The director of public prosecutions has said it is not for him to apologise to the families of paramilitary victims affected by the decision not to pursue paramilitary suspects named by a UVF supergrass.
Barra McGrory insisted that he and his office had ‘done our best’
Mr McGrory was answering a string of questions put to him by reporters at PPS headquarters, next to Belfast’s High Court, on Wednesday morning, after revealing that 13 people accused of crimes by self-confessed north Belfast paramilitary commander Gary Haggarty will not be prosecuted using the evidence he gave.
He told journalists that his prosecutors must stick to the standard laid down by law in order to try and secure convictions – that someone can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt – but “that evidence has proven to be very, very difficult to obtain”.
One journalist said that, since many of the cases were relatively recent (having happened in the 1990s) it seemed “incomprehensible” that if Haggarty gave information alleging that specific individuals had carried out specific acts, there was no forensic or intelligence information which could corroborate his claims.
Mr McGrory said that “20 years is still a long time in a lot of these cases”.
Asked if the decision represented the end of the supergrass system, he said that “the law provides for consideration of evidence given by an assisting offender in a context where that assisting offender may get considerable discount in sentencing ... as a prosecutor one has to take seriously the information that comes forward”.
At one point he posed a rhetorical question: “How would you face those families in saying ‘we are not going to listen to what this fella has to say’.”
He said that deciding not to listen to them if they offered evidence could be a “great injustice” to the families concerned, and that it was not for his office to start “predetermining that we’re never going to use assisting offenders”.
As to what he would say to families who feel let down, he said: “We have done our best to come to what we regard as the right legal decision in respect of reliance on this evidence.”
Asked if families are owed an apology, he said: “How can we apologise? We have an evidential situation that we have to deal with. It’s not for the PPS, or for the DPP, to apologise in respect of it.”
One reporter put it to Mr McGrory that the justice system seems to be “designed that blame can just be passed from organisation to organisation” in cases such as these.
Mr McGrory said they were simply sticking to the criminal law, adding: “I think some other questions need to be asked frankly about whether or not the criminal law can deal with these situations.”
He said that they have to simply apply the “high standards” as laid down in law.