Concern raised over £12m ‘supergrass’ bill

MLAs have raised concerns after it was revealed that the cost of a failed loyalist ‘supergrass trial’ is set to reach almost £12m.

In February, the prosecution case against 12 men fell through after Mr Justice Gillen said the critical evidence provided by two brothers, Robert and Ian Stewart, was “infected with lies”. They were self-confessed UVF members who had turned state’s evidence in return for reduced jail terms. Sitting for 21 weeks, the trial at Belfast Crown Court was one of the longest in Northern Ireland’s legal history.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Stormont Justice Committee, Paul Givan of the DUP, confirmed that the costs are expected to reach almost £12m.

“One claim still has to be made for legal fees but the legal aid defence bill was £5.8m while the cost to the PSNI, Prison Service and Court Service has came to the same amount, £5.8m,” he said.

The cost to the Public Prosecution Service alone was around £500,000 and a further bill for legal fees has still to be submitted, he added.

“This was carried out under the old legal aid system and I am going to ask how much it would cost under the new system, which came in about a year ago.”

Mr Givan confirmed BBC reports that the costs break down as £2.2m for 13 senior barristers and £1.6m for 17 solicitor advocates or junior counsel.

“The difficulty is in turning criminals into people who can be depended on to tell the truth as witnesses – that is the problem.”

All parties on the committee supported the use of ‘supergrass’ trials in principle, apart from Sinn Fein, which opposes the concept outright, he said.

“The rest of the parties question whether adequate judgment and scrutiny was used with this case before proceeding to court,” he added.

Justice committee member Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney responded that “the supergrass system failed in the past, failed in this case and will do so in the future”.

He added: “It has also undermined the justice system and the work of the PSNI. Further use of it will not only continue to damage the public’s confidence in the administration of justice in the North but will also be a waste of taxpayers’ money.