A Belfast man was today cleared of three charges arising from a burglary during which the householders were hooded, bound and robbed.
Following a three-day trial held at Belfast Crown Court, Her Honour Judge Patricia Smyth ordered that the jury return a ‘not guilty by direction of the judge’ verdict on all three counts faced by Brian Andrews.
The 49-year old, from Oldpark Road, was charged with aggravated burglary as well as two counts of false imprisonment, and was prosecuted by the Crown on the grounds of DNA evidence. However, Judge Smyth ruled this forensic evidence was “not sufficient to convict the defendant” on the charges he faced.
The jury was told a house in the Upper Cavehill area of Belfast was targeted on the evening of Sunday December 7, 2014 by two men, one of whom brandished a hatchet.
During their ordeal, which lasted around 40 minutes, the north Belfast couple had just returned from a weekend break and were preparing a cup of tea when they were confronted by two intruders. Both the man and his wife had hessian-type sacks placed over their heads and had their hands bound.
The intruders - one of whom spoke with what was described in court as a ‘fake Polish accent’ - demanded that the couple hand over the keys to their safe, as well as several bank cards.
After stealing a substantial amount of jewellery from the safe, the pair asked the couple to reveal the PIN numbers for their bank cards. Before leaving, the intruders also threatened that they would come back if false PIN numbers were given and they were unable to withdraw cash.
Mr Andrews was arrested after a latex glove found in the couple’s home was seized by police. The item underwent a forensic examination for the presence of DNA, with a forensic scientist locating the DNA profile of three people, including a partial profile which the Crown say matched that of the accused.
After the Crown finished its case, Mr Andrews defence team argued that this DNA revealed the profiles of three people, whereas there were only two men involved in the burlary. They also pointed out this this was the only ‘evidence’ the Crown had against the accused.
Addressing the jury, Judge Smyth said that the burden of proof lay with the Crown, whilst the defendant does not have to prove his innocence.
She said: “In your absence, I have determined as a matter of law that the forensic evidence you have heard in this case is not sufficient to convict the defendant of either of these offences.
“For that reason, I am going to direct the foreperson to direct verdicts of not guilty in respect of each of the offences”
After the verdicts were delivered and the jury dismissed, Judge Smyth told Mr Andrews “you are free to leave the dock”.