Clarke gag order kept man in jail

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The suppressed memo

DS Davies informs me that the SA (South African) police are, within the next few days, putting Bennett on a plane to NZ (New Zealand) which rather conveniently will stop at Heathrow]

Special Branch have agreed to nick him and he will be taken to City Road for interview/charge. I have asked DS Davies to keep you informed of developments in the week I am off.

Memo from Michael Davies, a CPS lawyer to Howard Cohen, a colleague.

FRESH CONTROVERSY over the use of offical gagging orders erupted yesterday after it was revealed that Kenneth Clarke, while Home Secretary, prevented the disclosure of information that might have freed a man who spent a further year in jail awaiting trial.

The Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate signed by Mr Clarke hid details of unlawful police collusion and the illegal deportation of the man.

The disclosure was made in a High Court judgment in which charges against Paul Bennett, a pilot from New Zealand, were quashed. The court ruled there was 'procedural impropriety' in the way in which Mr Bennett had been brought to Britain from South Africa.

The vital piece of evidence which proved that he was the victim of collusion between the South African and British police forces was contained in a memorandum, written by Crown Prosecution Service lawyers, that had been kept secret under a PII certificate issued in July 1992 by Mr Clarke.

The crucial passage revealed that the South African police and Mr Bennett would 'conveniently stop over at Heathrow] (where) Special Branch have agreed to nick him'. The policeman involved in the arrest, Detective Sergeant Martin Davies, of the Metropolitan Police, had previously denied in court that there was any collusion.

The Scott Inquiry into the Matrix Churchill affair has been told that four certificates were signed by ministers, including Mr Clarke, to prevent disclosure of documents which later proved the innocence of the defendants. Mr Clarke, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has said he will resign if criticised by Lord Justice Scott, insisted he acted correctly in both the Bennett and Matrix cases.

Mr Bennett, 31, said he was illegally kidnapped and returned to Britain three years ago following accusations that he had obtained a pounds 177,000 loan by deception to buy a helicopter. He was committed for trial in May 1991 by magistrates in London. An application by his lawyers in July 1992 for the disclosure of documents covered by the PII certificate was rejected.

In June 1993 Mr Bennett - who spent two and half years in prison before gaining bail - won a landmark judgment when the Law Lords ruled that courts had to consider whether human rights were violated during extradition. Previous court decisions had suggested that if a person was charged properly on arrival in Britain it did not matter if laws had been broken bringing him or her here. Four months later the gagging order on details about Mr Bennett was lifted.

In yesterday's ruling, Lord Justice Mann said Mr Bennett 'came to be in this country in defiance of extradition procedures in consequence of some collusion between the English police and South African authorities' and was therefore 'not properly available for arrest'. Britain has no extradition treaty with South Africa and Mr Bennett was offically being taken to New Zealand via the UK when arrested.

After the judgment Mr Bennett said: 'Documents that were absolutely vital to prove my innocence were kept back for more than a year. There is obviously something seriously flawed in the system. I am happy to have won this long fight.'

The estimated legal costs, to be paid by the state, are more than pounds 3m.

Scott inquiry, page 5