Police: Joe Anderson Debate

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Department: Home Office

Police: Joe Anderson

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Excerpts
Monday 15th April 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Heseltine Portrait Lord Heseltine
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conduct of the police in their treatment of Joe Anderson, who resigned as the Mayor of Liverpool in 2021.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, an investigation involving Mr Anderson remains ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment while that remains the case. The police are rightly independent of government and decisions concerning investigations are operational ones for the respective police forces to make.

Lord Heseltine Portrait Lord Heseltine (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, was arrested on serious charges, including fraud and bribery. That was three years and four months ago. He lost his job, his reputation and his income. No charge has been made since then. Does my noble friend the Minister think that is justice?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid I am unable to comment on whether this is justice or not. The fact is that the force has advised that this investigation remains ongoing and live. That includes ongoing investigation with the Crown Prosecution Service. By way of further context, Mr Anderson has previously challenged the decision to arrest him by way of judicial review, including with an appeal, and was unsuccessful in the courts. Since then, neither he nor anyone acting on his behalf has made a complaint to the police. However, the force has confirmed that it is seeking to conclude this investigation as expeditiously as possible.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine—one of the few Tories whose reputation is still strong in the city of Liverpool, thanks to the work following the Toxteth riots all those decades ago. I declare an interest insomuch as Joe Anderson is a friend of mine. He is a man who—as has just been said—has been destroyed. His reputation has been completely and totally destroyed, and everything that goes with it, although he has not been charged with a single thing. It reminds me of Sir Cliff Richard. Do not start charging and making allegations across anywhere to anyone if you do not have proof and cannot substantiate what you say. It is an absolute disgrace what has happened to this man.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, that is not a question: it is a statement. However, I am going to be unable to develop my theme, which is that I am afraid that I cannot comment on ongoing investigations, as the House well understands.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, we are not asking the noble Lord to comment on the investigation. Will he return to the question of justice, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and reflect on the words of the Liverpool-born Prime Minister William Gladstone, who said that

“justice delayed is justice denied”?

Is it not outrageous that, after all this time, this has been hanging over someone and their family? The expedition of this case is the issue that the noble Lord has raised, not whether it is right or wrong.

Secondly, as far as the politics of Liverpool is concerned, it does not help politics or good governance for a case to fester like this for so long, undoing some of the achievements of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, who, as Secretary of State for the Environment, came to the city of Liverpool in 1981 and said, rightly, that he did not know that conditions such as those existed in this country. He vowed to do something about it, working across the political divide. Anything that impedes those achievements would be a very negative thing for Liverpool and the country as a whole.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I hear what the noble Lord has to say on the subject, but I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. The noble Lord is, in effect, inviting me to comment on the complexity of the investigation and various other operational aspects of it, in order to make a judgment as to whether it is delayed, denied or whatever. I cannot do that.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I remind the House of my business connections in Liverpool, but I must ask the Minister to come back to the general question of the longevity of this investigation. We have just had a Member of the other House who was under suspicion for two and a half years, unable to do his job, and then no case was held against him. I am sorry, but this is unacceptable. We really cannot have a justice system that punishes people, guilty or not guilty, without them knowing what the case is, what the charge is, or why it has been held up for so long. The police really do have to come to some conclusion rapidly.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, as I say, that may very well be the case in the majority of investigations. I cannot comment on the specifics of this one, not least because I do not know the specifics of this one. It would be completely inappropriate for me to do so. However, I will agree that, obviously, in general, investigations should be as speedy as possible.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that there should be some maximum timeframe on this because, otherwise, it could go on for ever—and it looks like it is going to. Surely, there should be some point at which you know, at least, whether there is going to be further action taken against you.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I do not agree with that. It depends very much on the complexity of the individual investigation. As I have said, the Merseyside police have confirmed that they intend to conclude it as expeditiously as possible. Beyond that, I can go no further.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, it is fitting that we are discussing police conduct today, 35 years, almost to the hour, since the Hillsborough disaster that killed 97 people. Today, the Labour Party has confirmed that it would introduce a Hillsborough law to ensure public authority accountability. Does the Minister agree that there is much more that we can do to achieve justice for those killed and to ensure that such a disaster never happens again?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I join the noble Lord in honouring those who died, of course; 35 years have passed since the tragedy and the impact continues to be devastating for many. The families have my sympathy. The families of the 97 have shown tremendous courage and determination and obviously their loved ones will not be forgotten. In his Statement to the other place on 6 December, the Lord Chancellor committed to a debate later this year on the Government’s response to the Bishop Jones report. It would be unwise of me to pre-empt that debate, so I shall say no more at this point.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, in view of the Minister’s repeated remarks, do I understand that he is saying that the Government have no role in influencing the police in their inquiries?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes—and nor should they.

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
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My Lords, while it is true that the Government should not be able to direct the police in inquiries such as this, as the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said, the amount of time that this man and his family have been under suspicion and under investigation, with rumours floating about, is not fair on any individual person, let alone a person who seeks to represent his community in high office, be it locally or nationally. We have seen far too many cases of inquiries—whether involving parliamentarians or local government officials—going on for far too long. The Government ought to have a look at this to see if something should not be done to put it right.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I absolutely hear what my noble friend has to say on the subject and I will, of course, take that comment back to the department.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that, notwithstanding the fact that he cannot comment on an individual case or its complexity, it does a disservice to the police service to be seen to be taking quite so long over this case?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Again, I would prefer not to pass judgment on the quality of the investigation that the Merseyside police have done, as the noble Baroness is asking me to do. I really do not know what the complexity of this case is. I do not know why it has taken so long to resolve. I would assume that there are very strong operational reasons, given the obviously high-profile nature of the people involved.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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May I ask my noble friend about a case on which he can comment? It is that of a public figure: Ted Heath. I can sense—although I cannot see—him gritting his teeth even as I raise that name. The only reason Ted Heath was accused, with the most vicious accusations, is that he was a public figure, and a vulnerable public figure. He died years ago. Surely, this is a matter of public service that we should be doing in this House, and my noble friend would become a local hero in this House if he simply went away and told the Home Office that this would be settled once and for all and that, at last, Ted Heath’s name could be cleared.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Well, I hear what my noble friend has to say. He has heard what I have had to say on this subject on at least 20 occasions and, no doubt, I will be called back to the Dispatch Box to say it all again. As I said last time, I have gone back to the Home Office and we are looking into ways of perhaps answering the noble Lord’s question.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, I speak as someone who is proud to have been brought up, and to have gone to school, in Toxteth, and who has a huge amount of respect for Joe Anderson and all that he achieved when he was mayor. Having listened to the various comments made on all sides of this House, I hope my noble friend the Minister will agree that we should ask: is there not a better way in which we can handle situations such as this? Citing the various examples that he has heard, could he perhaps give us the opportunity of coming back when he has reflected with his colleagues in the Home Office on the points that have been raised?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that and I will of course reflect on the points that have been made. However, as I said in my earlier answer, it would be inappropriate for government to interfere with the organisational matters of the police.