Clause 72 - Sexual penetration of a corpse

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 18 Medi 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I know that sometimes members of the Committee wish that I would not speak, and I must say that, on this occasion, I wish that I did not have to speak. I shall not take long.

The Under-Secretary and other members of the Committee may have read in the newspapers sometime around Easter about an incident at Hillingdon hospital when a body of an elderly Muslim lady was discovered to be wrapped in bacon. Obviously, that caused much distress. Subsequent investigation by the police revealed incidence of a much wider abuse of people in that mortuary, which had been happening for many years. Photographs were seized as, I believe, were body parts. I think that the matter is still going through the courts, so I shall not comment on individual cases.

I discovered that there is no protection for dead bodies, as such. It was difficult for the CPS to come up with a crime that had been committed. I appreciate that I am providing a good opportunity for you to slap me down, Mr. Gale, as some offences were not of a sexual nature and I appreciate that the Bill is perhaps not the appropriate vehicle under which to discuss them. However, there is a serious problem. As we can imagine, the offence that was committed against the body to which I have referred caused as much distress to the relatives as sexual penetration of a corpse would cause.

Some matters that were seized may have been of a sexual nature. I note that the clause deals only with penetration of a corpse, and I do not think that mention of photographs or images being an offence is mentioned elsewhere in the Bill. I can understand the legalistic problems involved, because a dead body does not have rights. It does not belong to anyone.

Even within the confines of the clause, consideration must be given to those who work in a mortuary and have responsibility. We accept that such a job is not pleasant, but those people have responsibility and are placed in a position of trust. We must bear in mind the problems caused if that trust were abused. One of the problems in my constituency and the surrounding area was that lots of people had dead loved ones who had been in that mortuary for a short time. They are worried that something might have happened to their loved ones while in the mortuary.

Can the Under-Secretary and the Home Office consider such a matter to see whether relevant provisions may be included in the Bill? It is something that not only my constituents and I, but the CPS and the police, would like examined.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

Order. The hon. Gentleman described something that was clearly distressing and offensive. However, I, not being a parliamentary draftsman, am not entirely certain whether it actually falls within the purposes of the Bill. The Under-

Secretary may construe under connected purposes that it does, in which case he is welcome to reply.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I shall accept your invitation, Mr. Gale. Those of us who do not live near the hon. Gentleman's constituency none the less read the reports in the newspapers and can only share in the sense of distress that there must have been in the community.

Existing legislation covers the exhumation of dead bodies without lawful authority, but there is no other protection for the body of a person once they have died. There is currently no law covering the sexual penetration of a dead human body or part of a dead human body. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other members of the Committee will agree that that is a somewhat surprising omission from the criminal law, since it represents a violation of the respect that should be shown for human remains. When such behaviour comes to light, it is profoundly distressing for the family of the dead person. In Committee, we are introducing an important new offence, which I am sure will go some way to reassuring the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.