Three policemen to stand trial on Wapping charges

Terry Kirby, The Independent, 20 October 1990, page 6

By Terry Kirby Crime Correspondent

THREE Metropolitan Police officers are to stand trial on charges stemming from the disturbances outside the offices of News International in Wapping, east London, in 1987. The High court yesterday rejected a legal action to have the cases dismissed.

Lawyers for the men had argued that the delay in bringing the action against them - they were not formally notified that they were under investigation until February 1988 - prejudiced their right to a fair hearing.

In May 1989 the same argument led to the dismissal of charges against the first 6 of 26 officers prosecuted for perjury, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and assault at Wapping. After the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the remaining charges, apart from those against the officers involved in yesterday's decision.

In a reserved judgment Lord Justice Bingham, sitting with Mr Justice Waterhouse, upheld a decision in March of Jeremy Connor, the Bow Street stipendiary magistrate, to hear committal proceedings of the three officers.

Insp Derek Watts and Sgt Colin Langstone are alleged to have conspired to pervert the course of justice between January and September 1987 by making false entries in their pocket books and making false witness statements about the arrest of David Johnston. They are also alleged to have committed perjury at Johnston's trial at Southwark Crown Court, south London. The third officer, PC Nigel Parlane, is accused of conspiring to pervert the course of justice with Insp Watts and Sgt Langstone.

Lord Justice Bingham said the magistrate's decision was “plainly right”. He added: “We are conscious that the magistrate's decision denies these applicants an important procedural victory won by their colleagues. But .. the facts of this case differ significantly from those of any case so far decided.”

Although the inquiry into hundreds of allegations of police brutality against trades union demonstrators outside the News International plant at Wapping in January 1987 began immediately, the possibility of misconduct in relation to the arrest of Johnston, one of the demonstrators, had not come to the attention of investigating officers until September 1987. The delay to February 1988 in notifying them was not, in the context of a serious criminal prosecution, unjustifiable.

The judge said the cases of the other officers had been different because although the necessary evidence was available by June 1987, they had no knowledge of the allegations until they received a general notice in December 1987 and a more specific notice in February 1988.

The court rejected the complaint that the long time it had taken to bring the three to trial would prejudice their defence. No witnesses had died or disappeared and no documents been destroyed and the events had been recorded on 23 hours of video tape.

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