The courts have relaxed the bail conditions of a second republican attempted murder defendant within about week of the first such decision, despite objections to the move.
Alex McCrory has had the number of days he must sign bail drastically cut by a judge in Belfast – the details of the bail conditions are subject to a reporting restriction.
Eight days earlier, the same judge cut the number of days per week during which Henry Fitzsimons must sign bail from seven to three.
On that occasion, objections to relaxing the terms were meant to have been raised in court by the PPS, but a mishap over a change of venue meant that did not happen.
In the McCrory case yesterday, objections were raised to his bail being relaxed, but the judge determined that the conditions should be eased.
McCrory, 55 and of Ballymurphy in west Belfast, is awaiting trial for the attempted murder of police in north Belfast almost four years ago, directing terrorism, possessing firearms and ammunition, preparing acts of terror, and belonging to the IRA.
When asked by the News Letter last night, the Lord Chief Justice’s Office, representing the judiciary, said that under the law as it stands, “there is a presumption in favour of granting bail”.
It added that a court “can only refuse bail where the prosecution has established a recognised risk”.
Two of the charges against McCrory are in relation to an AK47 gun attack on police vehicles travelling along the Crumlin Road in north Belfast on December 5, 2013.
The remaining three relate to covert MI5 recordings of meetings he had with two co-accused – Colin Duffy and Henry Joseph (Harry) Fitzsimons between December 31, 2012 and December 16, 2013.
The PPS said police objected to the idea of cutting McCrory’s bail signing.
Defence barrister Desmond Hutton said that, in the application to vary the bail, a section is provided for police to note any objections to bail being granted or varied.
But he said that in the document before the court there was no written objection from the police.
He added that the application to vary bail was being made on the back of the Fitzsimons case, and because since being released on bail McCrory had “complied fully with all his bail conditions”.
This included being “permitted to go outside the jurisdiction for holidays”.
Mr Justice Treacy said McCrory was already subject to electronic tagging and a nightly curfew which let police keep track of his whereabouts.
“I take the view that bail should be varied and I grant the application,’’ said the judge.
As heavily reported by the News Letter, last year dissident terror suspect Damien McLaughlin, 40 and originally from the Ardboe area of Co Tyrone, had absconded ahead of his trial after having his bail conditions eased – including the number of days he had to sign bail.
Yesterday, the mix-up from the previous week regarding the Fitzsimons case was also mentioned in court.
The PPS had blamed a “breakdown in communication” for its failure to raise police objections to relaxing his bail.
Justice Treacy said the message had not been relayed from one prosecutor to another, adding: “It is a very simple thing to do. That there is an objection and to relay that to the court.’’
The PPS said this was not the fault of the counsel who appeared in court on the day.
In the McCrory case which came before the courts yesterday, the Lord Chief Justice’s office was asked why bail was granted despite objections.
It said: “In law there is a presumption in favour of granting bail.
“A court can only refuse bail where the prosecution has established a recognised risk (such as the defendant being likely to reoffend or interfere with witnesses or leave the jurisdiction) and it is not possible to attach conditions to the bail to address the established risk.
“In assessing what conditions should be attached to bail the court may only impose such conditions as are necessary and proportionate in the circumstances of the case.
“The same principles apply where the court is considering whether to vary bail conditions.”
Asked why the written bail application document before the court yesterday (the one mentioned by McCrory’s defence team) did not include any reference to police objecting to easing his bail, the PSNI said: “A police officer was present in court today to specifically put forward our objections ... The PPS made these objections to the judge on the advice of the PSNI.
“The judge subsequently made the decision to vary his bail conditions and that is a matter for the courts.”
The PPS, meanwhile, told the News Letter: “We opposed the variation of the bail conditions in this case in accordance with the views expressed to us by police.”