On the abject failure of the Public Prosecutions Service..

Earlier in the week, Newton Emerson asked some searching questions about the conduct of the PPS in relation to the McCartney murder trial. It amplifies the argument of Davy Adams in the Irish Times on the same day.

The burden of proof in a criminal trial is “beyond a reasonable doubt” and witness C only served to introduce reasonable doubt. It beggars belief that a murder case was brought on this basis. If the PPS needed more witnesses it should have taken the time to find them, even if that had taken many years. However, the PPS did not need more witnesses. It already had two more – witnesses A and B. These two witnesses withdrew their statements before the trial because of fears of intimidation. But the law allows any “competent person” to be compelled to give evidence against their will. The only exceptions are when that person might incriminate themselves or their spouse, which did not apply to witnesses A or B.

As for the intimidation of witnesses, Emerson argues the state (in the form of the PPS) completely negated its responsibilities to its citizens:

Intimidation surrounding the McCartney case followed a predictable pattern of threatening letters and phone calls, ‘visits’ to people’s homes and ‘complaints’ to their workplaces. The PSNI, with all its surveillance resources, should have been able to apprehend at least one person engaged in such behaviour. Witness intimidation is a serious offence, attracting up to five years in prison. The PPS could have made it clear that it would vigorously pursue deterrent sentences. Why was none of this done? The failure to compel and protect witnesses A and B is extremely disturbing. It sends out an unmistakeable signal that witness intimidation works and that our criminal justice system is utterly spineless.

And it gets worse:

Not content with casually ditching friendly witnesses, the PPS also made no use of its powers to summon hostile witnesses or make deals with suspected accomplices, although it managed to do just that in a loyalist murder case also heard last week. Much has been made of the destruction of evidence and the wall of silence in the McCartney case but little was done to pursue those known to have witnessed or participated in the clean-up of the crime scene.

Concealing evidence, agreeing to give false testimony and assisting others to evade arrest are all offences of perverting the course of justice and carry an unlimited sentence. Was there nobody among the 70 people in that Tardis of a pub toilet, especially the middle-class ceasefire soldiers, who might have been more frightened of prison than of the IRA? The PPS barely tried to find out.

And the insult to the final injury:

The final insult was delivered not by the PPS but by the court service, which handed out transcripts of the verdict before it was delivered by the judge. A reporter immediately phoned this through to a southern radio station. The ensuing chaos dismayed the McCartney family and left the judicial system looking like something from a third-world country. The courts take a very dim view of similar mistakes by others.

In April Lord Chief Justice Brian Kerr fined the Sunday World £60,000 for reporting details of a case it had assumed would be heard without a jury. The paper had acted “in an astonishingly slipshod way”, Sir Brian ruled. Will there be any fine for the astonishingly slipshod handling of the McCartney verdict?

As Emerson has noted before, the PPS is run from London is not locally accountable. But given the gross impropriety (and that’s putting it mildly) displayed by individual members of the Republican movement, he points to a dispiriting paradox:

Perversely, our one hope of improving the performance of the PPS and the court service is the devolution of policing and justice powers. But after working so hard to deny justice to Robert McCartney, how can Sinn Fein seriously claim this will deliver better justice for all?

This surely is a human rights issue if ever there was one? Yet, apart from meeting the Secretary General of Amnesty International in the immediate wake of the media furore in June 2005, Northern Ireland’s extensive and well funded Human Rights lobby has been notable only for its silence on this matter.

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  • The Devil

    Be careful anyone commenting on this thread as it would be extremely easy to a lible person or persons involved who have legal qualifications and who will unquestionably sue, or a person or persons involved who have a close knowledge of media libel and who will get a libel lawyer to sue on their behalf.

    Having said that the PPS should be ashamed of itself, any other state in the world would be asking for resignations from the top NOT HERE!


    Personally i’m glad the family were informed by the reporter to make them sit through two hours of unneccessary showmanship would have been sickenly disgraceful, the judge should have had the family taken to a side room and had them briefed there first.
    Perhaps i’m relying too much on common sense here in a system that rewards stupidity.


  • Shore Road Resident

    Good point on the silence of the human rights lobby. They clearly know how to take a lead from their government paymasters.

