Prosecutors to review evidence in seven other veteran cases after trial collapse
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Prosecutors are to examine the evidence in seven other cases involving veterans in Northern Ireland following the collapse of the Joe McCann murder trial.
Senior lawyers in the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) are awaiting Mr Justice O’Hara’s written ruling on the inadmissibility of evidence before conducting the exercise.
In four of the cases, including Bloody Sunday, a decision to prosecute has already been taken. In the three other cases involving former military personnel a decision is still pending.
The examination will establish whether evidence in the cases involves material obtained through the now defunct police legacy unit – Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
In the cases that do involve HET evidence, prosecutors will consider that material in light of the ruling by the trial judge.
Mr Justice O’Hara ruled interviews and statements provided by soldiers A and C to the HET in 2010 as inadmissible, raising various concerns in relation to the process through which the evidence was obtained.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Agnew said: “When the full written judgment becomes available, the PPS will carefully consider whether it has the potential to impact upon any other cases that are currently before the courts.”
Mr Agnew also defended the decision to take the prosecution, insisting it involved a “very thorough and careful examination” of the evidence by a team of experienced lawyers, including senior counsel.
“Despite today’s outcome, the PPS remains satisfied that this case was properly brought before the courts,” he said.
“The case overcame a number of legal challenges before reaching trial.”
One of the challenges Mr Agnew was referring to was a defence abuse of process application that was rejected by a high court judge before the case got to trial.
That application did not focus on the admissibility issue, rather whether a prosecution was fair so long removed from the event and in light of a no prosecution decision in 1972.
However, in his ruling Mr Justice Maguire did make clear that risk of criminal prosecution was an inherent feature of the HET process.
That point became the subject of contention during the trial, with the defence insisting that the soldiers believed they were participating in a fact-finding exercise to benefit the family.
The PPS contention that HET material could be relied on in a criminal trial was undermined by evidence given by a HET investigator during the trial.
The investigator claimed that he did not believe he had secured any evidence of an offence having been committed and expressed surprise that the resultant HET report had resulted in a prosecution.
The admissibility of that evidence was only going to be properly tested at the trial stage.
“The complex and wide-ranging challenges of prosecuting legacy cases are well recognised,” said Mr Agnew.
“Where such cases fall to be considered for potential prosecution the PPS will continue to impartially apply the Test for Prosecution, without fear or favour, as it does in all other cases.”
Questions have been asked why the PPS did not appeal against Mr Justice O’Hara’s decision on admissibility.
Prosecutors concluded they did not have any grounds to appeal against it.
In order to do so, they would have had to argue that the decision was unreasonable on the basis of the evidence presented or that the trial judge had made a legal error in coming to his ruling.
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