03/07/2009

No Charges Over Special Branch Heist

The case against a former chef originally sought in connection with an embarrassing break-in at a highly sensitive security base in east Belfast dramatically collapsed on Friday.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed that the official 'Test for Prosecution' is no longer met in respect of Laurence Jon Zaitschek for his alleged role in the break-in at Castlereagh Police Station (pictured) and in respect of two offences of collecting information.

The PPS had previously confirmed that there "had been sufficient evidence to prosecute Laurence Zaitschek" should he be made amenable in Northern Ireland.

Even though they also said that "all such decisions are kept under continuous review" it now seems highly unlikely that there will ever be a case brought.

This is despite millions of pounds being spent re-housing officers and others, whose security had been compromised.

The perpetrators stole dozens of Special Branch files which included details of Special Branch officers and their agents' codewords.

Mr Zaitschek flew to the US shortly after the break-in, leaving his wife and young son behind.

It is understood that Mr Zaitschek's wife was in protective custody after the incident and may have been used as one of the key prosecution witnesses.

However, Mr Zaitschek has always denied all the charges against him and denied having anything to do with the break-in.

In June 2006, he began High Court action against the Public Prosecution Service.

He said he wanted to return to Northern Ireland to see his son, and demanded to know whether any action was to be taken against him.
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The development came despite the decision for prosecution being taken after new information came to the attention of the PPS through the PSNI Chief Constable.

The PPS concluded that a duty of disclosure to the defence arose in respect of this information and it took all possible steps in conjunction with police to make it available.

However the Chief Constable has now confirmed that he is not in a position to make this information available for the purposes of disclosure.

In those circumstances the PPS has concluded that the Test for Prosecution is no longer met as the disclosure obligations placed upon the prosecution cannot be discharged and fair trial could not thereby be achieved.

On Sunday 17 March 2002 three male intruders entered an office at Castlereagh Police Station after which the police officer on duty was overpowered and bound hand and foot.

The perpetrators then removed a number of important documents from the office.

Laurence Zaitschek, an American citizen, who had come to Northern Ireland was then working as a chef with a catering service and had worked in this capacity in the Castlereagh Police Station canteen and later at Antrim Road Police Station.

Suspicion fell on him after the incident partly because he had resigned from the catering service two days before the incident.

Zaitschek was one of the persons interviewed in relation to the break-in as he was identified as being present in the gym at Castlereagh Police Station on the date of the offence.

Police seized Zaitschek's vehicle, a Peugeot 306 car, which he had used to enter and leave Castlereagh Police Station on the date of the break-in to gather evidence and it was then that Zaitschek returned to America.

He was then charged with aggravated burglary, assault and imprisonment of a police officer.

(BMcC/JM)

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