25/02/2010

PPS Defends Devlin Decisions

NI's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is in the dock today as it seeks to defend its handling of the Thomas Devlin murder case.

A statement from the PPS this morning welcomed the verdict of the jury which convicted Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown for the murder of schoolboy Thomas Devlin and the serious assault on Jonathan McKee, but admitted that the original decision for no prosecution for murder - which had been informed by the advice of independent Senior Counsel - had only been reviewed following pressure from the victim's family.

"This was a difficult circumstantial case which has been brought to conviction," the statement said.

"At the request of the Devlin family the Director asked for a further review of this (original) decision and, as part of this review, the advice of independent Senior Counsel in England was sought.

"Having regard to the advice which was received, the Director concluded that the Test for Prosecution was met. Prosecution has taken place and these convictions have been obtained," the statement said.

However, a university law lecturer and regular media commentator, Rosemary Craig, slammed the PPS's conduct and also alleged that the organisation was now - in some policing areas - returning to the pre-Patten arrangements of allowing senior police officers to 'test' if a prosecution is likely to succeed.

Speaking this morning on BBC Radio Ulster, Mrs Craig said she was concerned over the entire operation of the PPS and believed it was not fit for purpose as currently operated.

She said the PPS was criticised by the victim's parents for its initial decision not to prosecute the men who were subsequently convicted of murdering the 15-year-old and said that the burden of fighting the original decision wasn't one that any grieving family should have to take on for itself.
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However, in response, the PPS said today that the quality of the decisions which the PPS takes has "been publicly validated by the Criminal Justice Inspector in its recent inspection of the Service and is supported by statistical evidence".

Their statement also said that, "very careful consideration will be given to the Devlin family's current concerns and the Acting Director is happy to meet with the family".

On Wednesday Nigel Brown, 26, of Whitewell Road and Gary Taylor, 23, from Mountcollyer Avenue in Belfast were convicted of murdering Thomas in the north of the city.

Speaking after the convictions Thomas Devlin's mother, Penny Holloway, said that her grief had been compounded by the "spectacular, public and abysmally abject failure of the PPS to properly carry out its function".

In July 2008, the PPS came to the conclusion there was no evidence able to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction of Brown or Taylor in relation to Thomas' death.

Mrs Holloway (pictured with a poster of her late son) said that the PPS only decided to revisit that decision following "considerable pressure" from her and her husband.

That included writing to the Attorney General Baroness Scotland and speaking to the media.

The review was conducted by an England-based barrister who said that while there was no scientific evidence to link Brown and Taylor to the murder, there was compelling circumstantial evidence which could form the basis of a prosecution.

She told the BBC: "The family of Thomas Devlin call for an urgent and complete overhaul of the PPS in Northern Ireland, to be led by individuals experienced in criminal justice who are external to Northern Ireland.

"The family also call for the senior officials within the PPS and indeed the independent counsel who was consulted at an early stage, to seriously consider their own positions."

(BMcC/GK)

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