Northern Ireland news

PPS to review handling of Damien McLaughlin trial after judge's criticism

Damien McLaughlin's trial collapsed after a judge ruled that evidence presented could not be relied on. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

THE Public Prosecution Service is to review its handling of a collapsed trial over a prison officer's murder following criticism from a judge.

Damien McLaughlin was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of David Black by dissident republicans, and IRA membership among other counts.

But the non-jury trial ended last week and the judge directed not guilty verdicts on all charges after ruling that evidence presented by the prosecution could not be relied on.

The prosecution sought to use interviews of Co Leitrim man Stephen Brady by garda officers in the wake of the M1 shooting near Lurgan in 2012.

During the interviews, Mr Brady allegedly identified Mr McLaughlin (41), of Kilmascally Road near Ardboe, as the man who moved the car later used by the gunmen.

However, Mr Justice Colton described the interviews as "oppressive, aggressive, hectoring and bullying".

He said that having read and viewed the interviews, including evidence of the three gardai involved, he "could not believe that it was contemplated that the interviews with Brady would be relied upon in any criminal prosecution".

The judge said the prosecution had failed to take all possible steps to ensure Mr Brady's attendance in court. They could have applied to the High Court in Dublin for him to give evidence there, or arranged for a live link to enable him to give evidence outside the Republic.

Mr Justice Colton also said it would also have been open to the prosecution to have taken their case to the courts in the Republic "and this would not have caused any undue cost or delay".

In a statement, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) defended its handling of the case, but said Mr Justice Colton's comments were "receiving careful consideration" as part of a review.

"The Public Prosecution Service carefully considered all the available evidence in this case before deciding that the test for prosecution was met," a spokesman said.

"As explained in the judgment of Mr Justice Colton, there is no rule that sole or decisive hearsay evidence cannot be admitted and it was considered that, in the circumstances of this case, there was a reasonable prospect that it would be.

"The final determination of issues relating to the admissibility of evidence is for the trial judge and we respect the ruling delivered by Mr Justice Colton in this case.

"Consideration was given to the different methods of securing the attendance of Mr Brady as a witness at the trial and ultimately a judgment was made to proceed by way of the hearsay application on the various ground that were presented to the court.

"The comments of Mr Justice Colton in relation to the prosecution approach are receiving careful consideration and will form an important part of a case review to which we are already committed."

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