DUNGANNON Councillor Lord Morrow has revealed in excess of £44,000 was spent on two cases which he says should never have been brought to court.
Both cases ended in acquittal, one after a jury rejected the charge entirely, and the other when the PPS were unable to put forward evidence and a jury was directed to find the accused not guilty of all charges.
Commenting on written answers received from the Justice Minister, Lord Morrow said: “The first case was the trial of Alistair Hetherington at Belfast Crown Court which cost the tax-payer £21,154 and a jury cleared him of any wrong doing.
In a case which was clearly an issue of human error, the PPS should have reviewed this matter thoroughly to decide if there was a possibility of a conviction and if it was in the public interest. The evidence presented to the jury obviously led to a verdict contrary to the Prosecution’s assertions.
“In a separate case in Londonderry a seventy-five year old man was acquitted of charges of sexual abuse dating back almost 50 years, when the PPS offered no evidence, and the Judge directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict. There’s big difference between a jury making an informed decision to clear a person which, of course is due process, but when the PPS didn’t have enough evidence to present is a completely different issue. A lack of reliable evidence should have been recognised at a much earlier juncture by the prosecution. This matter cost the tax-payer £23,105.
“Collectively these cases totalled £44,260 and the actual figure is higher as PSNI costings were not available in either matter.
“No-one is questioning where it is suspected a crime has been committed then justice must take its course. However, that must be tempered with the availability and credibility of evidence which can stand up in court and when that is in doubt, then cases should not proceed. It is an egregious waste of public money.
“I am calling on those who direct prosecution within the PPS to comprehensively examine all the evidence before ordering action. They need to bear in mind the use of tax-payers money and it is incumbent upon them to be answering to the public in cases such as these. There also needs to be a more pragmatic approach in situations of genuine human error, such as that of Mr Hetherington.
“Too often victims of crime are being told there is insufficient evidence to prosecute or furthering a case would not be in the public interest. Those who make such decisions in rejected cases must also be viewing the files in matters which are directed for prosecution, so there is either a glaring disparity in application of rules, or errors are being made.
“Either way, mind-sets need to change, because the public are quite justified in being disgusted at this financial outlay.”