PPS issues decisions in song investigation file

Publication date:

Three people are to be prosecuted in connection with the singing of a song which contained offensive lyrics about the murder of Michaela McAreavey, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has announced today.

A total of seven individuals were reported to the PPS for consideration after a police investigation into footage of singing at an event hosted in a venue in Dundonald, County Down, in May 2022 which was streamed live on social media.

After careful consideration of all the evidence and information reported by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in relation to this matter, a decision has been taken to prosecute three individuals for the offence of “stirring up hatred” contrary to Article 9 of the Public Order (NI) Order 1987. Summonses will now issue to these three individuals to appear at a Magistrates’ Court on a date yet to be fixed.

The three individuals were investigated and reported by police as being amongst those who were captured in the footage engaging in the singing of a song which referenced the murder of Michaela McAreavey (nee Harte) whilst on honeymoon in Mauritius in January 2011.

Decisions were taken not to prosecute the remaining four suspects after it was concluded the available evidence was insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction for any offence.

Senior Public Prosecutor John O’Neill said: “The Test for Prosecution was applied carefully and impartially to the evidence reported in relation to each of the seven suspects investigated by police.

“After a thorough consideration of all evidence it was concluded that there is a reasonable prospect of conviction in relation to three of those reported. Accordingly, proceedings will soon be commenced.”

Mr O’Neill said the PPS had informed all relevant parties of the decisions today, including the McAreavey and Harte families.

He added: “The footage captures lyrics which are a deeply offensive portrayal of a tragic and distressing event. I have informed the McAreavey and Harte families of the outcome of the PPS consideration of those reported and, where there was a decision not to prosecute, provided detailed written reasons. I have assured Michaela’s loved ones that a decision not to prosecute some of the reported suspects does not excuse poor or offensive behaviour on their part. Rather, it simply means that the evidence did not provide a reasonable prospect of convicting them of a criminal offence.”

The decisions not to prosecute were taken for the following reasons:

  • A decision was taken not to prosecute one individual reported as being amongst those who engaged in the singing of the song. This decision was based on insufficient admissible evidence to prove the identity of a person captured in the video;
  • Decisions were taken not to prosecute two suspects who were reported by police as having aided or abetted those singing by clapping along and laughing. Prosecutors concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that these individuals intended to encourage or assist those engaged in the singing to commit an offence. The evidence suggested that these individuals were not known to those who engaged in the singing of the song and also had not heard the song before or been aware of its lyrics in advance;
  • The final suspect was considered for a potential offence of “improper use of a public communications network” contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 after the singing was streamed live on social media. Again, this individual did not appear to be known to those engaged in singing and there was insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that this individual was aware of the content of the song at the time of broadcast.

Notes to Editors

1. Summonses will be served on these three individuals to compel them to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court. A date for first appearance has not yet been fixed.

2. The offence of “stirring up hatred” contrary to Article 9 of the Public Order (NI) Order 1987 is committed where a person uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour and intends thereby to stir up hatred or arouse fear (or having regard to all the circumstances hatred is likely to be stirred up or fear is likely to be aroused).

3. To prove an offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect sent a message that was “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” and that he intended the message to be grossly offensive to those to whom it related or was aware that it may be taken to do so.

4. All decisions by the PPS are taken strictly in accordance with the Test for Prosecution which involves two stages. The Test for Prosecution is met if, in relation to an identifiable suspect, the available evidence is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of a conviction (the Evidential Test) and if prosecution is in the public interest (the Public Interest Test). The Evidential Test must be passed first before the Public Interest Test is considered. Further information can be found in the PPS Code for Prosecutors.

5. As criminal proceedings will commence in due course and each defendant has the right to a fair trial it is extremely important to protect the integrity of any future proceedings that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way cause prejudice.

6. Media queries for the PPS should be referred to the Communications Unit by emailing ppspressoffice@ppsni.gov.uk inside office hours. The out of hours press officer can be contacted on 07920 271804, 07920 041844 or 07341 800254.