The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has decided to offer no further evidence against two former soldiers on trial over the death of Mr Joseph McCann in 1972.
The decision was taken in relation to proceedings against the two defendants, known as Soldiers A and C, after it was concluded by the PPS that there are no grounds to appeal a recent ruling by the trial judge that statements made by the two defendants to the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) in 2010 were not admissible and therefore could not be used by the prosecution at trial.
After the loss of this evidence which was the central basis of the prosecution case, a decision was taken to offer no further evidence against the defendants, leading to their acquittal.
The PPS took the decision to prosecute the two former soldiers in December 2016 after the case was referred to the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland (AGNI) with a suggestion that the previous decision be reviewed in light of the HET Report which had not previously been shared with the prosecution authorities. The fresh decision to prosecute was taken following an independent and impartial examination of the available evidence, and with the assistance of advice from independent Senior Counsel.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Agnew said:
“The 2016 decision to prosecute was taken after the evidence received was subjected to a very thorough and careful examination by a team of experienced lawyers, including Senior Counsel, before we concluded that the Test for Prosecution was met, in line with our Code for Prosecutors.
“Despite today’s outcome, the PPS remains satisfied that this case was properly brought before the Courts. The case overcame a number of legal challenges before reaching trial. These challenges included an abuse of process application following which a High Court judge ruled that there was no unfairness in the decision to prosecute and that in all the circumstances the defendants could get a fair trial.
“It was always recognised that there were difficult issues in relation to the admissibility of the interviews having regard to the approach taken by the HET to cases involving soldiers, as described in the 2013 Report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. However, the prosecution took the view that there remained a reasonable prospect of conviction and that it was proper for the court to determine these issues. The evidence has now been tested in the course of the adversarial trial process and we fully respect the Judge’s ruling.
“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.
“The complex and wide-ranging challenges of prosecuting legacy cases are well recognised. 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.
“Finally, I would like to acknowledge the enduring pain of the McCann family and recognise how difficult this development has been for them.
“Senior prosecutors met with them today to explain why an appeal is not being brought and have assured them that this decision was taken only after a careful assessment of the prospects of a successful appeal having regard to the trial judge’s ruling.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
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