A PSNI team spent a minimum of 163 hours on the Pastor James McConnell case, figures obtained by the News Letter reveal.
The police investigation led to the prosecution of the elderly evangelical leader on two charges, both centring on the allegedly “grossly offensive” nature of an anti-Islamic sermon he had given.
Since his acquittal on January 5, the News Letter has attempted to tot up the total cost to the public purse in bringing the case.
It had previously been disclosed that the cost which the failed three-day magistrates’ court trial had placed upon the Courts Service and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) was equivalent to a minimum of £8,491.
Now the PSNI has revealed that “a total of 163 duty time hours worked by the Crime Support Team (one constable, one sergeant) in relation to the Pastor James McConnell case”.
It said that the estimated cost of this equates to £4,485.
When added to the existing estimates concerning PPS spending and the use of court facilities, it means the official estimate of the cost of the case has now climbed to £12,976.
The 163 hours of police time amounts to almost exactly a full week’s work, covering 24 hours for seven solid days.
David McIlveen, DUP member of the Policing Board and the son of traditionalist clergyman Rev David McIlveen, said: “Of course it is a matter of concern about how much PSNI time was wasted on this case, however to be fair to them they had an obligation to investigate a complaint that was made.
“What I believe should be of more concern to us is that we seem to live in a society were a Christian preacher makes sincerely held views, and finds himself the victim of a spurious complaint that is grossly exagerrated by the usual politically correct media hysteria that many of us have now come to expect.”
The MLA for North Antrim said the blame lies principally with those who took offence at the sermon and sought a police probe in the first place, and with the public body which plumped for prosecution.
He added: “This complaint against Pastor McConnell should never have been taken in the first place, the waste of police time and subsequesnt cost in my view rests with those who misread and mishandled this case, namely the complainants and the PPS.”
However, even now the figures do not tell the whole story.
As previously reported, whilst the Courts Service had estimated that the use of court facilities and staff time amounted to £4,473, the PPS had said that it could only give a figure for how much the outside help it had hired for the case had cost.
This sum – £4,018 – did not take into account how much time had been spent on the case by the PPS’ own in-house employees.
And the PSNI said that other police staff beside the two identified may have worked on the case but that this was not recorded, and that the £4,485 total which they had provided “does not include additional costs i.e. officers checking notebooks, overtime claims/hours etc”.
The police added: “Therefore the estimated 163 time hours would materially understate the real PSNI costs incurred in respect of the Pastor McConnell case.”
The figures were obtained by the News Letter thanks to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.
The UK government last year signalled its intention to reduce access to information via the act, even though departments often rebuff requests for information under the law, or flout the existing rules by failing to answer requests on time.