Hallowes tells i that news of Donovan’s alleged prospective release deal infuriated the Met commissioner at the time, Sir Paul Condon, who is now a life peer. “The commissioner said: ‘You’d better get something done about this, no way am I allowing this sort of trade to go on, the Home Secretary’s been bloody stupid.’”
Howard left office on 2 May 1997 after the Conservatives’ general election loss, when he was succeeded by Labour’s Jack Straw. But Hallowes says the ramifications of Howard’s pardons continued causing problems for police and the justice system.
After a complex investigation, the detectives caught the gunsmith responsible for the Mac-10s: a former special constable living in Brighton named Anthony Mitchell. One of his creations had been used to shoot six people, four of them fatally, during a cocaine deal in south London’s Brockwell Park. Another had killed a drug supplier in nearby Brixton.
Playing on Mitchell’s arrogance, Hallowes says he coaxed the armourer into admitting that he had provided guns for two Liverpool gangsters to assist a plot to reduce their sentences – and that he had also worked for another man in the same prison with a similar plan. He didn’t give names but it was clear who he was talking about.
This was a major development. Not only was a dangerous gunmaker surely bound to go to prison for 15 years or more, but the authorities now knew for sure that the so-called supergrasses had been lying. And when Donovan later revealed the whereabouts of the rocket-propelled grenades, Scotland Yard was able to ensure that he was not freed as a result.
But Hallowes recalls arriving at the Old Bailey for Mitchell’s trial in early 1999 and hearing some “scandalous” news.
He claims in his book that the prosecution barrister met him at the court and explained that, on advice from the Government’s legal department, the CPS had given an instruction “to entirely redact from the prosecution case all the evidence that implicates the former Home Secretary and his officials”.
The details were “suppressed” because they didn’t want “any mention of them being hoodwinked by prisoners”, Hallowes alleges, because it was deemed “not in the public interest to expose in court the naivety of a government department and a former cabinet minister”.
Combined with a plea-bargaining deal which encouraged Mitchell to plead guilty to lesser offences and thereby avoid a “costly trial”, this meant the gunsmith was only sentenced to eight years rather than 15 or more.
Lord Howard disputes Hallowes’ account. “I was not Home Secretary in 1999 when Mitchell’s trial took place and had no responsibility for, or knowledge of, the matters alleged by Mr Hallowes,” he says.
“There was certainly no cover up by the Home Office nor, so far as I am aware, by anyone else… Nor is there any substance in the suggestion that someone else attempted to ‘secure a deal from me’. There never was any ‘deal from me’.”
He adds: “There is no substance in any criticism of my conduct… I certainly do not accept that I was in any way ‘naïve’.”