Office (at what level I know not) whether there were any diplomatic reasons why he should not be arrested. Being told that there were none they duly made the arrest. That may be so but some higher power must have intervened, one would think, when an appeal was launched by the Crown Prosecution Service against the decision of the Appeal Court quashing the extradition order.
It happens that in recent years I have had a painful experience of our extradition arrangements. Two British women who I came to know and admire were eventually extradited after a long struggle in the course of which I raised their situation more than once in the House of Lords. When returned to America they were convicted and sent to prison but I like to think that the fuss we made here shortened their sentences. They are now back with us in freedom, thank heavens. In other words, the extradition arrangements need to be thoroughly looked at and. if possible, much improved.
Michael Stone's case raises two wider issues. The Home Secretary has come out in sharp criticism of the psychiatric profession who collectively failed to make sure that such a dangerous man was ever left at large and free, therefore, to commit these murders. To quote a letter written by Mr Straw to The Tunes (October 31st): "I continue to believe that psychiatrists are not making as much use as they could of the 1983 Mental Health Act
in care for those people with a psychopathic disorder who do fall within the remit of the Act.. psychiatrists are all too often using the treatability test in the Act as a way of absolving themselves from their duty of providing health care..."
He goes on to tell us that Ministers vvill be collaborating mostly with the psychiatric profession to improve the situation and raises the likelihood that new legislation will be forthcoming.
AS if HAPPENS I ain visiting regularly at the present time a young man convicted of attempted rn urder A psychiatrist who dealt with him at the time of his conviction has been convinced all along that he should be in hospital rather than in prison. The authorities in the prison and a leading forensic psychiatrist are showing plenty of concern about the case. But attempts to get him into d special hospital seem to be blocked, as was the case with Michael Stone. I have very friendly talks with him but he suffers, it seems, from sudden fits of rage. On his way to see me on Friday a prisoner asked him for a cigarette. He duly gave him one but when the prisoner did not thank him he punched him in the chest as he has punched other prisoners for no reason that he can explain. So good luck to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health in their attempts to cope with an immensely difficult problem.
Readers of a recent article of mine will know my views about the treatment of Myra Hindley. There are three moral reasons why it is iniquitous that she should be told that
even if she becomes a saint she will never come out of prison. One, it is contrary to any decent idea of Christianity that anyone not dangerous should be kept in prison for more than thirty years; two, the Lord Chief Justice has recently told us that no one should be told that they must die in prison whatever their conduct; three. in Myra's case an original tariff of twenty-five years recommended by the Lord ChielJustice and thirty years by the Home Secretary has been increased to life meaning life. In other words the original crime is treated as having grown steadily worse, which defies not only all humanity but logic as well.
Possibly, before this article appears and certainly in the not too distant future we shall know more about official policy in all three cases but, at the moment. I remain hopeful that a new wisdom will prevail.