  • percy

    A terrible stain on the peace process

  • El Paso

    Mother of God, not again! Can there possibly be a person left in Ireland not to appreciate every nuance of Davey, Mick and Newton’s belief in the “good cop bad taig” manta? P&J;is coming guys and the McCartney/Quinn stories have been exhausted to no good effect: the grown-ups in Dublin and London just didn’t buy your self-referencing conspiratist ravings.
    Sadly, for Mick at least, it was even posssible to knock up a coherent “narrative” of the McCartney case, the facts being somewhat at odds with the fantasy. I feel your frustration guys but kicking the PSNI and CPS now just makes you look silly.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for the supportive remarks SRR, but I’m afraid you’re still on a red for your most recent ad hominem remarks. Come back in two weeks!

  • El Pao

    “was even posssible..” should be “wasn’t…”

  • Quaysider

    El Paso, I comletely fail to see how the police can be held in any way responsible for McCartney’s murder or the failure to convict anyone in last week’s trial – the family certainly see it that way. Are you better informed?
    “Mother of God, not again” is a remark that could apply to the Quinn murder, though.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    I’m stunned that the legal system that served us so well when John Downes was shot live on TV by the RUC and Private Ian Thain was released (to rejoin the British Army) after shooting a young man in the back has got it wrong because of a lack of “evidence”. This pathetic loophole has placed a terrible stain on the unblemished record of a fine legal system.

  • Mick Fealty

    Guys, hit Google and then enter ‘Whataboutery’ as a search. Check out the top entry in the results: http://url.ie/i39.

  • percy

    agreed Mick,
    when does the fresh start begin though? where the table tennis stops, and we can talk about cases on their own?
    My own view is when SF first supported the PSNI.
    That does divide the McCartney and Quinn case.

  • Mick Fealty


    The problem with seeking to draw that kind of line: you simply have no proof that there is one. The best a citizen can do is to keep raising the awkward questions.

  • percy

    right again Mick,
    I guess though that we ought to have a higher level of expectation, that the society tends towards normal jurisprudence, the further the peace road is travelled.

  • El Paso


    Slugger seems to have adopted Pete’s version of the Baconian method: continuosly highlight subjects that support the editor’s personal narrative, stubbornly ignore context. It’s the flip side of whataboutery and just as cancerous to the cause of constructive dicourse. Pete’s efforts were previously dismissed as closer to Pork than Bacon, so perhaps it’s opportune to title Whataboutery’s co-joined twin as “Porkaboutery”?
    Sluggers continous references to the McCartney case, while supressing the context of PSNI/CPS failures to solve most significant crimes would be a classic example of Porkaboutery. Who can forget the PSNI’s exasperated shrug of the shoulders regarding the Northern Bank job: ‘there’s no evidence so it must have been PIRA’ The IRA are the PSNI’s security blanket – ‘case too difficult to solve? Must have been the RA so. Next!’

    That this particular Porkabout is a necessary part of preparing the ground for P&J;to be handed to the SDLP is understandable but does not make it any more acceptable.

  • Quaysider

    This is what I don’t get about your griping, El Paso. This is a thread about an article that does focus on the PSNI/PPS inability to solve serious crimes – but you’re still complaining about it. The reason is pretty obvious: you just don’t want any mention of the McCartney case at all.

  • El Paso


    You can answer your own question by reading the title and links:
    From Davey we get “..the madness of giving them (SF) shared authority over an entire policing and criminal justice apparatus.”

    And from Newt, “Perversely, our one hope of improving the performance of the PPS and the court service is the devolution of policing and justice powers. But after working so hard to deny justice to Robert McCartney, how can Sinn Fein seriously claim this will deliver better justice for all?”

    My point (or “whine” if you prefer) is that Slugger is being brazenly whored to assist the wheeze of handing P&J;to the SDLP. Hence the porkaboutery – the McCartney case must be regurgitated ad nauseam because it is the only meat Dave, Mick and Newt have to fill out their NARRATIVE. I really hate that fucked up word but no slugger entry would be complete without it.

  • Quaysider

    So last week’s verdict should not have been mentioned in the media at all, even to criticise the PPS handling of the case? Brilliant.

  • El Paso


    “So last week’s verdict should not have been mentioned in the media at all…”
    That gets my backing for stupid straw man statement of the week. Admittedly it’s only Monday but I’m quietly confident.

    Just in case anybody missed it, there’s something of a Porkabout pattern has emerged since the McCartney verdict:

    June 27 “Davidson acquitted…” Pete Baker
    June 28 “No mandate whatsoever…” Pete Baker
    June 30 “McMCartney killing: Sinn Fein…” Mick Fealty
    July 1 “Thanks for the links” Mick Fealty
    July 3 “Or happen to give a damm…” Pete Baker
    July 6 “On the abject failure…” Mick Fealty