Below is the text of the speech made by Anthony Grant, the then Conservative MP for South-West Cambridgeshire, in the House of Commons on 29 January 1986.
In 1982 Mrs. Pamela Megginson, a widow over 60 years of age, killed her lover, Mr. Hubbers aged about 79 in southern France by striking him with a champagne bottle. She had been provoked because Mr. Hubbers taunted her with the youth and beauty of the new mistress he had acquired. One might think that he got no more than he deserved, but Mrs. Megginson was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. She is serving that sentence in Durham prison where she is with some of the worst, violent offenders in the land. She is serving in a wing which has already been condemned for male prisoners. With that lady, who has had no previous convictions, are some of the scum of our society.
Mrs. Megginson’s only close relative in this country is my constituent—her daughter—Mrs. Bennett. Mrs. Bennett is a mother of three small children and obviously she cannot visit her mother regularly as far away as Durham. I make a plea that Mrs. Megginson be moved to a prison nearer to her daughter, and one more suitable to a person of her record.
My main point is that to keep someone such as Mrs. Megginson who, as I have said, has no previous convictions or record of violence, in prison while perpetrators of the most bestial crimes are released is totally unacceptable and an affront to the values generally held by the public.
It has been my purpose for a long time to have Mrs. Megginson’s case reviewed, and I at once acknowledge the most sympathetic care that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has taken. I originally took up the question of an appeal with the Lord Chancellor in January 1984. Then I took up the question of a review with the Home Secretary in August 1984. In September 1984 my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary kindly told me that the case would be referred to the Lord Chief Justice in early 1985.
In November 1984 I asked for this exceptional case to reviewed at the earliest possible moment. In reply, I was pleased to be told in December 1984 that the Home Office had identified Mrs. Megginson’s case
“as one which should be brought into the review procedures quickly and it is already receiving wholly exceptional treatment”.
Perhaps that happened behind the scenes, but as far as my constituent and I were concerned, nothing happened until 27 September 1985, when she was seen by a member of the local review committee. She understood from that person that she would hear something by Christmas, but she has not heard, and I have not heard. I shall be interested to hear the Minister tell us exactly what is happening. Generally, the injustice of the case contrasts most strongly with recent sentences, and, indeed, releases, for horrible crimes, especially against children.
I have practised law for many years. I appreciate only too well that one cannot judge cases from newspaper reports, and I recognise the old saying that “comparisons are odious”. Nevertheless, the disparity in some sentencing in our courts and in some of the charges preferred in criminal cases these days is so stark as to leave the public totally perplexed as to what we are all about.
There is a feeling that some of our courts and some aspects of our criminal law system are divorced from reality. I say in haste that I do not in any way make a criticism of my hon. Friend the Minister or the Home Office. Their task, and the task of Parliament, is merely to provide the necessary sentences and machinery. It is for the courts and the authorities to carry them out.
The case of Mrs. Megginson is just such a case that deserves comparison with others. Her case contrasts remarkably with that of a recent case concerning Mrs. Doris Croft. She too was a middle-aged widow, also from Cambridgeshire, who also discovered that her elderly lover was about to desert her for a younger woman. She killed him, not with a champagne bottle, but with a rolling pin, equally in a fit of jealous rage. She was put on probation for three years, compared with the life sentence imposed on my constituent Mrs. Megginson. In that case, the charge was manslaughter instead of murder. That is why this case is inexplicable. I am sure that members of the public will find inexplicable the different way in which the case was appoached by the prosecution, but there it is.
Equally, one can look at more horrible cases. I cite a recent case which attracted a great deal of publicity in the borough of Brent, when a brute by the name of Beckford slaughtered a little girl in the most disgusting circumstances, and was sentenced to seven years. It is difficult for people to understand the vast disparity between the way in which people are treated in our society. I do not believe that that is good for the law, or the maintenance of a stable society.
I compare the case of Mr. Fenton, who shot his former wife and her second husband with a shotgun. He was also put on probation for three years. In that case, the judge used these words in conclusion:
“neither justice nor public reaction would be advanced ‘one jot’ by leaving him in prison.”
Precisely the same considerations apply to Mrs. Pamela Megginson.
I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend, whom I know has applied himself diligently to the case, and for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. They are both men of reason and compassion. In all sincerity and humanity I ask them to do all that they can to see that this case is properly reviewed at the earliest possible moment in the hope that it will be possible to allow this sad, unhappy lady, in the latter stages of her life, who has suffered so much already, and is no conceivable danger to the public, and really has already paid for her crime, to return to the bosom of her family, and let her live the rest of her life in peace and tranquillity.