The latest attempt to soften the bail conditions of a terror suspect was granted unopposed, with Crown lawyers revealing that they failed to register any objections due to a mishap.
Henry Joseph Fitzsimons, 48, appeared at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday, where he successfully applied to have the requirement to report to police daily stripped from his bail restrictions.
Instead, Mr Justice Treacy said he must now only report three times a week.
Although the PPS intended to raise objections to this, a last-minute change in the hearing venue led to what it dubbed “a breakdown in communication”, and no representations were made to oppose the move.
The error comes against a backdrop of anger over paramilitary suspects’ bail, sparked by the case of Damien McLaughlin.
Dissident republican McLaughlin denies offences including aiding the killing of prison officer David Black.
First arrested in 2012, he had his bail conditions relaxed over time, including cutting the number of times per week he had to sign for bail.
Then, sometime in November 2016, he absconded.
The authorities were extremely slow to act, but he was eventually caught by Gardai in the Republic at the start of March (his next court hearing is now set for 10am on April 28 in Belfast).
Fitzsimons denies a number of offences, and faces a Diplock trial later this year. Charges include:
Attempted murder on December 5, 2013, targeting “such members of the PSNI as were at or about the vicinity of the Crumlin Road, Belfast”.
Possessing two AK47s and ammunition.
Multiple counts of directing terrorism, and of belonging to an illegal organisation.
The PPS said they have previously objected to bail being granted to him, and when it was granted in February last year, they asked for conditions including an electronic tag, cash sureties, a curfew, daily reporting to police, and restrictions on travel.
When it came to Thursday’s hearing, it said: “We put in place arrangements to oppose the application to vary the bail conditions from daily reporting to three times a week, but there was a breakdown in communications following a change in the hearing venue. As a result no objection was made to this change in reporting.”
The PPS added: “We are currently engaging with police on whether there is a requirement to seek to re-list the case to have this reporting condition reviewed.”
It is understood that, due to the change of venue, no police were present at the hearing, though they had informed the PPS beforehand that they objected to relaxing bail.
The PSNI said: “Police informed PPS of their objections to any relaxation of the bail conditions in this case. We understand that due to a PPS error, the application to relax the bail conditions was not opposed.
“Senior police have been in contact with senior PPS officials regarding the matter.”
Asked why bail had been granted initially, and then relaxed this week, the Lord Chief Justice’s Office said: “Since the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1988, the judiciary are obliged to release applicants on bail unless certain circumstances are established in court.
“There is a presumption in favour of the granting of bail.
“Invariably, however, a judge must consider whether or not the prosecution have established a recognised risk, such as the defendant being likely to re-offend or interfere with witnesses or leave the jurisdiction.
“If such a risk is identified then the court has another step to consider.
“Again, this is a legal requirement.
“The court must decide if a condition or conditions might be attached to the bail to prevent the risks identified by the prosecution arising.
“Unless there is a risk, and no conditions may be applied to address the risk, then the judge must release the defendant.
Fitzsimons, formerly of Andersonstown in south-west Belfast, now of no fixed abode, has a bail address in the north of the city.
Bail conditions now are that he must observe an electronically-monitored 8pm-to-7am curfew, and must present himself at the door if required; he does not attempt to contact witnesses or other defendants; does not enter Lurgan; does not leave Northern Ireland without court permission; his travel documents are to be retained and any passport must be lodged with solicitors; he must report at a police station three times per week.