DPP has brought more cases against terrorists than the state, stats show

Northern Ireland's director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory QC. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Northern Ireland's director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory QC. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Prosecutors in Northern Ireland have pursued five times more prosecutions against alleged paramilitaries than soldiers in the last five years.

Since November 2011, the region’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has taken decisions to prosecute seven Troubles-related cases linked to republicans, three linked to loyalists and two involving the military.

In the same time period, there was a decision to pursue a prosecution in a case linked to alleged police criminality, but that was later dropped.

The PPS collated the number of legacy case files examined, included those where no prosecutions were mounted, in response to a request by the Press Association.

The disclosure comes amid an ongoing public debate on whether there is an imbalance in the way former security force members are treated by the legal system in Northern Ireland.

At the weekend, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire insisted there was a “disproportionate focus” on the State.

Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC has strongly rejected claims prosecutors are part of a “witch-hunt” against ex-soldiers.

Commenting on the breakdown of legacy case decisions, which cover the period since his appointment in November 2011 until January 2017, Mr McGrory said: “The simple and clear reality is that we deal with cases as they are referred to us, in accordance with the Code for Prosecutors.

“There is no imbalance of approach within the PPS.”

The PPS said it had made decisions in a total of 17 legacy cases since November 2011.

A no prosecution decision was made in one republican case, one soldier case and two involving police.

A PPS spokeswoman said: “We have identified 17 cases which can be described as legacy in which the PPS has taken prosecutorial decisions since 2011.

“Eight of these cases relate to alleged offences involving republican paramilitaries and there have been prosecutions in seven of these.

“Proceedings are still active in three of these cases.

“Of the four cases that have been concluded, there were two convictions and two in which proceedings were discontinued, one following the death of the defendant.

“Three of the 17 cases related to alleged loyalist paramilitary activity. There were decisions to prosecute in each of these cases.

“A conviction has been secured in one case and the other two cases are currently active.

“A further three cases involved former soldiers.

“Two of these are currently proceeding as prosecutions and the third resulted in a decision not to prosecute.

“The final three cases involved police officers. In two of these a decision was taken not to prosecute.

“In the third case proceedings were initiated but subsequently discontinued.”

In December, it was announced two former soldiers are to be prosecuted for allegedly murdering Official IRA commander Joe McCann in Belfast in 1972.

Another former soldier, Dennis Hutchings, who is in his 70s and from Cornwall, was charged with attempted murder in 2015 in connection with the shooting of 27-year-old John-Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, in Co Tyrone in 1974.

The retired corporal major spoke at a rally in London on Saturday which saw around 1,000 people demonstrate against alleged harassment of former soldiers.

The PPS is currently assessing files on soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry in 1972 that resulted in the deaths of 14 civilians.

Further to Mr Brokenshire’s Sunday newspaper opinion piece, the Government issued another statement on Monday to stress he was not criticising the legal authorities in the region.

“There is a broad consensus that the current system was not designed to address the legacy of the past, and is not working to meet the needs of victims and survivors on all sides,” said a spokesman.

“This is not a criticism of any individuals, not least the police and prosecuting authorities all of whom uphold the law independently of government.

“Rather it is a recognition that we need new and better structures for addressing these issues.”

The spokesman said proposed mechanisms to deal with legacy issues, which were set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement but have since stalled amid political discord, provided a “better way to deal with legacy investigations, in a manner that will be balanced, fair and proportionate and recognise the needs of all victims”.